• The Queen has died… long live the King

    September 14, 2022

    Kia ora koutou, The Queen has died… long live the King. The realisation of the great cycle of time becomes more apparent at these moments. Vague memories wash back like breaking waves on a shore, they recede, more memories wash up. I went to Mclean Park in Napier, my second baby in my arms, to see the Queen. She was just a blue smudge in the distance surrounded by black suits and soldiers. I tried but failed to feel excited and never made the attempt again. Like everyone else I loved Diana and watched and watched the televised moments of her death and funeral. I think the marriage was doomed to fail and for that I blame the Royal Minders not the Royals. I regard the Royals as puppets who move this way or that way, go there or here, do this or that, all dictated by their faceless Minders. Occasionally some humanity or personal preference or mistake will happen but all is eventually subjected and shushed by the Minders. And if anyone pays, its the Royal public figure not their faceless Minders. There are times when I think the pomp and ceremony of Royal tours are too expensive and… Read more…

  • Tiger Country

    August 31, 2022

    Kia ora koutou, Once upon a time a doctor said to me, ‘You have entered Tiger Country, Renée, and when you least expect them, the tigers will come out.’ So I wrote a poem about tigers.We all have them, different tigers for different times. I have a few and sometimes they sleep and sometimes they wake up and snarl. You will know the experience. I don’t know what your tigers are and vice versa, but tigers are tigers, metaphorically speaking, so here’s the poem… Tiger Country You plunge off the cliff into Tiger Country sleek and smiling tigers play hide and seek slope around abandoned chairs, sad tables silk cushions call encouragement from the sofa an old painting turns its face to the wall. Tigers lurk in old cards, beneath yours forever snooze under Christmas lights that never worked lope ahead to a destination only they know signposts are suspect; there is no tunnel, no light nobody pins a tail on these tigers. Some nights after the sun has flamed and seabirds search the pastures of the sea tigers come out and lean gentle over your chair – wrap you in a striped shawl of sturdy warmth fold their paws… Read more…

  • Voting

    August 24, 2022

    Kia ora koutou,  Its in our bones. We male an effort to vote in the general elections, or at least the large majority of us do, but the local? Its seems not. I have to admit to a feeling of ‘can’t be bothered’ myself. I don’t think its my fault. I think it’s the fault of those few who get elected. I have never seen one, not one of them has ever knocked on my door, texted, emailed, or rung me. In the last weeks leading up to election I might get a couple of publicity emails but that would be pushing it. If you asked me if that woman or that man was a councillor I would have no idea. The problem is that, unlike their counterparts in government elections, they probably don’t have much of a publicity fund and also perhaps, they are untrained in putting themselves up for public scrutiny. I might also be that a few well-heeled and well-connected ones are simply voted in because something about their name seems familiar. I read emails, I read Newsroom and Spinoff, I listen to the radio. I have a microscope which helps me read the local papers. I… Read more…

  • Here’s to the Editor

    August 17, 2022

    Kia ora koutou, Its been a busy two weeks editing my next novel Blood Matters. I’ve been starting work around 8.30am and stopping around 5pm. In a way editing is rewriting the entire work because most small changes result in needing to make other changes throughout the draft. I am lucky to have worked with two brilliant editors and I know it. Editors have to enter into someone else’s story, not to make it their own, but to reveal to the writer what else they need to do to make their story shine. Sometimes suggested editorial changes might be big, you might have to rethink, reinvent another sub storyline, other times it might be turning three paragraphs of storytelling into dialogue, other times it might be a request for two or three extra pages. Then there are the smaller changes of words, points of view, alternative ways of saying something. Its hard slog but its also rewarding and satisfying. You are often working against the clock or feel that you are. The work has a kind of fascination too, like you and the editor between you, are creating the thing you really wanted to do but were too close to… Read more…

  • So here we are…

    August 3, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou, It was a lovely weekend. The First Night of Wednesday To Come at Circa, saying hello to old theatre friends, old friends, whanau, new friends. And ten days late, celebrating my birthday. There’s something very pleasurable that only happens once in a blue moon for most writers and that is the feeling that yes, you definitely did a good job there. Writing is a solitary business. Its between me and the screen. Once it used to be between me and the typewriter, the piece of paper and the dreaded Twink. Whatever medium, a cave wall and a sharp stone or iron chisel, a pen and paper or pencil and slate, a typewriter or a screen, the process is the same.A writer always starts with a story to tell and whether the medium is fiction, poetry, nonfiction, writing for stage or screen, writing the news bulletins, columns, editorials, reviews, essays, a newspaper column, the process is the same. An individual gets an idea, does some reading, gathers some info and wants or is being paid to write it down for a reader or viewer, poetry lover, theatregoer or reader. There might be a flash of insight that swerves… Read more…

  • It had to happen once

    July 27, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou, Well. That’s the first in 93 birthdays that I’ve ever been sick. In all those decades I’ve been happy, sad, angry, cold, ecstatic but never sick. I suppose it had to happen once. Lying in bed gave me time to think about those nine decades and other birthdays. In 1939 I was ten. There were 103 males to every 100 females but war was coming very fast and the next decade those numbers would change as young men scrambled to join the armed forces and march off to their Blue Smoke days along with a group of nurses. The ones who came back four or more years later were not only older but changed forever because of what they’d seen and done, because of what had happened to them and their mates. And all of a sudden I was about to celebrate my 14th birthday and without a moment’s hesitation I decided I would give myself a birthday present. I would make a dress. Rose had an old treadle sewing machine so why not? I wanted a new dress. Needed a new dress. I was going to a dance. My brother had agreed to double me on… Read more…

  • Yellow bulbs in an old pot…

    July 13, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou, July is living up to its reputation. I thought for a couple of days that it was going to turn over a new leaf but that was just a tease and here we are, heavy rain, roads closed, slips, same old. This happy trio is a feature of winter anyway but as we are already grumpy, angry, resigned, irritated re the pandemic (just wear a mask, you idiot), it just seems to underline the things we cannot control like place of birth, genetic inheritance, etc etc… Recently I was given a couple of packets of seeds and I got someone to scatter them over the garden. They’ve had time to get a little bit established and I imagine they’re now swimming valiantly to stay in the one place. I got the same friend to move my pots of bulbs, flowers, from the back near the line to the front where they’ll get any sun that’s going and start warming up, grow and flower. The rain and cold might be a little bit daunting but they’ll get there. They’ve done it before — they can do it again. We’re a bit like those bulbs and seeds, we’ve met hardship,… Read more…

  • You ask me what its like?

    July 6, 2022

    Kia ora koutou Pain(A Play in Two Acts) Stagehands whisk, flick, smooth all sereneopen doors to a milky sun — hold hands in cornersknow that this moment you’ll stir and stretchyour eyes spark as Prompt calls for your entrancethe end of quiet — beginning of Act Two and on cue, my familiar, my black cat, my loverone of those road signs from the pastnot quite placed untilthis bright instant, when —oh yes —the zigzag of your touch along expectant flesh —your pace as slow as dust motesfalling towards the exact spot now I remember this is Act Twothe lines go aah and aah and aah Renée

  • What’s in a Name?

    June 29, 2022

    Kia ora koutou, About twenty years ago I was in Unity Books looking around — it was one of the things I loved about living in the city — everything I liked was in walking distance — when I saw the cover of a book. The Book of Old Tarts. The Book of Old Tarts? I smiled as I picked it up. Elizabeth Hodder. Not a cookery writer I knew but, with a title like that, it was obvious I’d want to get to know her. So I walked out with the book, scuttled to the apartment, made a cup of tea, sat down, opened The Book of Old Tarts and read not only the recipes but the histories of tarts. It starts with the Roman origins then Making Pastry followed by British Tart Baking, Savoury and Sweet, and their histories. Its out of print and a collector’s item now but the title never fails to make me smile. I admire the author, not only because of the recipes and histories inside but because she got the title so right. Titles are very difficult, or at least I find them so. Once in a blue moon there’s a click and… Read more…

  • Some days…

    June 22, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou, it began like any other day — its winter and the day lived up to that — cold, grey with intermittent showers, so entirely unsurprisingly I decided to do the washing and pegged it out in the damp chilly air where it added to the overall mood of the day by hanging sullen and limp and looking like it would wait until Spring before it deigned to dry. I came inside, went to the bathroom and discovered the toilet wasn’t flushing correctly so I texted the drains man who texted back immediately and said he’d be there right after lunch. He’s the same one who’s fixed drains problems ever since I moved here. I decided to make a cup of tea — everything is better with a cup of tea — and discovered there were no teabags in the store cupboard. I’d used the last one in the jar for my first cup of the day which I’d sipped lying in bed listening to RNZ. I had another look. Through the dim gauze of my eyesight I saw the three containers of tea leaves were still there. One was green tea and the other two were gumboot.… Read more…

  • The Arrangement of Words

    June 8, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou, I was involved with the online launch of I Will Not Cede, a collection of poems by the late Heather McPherson (pub Spiral) last Sunday. It made me reflect how often, through the centuries, we have gathered to hear poets speak their words, writers read their stories, groups act out their experiences or to listen to someone tell us about a poet and her work. We have sat around campfires, by the lights of candles, under the latest modern lighting systems, and in the darkened auditorium. It seems something deep inside us likes the feeling of gathering together to show our love and respect for those whose placement and arrangement of words has touched something deep inside us. As humans we respond to these skills. The success of weekend gatherings like next weekend’s Featherston Booktown, which presents writers in conversation and as presenters, is another example of this. Think of people in the time of Charles Dickens, gathering in groups outside the newspaper office on the day his latest weekly chapter was published, someone grabbing the still warm paper, giving it quickly to the one who could read, who then read out loud the latest chapter of… Read more…

  • Pansy plants and other delights

    June 1, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou, thanks to the angel who keeps my garden weed free I have some pansy plants and other delights which will bloom in spring…I tried staked tomatoes last year (having always planted the ground hugging ones before) and they were great and fruitful so I might put some more in this season. I remember that In 1924 Ursula Bethell, with her partner Effie Pollen, started their garden at Rise Cottage, Christchurch. Ursula began writing poems when she was fifty and her first collection was published the year I was born, 1929, but I didn’t read it till many years later. I didn’t read any poems written by women and especially not by women who lived in this country. When I went to school we were taught The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes and we had to learn all 17 (or was it 19?) verses which we chanted in a singsong kind of way, terrified that if we forgot a line or a word the whole class would have to go back to the beginning and start again. I had a good memory and a sense of rhythm and The Highway man is a dramatic story so it was easy… Read more…

  • Tiger Country

    May 11, 2022

    Kia ora koutou, I’ve been asked, as a favour, to publish this poem again on the Busk. It’s a while since the first time (and it is in my memoir) but hey, thanks for the kind words and yes, I agree, poems need to be read and read (and read) again so… here it is… Tiger Country You plunge off the cliff into Tiger Countrysleek and smiling tigers play hide and seekslope around abandoned chairs, sad tablessilk cushions call encouragement from the sofaan old painting turns its face to the wall. Tigers lurk in old cards, beneath yours foreversnooze under Christmas lights that never workedlope ahead to a destination only they knowsignposts are suspect; there is no tunnel, no lightnobody pins a tail on these tigers. Some nights after the sun has flamedand seabirds search the pastures of the seatigers come out and lean gentle over your chair –wrap you in a striped shawl of sturdy warmthfold their paws and purr soft in the silent room This is the danger time. Stand up. Walk slow.Their eyes are on the game and you’re It. Renée

  • I see another autumn

    May 4, 2022

    Kia ora koutou, Late autumn in 2022 and I see another autumn, a long room, varnished wooden walls, a table, some chairs, what used to be called a Colonial couch down one end. There’s a woman sitting on the couch reading and across from her, sitting on a wooden chair, her feet on a brick in the open oven, sits a girl, aged around nine, reading. Her mother must have blacked the stove today. The smell of the blacking stuff lingers but its not bad because her mother opens all the windows wide when she cleans the stove. The blacking smell mixes with the smell of wood and coal burning in the grate. When her mother cleans the stove she wears an old shirt on over her clothes and scrunches all her hair into an old cap. She wears old gloves and she uses pieces of old towels to put the blacking on and a pair of old woollen socks on her hands to polish it. Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery is the first ‘long’ book the girl has ever read. Up till now she has only read short stories. She had not realised that long stories existed.… Read more…

  • She remembers him waving

    April 27, 2022

    Kia ora koutou,This is a poem I wrote in memory of all the wives and kids whose lives were harmed when their husbands, fathers, sons, came back damaged, unhappy, marked forever by what they’d seen and done in both wars and to whom neither the government nor the medical profession offered any help. The men were supposed to just come back and ‘get on with it’. Some of then did but lots of them didn’t. She remembers him waving.He fixed the lemon tree with saltcarved his name on the wooden spoonshe used for mixing pikelets. She saidshe’d wait. This was before. Now the Band packs up her troubles… The club went south to tramp.One day the boys played bulrush.She made scones and apple shortcake.He whipped the cream, sneaked a lickfrom the beater. This was before. In her old kitbag… The Lieutenant-Colonel sings,the minister prays — reads a poem,talks about sacrifice. She smellsmint, remembers the tomato sauce.She’d sterilised the bottles. Now there’s a Lucifer to light your fag… It all got spilt, the spoon bent,the bottles broken, her arm. He got a warningfrom the constable after he chopped downthe lemon tree, broke the frame on the photoof him smiling.This was after.… Read more…

  • Going for Gold…

    April 13, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou,So — the NZ Rugby Union has bombed again. They not only allowed a culture of bullying and racial slurs to fester and grow, now that they’ve been called out on it, nothing appears to be going to change. The same old jargon, the same old apologies, same old promises and yes — the same old coach. So the culture of coaching that uses body shaming, shouting and bullying, remains. Oh yes, there is vague talk of ‘making changes’ but talk, where the Rugby Union is concerned, is cheap. It’s the only thing that is cheap as far this union is concerned. Behind closed doors I imagine the determination of the discussion is targeted at hushing the complainant, dismissing the bad publicity rather than dismissing the coach and his bullying and racism. It amazes me that women support this treatment of other women by watching the games but the figures show that they do. The figures for the men’s games are even higher. Of course they are. The game, whether its women or men, is never going to change as long as people keep watching. Money represented by viewers numbers and advertisers (who come on board because of… Read more…

  • Variations on a theme…

    April 6, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou, thinking about our various forms of greeting… ‘Kia ora e hoa.’‘Kia ora. Kei te pehea i a koe?’‘Kei te pai.’ ‘Hello.’‘Hello. How are?’‘Good thanks.’‘That’s good.’ ‘Hi, how are you?’‘Not bad. You?’‘Been better.’ ‘Hooray. Or Hurray.’ (Been suggested this might be a Pakehaisation of Haere ra) ‘See you later, Alligator.’‘In a while, Crocodile.’ ‘Hi, how’re you doin’?’‘Not bad. You?’‘Not bad.’ ‘Darling. I’ve been so worried. How are you and Michael?’’Been better – think we’ve got everything dried off now. How was it in Hawaii?’ ‘G’day, how you going?’‘Pretty good, you?’‘Pass with a push.’ ‘Good morning children.’‘Good morning orning, rning, Miss…sss…s.’ ‘Hi.’‘Hi.’‘Nice to see the sun.’‘Yeah. Oh well, see ya.’ ‘Did you hear the sirens?‘What sirens?’‘There’s been four. Sounds like something on the motorway.’ ‘Did you hear the sirens?’‘I’m not fucking Odysseus, chained to a rock.’‘On the highway.’‘Who? Odysseus? Bugger. I’ll have to do that line again.’ ‘Hello, that’s a pretty dress. What’s your name dear?………A little bit shy today are we? How old are you dear?’‘Mum says its rude to ask people how old they are.’ ‘Darling. Where are you off to?’‘Don’t call me darling in public, you fool.’‘Whoops, sorry.’‘Oh fuck. Hello Leila – this is my secretary,… Read more…

  • The Blue Marble

    March 30, 2022

    Kia ora koutou, When I was a kid marbles were all the rage. Not many girls played marbles but our brothers and neighbours did, so we knew all about them. Some boys were good marbles players by eye and instinct and others had to learn, some never did but they tried. My brother was pretty good and when he wanted to practise at home he was a bit hampered because he only had sisters and sisters were no good at marbles, right? In my case this adage was absolutely bang on. I wasn’t any good at marbles because I was not interested in sitting on the ground flicking a little china/glass ball at another china/glass balls. The idea came dead last if put up against reading a book. Sometimes though, I gave in and with a theatrically heavy sigh would sit down and play. The idea was you had one each in the centre and tried to hit them out. If you missed then you put the marble that had missed in the centre with the other marble and this kept on until one of you ran out of marbles and/or the other one managed to flick all the marbles… Read more…

  • Rain…

    March 23, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou,It’s a lovely morning as I sit down at the computer. Rain fell yesterday, not as much as I would have liked but at least there was some. I remembered how many times I’ve wanted rain and how many times I’ve wanted rain to stop. One of the times I wanted rain to stay away was when my kids were little. I wanted to hang the nappies out in the sun, see the lines fluttering with white flags, all saying I think we’re winning against the odds. And you all know that wonderful feeling of taking warm dry nappies off the lines, folding them up, putting them away, happy you’ve staved off the dreaded going to the cupboard and finding you’re down to one or two and its pouring outside and the baby has a tummy upset… I can remember washing them (nappies not the baby) in the tub, and hanging them, wet, from lines in the kitchen where the trusty wood and coal range would gradually dry them out hard and stiff, so unlike the soft and cuddly way the sun did, but at least clean and dry. Rain is also the title of a W Somerset… Read more…

  • …When the wooden table was moved…

    March 9, 2022

    Formica by Maggie Rainey Smith The Cuba Press Kia ora koutou, in a land far, far away, Cincinnati in the USA, to be exact, in the years 1912 or 1913 — take your pick, Formica was invented by Daniel O’Connor and Herbert Faber, who worked for the Westinghouse Corp. it immediately swept away its competition. Kids could spill drinks, adults could spill beer or wine, you could even put a hot pot on it for a second if you had to grab the baby before he crawled into the rubbish bin you were taking out to the bag but had to drop on the floor because his brother had spilled his porridge on the table. 107 years later, Formica is the title of a beautiful new poetry collection by Maggie Rainey Smith. published by The Cuba Press, and on the Neilson Best–Selling list before it was even launched. Maggie, poet, novelist, essayist, and among many other things, a teacher of English as a second language, grew up in a Roman Catholic family, in Richmond, Nelson. In Formica she traces events in her own life with a wry and tender eye — sometimes amused, sometimes sad, always engaging. She says… She… Read more…

  • Merry March Moaning Day…

    March 2, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou, I have decided to nominate this Wednesday as Merry March Moaning Day. Merry March Moaning Day is the one day in the year when we can moan about trials and tribulations and not be thought a grizzle–pot. Just the reverse. On Merry Moaning Day I am encouraging you to moan. The more the merrier. As everything in the news is scary or contemptible we can take those things as read. So here I go… Having Macular Degeneration deserves a big fat moan. Yes I know I’m lucky in all sorts of other ways but having to peer to find a power point or a particular spoon or fork, the salt cellar, not be able to see if my jersey’s clean, or if I’ve put my shirt on inside out is a pain. Peeling potatoes is particularly exciting. Jar lids Every new jar (jam, honey, marmite, you name it) has its lid on so tight there is no way I can open it unless I plunge the vegetable knife into the lid. This does the trick because the lid will then let me unscrew it but its probably not a good thing for a 92 year–old with poor… Read more…

  • Hair today, hair tomorrow…

    February 16, 2022

    Kia ora koutou, it used to be a breeze – I would book an appointment, go there, have the shampoo and cut, then that was over till the next time. Now my eyesight has deteriorated I have to trust the cutter because I can't see my hair in the mirror. Over the years I have developed fairly good ideas of what suits my fine wavy all–over–the-place hair but often a hairdresser will think s/he knows better. S/he does not realise that me and my hair are very (very) long time companions, that my hair has a mind of its own. I am simply the spokesperson. I have often wished either that I had a different kind of hair or, failing that, spoke the same language as hairdressers.  I've tried all sorts of ways to subdue it – the hair I mean – cutting, oiling (hello phantom killer), smoothing with gel (Jeepers no, you look like John Key), I tried those little tin things called butterfly clips (come in Mae West) and I've tried ignoring it, but it just goes crazier – you will look at me or I'll sprout tight little curls like an old home perm. Did you ever… Read more…

  • Interesting…

    February 9, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou, I'm noticing how fashionable its become to say 'Interesting' in reply to almost any comment. It can mean one of two things. One is, 'You are boring me to tears but it would be rude to say so – so I'll say 'Interesting.'  And the other is 'You are a total wanker and you need to be shut in a suitcase for five hours' but if I say that I'll be blocked off Facebook and Twitter and everywhere else so I'll just say, 'Interesting'. Examples? You say, 'Did you see that two hundred people came out to sweep the footpaths in Wellington today?' 'Interesting.' 'Hi, I was at the shop today and the shop assistant tripped and fell into the aquarium.' 'Interesting.' You're getting desperate now... 'Did you see the sky is going to turn purple with yellow stripes at 3am tomorrow?' 'Is it? That'll be interesting.' (It won't be interesting – its a giant lie, you fool). 'I saw three thousand monarch butterflies today.' 'Did you? That's interesting.' (its not interesting you idiot, it'd be an effing miracle if it wasn't a lie) 'I'm leaving for the moon tomorrow. Rocket launch from Mahia.' 'We went to…

  • Just be sure you let the air in…

    February 1, 2022

    Kia ora Koutou, Once upon a time I used to visit an old woman whose name was Mary, I was in my thirties but it still seemed a bit rude to call her by her first name, especially as she was going to teach me about gardening, but she insisted. She said that these days everyone she met called her Mrs and it made her feel that somewhere along the way the real Mary had been lost. There was only this woman who represented just part of her life. Calling her Mrs, she said, meant that Mary, the baby, the little girl, the schoolgirl, the library monitor girl, the singing in the choir girl, the giggling behind the hymn book girl, the sneaking out to dances girl, the learning to work behind the counter girl, the falling in love three times at least girl, the crying into her pillow girl, the being put in charge of the showroom woman, the walking up the aisle woman, all were lost. 'Even when he buggered off,' she said, 'they still called me Mrs.' I was curious. 'Did you tell them not to?' 'Course,' she said, 'but they took no notice. It was easier… Read more…

  • The Red Hat

    November 24, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, these are some lines I wrote around fifteen years ago and came across when I was searching for something else. I read them, tweaked a bit, made changes, additions, cut lines, words  – as  you do... The Red Hat On a table at the Arts Centre a hat – an upside down red felt pot swinging red and yellow dreadlocks.   One – it makes me laugh – and two – I like dreadlocks.  This is the closest I‘ll get to those beaded braids.   The old black one is replaced and magically – gauze wings lift – fantails spiral and while Peggy sings Is that all there is - Bogart and Bacall appear in the mirror, clapping follow me out on the street. I hold my head high – at an angle.   This red hat becomes my ally my mentor, my companion trained to defend, made for this purpose. Loyalty and commitment 24 hours a day whether being worn or not. But, it says – I have to rest sometime. At those times I lie awake eyes alert, all systems go.  I won the initial bout but that was in the daytime. That red hat  – a… Read more…

  • If words won’t make a house that stands, we’re all naked in the dark…

    November 17, 2021

    After Hours Trading & The Flying Squad... Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, (Carbide Press 2021) I first met Jeffrey a lifetime ago when he emailed me to say there was a spelling mistake in an essay I’d written.  I was totally disbelieving. Me? A spelling mistake? But he was right. He was also, I discovered, a poet, a writer of memoir, and an adjunct Fellow at the University of Canterbury. We have communicated spasmodically since that first email. You'll probably have read his memoir The Lost Pilot, about his father who survived a kamikaze mission in WW2 and how Jeffrey met up with the family of the pilot killed on that mission. His poetry has received wide acclaim and its not hard to see why. After Hours Trading, the first part of his latest collection – Pakeha Moteatea – Southern Shanties, is a series of voices, Miner’s voices, remembering the mines, the town, the people – the ones who fitted in and the ones who didn’t. It’s the language that got me. Straight to the heart – these phrases, these words, so evocative, funny, suspicious of strangers especially ones who want to tell them how to live…  don’t know who these pricks think… Read more…

  • Hanging out the washing

    November 3, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, Its a great drying day here in Otaki today. I was hanging out the washing this morning and thinking about how long I'be been doing this and how the act of hanging out washing and washing lines has changed and been modified over the years. Almost a history of the times in itself. First there was a the long wire line across the backyard, held up by wooden props, long poles with a V in the top so it would catch on the line. The props would get greyer and greyer as they stood outside in all weathers and the lines got gradually easier to reach as I grew a little taller. You carried the washing out in buckets, having first washed it in a wooden tub and, if it was sheets, tea towels, pillow slips, towels,face cloths, boiled in the copper. A risky business as you caught the clothes in the copper on a wooden pole and transferred them to a tub of col water to be fed through the wringer. Very difficult not to get a few boiling drops on your arms and hands. Then there was the bucket of grisly sanitary towels which you… Read more…

  • Labour Day

    October 27, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, So, Comrades, Labour Weekend has come and gone and I spent it doing very little. I thought of the value I place on still being able to work, to play around with words but also the freedom to bake a Sultana cake, lie back and read ('I don't want to be hard on your mother, Phoebe dear, but I have to say she is the most grasping, selfish and mercenary creature I have ever met.'  Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer) and in between times I changed the sheets, did the washing, hung it out, looked in my diary to see what I was doing this week, fiddled around on the new computer which I love, deleted three pages, wrote another and much better two pages, picked silver beet to steam, checked my tomato plant called Barry, and all is well. He's doing fine. I thought of Sam Parnell, carpenter, who, along with other unionists, led the struggle for the eight hour day, which was achieved in 1840 but Labour Day, the annual day off to celebrate that victory only began in 1890. I wondered, as I do every Labour Day, why it never entered Sam's head (or… Read more…

  • Let us sit down at the table

    October 13, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, The following poem was inspired by some lines from my play Setting The Table (1982). Two characters talk about why they’re doing what they do (marching for women's rights, working to keep streets safe at night, looking after victims of abuse) and one says to the other, ‘We’re setting the table, right? We might not be the ones to sit down at the table but we’ll get it ready…' So the poem is a celebratory over the top one about the day we all sit down at the table. Its been published before and is in my memoir These Two Hands pub Makaro Press. Ann Marie Stapp quoted it in the play I wrote for the Otaki Women's Labour Committee, and she did it again at my 90th birthday in the Barn. I thought of it over the weekend when I was going through old photos and there was a group of us who stood together on corners and shouted...this is for them...  And as we gather..  Let us thank the stranger on the train Let us agree to smile at everyone Let us buy one hundred books of poems Let us pick roses and common thyme… Read more…

  • It all in the taste…

    October 6, 2021

    Kia ora koutou... Sight, sound, taste, touch.smell, the five senses and the greatest of them, it is said, is taste. I don't know how true this is but its certainly up there. I had my first taste of asparagus for this spring, last week, and as always I soaked the ends in water in a glass, then when I was ready to cook them, I broke off the hard bits, boiled some water, poured it over the top and cooked them. Not too soft. Then I placed them on a plate, put some butter on top, scattered some salt, grabbed a fork and stood at the bench and ate the delicious mouthfuls. I looked out the window but I wasn't seeing the apple tree, the pruned roses, the flower growth, the weeds, the lawn, I was seeing my brother and sister come into another kitchen, both looking a bit tired, both hungry, both triumphant. Joe, their boss, had given them a bunch each today. They had been up to start picking by 5am, the start time, and once there, backs bent, had worked nonstop for two and a half hours, cutting the new day's asparagus and placing it gently into… Read more…

  • The 4/4 beat

    September 29, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, this is a poem (or maybe doggerel) I wrote while doing a class with Lyn Davidson. I was trying to get the beat of marching and , the idea of going on and never ending,  nature of the problems and so the poem ended up with that old 4/4 hymn beat – very old fashioned and a bit irritating when it goes on too long. On the other hand I guess its dah–da-dah dah-dah illustrates the ongoing nature of what I'm talking about, not inspiring or romantic – just keeping on when most of the time you'd rather be lolling around reading a book and eating cake...   Push and Pull   I stand up straight on the corners Shout out at them and at us Hug and complain of the failures Hand out scones and a list   Still those stony paths call me still I hear cries from the swamp still there’s that sharp edge of anger still there’s the patchwork of want   Over the edge of the current Beyond that green hill of distress Down by that pool of depression that’s where they stand – dispossessed   I stand up straight on the…

  • Marta and the Red Scorpion, part 3

    September 22, 2021

    Marta struggled against the chains that tied her to the railway tracks. The Red Scorpion watched, smiling evilly. In the distance the lights of the train could be seen. Smoke from it chimney floated in the air as it approached the crossing and its whistle roared, 'Coming, ready or not.' 'You have one minute,' said the Red Scorpion, his evil smile revealed gleaming evil white teeth, 'one minute my lovely, so choose quickly –  Me or Death on the Rail?' In the distance the Black Figure shouted to The Red Scorpion, 'Untie Marta, untie her you pernicious evil wretch.' 'Help, help,' screamed Marta, her lustrous long black tresses tossed by the wind, her lustrous dark eyes full of fury. 'Untie me me you foul fiend,' she shouted. Lights from the train came closer...the chugging got louder, 'Whoo whoo' screeched the train. 'Oh dear Medusa, will no–one come to my aid?' screamed Marta. The train got closer but just as it was 20 seconds away from the crossing, over the hill marched the Otaki Old Girls' Marching Team. 'Oh Dear Heaven,' cried the leader, whose name was Marian, 'Get a move on girls, we are on a mission – '. Marian… Read more…

  • Marta and the Red Scorpion – part 2

    September 8, 2021

    Outside the wind howled and bats flew around the old cottage. Silas Ridgeway, drunk and afraid, slumped in his chair. Outside shadows loomed behind the old barn, trees shook and blew, thunder rolled and electricity flashed its evil signs across the heavens and bats screeched and sang sad songs as they lost their way in the dark. The Red Scorpion, made his evil way through the thunder, lightening and rain. He raised his fist at the heavens. 'I will win this battle,' he cried, 'all you puny creatures will become my slaves. I will rule the world. A day and a night and I will be in Otaki where my moated castle, The House of the Blue Sapphire, gleams through the stygian darkness of Tasman Road.' Maria moaned, 'Where am I?' she whispered weakly. 'Oh dear heaven, what has happened?' 'I have you in my power,' laughed The Red Scorpion, 'you thought you could defy me but I am too strong and too evil for any human being to overcome my power, especially a weak, feeble, woman.' Marta removed her shoe dealt him a heavy blow with the long black heel, right where the rubber hits the road. 'Oh –… Read more…

  • Marta and the Red Scorpion

    September 1, 2021

    Kia ora Kotou, I was thinking about the fact that I'd never written a melodrama. Not intentionally anyway. This style of theatrical presentation went out of fashion as a regular dramatic offering some time on the 1930s as the film industry, to a large extent, took over that area. Theatres still presented them on their programmes from time to time as historical pieces, to make audiences laugh and gasp, and to display individual talent. Marlon Brando's almost inaudible one word three minutes silence one word three minutes silence style worked because of cameras, music and lighting, and of course because his personal charisma got very high viewing at the time. Close–ups of expressions caught on camera often said more than words so words, which had been the basis of melodrama, went out of fashion. It began to be realised that the fewer words you used, especially in a dramatic scene, the better. This was the exact opposite of melodrama where words, actions, music and dramatic sound effects, revved up the audience's response to what was going on on stage. The same thing is done with films and TV now. Anyway its Lockdown. Time, I decided, to write a melodrama. It… Read more…

  • Lockdown

    August 25, 2021

    Kia ora Koutou, its obvious that Lockdown affects us all in different ways. A lot depends on a situation. You might be in a house with another adult and two small kids, you might be old and on your own, you might be in an ancient villa with five other people or in a shed all by yourself. Whatever your situation is you have to eat. To eat you need money and during Lockdown you need to know how to cook or live with someone who does. You need to shop for food but you also need to know what to buy and you need to know how to present it in a way that you and others will eat it. YouTube can show a novice how to cook a particular dish but that novice still needs a power point. I'm wondering how those who can't or don't cook, manage? There are meals on wheels possibilities for some, or frozen meals available from other suppliers but these all cost money and they also need an address to deliver to. You can only go so long on bread and mashed sardines, or eating cold spaghetti out of a tin. If you… Read more…

  • When winter comes…

    August 18, 2021

    Kia ora Koutou, after I wrote the Busk below we had the news of Level 4 Lockdown. Had dental appts which I've just cancelled, will set them up again after Lockdown. Stay safe everyone. Wear masks when you go out, stay in your bubble. I had an annoying confrontation with my fire alarm this week. A few years ago when it started cheeping one night I thought it was a bird in the roof, maybe a young bird, calling for its mother. It was irritating but I felt sorry for it so I put up with no sleep. Next day I told a neighbour and he listened and said, 'Its your fire alarm, it needs a new battery.' Now I am five foot one inch or whatever that is in metrics. Some years ago when the nurse measured my height and translated it from metre–speak, I pulled a face and said, 'I used to be five foot, three.' She said, cheerily, 'I can go to five foot one and a half, if you like.' So it doesn't take an Einstein to see that if a fire alarm is up near the ceiling it is unlikely someone five foot one can… Read more…

  • A Song in the Heart

    August 4, 2021

    Kia ora Koutou, here it is, the beginning of August and I'm remembering my brother whose birthday was on the second. Russell, always called Jimmy by his mother and sisters, friends who knew him then, was short for his first twelve or so years, then shot up to about six foot overnight, it seemed. Tall, skinny, dark skin, dark–haired, he had a one-wheeler bike which he rode everywhere. School, shopping for Rose, football (rugby) practice, or anywhere else he wanted to go. He had great physical balance. He played the pipes in the Caledonian Pipe Band and Rose made him practice in the woodshed. I can't say I blame her. He looked very handsome in the green kilt and my sister and I suddenly had lots of girls wanting to make our acquaintance. He told jokes to my sister and me,  jokes we thought very funny. The three of us might be ostensibly looking for those little black seed–like things called ergot, 'for patriotic purposes', whatever that meant, but in reality we were listening to jokes and tall tales that kept us entertained while we did the boring job.  Ergot is very small and it took a couple or more… Read more…

  • Poetry on Wednesdays

    July 28, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, the way poetry was taught when I went to school was by rote. We were given a poem, we had to learn it off by heart, then, on the Wednesday nominated, we'd all stand up and say the poem, the teacher's eyes upon us. If her look didn't make us forget the words we'd known perfectly the night before, then our neighbour's stifled giggles would. Do you remember an inn, Miranda? Do you remember an inn? And the tedding and the shredding of the grass for the bedding and the flees that tease in the High Pyrenees and the wine that tasted of taaaar? And thirty three voices inflected upwards in varying degrees of enthusiasm when they reached that question mark. It all depends, it seemed, not on a red wheelbarrow, but on whether you were a girl or a boy or whether you were simply waiting for this horror to end. Yes, Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc. It must have taken some courage on the part of the teacher to enter that classroom every Wednesday at 2pm. Most of us were not in the mood for poetry anyway. Tedding and shredding? WTF? Although my worst swear word… Read more…

  • Nine Decades

    July 21, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, nine decades, so I decided to choose the major things from each decade that made a difference to my life. 1929 born...I don't remember this momentous event but it had to be better than the other option.. 1930s...my father shot himself. I thought I might grow to forgive him but no. The Labour Party got into government in 1935. Everyone around me was so happy – a rare thing for working class people in the 30s. 1940s...the war. My Uncle Orm went away. I was Manpowered (that's what it was called when the Manpower committee decided who should work where)so Ileft the small printing firm and went to  work at Swailes Printers Ltd. It was there, with the support and determined push of an older woman that I made a stand and refused to answer to Brownie or Reeney and only answer to Renée. And I met the man who would become my husband when he came out of the airforce and got a job at the same place. 1950s...My first son. Crazy, lyrics by Willie Nelson, sung by Patsy Cline. Still love it. Two more sons. Elvis got all shook up.  I was inveigled into working in… Read more…

  • Enter stage left…

    July 14, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, as you know I have macular degeneration. To say that it is a handicap is an understatement. It is a blow, a grief, a constant test of my confidence and it can only get worse. It is not written about except in NZ Blind and Low Vision newsletters and online. No–one talks about it and while shop assistants are kind, they really don't get it. I look okay, I talk okay, I can do the numbers on my eftpos (so far) but I cannot see the label or the price. Its a problem that cannot be seen. My eyes behind the glasses look okay. I can make my way around counters and racks without mishap so why do I need someone to read the label? Or help with stairs? The thing is if I go out for dinner to a restaurant, someone else has to order for me and when the food comes I cannot see it on the plate. I can feel it with a fork and I can eat it and then know what it is but I cannot see it. This is because the sight in the retina goes and all that's left is the… Read more…

  • Conversation under the Stars

    July 7, 2021

    The child points, smiles up at the light – ‘What's that?’ ‘Jupiter,’ the woman says, ‘a big dark planet.’ The child walks backwards – 'Its following me...' She laughs and points. 'What's that?' 'The seven stars,' the woman says, 'Matariki.' ‘I want to touch them,’ the child says, ‘can I touch them? ‘Maybe,' the woman says, 'one day...one day.’ They look up. 'See the moon,' the woman says, 'see Rona?' 'Her bucket,' the girl says. 'Yes,' the woman says, 'her bucket...' 'So when she spills the water in the bucket, it rains? Tell me.' 'I've told you,' the woman says, 'I've told you a million times.' 'Tell me again,' she says. 'Okay,' says the woman, 'One night Rona was out carrying her bucket of water when the moon went behind a cloud...' 'And,' the girl says, 'Rona could not see where she was going and she tripped and the water spilled out of the bucket and went all oveer the ground and Rona was annoyed and she growled at the moon and then the moon...' 'See?' the woman says, 'you know how it goes, you can tell yourself.' 'I like it better when you tell me,' says the girl. Renée…

  • Question Time…

    June 30, 2021

    This is the day for asking questions...I'll start with...why have teabags and tea leaves lost their ability to produce good strong tea? If I buy teabags it takes two to get the kind of tea I used to get with one teabag, if I make the tea in a pot with a teaspoon of leaves, ditto. I can put maybe a little loss of taste down to old age, which is what I'm generally told when I complain about anything (eg 'You're 91, what do you expect?'). Well, I expected a good cup of tea for a start. Mate. Another thing (seeing I'm in a questioning kind of mood), why are the Olympics going ahead? We are dealing with a pandemic, eg a worldwide epidemic, people in Tokyo have made it plain they don't want the games, its their government who wants them to go ahead, yet here we are sending athletes off to Tokyo? I heard one athlete this morning thrilled and excited to be going. The Wellington area has been in Level 2 because of a traveller, vaccinated but still being able to carry and pass on (who knew?), being criticised by some, (in between blaming the government… Read more…

  • A tip of the hat..

    June 23, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, the enquiry into abuse of children in care (both State and Private) is revealing some awful truths about human nature, that is, about us. What is it about adult humans that makes some of us torture, sexually abuse, beat and bully children while the rest of us collude in the practice by either not revealing the ugly nature of it or by not believing the children when they said what had happened? Do we simply shut our minds, turn away, because we cannot bear to think about it? And in the case of the churches, even when they did believe the kids, the church leaders simply moved the cleric, priest, or (if they were Salvation Army) Captain, on to another parish. If a Roman Catholic priest confessed to another priest, it was (still is I suppose) regarded as part of the confidentiality of the confessional which, when it boils down, means do nothing. I understand that readers and listeners to these stories are horrified and repelled, simply do not want to talk or think about them. The ugly side of human nature does not go down well over a friendly cup of coffee, an office party or… Read more…

  • Matariki

    June 16, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, we're halfway through the year, its raining as I write this but, defiantly, I have hung out the washing. The line is under the eaves so while the washing might not dry as quickly it won't get any wetter. Since I lived in the apartment in Wellington I've disliked dryers. I don't like the crinkly result from the dryer as much as I do the smooth one when I take the washing off the line. There are times of course when I reconsider and think I should get a dryer. I also refused a dishwasher but was over–ruled and now I'm so glad of it. At least I know everything is clean even if I can't see clearly whether it is or not. June's a bit like that with the weather, undecided, but its also exciting and deeply warming because Matariki begins soon and its time to take stock, to look backward as well as forwards. I like the theatricality and drama of the Northern  Beltane festivals and their fire rituals but I like Matariki because it invites me to take a little time, to consider, reconsider, to remember, to think about the future and at the… Read more…

  • From there to here…

    June 2, 2021

    Kia ora Koutou, I changed my working space from one room to another. I wasn't expecting to, the idea suddenly appeared and, lucky for me, so did someone who didn't mind moving  furniture. So it was easy, me giving instructions, someone else doing the mahi. I always have an attachment to the place where I work. Its my haven, my working and dreaming area, my sorting, deleting, rewriting, chucking out, my drinking tea or coffee, chatting with friends area – the space where I live a large part of my daily life. And then one day I realise that I want another space, another view, a different place to think, work and dream in. So now I'm happily ensconced on one side of the sitting room. Its a neat space, any sun going streams in thanks to the architects who designed Nga Purapura. Good neighbours in action. The journey towards finding out what you really want to write about, or more likely, have been writing about but have been too dim to see, gets a little buzz too, either from the different  work space or because you made the decision to do it. There's a certain exhilaration that comes with making… Read more…

  • Thinking of Spring..

    May 26, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, I know, I know, autumn has hardly finished and here I am ignoring the coming winter and thinking of spring but dreams are free. As you know, you turn your back on the garden for a second and suddenly the weeds are two feet high. So maybe its best to plan and plant or at least, dream. The broad beans are planted and silver beet is growing. I need some more silver beet and some spinach seedlings would be good. Lettuce of course, hopefully some basil when the seedlings appear, tomatoes of course although I didn't have much luck with them this last season. Allegedly ground hugging tomatoes, these shot up and needed stakes. I know I've mentioned this before, okay? They weren't all that prolific either. The roses will be pruned, so I don't have to worry about them but what about the rest? I'm thinking sweet peas on every fence. Lashings of them. Swathes – thick masses – all taller than me, what do you reckon? I'm also thinking sunflowers, the big tall ones that turn their faces and follow the sun as it moves over their heads. Yes I know they need staking but… Read more…

  • Now, on a scale of 1 to 10…

    May 19, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, have you ever been faced with this question? Or, perhaps not always 'faced' with it. Maybe you've been lying on said face at the time. The question is usually asked when you're experiencing a level of pain which has led you to visit the doctor, ring an ambulance, or get someone to drive you to the emergency department of your local hospital. This, for a lot of us, is an hour or more drive away from home so is generally not taken on the basis of a sore finger. To point out that asking this fatuous question when you're suffering severe pain and can't even remember the answer to one and one, is possibly a question that has not occurred to those powerful persons in white, who stare at you with that look in their eyes that says, 'I'm not going to believe a word of anything you say but I have to put something on this form so away you go. If I smile its not because I find your words laughable. Truly. 'What did you say your birth date was?' 'So,' they say, patently unbelieving that there's anything wrong with you at all, that you're just… Read more…

  • Books books books…

    May 12, 2021

    Kia ora kotou, that is what it was like at Booktown Featherston this weekend. The big hall crammed with stalls and books, booksellers, people, writers, all talking about books. The sessions were full of people smiling, chatting, laughing, people on stages, reading their work, talking about writing, talking about the writing life, talking about what needs to change, what will change. Poets popping up, people listening. Old friends, new friends, strangers, getting together, comparing, suggesting, discussing, arguing about books. And in the cafe, smiling faces, the best scones, the best everything, both the staff and the patrons comparing, arguing, recommending books. Out in the carpark, on the street, in the cafes, in the cars, little knots of people talking about books. Even at the ATM, two people comparing, laughing, sharing ideas about books. It was like we'd all been given permission to simply talk books. It wasn't book groups, book clubs, email groups, library groups, this was a whole town plus a big mob from the larger  Wairarapa, Wellington and other places, all happily and excitedly talking, suggesting, arguing, comparing, showing each other – books. We talked about change, necessary, unstoppable change, we aired our views, we got very lippy… Read more…

  • On the Ledge

    May 5, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, here's a poem I started some years ago. I found it in a file when I was looking for something else. I've done a bit more work on it. I meant it to be about getting old but poems have a mind of their own so lets just say its a work in progress... On the Ledge  I walk where embers hiss and sigh listen to the voices left mourning songs and swift goodbyes weaving thorny warp and weft endless masks, words bereft.  Still the embers hiss and sigh somewhere an elusive cry. Purple Iris, trusted friend, lead my steps along the edge search with me the stony bed there my friend, beyond the why see the bird rise in the sky see the bird rise in the sky Renée        

  • Meeting the criteria…

    April 28, 2021

    Kia ora Koutou, When I first began work and started paying tax it was called social security. We knew, because we were told, that our taxes would not only help this country grow but that we could feel secure. We would be looked after 'from the cradle to the grave' as Winston Churchill said in 1938, and which was quoted here as though God, if you believed in such a being, had spoken. Adults were saying it, politicians quoting it, I was young, I thought they were telling the truth – so I believed it. What a wonderful thing it would be to be cared for until I died. How lucky I was to live here. If I got sick I would be looked after, if I needed work, I could get a job, if I needed a house to rent it would be available, if I wanted to buy a house standing on that, in those days real, quarter-acre section, then I'd be able to do it. I believed in the grave part of the deal too, that when I got old I would be looked after. This was a New World, part of which would be paid for… Read more…

  • The Power of Rules

    April 21, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, The investigation by Nicky Hager into the firm hired by a church to investigate and report back on certain ex–member's activities, is very interesting. It made me start thinking how we humans like to form groups and how, once we do, we love making rules. We call the groups clubs or teams, choirs, circles, we call them churches, associations, casts, leagues, we call them gangs. We call them battalions, regiments, squads, we call them packs and sometimes we call them cults. Whatever the label, each society, church, club or group has rules. We like rules. Rules make us feel safe. I bet those involved in the surveillance have rules too. The idea that a so–called leader (eg priest, reverend, president, colonel, CEO, whatever, can order the investigation of an ex–member simply because said member has done something that leaders think has broken the rules, is an interesting example – you'd think it would be enough to chuck them out of the group – why make their lives a misery by haunting their every movement? Is their group so fragile that anyone leaving creates a kind of crack in the mirror of their complacency? Its probably as simple… Read more…

  • Oh the delight..

    April 14, 2021

    Kia ora koutou,  I've discovered the delight and plain helpfulness of frozen meals. I have always kept to a narrow course regarding takeaways. Cafe Ngā Purapura down the road does pretty good fish and chips and they're such good neighbours ...and I love pies, always have – but other choices are fairly much on the hoof. I'm either inveigled into choosing something because of someone's recommendation or I might walk past a shop and think, okay, today's the day for something new. The thought of having a whole lot of meals delivered at once, to be stored in the freezer, ready to thaw and heat up when needed had not occurred to me. I freeze my own cooked foods, mainly casserole–type meat dishes, but I'd never assembled whole meals to freeze. I'd heard – who has not? – of meals on wheels, but had never seen or eaten one. Then my moko sent me some meals as a present and I entered the delicious world of frozen ready–to–heat–and–eat meals. They worked beautifully. There's a great variety, and you can also get puddings if you're into them. A good friend sent me a chocolate pudding at Easter and oh bliss oh… Read more…

  • The Absence of Light…

    March 31, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, I've been thinking about eyesight, about clarity and mist, about grey chiffon curtains, about darkness and I realise its the same process of learning as it was when nearly 92 years ago I began to recognise faces, hands, toes and feet, those first glimmerings that spark an interest, the need to find out more, the desire to look for concrete answers. Getting the only answer available, which turns out to be, 'Get used to it Renée. There's nothing to be done – live with it'. As Mary McCallum says in her poem Magificence (XYZ of Happiness, Makaro Press) 'These bodies of ours, they are magnificent, and they fail us.' I love the 'and' in that line, so clever, a lot of us would have put 'but' – yet the 'and' speaks of the inevitable reality of our body giving way to the onslaught of illness and/or age. No ifs or buts about that. Any big change always seems like its only happened to me. When I got the original diagnosis I didn't believe it, I could see perfectly well with glasses and even without them it wasn't too bad. I looked it up. I understood the process,… Read more…

  • What’s in a name?

    March 24, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, why are state and other employees such as those in retirement homes able to remain anonymous when they've done something wrong? For example, a week or so ago, two employees at a retirement home were discovered to have given an elderly man an overdose of morphine and he died. It was shown to be negligence yet neither the Retirement Home nor those guilty of such carelessness (to put it no stronger) were named. None of the employees in State Homes who abused and ill treated children in their care have been named. They are probably living a comfortable existence in retirement somewhere, respectable citizens, no worries. The guards who ill treated those women in prison are not named although the women's names have been blazoned across the news. The perpetrators of such degrading practices surely should be named and face charges? If I did something that amounts to torture of another human being I would be charged and  named but there seems to be a cloak of silence over such acts when they're committed by employees of the State. Doctors who make mistakes resulting in severe illness or death are never named. Sometimes a report will say… Read more…

  • Shopping and choosing..

    March 17, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, I've never liked shopping for clothes. Its an activity I only indulge in when I've reached a certain point – I've put it off and put if off, as long as I can but inevitably there comes the unwelcome flurry of 'you have to have a decent shirt to wear' or 'those shoes are really...' I've got smaller or larger, my tastes have changed, I've got older and I still hate shopping but the voice of doom (or my mother) says, 'stop putting it off Renée, you know you need some new shoes or a jersey and that shirt – for God's sake that shirt ...'  The voice is right, its no good putting it off any longer – I go shopping. After I had the double mastectomy my shape changed but it didn't make much different to the shape of shirts, the only thing I noticed then and which has remained is that my skin has become sensitive to particular fabrics. I ask a friend to take me to the shop – she not only drives me there but helps me investigate the range of shirts, jerseys or trousers, she tells me the prices on the tickets and… Read more…

  • Anzac Biscuits

    March 10, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, I've been asked to supply my recipe for Anzac biscuits. Its actually Ella's recipe. I met Ella in a Lower Hutt hospital ward, we were the only occupants and we'd both had, that very day, an operation for breast cancer. My first. We got talking and became friends and one day when I was having a cup of tea at her place, I commented on her delicious Anzac biscuits and said mine were not as good. So she gave me her recipe and here it is. Anzac Biscuits Put oven on to 350 and line 2 trays with baking paper, then... Melt together 115g butter melted with 2 T golden syrup Then add... 1 cup rolled oats 1 cup sugar 1 cup flour 1 cup coconut 1 teaspoon Baking Powder 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda When mixed (and this is Ella's secret ingredient) add a splash or two of boiling water to the mix. (The more water you add the more they'll spread on the tray so be careful). Put spoonfuls (I use a dessert spoon size) on the trays and bake for 20 minutes or longer, depending on your oven and how brown you like them. When baked…

  • The beginning of it…

    March 3, 2021

    Kia ora Koutou, My first experiences of work were not too bad. Checking the letter box, dusting the bedrooms, washing and wiping dishes, setting the table, sweeping the kitchen, school work, weeding, were only irritating because they interfered with my preferred option of lying on my bed reading. However, when it came to being old enough to wash the porridge pot that all changed. The slimy thick stuff that stuck to the sides and the bottom of the pot and which, if you were lucky, was caught in a sieve and if you were unlucky, had to be picked out of the sink bit by bit with your fingers, then carried outside to the latest trench Rose had dug for vegetable peelings and other food bits. As I raked some soil over the top, heaving all the way, Rose called out irritably, 'If a few bits of cold porridge are the worst thing you ever have to face in a job, my girl, you'll be very lucky.' Rose's instructions were cast in stone. As far as cleaning the porridge pot was concerned you could not swap it, exchange it or pretend to be sick and thus get out of it. Indeed,… Read more…

  • Words are all I have…

    February 24, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, that line from the song by the Bee Gees, released as far back as January 1968, seemed to me at the time to sum up our major way of communicating. 'Its only words... and words are all I have...' Now I'm wondering... There are all sorts of ways of communicating – a look, a smile, a frown – all signalling how we feel, what we don't want or do want, but, whether spoken or signed, sung or shouted, typed in an official document or scrawled on a text, words are what we mainly use to communicate. We make sounds from the time we are born and gradually, often by mimicking, we learn to form words and then we learn how to add them together, to ask, to say please and thank you, to say yes, to say no. We learn to read and if we're lucky this happens early and as we read words in books or cartoons in comics, words in magazines or online, the world opens up. We begin to understand that words, those same words that tell stories, or are used to ask for more bread and honey please, can also be used to shout,… Read more…

  • Moving and shaking

    February 17, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, please may I just have a break from experts and others telling me I need to do more exercise? I need to make contact with people, I need to reach out. There seems to be a plethora of these happy and healthy people all wanting to give me the benefit of their experience and wisdom. If they're not telling me I need to walk more, they're saying I should join an exercise class or a club, because, although I might not realise it, they sense I'm sad and miserable and probably depressed. I have to be you see  because I live on my own. Every time they refer to me, in their kind and caring way, as the elderly, I want to leap up and put my elderly hands around their healthy exercised neck and strangle them. I have spent most of my life if not running at least moving very fast just to get things done and out of the way so I can sit down and read or work – used to be at the typewriter, now its the computer, all good exercise for hands arms and brain. Housework is all about thinking, planning and movement.… Read more…

  • On we go…

    February 10, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, its a funny old dance, this business of writing because it never stops. You can't sit back from a day's work, for instance, and say 'Well that's good, I've cracked it, time to celebrate.' You can't do this because that cranky old witch called Experience tells you that by the glaring light of tomorrow you will see the errors, inaccuracies, infelicities, that have, in today's heady exhilaration, escaped your usual eagle eye and tomorrow, will have to be fixed or more likely, deleted. And every change you make, however small, has an effect on what has gone before and this has to be checked as well. Thanks to modern technology I don't have to go back over every page if I want to change say, a name or something, because there's this cute little number called Find and Replace. But every change impacts on the rest and that's not so easily traced. Awkward or badly constructed sentences need to be chased up, fixed and made friendly. Then there's continuity. Its no good having your hero with long fair hair on page 57 and then discover that on page 13 it was a shiny blue/black short bob. Its… Read more…

  • 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder…

    February 3, 2021

    Kia ora koutou, My eyesight has got worse. I can still ses the print on this screen because its big, black type but this year at some stage I'll have to switch to one of those voiced computer programmes which I am assured I will get used to and even like. In the meantime, to prolong the status quo, I'm going to get a bigger screen. I still bake biscuits though. My system seems to work. I turn on the stove at the wall, turn on the oven, set the temperature, cover the oven shelves with baking paper – the shelves are black and the baking paper white, so that's easy. I line up the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, coconut, golden syrup, butter, along the bench, put the kettle on so as to have boiling water to slosh on the Anzac biscuit mixture at the end of mixing the other ingredients, then I get cracking. I only make two kinds of biscuits now. Anzac and Peanut Brownies. I make these two because they are the recipes I know off by heart. I should do. I've been making them once a week then once a fortnight, for over… Read more…

  • ‘Tis the season…

    December 2, 2020

    Kia ora koutou, its December so this is the last Busk for 2020. As always I take December and January off. Here's some hopes for 2021. In fact I hope everyone is paid a universal living wage. The idea of a universal basic income has a lot of merit but while I'm sure it will come eventually, it won't be this term. I hope there's lots of watermelons. You know that salad? Cubes watermelon, cubes feta cheese, black olives.  So simple and so delicious. Nice on its own or with green salad, some ham or fish. I hope there's a safe vaccine found for Covid very soon and that's its cheap and available world wide. I hope my tomatoes do well. I bought dwarf plants, well that's where I was pointed and what the sign said, but they're about eighteen inches high already (you work it out in metrics) and have had to be staked.  They're flowering so that's promising. A friend, who does some gardening for me, found 9 little ripe strawberries. This season's crop still going. Actually they only stopped fruiting for a brief time between seasons last year. Grow them in bins, change the potting mix every… Read more…

  • Is that a dead rose bud or a broad bean pod?

    November 18, 2020

    Kia ora koutou, its true that roses don't seem to last long enough. There's that first flush of buds, then the swelling of the flower, the lushness of the blooms and if you've chosen well, a delicious  perfume, then just as you think this is why I love spring, the blooms droop, die, need to be deadheaded after which you then wait for the next lot to appear. Of course just as I make plans to deadhead the spent blooms it rains so the garden looks dreary and sad, drooping heads everywhere. I can still see the blooms, not actual detail but the lushness, so I can also see the lank fading of the blooms as they droop and wither. Dead heading is a tricky business these days, not only because I can't see the dead buds clearly but mainly because I can't see my fingers clearly either, or the blades come to that, so there's the definite possibility (probability?) that I might cut my finger off instead of the dead rose. Friends are good in these circumstances because they take over the deadheading and I peer from the window. The other thing I notice is how hard it is… Read more…

  • The Frida poem

    November 11, 2020

    It’s a starburst In my eyes – the Frida poem? Frida? The one with the haunted face thick eyebrows like little brushes kissing? Who paints loves shouts? Craves colour, song, movement? The one confined held constrained inside that iron straitjacket where agony sings its off–key notes? Chipped and broken bones pitch soprano nerves moan alto and those flamenco dancers purple orange scarlet yellow step up move dance stride sing across canvas for that strong woman… that Frida?   Then I see its not a Frida poem Its a Friday poem   Sometimes wavery vision sees clearly what is needed and what is needed is a slamming of the door in pain’s face a hand held up, palm out You have my body You do not, you do not, have me You do not have me You do not have me Renée

  • This and That

    November 4, 2020

    Kia ora koutou, had a lovely time in Christchurch, met up with old friends, made new ones, saw the Ngaio Marsh cottage garden. My friend had tried to contact the organisers of the tours, she rang and left numerous messages but no–one answered any of them so we took a chance and went and saw the garden anyway. Its looking beautiful and lush, roses everywhere, I was particularly taken with a Blue Moon, so lovely to see its lavish blooms. We had coffee and a scone at the Takahe cafe (delicious scone), I was taken shopping and I bought three, yes three, shirts. Also lost one hearing aid and only realised it was missing when I was back at our B&B and when I said I'd lost it, Mary McCallum, my publisher and friend, took off, leaped into a cab, and after a very short time, came back triumphantly waving the hearing aid. She is a star – but you know that. She said the staff were great and the young guy went and searched and came back smiling as he held up the trophy. Thank you N & M. I enjoyed the children's writers session. Bill Nagelkerke (The Ghosts… Read more…

  • The secret weapon…

    October 21, 2020

    Kia ora koutou, a great result last Saturday and the second time in my lifetime its happened.  This kind of election result whether under MMP or not is rare in our electoral history and many are the questions as to why it happened. Here, for your eyes only, I reveal the secret... In 1938 the Labour Party was fronted by Michael Joseph Savage who'd been leader since 1933 and then led the Labour party to their historic victory in 1935, and who whooshed to power again in 1938, this time in a landslide. Named Michael when he was born, he added the name Joseph, in memory of his brother Joseph, who died young and so ever after, Michael was Michael Joseph. I admire him for all sorts of reasons not least of which is that he liked dancing. Its endearing to think of this man, a devout Roman Catholic (which has all sorts of no–nos for me, not least their stance against contraception), who never married, who boarded with the same family most of his life, having this one frivolous streak. A winning streak I wonder? This is clearly and admittedly a speculative thesis but somewhere, some day, some keen… Read more…

  • A Very Big Skite

    October 14, 2020

    Kia ora koutou, Te Whē is here – homai te pakipaki – bilingual Māori/English literature journal launched in Te Reo Māori heartland – Otaki. This week WednesdayBusk celebrates the online launch of the Māori literature journal Te Whē – te hau o te whenua. Poetry, short stories and essays in Te Reo Māori and English, the journal includes work from a kete of Aotearoa’s most talented Māori writers. 'We wanted to flip Western notions of publishing and writing on their head and discover what could be created if we used Kaupapa Māori as our structure and inspiration,' explains Anahera Gildea, co-editor of the journal. 'Lots of energy can go into the often-dispiriting work of getting published by mainstream methods so we decided to chuck that all out the window and see what happens when we, as Māori writers, define the terms.' The writing in the journal began with a wānanga at Ngāti Tukorehe marae in January. Writers were asked to respond to stories from the haukāinga, to the experience of being together in wānanga and to the whakataukī E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea. I can never be lost because I am a seed… Read more…

  • Dear Val…

    October 7, 2020

    Today, October 7, is your  birthday. It still seems wrong that you should have gone first and I still wish you could have waited. You were a couple of years younger than me and it continues to feel like something is out of kilter when October 7 comes around each year and you're not here to celebrate. You were taller than me – well everyone in the world has always been taller than me – but when we were young it seemed odd that I, the oldest, was the shortest. I expected our brother to grow taller but it seemed unfair that you, my younger sister, shot up past me too. When I agreed to play defence in the basketball team (who but you and I remember that old game of basketball with 9 players?), you stuck me on defence, between you and Joy with the idea that you and Joy would catch all the balls while I kept out of the way but what you said after the game was that I had danced around being useless and what was worse, laughing about it and, you said, the other team thought I was a dag and sent all their… Read more…

  • Asking…

    September 30, 2020

    Kia ora koutou I don't know about you but around this time I always get a bit tired of the electoral cycle. The commentators are desperate for something new to say, the candidates are stepping very carefully and promising me chocolate and bubbles for breakfast every day if I'll vote for them. Spring starts up with its gales and storms, its thunder and lightning, as if in parallel with the gusts of words, thunderclaps of denials, the heavy showers of promises if I'll just vote for them...but what I'd like to say to them is ... when will the streets be safe? I have voted ever since I could. Not only because women marched and trudged and swam so I could vote but more importantly (to me) because while those women marched shouted and yelled for the vote, other women washed and cleaned and ironed and cooked for them so those women's husbands wouldn't complain about their lives being disrupted while their wives (in clean and nicely ironed clothes) were out marching to get the vote. Like I say adinfinitum...its always middle class educated women who lead movements for social change – and so they should – working class women are… Read more…

  • Song of the Cleaner

    September 23, 2020

    I am a dark green shadow a–float on this ocean of grime I am a message scraped on stone a night weaver, a spiller of true glory a spinner of used condoms, salty tissues, half–eaten egg sandwiches apple cores, rubber gloves, snotty masks middle of the floor splats, chewed fingernails See me I wave my wand of pine fresh or lavender blue and lo – the air around the urinal blanches backs off, starts singing hallelujah cold bleach hot brine acid sweat, tears the murk of those midnight runnels all baptised in the golden spray of dettol the toilet seats, the bowls, all sing glory glory See me See my eyes my hands my arms my legs my feet oh my aching feet   I am a dark green shadow See me   Renée 2020  

  • Thinking about silence and cake forks…

    September 16, 2020

    Kia ora koutou, haere mai ki te wiki o te reo Maori. My daily use of te reo Maori is hampered by not speaking it very well, being scared of making mistakes, and feeling awkward, guilty and shy around fluent speakers and thinking its easier to remain silent. When I was young there were lots of things in this category of silence.  It was the fashion for young married women to gather for morning tea at each other's houses where each hostess tried to outdo the last in baking and table settings, embroidered tablecloths, flash china, silver teaspoons and cake forks. We talked about things like fashion, gardens, shopping and the price of groceries but we never talked about sex, men, religion, politics, books like Catcher in the Rye or Dr Shivago or the uselessness of competing for the best morning tea. Menstruation or the horrible pads we used was never mentioned. These morning teas were enjoyable though because in those times they were the only occasion young married women met to spend time with their own age group and gender. The rest of their lives were bound by custom which decreed that once you were married you didn't go… Read more…

  • That old shapeshifter, Normal…

    September 9, 2020

    Kia ora Koutou, I keep reading/hearing... 'when we get back to normal' and 'it'll be okay when we're back to normal' and even, 'I just want to get back to normal'. Forget it. The 'normal' we had before Covid? Its never coming back and all the repining is not going to bring that 'normal' back. Before the 2nd World War's end in 1946 everyone talked about 'getting back to normal' only to find they would never go back. Both men and women had seen and done things that would never take them back to what was considered 'normal' before. A world upheaval like war or epidemic takes whatever we call normal, scrunches it up, chucks it because it no longer works. War and epidemics are not the only harbinger of change. After the Waterfront Lockout in 1951 everything was going to be good once we were back to normal. Well it wasn't. And we didn't. Wharfies had no money coming in, big bills were run up at the grocer's and gradually, steadily paid back, but even making that last payment of the debt to that kind and patient grocer, did not bring back what they thought of as normal. Even those… Read more…

  • What’s in a word?

    September 2, 2020

    Kia ora koutou It all depends on how they're put together but my life has been enriched  by words on pages and now  in 2020, on screens. Here are a few of my more recent favourites... 'The cab was decorated with a great many ornaments: the dashboard was practically a shrine. It was oddly warm and comforting, sharing the space with a little luminous god. Isobel sank back against the shabby seat cover, the ancient springs. Tears, unbidden, ran down her cheeks and she stroked them away with her fingertips. A tissue was passed from the front seat, the turbanned head looked straight ahead. Only once, just  before the cab pulled into the kerb, did their eyes meet in the mirror. 'No charge,' he said when she was opening her purse. 'But I insist,' Isobel said. 'No, Madame. No.'  (From Loving Sylvie by Elizabeth Smither, (pub 2019 Allen & Unwin). *** ''I'm just so tired,' Brownie said against Vic's chest. 'So fucking tired of being afraid, and pretending, and being alone.' 'Yeah, loneliness is a bugger all right,' said Vic. 'Makes you wonder what you did to be so unloveable.' Brownie sat up. Smeared the tears from his face with… Read more…

From my garden