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December 24, 2012

Midsummer Harvest cont.

Be Good

“Behave yourselves, you kids,” said Dad carrying an oven tray full of jam jars to the kitchen bench.  They were hot, straight out of the coal range, sterile and ready to swallow jam.  Dad didn’t want to burn a child and he didn’t want to drop the jars.
“Shoo, get out of the kitchen now.  You can fill the wood bin up if you like.”
It was called a coal range but they burnt wood on it, because they grew their own.  But that meant it needed a lot of attention to get the temperature up and to keep it at a steady heat.  Only Dad could drive the range evenly enough to make sponges; only Dad could drive it hot enough to bake scones. Mum cooked dinner on it - or in it, every day.
The kids fetched the firewood, making a hut in the woodpile for a bit, before they remembered to load the wheel barrow.  Then they heaved the lid off the box where it nestled beside the chimney piece, and started throwing in the wood.  Dad was pouring jam into jars, using a jug to scoop the plummy pulp from the jam pan. The first block of wood hit the inside of the wood box, which was also a little door into the kitchen, and the jam ran down the outside of the jar as Dad jumped out of his skin.
            That night Mum served roast mutton and new potatoes, and the plum jam spoke with cellophane crackles in ruby jars along the kitchen dresser. 
“Did you take the stones out,” asked Malcolm.
“No, I didn’t,” said Dad. “They are just the little plums, it wasn’t worth it.”
“I probably won’t eat that jam then,” Malcolm said. He was six and knew his own mind.  Mum said, “You behave yourself or else…”
“But I think I will,” said Malcolm remembering why he should eat jam with plum stones in it. “Can we have some on our custard?”
“Tomorrow I’ll do the gooseberries.” Dad was planning ahead.  He could see the pantry already; reaching past Christmas and into autumn, filling week by week, with berried treasure, crimson kings and golden queens, black boys and bon cretians; pears by halves and quinces reduced to jelly; stowed and glowing in juicy shades of red and green and yellow.
            They all picked the gooseberries, even Mum, who kept saying she was too busy for preserving.  Susan and Phillip were old enough to know the ripe ones; red and stripy, but Malcolm bit into green ones and threw them down in disgust. 
            “Hey, I need the green ones.  And the red ones.  Behave yourselves.” And Dad pouted at the kids. “Or else.”  He had to remind them again when they topped and tailed the stalks and dead flowers back into the bowl with the gooseberries.
Then it was blackcurrant time.  The days were getting hotter and so was the kitchen, and the tempers that lived in it.  Mum kept out of the way.  She was too busy sewing in her sewing room.  Dad didn’t want to top and tail all the blackcurrants himself.  It made his big fingers sore plucking away at tiny stalks.  “Many hands make light work,” he hoped..
            “Ooh there’s a red spider on my hand,” wailed Susan. She flapped her hand and knocked her bowl of currants over. Currants and spider mites ran away under the furniture.
            “They smell funny,” moaned Phillip. 
            Malcolm found out how to get blackcurrants off their stalks all at once. He picked them off in bunches with his teeth and spat them back into the bowl.
            “Can we go swimming Dad,” No, no, no, he thought.  “Yes,” He said, “I’ll just put some more wood on the fire.”
            Dad spread the towels on the warm stones and lay down to bask.  Long feathers of cloud stroked the hot sky and he thought it was nice to have a break from the kitchen.  Mum would have some peace and quiet too to get a few things done at home.  Children’s voices, river running, stones creaking underfoot…  Malcolm crying, “Daddy, Phillip’s splashing me.”
            “Phillip.  Behave yourself.”  Phillip was ten, and good at splashing.  But he remembered that he’d much rather be building a dam.
            Mum had so much peace and quiet that she got on with the blackcurrants and they were simmering on the hob when the swimmers came home. That night there was bacon and egg pie and lettuce and peas for dinner, and pints of black pearls cooling on the dresser.  Some escaped their jar and turned red over rice pudding.
            Early next morning Dad cleaned the coal range. Out to the garden with the ashes, then off with the hob plates and the chimney plate too; into dark passages; rattle, rattle with his rake, which was just a little slice of iron on a long handle;  soot gathered with tenderness into the ash pan… Dad was stirring the porridge when his children got up.
            Mum moved the preserves off the dresser and put them away in the pantry. Then she took a chook out of the freezer and put it to thaw on a dish where the currants had been.
            “I’ll take the kids to fetch the milk,” Dad told Mum.
            “Ah good,” and she smiled the smile of conspiracy.
Malcolm thought it was a long way to the milk. He wondered why they couldn’t just pick it up at the end of the road the way Mummy usually did. Or why Daddy didn’t go and get it in the car, which is what he did every weekend.
“It’s a nice day for a walk,” said Dad, and showed them a real cave inside a fallen-over willow tree.  “We can have a cuppa here,” he said. Let’s put the jug on.  Phillip giggled when Dad plugged the jug in, but Susan found a cloth in a drawer and laid the table.  They all sat down and drank tea from the finest Royal Albert cups and saucers, which Dad found on a shelf in the cave. 
“Ah,” said Dad, “Broken orange pekoe.  It doesn’t need milk at all.”  Which was a good job.
The milk lady had milked her cows while Dad was cleaning the coal range, but she took them to see Daisy and Buttercup.  Malcolm thought that maybe buttercups should be called cowcups because the cows were standing up to their knees in them.
Dad gave the milk lady empty plastic bottles and money and she gave him bottlefuls of milk. He put them in his old rucksack and looked for the children.  They were all on the top rung of the dairy fence looking out at the cows in the milk meadow, and chattering like starlings with the excitement of the day.
“Hey, get off that fence.  Behave yourselves.”  Silence fell, and wide-eyed they dropped all together and ran to him.  The milk lady dipped into her apron pocket for three striped candy canes and grinned at Dad.
“Or Father Christmas won’t come tonight, will he kids.”

December 3, 2012

Father Jack

Father Jack Witbrock would have been 76 today. He died a month ago on Saturday 3rd November, from a tired heart and blocked arteries. 

His full title was: The Very Reverend Father Jack, Dean Emeritus of the Antiochan Orthodox Church in New Zealand. 

I had missed his celebration of 40 years of ordination - the first ten as an Anglican minister - on 21st October, so I'm glad that I made the effort to pop in to the Deanery late on the Ashley Church's saints' day after I had set off borer bombs in the church - 28th October is the Feast of St Simon and St Jude, but also my mental marker for woodworm treatment.

Father Jack was saintly material himself. He and his family came to live in the village about thirty years ago, adopting the neighbouring inter-denominational church as the seat of worship for a far-flung Eastern Orthodox congregation. Father Jack and Julia, his wife, developed a community garden and hosted many young people who were floundering in life. This work was tireless and selfless and quite often it seemed to me thankless. Father Jack was as devout as he was practical and the arcane business of daily offices, complete with robes, chants, bells and censer not only fascinated me but gave life to a little country church that would otherwise have been an empty shell.  I almost take for granted the icons and bright altar cloths but how remarkable to walk into the vaulted  Anglican architecture of Benjamin Mountfort and find Christ the Pantokrator, and his attendant images, basking in the afternoon sunbeams, or to spot Father Jack swishing through hip-high cocksfoot along the country roadside, in black robes, purple satin and his stovepipe hat.

Of course he would have loved me to join his flock, but although I probably exasperated him, he treated my personal brand of atheism with good humour and once when there was no congregation about, I stopped mowing, kicked off my gumboots and read the refrains for him.  He didn't appreciate being interrupted mid-office however, and I remember slipping away once rather than disturbing him, only to find that he had been saying a Requiem Mass for Elwin. I wish I had been bolder that day. 

Father Jack was a scholar and when I asked him to say a final committal in Latin for Elwin's otherwise secular funeral, he asked me whether I wanted German pronunciation or not. He could have come up with any dialect I thought of, I'm sure. I rather envied him his scholarship since I used to fancy myself translating ancient texts in my own ivory tower, which I never imagined could be here in rural North Canterbury.  In recent years he worked on translating the Monastic Office, aquiring texts dating back to 1703 in order to translate the reference into current idiom, so that modern priests might no longer "be tied to the innovations of the 1925 edition."  More prosaically Father Jack compiled an extensive history of the Ashley Church of St Simon and St Jude, which is a valuable addition to local archives.  

His departure also means the loss of the Orthodox tenancy, but there is no hurry to remove its presence. As this door closes another will open when the time is right. In the meantime I remember that I had my first lesson in dressing the altar at Father Jack's funeral. I learnt in no uncertain terms that one should "never cover the tabernacle with black," and I think the priest who did, will never forget that!
But Advent is here and maybe Julia and I can dress the altar in violet.

Father Jack's was the most elaborately religious funeral I have ever been to, proscribed and full of ritual. It was also the truest religious funeral I have been to. It was Father Jack.
There was nothing false at all about him and his eulogy which likened him to Tolkien's Niggle from Leaf by Niggle summed up his character perfectly. I will miss him.

November 19, 2012

Mowing Bulbs

Daffodil bulbs - in all their variety...

This place is blessed with so many: in drifts that pre-date my family's presence here; in swathes that represent my mother's yearly raising of seed from existing bulbs, and my own landscaping efforts. Apart from the garden bed above most of them are naturalised in both lawn and woodland areas.  There comes a time, especially as long grass here in North Canterbury can quickly become a fire risk, that bulbs in grass must be mown down.

Ideally they should be left to yellow, like the kingcup leaves, but the clement cool and wet weather we have been having, is keeping them green and I have made a ruthless decision.

The daffodils and their companion snowflakes have had at least six weeks of good growing since they flowered in the spring and now hopefully this will set them up for flowering next year.  

If the may has finished flowering, if you are planting tomatoes outside, if plums and apples are plumping on the trees, then it is time to at least think about mowing naturalised bulbs.

November 6, 2012

Remembering Elwin

Remember, Remember
the Fifth of NovemberThe Gunpowder Treason 
and Plot,

But that was yesterday, 
and today 
- 6 November - 
I remember that Elwin has been gone two years now.


How we danced together;


Working-late for Carters Steam Fair;


Life on Narrowboat 'Ben'
And those Towpath parties;

Remember how you sewed lace on our wedding morning ...

Remember our weddings;

And our anniversaries

Remember how you would make music anywhere

... and on anything, even dandelion stems!

Remember birthdays in exotic places;

Remember patient Mary and our Irish caravan holiday.

Remember making babies

and watching over them through their growing years.

Remember those last precious weeks with you ...

November 2, 2012

The Neglected Garden in Flower

There are daisies and irises.

There is pink may,

and Mexican hawthorn.

There are velvety clematis buds,

and old world honeysuckle twining with New Zealand's forest bridal veil.

There's heady-scented mock orange blossom,

and lingering longer this year, with regular rainfall, 
are the forget-me-nots by my doorstep.

Daisy, common lawn daisy  Bellis perennis
Iris  Iris sp
Double pink may  Crataegus laevigata 'Rosea Flore Pleno'
Tejocote, Mexican hawthorn  Crataegus mexicana 
Clematis  Clematis 'Niobe'
Honeysuckle  Lonicera caprifolium
Puawhananga, Native (NZ) clematis, Bridal veil  Clematis paniculata 'Bridal Veil'
Mock orange blossom  Philadelphus var

October 18, 2012

RIP Florence Akins

I would have loved to meet Flo Akins: New Zealand's - possibly the World's - oldest Morris Dancer: until today that is.  She celebrated her 105th birthday in March this year, with Nelson Morris in attendance. Their Squire, Steve Rule, rang me to let me know that she died this morning.

A quick dip into the annals of the NZ publication English Folklore Dance and Song*, reveals her interest in the crafting of instruments as well as her musical and dancing ability during the years that she was an active member of the New Zealand Society for English Folk Dancing.

Another dip - this time into Google (the link above is to the Christchurch Art Gallery blog) - placed Flo soundly in the Christchurch and Nelson artistic scene alongside fellow dancers and musicians such as Francis Shurrock, Leo Bensemann, William Allen and Caroline Oliver.

This artistic trail lead me back to my own book shelf, and The Arts and Crafts Movement in New Zealand where Florence's accomplishments as student, teacher and artist/craftwoman are detailed.  Her writing conveys a sense of interest in people as much as her observation of her surroundings, though I haven't come across her own words in the EFDS magazines. But there are regular references to her talent.

From Rangiora Morris man, Courtney Archer, comes an account of her playing the pipe and tabor. For me that sums up her approach to life, because for those of you who are unfamiliar with pipe and tabor - it's like rubbing your head and patting your tummy at the same time. Flo strikes me as a woman who was always up to a challenge.

*English Folklore Dance and Song was edited between 1938 and 1944 by John Oliver. It not  only provides an account of New Zealand's English Folk Dance scene but a poignant record of the effect that War in Europe was having on NZ. 

October 14, 2012

Holiday Round Up

What with getting my Drama Queens 

to the stage door on time  

Kitty as Cinderella's Stepmother

and cleaning up after the mice:

stepping warily through a zombie movie

in the making ...

 oh, and fitting in a holiday outing to Gore Bay,

 Banded Dotterel nesting, Gore Bay, NZ

Seaside planting, Gore Bay

it's a surprise to realise that my garden has been getting on quite well without me.

Grand designs may be a thing of the past but little efforts I had forgotten I'd made, 
flourish in delightful ways, and greet me on waking.

October 3, 2012

Sixty: Reasons to Visit Wellington

Of course I didn't go to Wellington just to look at the tulips.

Two weeks ago now, Andy turned Sixty. 

Even on his birthday he can't help being Handy;  
here is my first attempt at a birthday portrait - Andy at the kitchen sink after breakfast.

There were plenty of distractions though, as there always are in a city so doubly blessed with natural beauty and cultural extravagance.

Henry Moore's Bronze Form is a jewel in the Arts crown.

I am always enchanted by the enclave of Arts and Crafts gardeners' buildings in the Botanic Gardens;

and the little gazebo set beside water at the edge of indigenous woodland.

In the children's playground an old tree stump has been given new life

Catching up with friends in the city I finally placed an enigmatic fa├žade; 

I used to admire this Art Deco detailing from Elwin's desk on the sixth floor of DeLoitte House. I could never work out where it stood in the street scape until this recent visit. It stands on the corner of Brandon and Featherston Streets.
Another handsome building in Brandon Street is this one, with its decorative metal panels.

Metal of a different ilk featured in Stainless (by Judy Darragh), an installation at the Dowse Art Museum. The stainless steel kitchenware is just visible in Andy's reflective photo. Something about the concentric discs and Andy's stance with his pocket camera, as well as the rectangular, reflected frame brings to mind a photographer using a twin lens reflex camera. 

There's some kind of resonance there with the era of popularity for that type of camera alongside a sixtieth birthday.
And what of that elusive birthday portrait? 
Really this is it in my eyes.
Happy Birthday Handy Andy.