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December 26, 2015

Christmas Joys

They are many, but for me they need sorting from the other highlights of December in New Zealand. I keep customs like decorating the tree until after I have observed the Summer Solstice around the 21st December. Some of the Christmas joys are quite unexpected like the appearance of this family of California Quail on the road outside our house on Christmas Eve.

The quail were a distraction as I made final preparations for the Ashley Carol Service. The Church of St Simon and St Jude was full, and the interdenominational service, lead this year by Baptist pastor Jonathan Melville, was uplifting and reflective in equal measure. 

Supper in the churchyard afterwards is always a sociable and satisfying point for me - knowing that the Committee's months of preparation have paid off, and that now I can turn my attention completely to my family.

Bryony and Kitty spend a lot of time wrapping their gifts with intricate care.

All of us enjoy writing and interpreting the puns and riddles we create for our gift labels. Unwrapping our presents together is as much a time of appreciating each other's mental processes and creativity as it is pleasure in the tangible gifts.

And then it's time for Christmas brunch. Bryony has taken this on for the last couple of years and working in a cafe kitchen has honed her food preparation and presentation skills. This was our main meal of Christmas Day and I have no regrets that there was nothing 'traditional' about it. 

Surely these two daughters of mine are my greatest Christmas joys, but I must mention the final joy of Christmas Day, which many of you will have shared, and that is the full moon. How brilliant its light was as we returned from an evening with extended family. In this part of the world it was certainly not a Full Cold Moon. Its warm summer light gilded the architecture of this house and I fell asleep in a room full of moonbeams.

December 22, 2015

'Tis The Season...

For dry river beds awash with wild flowers, like these california poppies in the Makerikeri River.

For early Christmas trees.

To check that there hasn't been a cool change in the weather since you dressed for the party.

For farmers and small holders to make hay...

... in hope.

For farewells: Tanja Grzeta - too young at 45 to leave us, but she motivated and inspired everyone around her.   

For end of year school ceremonies and graduation occasions: Alys, the youngest of another generation of my family left primary school this year and the Ashley School leavers, in grand tradition, went out for dinner together.

Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery also bade goodbye to a layer of students including a good friend of both Bryony and Kitty, Feroze Brailsford, who's looking forward to a career in constitutional law and international human rights. He's a pretty good actor too.

In an eloquent speech he remembered his first three weeks at the school's central city site, and how that ended there with the February 2011 earthquake and Tanja Grzeta's masterful command of the situation and her students.

'Tis a time for Mid Summer Playing, for Harvest, for Celebration... for Reflection.

California poppy Eschscholzia californica

December 12, 2015

Cabbage Tree Blossom

Cabbage trees, ti kouka, Torquay or Devon palms, and quite likely other names describe these magnificent shrubby trees. For awhile I've meant to blog about their diverse appearance and distribution - whether that's appearing through falling snow flakes in the grounds of the Topkapa Palace in Istanbul or vying for attention with Barbara Hepworth's sculpture in her garden in St Ives. I have to say the most battered specimens I've ever come across are along the sea front at Torquay in England. Compare those wind-dwarfed, scrag ends with the single tree above... and below.

This one is in Ashley on Boundary Rd. Possibly it is an early Maori way marker as it is close to a historic dwelling site, but it could just as easily be a lucky escapee from grazing, and road-side mowing since it is right at the edge of a stream. It is certainly old, with many trunks surrounding a cavity where the original single trunk would have once grown.

Taken on the same day at the Tuahiwi Marae, is this superb single-trunked specimen. Just as Chris thought the may flower around his garden in Sefton was more than last year, I think that the cabbage tree flowers are more prolific than they have been for awhile. The berries on the hawthorn and the cabbage trees will be heavy next autumn - a mast season even. The heavy flowering carries the strong lily perfume well beyond the trees, aggravating hay fever for unfortunate sufferers.

I took this photo in the village about a week ago; it's a garden planting making a stunning display along the roadside.

Cabbage tree, ti kouka, Torquay palm, Devon palm  Cordyline australis

December 5, 2015

Mad Thing

This vase was almost certainly a wedding present to my parents when they married 56 years ago today. 

Probably a gift from one of my mother's friends, it was always on display, remaining a favoured ornament of hers until she left our family home in 2009. 

All of my siblings have feelings about the vase, none of them very complimentary. They range from disdain to bemusement. 

Although I never loved it I must have absorbed some of my mother's sentimentality towards the vase. I do remember being entranced by the wedge of glowing red, probably from earliest babyhood. It's likely that it was made in the same year as me!

1959 (but born in 1960)

I hesitate to say my parents had a shotgun wedding after first meeting in September, but there was some urgency, as Derrick was due to leave Melbourne in January for a fifteen month sojourn in Antarctica. He married Joan in the Melbourne Wesleyan Chapel according to her diary. She noted too, that their wedding reception was also George and Pam's Xmas party. Pam was Derrick's sister and the only immediate family member present.

The wedding was small, and the wedding photos were snapped by one of the guests and probably my father. I've photographed them in turn on a rather fine piece of Mid-Century Modern furniture that my father made a few years later - a Scandanavian style coffee table. 

Which brings me back to the vase! Sensual, sinuous, two necks entwining... Very appropriate to mark a mid twentieth century union.

The base mark shows the SMF shield, followed by Schramberg, then Handgemalt denoting handmade. Dec. appears to be an Anglicised version of the earlier Dek (dekor) and suggests that this art pottery was being intentionally marketed beyond Germany. Mexico is the name of this decorative finish and 39 is probably the shape number. 

What the base doesn't show is the artists' names: Elfi, or Elfie Stadler, worked for this West German pottery between 1953 and 1963 and appears to have designed the shapes for this range. She may also have decorated them but another craftsman associated with the decorative finishes is Ferdinand Langenbacher. I've managed to find this vase shape online, decorated with named patterns; Capri, Milano, Florida and Hawaii, and some un-named ones. I've also found Mexico in at least six of the bizarre shapes, but not this one. I could easily get hooked!

I remain endlessly grateful to my parents for my childhood - an almost unfettered countryside existence liberally graced with art, culture and learning of all sorts. 

December 1, 2015

Winds of Change

What a rosy idyll this scene suggests. But if you look at the tree in the background you can see that it is leafless. I took this photo four days ago during the heady flourish of early summer. This walnut tree is about 40 years old and we sited our house to allow one of two walnut trees to remain. The following photo was taken in March 2000 and shows the tree in good health - not the finest nutter, but flavoursome all the same. 

Walnut trees in Canterbury are at the limits of their climate tolerance as their early foliage and flowers are susceptible to wind and hard frosts. Once our tree had reached a certain height - about roof apex level - the upper branches were constantly shorn of leaves by the summer nor' westers. Occasionally a spring cold snap straight up from Antarctica would wither the beautiful racemes of flowering promise, and there would be no nut crop around Elwin's birthday in April. 

But over the last two years very noticeable extremes of weather have stymied the tree's efforts to establish foliage. After the fearful and destructive gale in September 2013, which stripped away budding growth, a cold snap in the spring of 2014, summer gales, and this year's winter of variable conditions - generally mild, but with short spells of extreme cold - any foliage that formed just wasn't enough to provide effective photosynthesis for a sizeable tree.

I've noticed another walnut tree in the village which has almost succumbed to the same conditions, but being smaller and in a more sheltered spot, it is producing new growth low down. This might see the tree through this cycle of extremes into years of more settled spring weather. But for my walnut tree, planted by my brother when he was still a teenager, it's time is over. 

Walnut tree Juglans regia