Wednesday, February 27, 2013


This Grinch can't understand those who are always hankering after the latest thing. The latest thing is all too soon superseded by the next latest thing, so there is no end to the hankering, and therefore no end to the misery. If there is any satisfaction to be had in that, it has to fit into the shortest time between two self-indulgences, based not on achievement or effort or planning but on the triumph of commercial persuasion over commonsense.
Triptych: Impatiens

I am, however, a lonely voice echoing in the wilderness, cast out there by banks and shops and even governments. And it's not even my fault. I was born without the must-have gene. I don’t remember ever being orgasmically delighted when I’ve bought something, however special. Mildly pleased is the best I can do. Then the something fades into the general scheme of things and becomes part of my surroundings. The chair is comfortable. The clothes fit. The plant is doing well in the corner of the garden.

I don't want diamonds, or holidays, or a new car. I don't care that my mobile phone is nowhere close to the latest there is. I don't want a bigger TV or a smarter phone or more than one watch or cupboards full of kitchen appliances which always turn out to be white elephants. I will only want a new computer when this one breathes its last, which won't be long now. And I once wanted a pen that could write in four different colours, but I have that now, although I didn't buy it, I won it. It amazes me that people can spend so much emotional capital, not to mention money, on a wedding day that is twenty four (not by a long shot the most important) hours in a lifetime of a gazillion hours. As Henry Thoreau said, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes. Elope, people, elope!

It is a well-known fact that people like me are dangerous to the health of the economy. Banks hate us because we don’t rack up debt and therefore we don’t pay interest on our credit cards, which they depend on for their business enterprises. Stores hate us because we can’t be tempted by "Hurry!" "Interest Free!" and "Sale!" however screechily excited the pitch on television or radio. And governments can't make up their minds whether they hate us or love us. They send mixed messages: spend money and keep business moving one minute, and stop spending and save money for your retirement the next.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


... and we wonder what we talked about before the earthquakes. Today is the second anniversary of the quake that changed the lives of those who call themselves Cantabrians. And you know what? We are in great heart, charging onwards and upwards. We have heard about desperate tragedy and stupendous heroism. We have re-discovered neighbourliness, on both a small and a grand scale. We have new ways of looking at things and, as the saying goes, have learned not to sweat the small stuff.

When life came down to the basics – shelter, food and water – we soon worked out what really mattered and what to do about it. Coffee table conversation inclined to toilet arrangements and the merits of buckets over holes in the ground instead of gossip, whining and trivia. We celebrated being able to turn on a tap. We played Scrabble by candlelight. The R, U, O and K buttons on our mobile phones were worn down.

We bestowed blessings on the Student Volunteer Army which gave us new hope for the next generation, and we forgave them all their trespasses. We cheered the Farmy Army when they trundled into town with tractors and diggers, with wheelbarrows and shovels, towing tanks of water which they left in strategic places with notices on them: "Clean water. When empty ring Kevin at …."

The word "munted" (= ruined) became part of our language. We became all-too familiar with liquefaction and our arms grew long through barrowing the horrible messes down to the roadside. Phrases have acquired new meanings. Tree-hugging is no longer a Greenie caprice but what we did if outside when another quake roared in. Lateral spread has nothing to do with expanding waistlines but refers to land that has sunk and oozed towards river or estuary. Guilty flush was when you weren't supposed to flush the loo but couldn't face going out to the bucket in the garage.

Now we have stopped dressing like hobos and gumboots are no longer the footwear du jour. Two years on we still drive on the wrong side of the road some of the time but no one assumes that we are drunk or insane – the roads are broken or under repair and on-board navigation systems can't keep up with the changing landscape. Nearly a thousand buildings have gone from the central city.

But after the biggest natural disaster in New Zealand history Christchurch is now on the verge of the biggest boom. There is a zing in the air - and we're having a long hot summer to celebrate.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


... it dribbles, on and off, intermittently. The question is, do I have a header tank? To explain: I have recently, but only occasionally, heard a dripping sound coming from somewhere not quite located. It starts with a little rush, then slows down and stops. I shrug my shoulders and forget it, because that's what one does round here. After all, the house is waiting to be demolished and repairs, if any, are only bandaids. As for leaks, the guttering at the back of the house drips constantly even though we've had no appreciable rain for weeks.

Early this morning I got up for the loo, and heard the dripping start. [Please, it's no joking matter.] And noticed a wet patch outside the airing cupboard. Opened the door and saw that the floor under the cylinder was sopping. I only open the cupboard probably once a week, and even then don't think to glance down at the floor - I mean why would I? So who knows how long this has been going on.

Early in the morning is the time for worrying and fretting as we all know. I had no patience for the normally comforting radio with its BBC ramblings about India or the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspurs, and even less for Zoe (a resident) and Hoover (constant visitor) who got excited thinking that breakfast was going to be early for once. [Hoover may not live here and isn't entitled to breakfast but she's fast and smart and I have to be smarter and faster, but it doesn't stop her looking hopefully appealing.]

Anyway when I opened the cupboard the drip was still happening and I was able to hold my hand under it to locate the source. Thankfully not the cylinder but up there, at the juncture of the ceiling and the architrave. It can't be the roof leaking - no rain. Must be the header tank, or a family of incontinent mice.

But now doubt has been cast on the matter of whether I actually have a header tank. I thought everyone had one – so why not me? If not, where the dickens could water be coming from – certainly not from the blue and sunny skies.

Perhaps all will be made clear soon. A helpful Kevin, Gavin, Bevan or Dave will be attending tomorrow morning, 8am, to investigate.

Friday, February 8, 2013


I have an occasional spurt of grumpy old rage, as when I hear about people who haven't lived but have been to college and therefore know everything, telling those who have lived, how to. If I get carted off to a Home they'd better watch out because there's sure to be a jolly young activities person with a name plate dangling from her bosom who is going to get up my nose.

I hear that there is genuine medical research that proves grumpy people live longer. Haha! That accounts for the string of tough, stroppy, long-lived but, it has to be said, sometimes crabby crones who inhabit my ancestral line. They are lining up behind me, spitting tacks at the news that our Ministry of Health has released some bracing advice aimed at "seniors".

The Ministry wants elderly people to be more active if they want to live longer, healthier lives. It is estimated that, by 2061, older people will make up a quarter of New Zealand's population. That, remember, includes all those younger people currently harassing their elders to get a move on, and not be a burden on the already-stretched public health system. May I suggest that if we become burdens, please remember that it's our turn. We have paid taxes and contributed to that public health system that took care of your chicken pox, mumps and measles.

Here's a list of the Ministry's recommended activities for those in their "golden" years: five half hour sessions of aerobic activity a week, such as aqua jogging, housework and kapa haka; three sessions of flexibility and balance activities and two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities a week, such as tai chi, petanque, yoga, bowls, walking to the shops and gardening. I can feel an enormous yawn building up – these are either boring, or chores which people do day in and day out, and do not make the years golden. No wonder the exercise rates drop dramatically after people get past 75 – life is getting too short by then to engage in boring stuff.

Advice from those who haven't yet reached the age of those they are advising tends to change with the weather. They won't understand, until they get there themselves, that old people, if they are stroppy, don't care. They will dance if they want, walk if they want, garden if they want, and not if they don't want.

There – is that grumpy enough? I intend to live to 150.

Friday, February 1, 2013


I looked out of the kitchen window this morning to see a blue heron on the fence gulping down breakfast. Another of the neighbours' five Christmas-present fish is no more.

It was only a few days ago that they found that five fish had become four. Or rather that they didn't actually find five fish but only four. Um, I mean they could only find four fish instead of five - oh never mind. That is, not counting Finnygan. You will remember my goldfish Finnygan? The resident thief brought him home from who knows where and we all saved his life by sliding him gently into the neighbours' pond. There he has become quite at home, made friends with the resident turtle, and grown plump and, it is to be hoped, grateful.

At Christmas, five little fish (a breed I can't remember but it rhymes with pumpkin) were added to the pond and, a couple of weeks later, one disappeared. The neighbours thought their turtle or Finnygan had seen to it, and I thought just a little bit less of Finnygan as a result. However, it now seems possible that the blue heron was responsible for fish #1 and this morning returned for fish #2. (The neighbours have not yet got around to naming the new little fish individually but give them time.) Five fish have become three. But at least Finnygan was not to blame.

This morning I stood watching the heron – such an elegant bird, a beautiful, smokey blue – swallowing the last of its breakfast. I was wondering if there was time to get the camera when the neighbours' children erupted into their garden like a SWAT squad. One of them was hollering and brandishing an angry looking water pistol shaped like an AK47.  The blue heron floated gently away.