Love Birds




These two came to visit us one evening. We’ve lived in our house on the hill for over thirty years. Usually, the kererū (wood pigeons), dive bomb us on our zig-zag path down to the road. They dance on flax bushes and crash through the bush at almost head height, frightening me frequently, followed by my joyful relieved laughter.

It’s a privilege to live among the bush and birds. For twenty years we had a cat called Red who roamed the sloping roof of our elderly house. She never killed the kererū or tui, but when Red died, we found the smaller birds (sparrows, blackbirds), got cheekier and came closer on our deck. They had obviously kept away.

This beautiful photo is of two kereru sitting on our deck railing while we were inside eating dinner. We had planned a BBQ but the weather closed in. Someone on Twitter suggested the birds are wearing white aprons, ready to do the dishes. Someone else suggested they are making their vows. And indeed, we held a wedding in our garden late December 2017. A friend said, the kereru heard we do good weddings.

So, this image, taken with a phone, through the glass, has struck a chord with many people on Facebook and Twitter, so I decided to share it with you, my blog readers.  Our house goes on the market late January (this is not a sales pitch), and this image of the kererū will see us through as we shift our view to further up the hill.


Gluten or Gluten free (and real cream) for the Kiwi


I’ve been reading a friend’s tips for bloggers. The quirky, and highly original Rachel McAlpine has inspired me. I usually try to blog about things relating to my writing life or share my ‘writing’. Taking a tip from Rachel’s recent blog to bloggers, I’m tackling today, an issue that interests me. It’s about food and its on my mind.

We’ve just said farewell to our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter who flew home to Seoul last night. While they were here, I enjoyed preparing and cooking food for them. It’s a pleasure I share with my local granddaughter. We are happiest together in the kitchen cooking. She particularly loves licking the bowl when baking cakes, at the creamed butter and sugar stage. Not to mention whipped cream! We prefer the Zany Zeus or Lewis Road double cream (the sort of cream we took for granted back in the 50’s and 60’s). My Korean daughter-in-law loves my meringues. I use the very simple ‘Bill’s Food’ Bill Granger, recipe for these. They never fail.  My son from Seoul adores Bill’s white chocolate cheesecake recipe (again, very simple).

One of the new easy highlights over this holiday, was a recipe I used from Annabel Langbein’s ‘Through the Seasons’ (Melt in the Mouth spiced stone fruit). I cooked apricots, plums and nectarines for three hours in the oven at 120 C, marinated in sugary water, vanilla and star anise. The flavour of the fruit intensified although still for me, the acidity remained. But with sour cream and brown sugar, the acidity was counter-balanced nicely.  Living in Seoul for 4 ½ months last year, I feasted almost daily on frozen mango chunks and a highlight always in Korea, is eating Mango Bing Su. I am selective about which fruits I eat. My digestive system seems to find most fruit too acidic. Whereas my husband eats fruit every day and especially loves stone fruit. I seem to live on bananas.


This morning reading the Herald newspaper, I saw an article on the problem Kiwis have with gluten. I can admit to being one of those Kiwis. Mine is not a serious gluten allergy, but I have learned to manage my intake. In 2013, I spent three months in Siem Reap as a volunteer ESOL teacher and found all my digestive issues miraculously vanished. My specialist said it could have been the Cambodian rice. Who knows?  I found in the heat, I lost a lot of weight, even though I was drinking half pint 50c beers at night to cool down. So, I began visiting the Blue Pumpkin cafe each day to drink coffee and eat a millefeuille. I didn’t gain weight, but I also didn’t have any issues with the pastry.



This set me to thinking about my fifties and sixties childhood. We didn’t eat much bread back then. My mother was a wonderful cook (coal range) and we always biked home from school to eat cooked lunches. We didn’t own a car, so as a result, we didn’t do ‘picnics’ very often. So, sandwiches were not really part of my repertoire. And I often choose a small sausage roll rather than an overstuffed, oversized focaccia at a café.

Over the past ten years, I’ve spent quite a lot of money, buying ‘gluten free’ breads. Not enjoying them that much but mostly for toast. Then I worked out that sourdough bread seemed different and was more easily digested. A neighbour who makes her own, gave me some of her sourdough scoby. My first loaf was a miracle loaf (photo included).  My subsequent loaves have been delicious but not as perfectly formed. I tend now, with loving care to my scoby.



In the 1970’s, I lived in Norway, doing my Kiwi OE.  I worked in a ski resort in the Haukeli mountains and learned to make Danish breakfast rolls (rundstykker). I haven’t made them in years, but when our son was here with his family from Seoul, we had a picnic in a local park (a Kiwi BBQ) for his friends and their young families. I made rundstykker and they were very popular (easy to make but not gluten free). I’d forgotten how light and delicious they are.


I post, therefore I am


(a rather long essay about social media and being a writer)…


I post, therefore I am.

Some years back, I went to a photographic exhibition of Barbara Kruger’s work and was struck by the photographic image with the caption ‘I shop, therefore I am.’ This image came back to me recently, when I saw a Facebook friend, who’d been very quiet on social media, post that he was alive, even if he hadn’t been posting. There were humorous quips in response, but mostly, there were warm, encouraging comments, letting this person know they mattered, people cared, that they were happy to hear from this person.

I am friends with many writers on Facebook and I was a reasonably early up-taker of social media. I joined Facebook in 2008. It’s enabled me to connect with writers throughout New Zealand, people I already knew and new people whom I only know through Facebook.

I had a short public spat several years ago on LeafSalon (one of the first on-line blogs for the New Zealand writing community, before Beattie’s Blog) with a fellow writer. I was somewhat pathetically bemoaning my lack of public profile, while trying to appear humble yet seeking recognition. My friend took me to task. She seemed to be saying that after so many years of hard work writing a novel, then it was to some extent disingenuous to not promote your own writing. That a writer should view their work as a product. This jarred at the time and I felt put in my place, but I also felt distant from the point of view that saw a piece of writing as a product. My art, no mere product, but my blood, sweat and tears… resting on some quaint idea that great art will out itself – be discovered – without me having to point towards it.  And of course, let’s be honest, it wasn’t even great art, merely good enough to be published. I’m now considering the idea that as a writer on Facebook, if I don’t post links to my published work, or announce upcoming achievements, are they even visible – will anyone know that I have written them?

The idea that you might write a novel, spend several years researching, writing and then launch it and hope that people will find it and read it… now seems quaint and rather luxurious.  Of course, there are writers in New Zealand for whom this has been their experience. They were best-selling authors at a time when it was enough to have a high-profile publisher, a few good bookshops and many, dedicated fans. When the writing had to speak for itself or, relied on word of mouth. I recall a saying… it takes six people to tell six people to tell… to make a bestseller.

New writers nowadays maybe less likely to have garnered that kind of following and may have to rely on self-promotion both the free on Facebook sort, or paid advertising, along with the sometimes-feeble efforts of their publishers. They can tweet and hope for retweets, Instagram and generally self- promote. Why not? Tweeting will require dedication. To just create a Twitter account is not enough. You must connect with other influential people for your tweet to be useful. You need to spend time being witty, empathetic, and attempt to look well read, and well connected to grow your list of followers (and er, potential readership). The difficulty is, as on Facebook, if you are a writer, you are swimming in the same pool of posts and tweets as each other. You cannot afford to ignore other’s achievements and it can be time consuming, ensuring you acknowledge everyone else’s achievements, and perhaps lamenting your own current lack of. Cliques of course abound and they both strengthen and depending on your position, inside, or outside, the clique, perhaps even dilute, a writer’s profile.

I am an avid user of Facebook, unable to withdraw from the sense of identity and connection it offers me. There’s a delicate balance between showing off, modesty and faux humility. The humble brag is a tricky beast to manage. You can pull it off successfully once or twice, but if it is your standard guise, you might find it wearing thin. Then again, an outright lack of modesty might also work once or twice and then begin to jar, so why waste time on faux humility?  Authenticity is encouraged. I have always hoped that this was what I was achieving, but Facebook has an insidious erosive effect on ongoing authenticity.  For some people this means showing their lives warts and all. I prefer to post positive updates, that shine a light on the mostly bright and humorous spots of my life. I am often perturbed by friends who whine, complain or reveal too much of themselves. I censor them privately and wonder why they feel so happy to be so public about what I perceive as so private, or frequently to me, so trivial. But of course, I’m ignoring the fact that my own updates may seem sanitised or inauthentic because I omit the bad stuff. It’s not that I want to pretend my life is perfect. It’s that I see Facebook as a public ‘face’ and not my private face. If I wish to share something deeply personal I will private message a friend or speak (with luck) to them in person. Or, I might text, because I assume this is a one on one chat, ignoring that it may in fact go via more than one ISP provider before it arrives in their in-box.

All of this has set me to thinking about what it means to be a writer and indeed why I write and who I am or wish to be. When I first found writing, late in life, it was the great elixir. A potent antidote to the quotidian, it felt as if my life, post children had suddenly become meaningful.  Each new small triumph, a story in Sport, or Takahe, a novel with Random House, an essay in Landfall, articles and a poem in the Listener… seemed to shower upon me, personally, some golden cloak of achievement. I wore this cloak secretly, proudly and I knew no one else could see it, but it warmed me through to a part of myself I never knew.  More recently, I noticed my golden cloak no longer warmed me the way it had… it was mysteriously absent and unreachable, possibly even out of fashion. I thought it was going to warm me through to the end. I saw it now for what it was. My unseen gold cloak was hubris. I realised that I couldn’t just wear this golden cloak, I had to continue to write.

Peter Wells, a well-known Kiwi writer, wrote a series of Facebook blog-like postings about his journey with cancer, subsequently published on The Spinoff.  It became an unmissable almost daily update as he explored his deeply personal response to this disease, along with stirring memories of his life as a young Gay man in New Zealand. One of the more poignant and striking posts was a moment of cultural alienation (and later he felt, for his parents, shame).  In a moment of personal disappointment at not having his own achievements recognised in a public arena (the 1987 Gofta film and TV awards) he took umbrage at the ‘sexist’ cliched portrayal of a Gay man by John Inman of the legendary British sitcom ‘Are you being Served?’ What Peter described as the ‘campest caricature’. He admits in his posting to being angry at being nominated for many awards and failing to win. The accumulation of this being his yelling out ‘fuck off, sexist shit’ at John Inman and the ensuing scandal that he had dared to do so. The poignancy is the shadow under which this cast Peter for many years, not just in his artistic endeavours but in his own sense of self. It is both sad and beautiful to see the healing in his writing about this time but tragic also, that in the conservative era in which this all took place, the impact was so unnecessarily harsh. He found a voice to express this, through Facebook and it resounded.

A famous local children’s writer recently blogged about being transgender, posting intimate details of their overseas surgical facial reconstruction. I haven’t named this writer, because it occurs to me that although I am a Facebook friend, maybe this experience was posted only for Facebook friends. The writing was personal, intimate and interesting. It wasn’t sensationalised in the way that perhaps a tabloid account of a similar journey might be to garner click bait. But, it was indeed, an important story and self-published. Facebook is a natural medium for writers.  I try to imagine the same encouragement and support for this type of journey prior to social media, knowing people who endured these journeys in self-imposed privacy, wishing to pass from one or other gender without the transition being public. On alert, antennae tightly tuned to any hint of a sideways second glance. Imposing restrictions on not just themselves but others within their circle.

Recently, I had a poem rejected by a journal I normally have success with. I was disappointed of course, but then decided, why wait? I posted the poem on my blog and a link on Facebook and Twitter. The poem boosted my blog stats over three days and I have convinced myself that more people viewed (and hopefully read the poem) than might have, if I’d waited for it to appear in the journal. I had a positive response. I could have waited and sent the poem off to another journal, but this would mean a long wait and who knows, another rejection. Through posting links on social media (Facebook, Twitter and my blog), I was able to self-publish and receive almost immediate and positive feedback. Of course, the risk is, that through social influence, art is applauded simply because you are ‘friends’ (the clique effect).  In traditional publishing, the poem would land on the page, wait to be read, and then perhaps a few months later, if fortunate, a thoughtful critique in another paper publication. Or, indeed, it might have been rejected, by a discerning editor.  Facebook has made us all greedy perhaps, for the more immediate. There’s a clamouring for attention. In the scramble, and due to algorithms, the more ‘likes’ a posting gets, the more likely it will be seen by others. Does this mean a piece of writing is good or just more likeable?

Facebook, for me was originally about a sense of community. The water cooler for writers who spend a lot of time on-line writing. It connects us in ways not possible before. Distracts us too, in ways not possible before.

Kirsty Gunn was quoted recently in ‘The Scotsman’ about a conversation she had with Ali Smith at the Katherine Mansfield Symposium in London, in an article entitled ‘The wonder to be found in Katherine Mansfield’s letters’.  In speaking about the letters of KM, Ali Smith and Kirsty Gunn spoke of

How they open up our sense of what writing can be, those pages and pages of communication from a writer to her friends and family and world, that we may use them to look about us with a greater sense of wonder and astonishment and sense of possibility.

Future, scholars may well be sourcing some of their material and inspiration from the Facebook and Twitter updates of famous writers. Stories arrive in fragments, images, or in the case of Peter Wells and my other Facebook friend documenting a surgery to reconstruct identity, by way of blog-like Facebook updates. Other writers’ responses are frequently eloquent, lyrical or poetic. In this way, Facebook and Twitter have opened channels of written communication to a wider clique. Whereas, letters or emails sent might only ever include the two participants. In some sense this has democratised the written word, but there are still pitfalls. New Zealand is a very small writing community, so many of us are connected. It is difficult to resist ticking ‘like’ when someone links to an achievement. It would be churlish not to, and too, it can be insincere to tick ‘like’ simply because everyone else has. There is the risk of a herd mentality. Following and liking a popular or perceived to be ‘famous’ writer, could be seen to enhance your own status if one wishes to be cynical. Then too, access to people otherwise out of reach, can be rewarding and widen your circle and sphere of influence. And then there is the over-showing, over-sharing, that begins to tarnish your view of someone.  I recall my initial excitement in following Stephen Fry on Twitter, and then my fading interest, as the Tweets kept coming, his incisive wit and originality, fading before my eyes, familiarity as its wont to do, breeding if not contempt, then eroding my awe-full admiration.

Sometimes, I find myself on Twitter, unable to negotiate some threads. People can be oblique, witty and sarcastic, and reference events, or use cultural signifiers that have no meaning for me. And then I find myself in a thread that takes me to the Paris Review and a recorded conversation with Simone de Beauvoir that I undoubtedly would have missed otherwise. There is the frequent opportunity to lose hours following literary Twitter links, admiring others’ achievements, losing yourself in a sea of creativity, but not your own.

There is at times a noticeable lack of empathy. I read a tweet from an otherwise insightful editor, who, when an old school friend ticked like on Twitter after one of her postings, tweeted almost gleefully, that her memories of this old school friend conjured up the stink of urine.  Many people ticked like to this scoffing. I was struck by how hurtful and thoughtless this tweet was. Why would anyone deliberately and in such a public way, shame someone? Of course, we were not to know who this old school friend was, but she would know…   Yet I don’t believe the tweeter intended to be cruel, it was for her, comedy. It’s the licence we take as writers. Other people are our fodder. I read an essay by Ashleigh Young in the Paris Review about her short stint at the Katherine Mansfield House in Tinakori Road, managing volunteers.  She relates conversations with others working at the house, to illustrate her points about the obsessive nature of some KM devotees. These conversations or reported communications are revelatory and very personal in tone. But there’s no personal harm to anyone. The writer has crafted a thoughtful, interesting essay and we the reader, can glean from reported conversations or excerpts from such conversations, her impressions and draw our own conclusions. The difference with tweeting an experience can be the lack of thoughtfulness and craft even within the limited word count.

I was reading the memoir of Christopher Hitchens and he mentions that Bill Clinton’s statement that he did not inhale, was more than likely accurate, as from Christopher Hitchens’ memory, Bill instead ate hash cookies. He also goes on to extrapolate about threesomes in which he implicates both himself and Bill (ah but not together). And although it is the written word, a crafted memoir, one can still, I imagine, read with a certain cautious sideways glance taking into account, memory, hubris and a somewhat misogynistic viewpoint. Look here, folks, the fun we boys had back then.   It made me think about Twitter or Instagram back then, and whether an image of Bill either eating or inhaling would have settled the matter. Or Christopher himself abed with whomever, and would the participants be objectified, or delighted to be part of history. But too, we have such sophisticated technology that whole heads can be transferred to other bodies, thus making all images, susceptible to manipulation and requiring a good dose of caution in observing and believing.

There’s plenty of room for hubris on Twitter… A theme starts with post a picture of yourself age 16 and of course, no doubt about it, we all look pretty lovely age 16 and suddenly Twitter is filled with sixteen year olds… the old humble brag abounds… look how gorgeous I was once (of course, the photo is dated, and you are supposed to look a bit gawky perhaps in dated clothes, but once can’t help but think how very weird, that you imagine the internet needs to see these photos)… having said that, I am guilty of posting retro photos of myself on Facebook, looking younger and thinking how cool in retrospect, I did look (although at the time, of course, that wasn’t so at all… we never really measure up do we?)… perhaps this retro posting is a way of finally measuring up.

The metoo# movement on Facebook and Twitter cannot be underestimated. It was a defining moment with the naming, shaming and downfall of Harvey Weinstein. It made it easier for women to speak of what had previously been their unspeakable experiences. It without doubt, kick started an enquiry into the largest Law firm in New Zealand, the mores of the workplace in which misogyny as a normalised sub-text played out over many years and no doubt continues to do so in many other workplaces.  But, the downside is that the prolific number of hashtag metoo responses, in a perverse and insidious way, can begin to normalise what is horrific. The way we read about war casualties from the safety of our laptop. And then when it becomes all too difficult, we disassociate. There are moments on Facebook and Twitter when I recoil from too intimate a revelation, shocked, empathetic, but preferring not to know.  On Twitter, people spill their guts in 140 character, speaking of abuses, demanding empathy in soundbites. I am overwhelmed, and I choose to restrict my empathy, rationing it to the most deserving (which in my case might mean the cleverly subtle spilling of subtle guts because I cannot face such confrontational gore). What does this say about me?  Am I the reason these perpetrators have gotten away with this stuff for so long?

I’m fixated when the rescue mission begins for the Thai boys and their teacher, trapped in caves with a rising tide and monsoon predictions. It’s a gripping story, although I know that in Japan, simultaneously, up to one hundred people have died in floods. Somehow the smaller tragedy is rendered more personal, because a story has been generated about the boys that I can relate to.  I keep refreshing Twitter to stay ahead of the story, counting each rescued child. I’ve invested my empathy in this story. Watching the rescue mission for the Thai boys, guarantees me an outcome, whether good or bad and I can cheer knowing that almost everyone would agree and be on the same side as me. I sign on-line petitions, consider myself a passive activist, but from the comfort of my keyboard. I took it personally in 2014 when the Chibok girls were kidnapped. My outrage meant I changed my Facebook profile in solidarity, assuming that of course they would be rescued. My outrage did not last the length of their kidnapping and quietly, admitting defeat, my commitment to standing with them until the end, lasted but a few months at the most.

Increasingly, with the abundance of words on the net, the value of good writing is both valued and trivialised. The deeply private thrill of going to the library and finding a book you’ve never previously heard about, plucking it from the shelf and taking it home to read, to uncover its worth and revel in its beauty without influence or prior expectations, is a joy I miss. The closest I got to this recently, was reading ‘The Transit of Venus’, a book gifted to me in the early 1990’s by a book club friend. I couldn’t engage with it then, and on impulse, after packing up our home of thirty years, I popped it into my suitcase for an overseas holiday. What a profound and beautiful experience it was to finally sink into such extraordinary prose. It was my own specially found treasure. I knew Shirley Hazard was a ‘rated’ author, but I had no idea what joy and amazement would ensue in the reading. Of course, I promptly turned to social media to announce my find… to discover many other people I knew had read and loved this novel.

So… when my Facebook friend, after a long absence, posted a short quip to say they still existed, what were we meant to make of this? Was it a toe in the water to see how warm it was? Was it a line cast into the deep to see if the fish were biting? Was it a weak moment, the person now regrets, because, they find the whole Facebook thing an utter bore?  I feel this every day, and I keep dipping my toes back into the water… casting my net, wider and wider, attaching sinkers by way of clever updates to go deeper and deeper and perhaps it’s becoming shallower, and shallower.

Frequently, I decide to eschew Facebook and Twitter… to settle down to write, to take myself seriously, by turning off social media. But then I am reminded that I am writing to be read, and Facebook and Twitter mean that I have a readership. I am also a naturally gregarious person, and social media enables me to engage in conversations with other writers whom I normally would have no access to. And too, the gnawing feeling, that if I don’t post links to my writing achievements, will anyone ever read them… is there any point to having written them at all?

I post, therefore I am.










Found Poem


Found poem

I found these suggestions for the title of my novel ‘Daughters of Messene’… They felt like a poem – an homage to my Greek novel

Daughters of Messene front cover


when lips and skin remember…

playing it two doors

becoming smoke

it’s being played

the fat rain

the lanterns rock

I am in this song

in this song

the tears of the North wind

the unwept

sweet Life

speak, Immortal One,

and tell the tale once more in our time.

and tell the tale

a new beginning

but still I long

making black eyes

small balls of candle wax

life to you

the suitcase goes a long way



I am a Halmoni


We are walking from their apartment. Up a steep street in the sweltering heat. She is due. Her stomach is wide, round, the baby’s head engaged. Food couriers whizz by with chicken dishes for locals. We find an allotment behind a school, in a valley, overlooked by the mountains and power lines. None of us knew it was here. There is clover to entice the bees, tomatoes staked and beans already sprouting. We talk about bringing the compost here to share.

We can bring baby here when she is born, I say.  Her mother is both excited and a little frightened. I grew up she tells me in the countryside, but you know, we didn’t have bugs and things.  I lived in an apartment. She waves away what might be a sand-fly or mosquito, but possibly her imagination. We speak of the labour to come. Our language inhibits us. Instead, we breathe together. Breathing we agree will help the baby to arrive. I’m not sure she is convinced.

I am a Halmoni, the Korean word for grandmother. This baby is not my first grandchild. The other granddaughter lives in New Zealand and she will turn 11, just a week or so after this baby is born. I am reminded of her birth, of my love for her and of my own journey as a young mother, without a mother.

Here in Korea, the mother is mothered. My daughter-in-law is well supported. We have travelled from New Zealand to be here for four months, to be helpful. I’ve taken leave from my paid job. Her own mother is also a working woman and spends the weekends making nutritious food for a feeding mother. Seaweed soup, chicken porridge, foods that comfort as well as contribute. I am out of my depth. My daughter-in-law craves the food of her childhood. I can make chicken soup with a fresh chicken from the market. But there are family recipes and rituals I can never replicate.

So, I bring my love in my suitcase. I haven’t changed a baby’s nappy, since the father of this child was a baby. Before this baby arrives, the parents have invested in cloth nappies. We nodded in approval.  Now that baby is here, we are using disposables. I cry a little with the emotion of being trusted with this new day-old baby, although my son ensures I know how to hold her fragile head. He checks, initially, whenever he passes his daughter to me, that I understand the way to hold her. And then he is back at work, and I am trusted with her lovely head.

Memories of being a new mother emerge in vignettes. I try not to say too often to the baby’s grandfather who is here with me… remember how often you were away. I recall our farm holiday near the Coast. The clothesline strung from one wooden prop to another. Cows roamed beneath. When the line was full, it collapsed, and the nappies fell in the cow pads. We had crayfish though, undersized crayfish, that the farmer gave us to eat.

At night, I recall the mishaps. The window that fell on my eldest son when he was 18 months old. He still has the scar. His wife finds it attractive. I can still see the million pieces of glass, the blood on the floor, the blood on me, and my pregnant belly. I remember the rush to the hospital in a neighbour’s car (because you were at work darling).  And the night our youngest lad’s foreskin became a tourniquet around his penis due to an infection and at midnight I phoned my neighbour for help (because you were away darling…).  He reminds me, this besotted grandfather, that he was trying to pay the mortgage. And we both agree, it’s much of a blur. These vignettes come unbidden, to remind us, who we once were. Brief recollections, possibly inaccurate, all follies forgiven.

Back home, my other granddaughter sends me messages on Kakao, using filters on messenger and I can’t work out how to do the same. She is wearing a cat nose with whiskers and making funny noises. I think she likes her new cousin, so I keep sending her photographs. Her mother is strict about phone contact, so all my messages are filtered through her mother. And she is right to do this. Still… I dream of the day when we will chat back and forth freely, unfiltered, to see what sort of conversation we might have.

I am her cooking granny. She learned to crack eggs (all eight of them when she was three). Sitting on our kitchen bench, making scrambled eggs. She had no fear. Cracking the eggs in one go. And quickly she learned how to separate the yolks using the open palm of her hand. Watching the albumen slide from her fingers, the yoke intact. We moved from scrambled eggs to pikelets, to buttermilk pancakes. We made faces in the pan, flipped pancakes, wasted mixture, licked the spoons and drank the melted butter. I didn’t change her nappy, because I wasn’t needed. At the time it felt like rejection, but her mother had a mother. And I’ve learned as a mother-in-law, to adjust my expectations. It’s a wise woman who learns to adjust her expectations in life. Where once I saw loss, I know love.

I’m recalling how it was as a young mother, with no mother. At the time, I was so absorbed in mothering I didn’t miss her. Our babies survive our good intentions. It is only now that I grieve, as a grandmother, wishing I’d known my own mother more. Wishing I could ask about her mothering of me. She was often unwell and had four babies, one after the other – my two eldest siblings only 11 months apart, and then a baby that was ‘removed’ for health reasons (a polite euphemism of its time…)  leaving room for me. I know my older two siblings spent time in foster homes and a local orphanage run by nuns, when my mother spent periods in hospital. I’ve no idea where I was?  I wonder now. Was I picked up and held by strangers, or by my mother? There is no one to ask. I feel sympathy for my mother. That I never bothered to enquire. To ask her how it was for her.

Now, I am needed. The mother of my Korean daughter-in-law is a working woman. I have taken leave from my job to come and be a Halmoni. I worried at first that I would no longer know what to do. But rocking from one foot to another and patting a baby’s back and bum is instinctive. But too, I have learned, with all my love and patience, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, but a mother, that matters to a new baby. I watch with admiration, the bond, the commitment, the patient learning as this new baby teaches her new mama, that she, this tiny infant is really the one in charge, the schedule is hers, and the sweet surrender of mother to child is a revelation. This is what we do as mothers. We surrender.

I remember my closest friend when my babies were small. She had a daughter who was between the age of my two lads. We shared coffees, recipes, babysat, and supported one another. Our children shared bath times and bedtimes. She became my rock. She too was a motherless mother. We were motherless mothers, doing our best. My friend died aged 40 from a brain tumour, leaving her 11-year-old daughter motherless. I recall her last days, the determination not to die. The fluids she drank to keep hydrated, as her breath came, it seemed, minutes apart, each breath, a wish to live longer. A wish to never leave her daughter. It still breaks my heart, and I try not to ever imagine my granddaughters motherless.

My newest granddaughter is giving involuntary smiles that some people call wind. She is opening her eyes and responding to sounds. I lean in towards her, put my face up close, dare to kiss her on the cheek, just briefly, not wanting to impose, but impossible to resist.  I watch her feet as they kick the swaddle cloth off, and her hands in cotton mittens find her mouth briefly, but perhaps I am exaggerating, it’s too early, she’s only three weeks old. Her father no longer worries quite so much about her head, because her neck is strong, and she can push herself away from my shoulder as I burp her. My daughter-in-law can write burp in English and we chuckle together, waiting for the sound.

I used to worry that I wouldn’t see my babies grow to men, when my friend died. And now I grieve for the women these granddaughters will be that I might never see.  I am a Halmoni.

Book Street, Seoul


  Gyeongui Line Book Street



An old railway line and a homage to literature.  Today, in autumnal sunlight, we strolled along Book Street.  It’s a haven of sorts, established to encourage the love of literature. It also remembers a time when the railway ran further, through both South and North Korea joining up with the South Manchuria Railway.



There are up to 14 train-shaped book booths but today, alas, because of Chuseok (Autumn Eve), none of these were open. There are remnants of the original railway tracks with it’s wide gauge, along a grassy, tree-lined walkway, which is built over the metro that runs below. .



And look at these talking books!

The bold, brightly coloured metal books are facing each other in conversation, framing these two men also in conversation with music.  A metal girl is climbing the ladder to re-stock the library shelves, or perhaps to take a book out!



The old track runs for some kilometres and is lined with trees, part Book Street and continuing on as Gyeongui Line Forest Park. A surprising dollop of soft green amid the brick and concrete. Beautifully planned, but not too perfect, so that some of the grasses are less kempt, rather than manicured.


Above, the unkempt lovely look beneath the metal ‘Forest of Text’ created to reflect the literary ambience of Book Street. The steel rods are holding aloft text through which the sun shines.   The street remembers too, a time when Hongdae was less gentrified and trendy and the home for upcoming Indie bands and musicians.






An Ode to the Women of Yeonsinnae




An Ode to the women of Yeonsinnae

Lady in beige and peach with your motorised cart with meals to eat.

The tall dark woman, on the mat by the metro, trimming chives
same spot, every day, produce on the pavement by your feet.

My barista with her many caps, who can say Cafe Latte before I speak.

The three women at the pork restaurant, the younger one who wears shorts, smiling more at John than at me and sensing my disapproval the next time, flirting instead with a table full of businessmen leaving, the others, who we think might be her sisters, to look after us.

The young plump girl who did my nails whose husband is Turkish and who hates her mother-in-law’s cooking and can’t believe that I like kimchi, searching in her own bag for clear polish just for me and asking if she could find work painting nails in New Zealand.

The woman in the linen dress shop who shakes her head certain that whatever frock I’m holding will never fit me and the women in the permanently 70% off sale shop, who are determined I will fit everything and I must come back wearing the top tomorrow.

All the women in the Lotte Mall who push and shove to get to the checkout before me, changing lanes quicker than I can find my debit card and the woman on the checkout who beams when I tell her to keep working her arse off, because literally, in translation this is a nice thing for me to say and I’ve perfected it now along with learning how to tell my barista that I like her hat.

And too, I mustn’t forget the woman eating corn in the café on the corner by the alley to the metro, who got up from her corn to stir our squid dish over the flame at our table, smiling because yes, we do like spicy and of course how lucky we were to get a table, because every night this restaurant has a queue outside the door and it was only because it was Sunday (and raining cats and dogs) that we got a table.

And goodness, me I nearly forgot the lovely woman who we think might have once been a famous singer, who makes the best pancakes (different flavours on different nights)

And then there’s the woman who might be a teacher whom I meet when I leave our apartment and she always says hello in English as if she wants to stop and chat but is too shy and is gone before I can reply.



Who am I?


Who am I?


I’m the daughter

of melting butter

coal fire burning

hoar frost morning

ash-deep air


Khrushchev and

Kennedy, Marilyn,

The Beatles, Sputniks,

Nureyev, yellow peril

reds under the bed


weatherboard and

jerry built, lino

and Formica, the

new acrylic

mustard lounge suite


of roasts and gravy

coffee buns and cocoa

home-made fish and

chips on lace covered

tables, with cutlery


crushed magnolias

hawthorn hedges

lethal rural switchbacks

where cars collided

neighbours died


chilblain, chicken pox

measles, mumps and

chalk dust, school milk

you didn’t drink the

unused inkwells


car coats from Tokyo

Bermuda shorts, hula

hoops, Kodak instamatic

waterlogged togs

school pools


I’m the granddaughter

of an Irish orphan

whose link was verified

long after he died

from family saliva


the daughter of

a country pub Cook

who recited doggerel

on stage with the

passion of a poet


my Dad was a POW

who drowned his

shell shock in the

legally sanctioned

six o’clock swill


I’m a mother, lover,

wife, once Catholic

now atheist, once pro

life now pro choice

an unfinished canvas



sister to two siblings

one turning seventy

the other autopsied

for traces of cyanide

a thin blue line


I’ve two sons with

wives which makes

me a mother-in-law

and now I understand

the fact of hyphens


I’m a grandmother

on standby like the

life guards at Piha

trained all my life

to survive the rips


Should anyone wish

to peel away the layers

I’m a work in progress

base coat verifiable

post war fifties


I’ve worn stiff petticoats

cinnamon tinted nylons

home-made shift frocks

twisted the night away

danced the limbo


I’ve typed for the Post

Office, sold books, made

beds and love in Edinburgh,

waitressed in Norway

served drinks in Sydney


went to Haight Ashbury

rode on a Greyhound

saw the Big Apple

lived in London

even been to Cuba


as the rafters soften

the walls seem closer

the floor keeps shifting

the light’s playing tricks

memories unblunted








Shut One Eye – Cycling the Otago Rail Trail


Shut One Eye

This is the advice given to us from a stranger. We were seated at an outdoor café in Alexandra.  It was the first day of our cycling the Otago Rail Trail. Already, in our lodgings at Clyde, we had encountered the warmth of southern hospitality. Then, at the start of the trail, as we entered the first stretch of gravel and dirt, a couple about our age, coming the other way, (locals biking from Alexandra to Clyde), ambushed us with hellos and endless chit-chat about the trail.  I was itching to be on my bike but fascinated too with the friendliness.


Shut One Eye.  By this stage, we had cycled the short distance from Clyde to Alexandra and we were enjoying a coffee in the sunshine. First one, then another, local, stopped to chat about our e-bikes, our cycling and where did we come from.  The man who told us to shut one eye before we entered the Poolburn Gorge tunnels on our bikes, was full of advice about recharging electric bikes and cars. He regaled us with his mileage on both his bike and in his car and where to plug in.


And this was how I ended up cycling with one eye shut for half a kilometre prior to the tunnels. Precarious, but persevering, as I am a stickler for following advice. Whereas John, less worried than me about night blindness, shut his eye about half a minute before. We both sailed through the tunnels yelling and laughing and it was around the middle of the longest tunnel that I suddenly found myself slightly panicked with no idea of left, right, backwards or forwards – and then a light emerged at the end and John’s voice beckoned.


It was afterwards, we read the sign advising us to walk and not cycle through the tunnels. Chatting with other cyclists that evening, we realised we’d been a bit foolhardy, as perhaps a cyclist coming the other way (who maybe hadn’t shut their one eye for a whole kilometre) would be cycling blind towards us.

It was stinking hot on this, the most scenic part of the trail. We left Omakau early, had coffee in Lauder which was 32 degrees in the shade and then found ourselves hurtling as fast as we could to create a breeze in the stifling, scorching, windless Central Otago. We passed young families, not on e-bikes, not all that well prepared, standing practically hugging an almost hedge, pretending it was shade. One of the kids was crying, the mother looked distressed and Dad with another toddler, was all decked out like a veteran cyclist.

We also noted a hierarchy and a bit of snobbery around e-bikes. You get the feeling from people who are not on e-bikes, that somehow you might be cheating.  We had a wee chuckle when heard that the Otago Rail Trail committee had a meeting to decide if they would allow e-bikes on the trail!  Er, yes, well, as imagine the baby boomer business they might have missed out on.

Apart from the cycling and the spectacular scenery, the revelation was the southern hospitality. From our first night’s accommodation in Clyde when a wine was foisted upon us, to the several locals in Alexandra who stopped to chat proffering advice and the wonderful fact, that everywhere we stayed, the homes remained unlocked.  In Omakau we had a large lodge with several rooms all to ourselves – the note on the table when we arrived, said pick a room.  When our host arrived to chat to us, I asked her for a key and she replied.

There is no key – this house has never had a key – when I bought it from the old couple who used to own it, there wasn’t a key.


Then in Oturehua, we stayed at ‘The Mill’.  A beautiful, historic and utterly charming, quarried stone building. Our host was yet another Aucklander in retreat.  We met so many people who’d left Auckland to come to live in Central Otago. Driving us down to the local pub, our host pointed out houses along the way. One house was owned by the woman who bought firewood to our host as a welcoming gift when she first moved there and another house belonged to the people who own a trailer that is out the back and able to be borrowed at any time.



At the Oturehua store, I bought a signed copy of Brian Turner’s Elemental and just love the earthy, wise and unpretentious poems. He lives somewhere nearby evidently.


And finally, we met Basil Fawlty.  I guess it had to happen.   It was after the most generous and welcoming stay at the Waipiata Country Pub. We were the only people staying there.  This was so at all our accommodation. It seems we picked a week between seasons (end of Christmas summer holidays and just before the back to school crowd). The owner let us park our bikes in a spare bedroom to recharge. He let us use the washing machine for no extra cost and within half an hour on the old rotary clothesline, everything was bone dry.

So, it was, we rose early the next morning for the last part of the trail. 52 kilometres on a gentle downhill slope all the way to Middlemarch. We were told there were no cafes on this stretch and the pub owner made us a giant salad sandwich, bacon and egg pie and a muffin each.  John was certain there must be a café en route.  We reached Hyde.  A small country pub with a pop-up café. The pop-up café had hot water, coffee bags and various refreshments with an honesty box.  Alas, John’s bike hadn’t recharged the night before. It seemed it hadn’t been properly connected. John, ever pro-active, wheeled his cycle into the pop-up café, and plugged it in.

Well… within a few minutes, a man whom John has affectionately nicknamed Wal from Footrot Flats, appeared

You’re taking the piss.  


I said, you’re taking the piss.

He was outraged that John had brought his bike into the small pop-up café to plug it in.

John politely explained he was recharging and the conversation went back and forth about why couldn’t John take the battery off the bike (which he couldn’t as his adaptor was in his suitcase en route to Middlemarch)… Wal, was livid.   I was outside drinking my coffee and rushed in with my five dollars to pay for the coffee in case Wal thought not only were we stealing power, we were not going to pay for our coffee.  I couldn’t locate the honesty box, so I asked him where it was.

I’m not going to tell you – find it!

In a fluster, as he watched, I rushed around the room hunting for the honesty box which turned out to be a Cadbury Roses chocolate tin.

Then Wal decided he wanted a photo of John recharging the bike and insisted John stand beside the bike while he took a photo.  John, ever determined to keep the bike charging, agreed.  Alas, Wal couldn’t work his phone camera and seem to be appealing to us for help…. needless to say, no photo ensued. It was evidently stuck on panorama.

We enquired if the pop-up café was temporary and was there to be a new café?  And no, he wasn’t about to open another café, as in spite of all the glowing comments over the past several years about the wonderful food and coffee at the Hyde Café, he’d seen the books, and none of the owners made any profit whatsoever.  And, then he added, for good measure…

Anyway, we’re not latte types.

John kept Wal chatting and said that eventually he’d have to accept that e-bikes were here for good and they’d need to be charged.  And what about electric cars, wouldn’t he have to have charging stations for electric cars at his hotel?

Well, that was the last straw for Wal who said that out here in this part of the world no one was going to be driving an electric car.  Basil Fawlty himself would have agreed we are certain.

But don’t be put off – the Hyde Country Pub looks a darling place to stay and I do think this chap is probably a genuinely lovely southern man who just hasn’t quite got the hang of pushy city folks who wish to charge their e-bikes.

We rounded off our holiday with two days at Little River to be with old friends, and home along the amazing new Kaikoura road. Such pride and joy to see the extraordinary work done on the road and yet to be done. Passing young men and women in hard hats, waving to us, proudly controlling the flow of traffic. Gobsmacking to see the uplifted seabed, the tons of earth that tumbled across the rail lines, the incredible engineering that has seen the Irongate bridge installed, the stunning depth of colour that is the Kaikoura coastline.











A colander, a Christmas cloth and cupcakes


A Facebook friend has recently posted a beautiful update about a breadboard. He’s writing with great candour about a recent cancer diagnosis and heading towards chemotherapy. Because he is a writer, he is expressing his present pain, both physical and spiritual, most eloquently. His post has inspired me to write about, not a breadboard, but a colander, a mixing bowl, two tablecloths and a wedding ring.



The colander, a beaten aluminum, was my mother’s. When I wash fruit, or rinse salad leaves, I am reminded of her. It’s just another household object, tossed into a very disorganised drawer of mismatched pots.  But this colander, carries the memory of a coal range, a small green fridge and a time when salads were chopped, like ribbons of crepe paper. When salads were an art form in a leaf shaped piece of Carlton Ware. Hard boiled eggs were halved and placed on the outer edge, carrot was grated atop, radishes, and tomatoes for a splash of colour. I think I can smell a whiff of mint that grew by the grace of the dripping outside tap. And the pièces de résistance would be the Highlander mayonnaise dressing – in a separate equally beautiful, possibly Carlton Ware jug. There would be the hot summer sun from the open back door, competing with the fire of the Shacklock. A delicate balance of opening and closing doors while the new potatoes boiled, regulating the temperature. A crochet cloth would be thrown over the beautifully set table to keep the flies at bay.


Uncle’s Gripstand mixing bowl (that might well have been my grandmothers)

Then, there is my uncle’s mixing bowl. I’ve spoken of this before. I use it once a year to make my Christmas cake, my mother’s recipe. It brings back memories of my favourite bachelor uncle, who taught me to swim. His bowl sits on the top shelf above the pantry and whenever I see it in passing, I am reminded of him. It has a small chip now which I ignore.  I was swimming in the Golden Bay in the late afternoon when word came that he had died. I had decided to go swimming on a whim, just prior to having guests for dinner.

Two days before Christmas, our youngest son got married in our garden. We’ve lived in our house for thirty years. The old house groaned with the pleasure. Every door was open to the outdoors and the garden chose to sparkle.  Listening to the wedding video, as the couple make their vows, unnoticed at the time, we can hear the birds chirping agreement. The house whispered loving secrets too, reminding us of wild teenage parties, old loves, new loves, friendships too. We all loved anew.

I found an old white tablecloth that I had purchased when I first left home and moved to Wellington. I was in a post office hostel and the Irish Linen man called. Back then I was in love with a faithless sailor. But the tablecloth survived.  My mother’s old white tablecloth, now a little worse for wear, but good quality linen was retrieved from obscurity –  the one that came out every Christmas during my childhood. A wedding loves a white tablecloth, but even more the mother of the groom loved the history of the two white tablecloths. When regaling my sons briefly with their history, the guffaws at the thought of a glory box sometimes known as a hope chest, overshadowed my romantic notions.

I’m posting a photo of the wedding cake, because it too is filled with precious ingredients. My granddaughter, my new daughter-in-law and I, made the cupcakes together. We had a batch failure which threw us into disarray. An over-beating of the mixture. We started again – three batches in all, and as happens when love is in the air, a friend of the groom, with a flair for decorating, iced the cakes for us.



And then we have the bride’s wedding ring. From family rings, a new and modern ring was fashioned at short notice, by a local jeweller. It is beautiful, contemporary and a melding of family history. The groom too wears a family ring. Thehappy couple have left New Zealand leaving us with memories and carrying these physical objects that represent both their love and ours. Together they are growing their love and our next grandchild.