Saturday, April 27, 2013


Opening a book in this house is to find surprises. Inside there are book marks, and marks in books. Cuttings from newspapers and magazines, not necessarily relevant to the books they inhabit. Reviews of the books themselves. An obituary of the author. An advertisement for a concert now long past. A strip torn off the edge of a magazine page with a note scribbled – no, AJ never scribbled – written on it because there was nothing else handy at that moment when a marker was needed.

Forgotten photographs of people, looking too much younger, slip out unexpectedly when disturbed. Postcards – remember them? They used to arrive from friends and family travelling overseas, before emails and skype made them redundant. Here is a postcard from my brother in Hong Kong, another with a picture of a gracious old ruin of a castle from Northumberland, and here a card from a poet in New Caledonia.

Other memories hide in our books. I found a home-made card from the grandchildren, full of hugs and kisses and hoping that Grandad would soon get better. Another treasured card for me, with a clip-art cartoon on the front and a message saying that they had heard about old people losing their marbles – little monkeys! – but never one that kept losing the dog she was walking. There are bookmarks I've cut from old Christmas cards – colourful, glowing ones – and some of them still have fragments of sentences on the backs: ... remember the ... happy Chris ... to send you ... the view fro ... always kno ... be back ... There are old mugs containing such bookmarks in several places around the house – anywhere that I might settle to read something and need to keep my place.

It's not just bookmarks that I find in our books. AJ would have killed anyone who turned down a corner of a page to mark a place, but he often wrote in the margins. With a pencil, naturally, never in ink. He declared himself to be a member of the Lead Pencil Club, an "informal, international organisation concerned about the influence of computers and assorted electronic inventions on our lives".* AJ's notes and comments were short and often pithy. Even when they were simple marks – a tick, a vertical line, an exclamation point, a question mark – they were his reactions to what he read. I come across these marks all the time as I pick up this book and that, and sometimes add my own – in pencil of course. You can tell which are AJ's and which are mine. His marks are small and neat, mine are big, careless and sloppy. AJ would not have been surprised about that.

* from the back cover of "Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club" edited by Bill Henderson, Pushcart Press, N.Y. 1996

Sunday, April 21, 2013


The list of my prospective next husbands is growing. And my friend and my other friend – who don't even know each other – are squabbling about which one of them is to be my bridesmaid and which my flower girl. That is, when they aren't rolling their eyes. They will have to wait quite a while because the choice has become bewildering.

Cottage Garden Mix
Until recently my requirements were simple: my next husband would have to walk upright and preferably be able to dance. But since the earthquakes began I have been open to other possibilities. A dazzling parade of suitable applicants has visited me during the last two years, bearing clip-boards and often wearing hard hats and hi-viz vests.

They wander through the house and measure things or mend things, they climb onto the roof, they peer into cupboards, they walk round the garden examining the ground, shake their heads at the drunken fences. They are unfailingly charming and kind – really, I can hardly believe my luck. They have set me quite a dilemma that expands as time goes by, although I haven't yet got around to enquiring about their dancing abilities. To slightly misquote from The Beggar's Opera, "How happy would I be with either, were t'other dear charmers away".

The list of required qualifications has grown too. I'm getting more discerning. Ignoring the trifling impediments of currently attached wives or girlfriends (and most of them don't look old enough to have acquired either, but then nobody does to me these days) I tell my friend and my other friend that I have decided on one fellow because of his Paul Newman eyes, only to tell them a week later that he has been superceded by the next candidate because he has absolutely the most enchanting smile and also fixed the TV aerial. Or that the man who came to examine the sopping carpet in the spare bedroom was The One because – oh I don't know, I can't remember now, there have been so many. If it was legal I would marry them all.

To add to the dilemma, now that New Zealand has, with a resounding majority, just passed a law allowing same-sex marriages, the field of potential husbands has doubled overnight. It is now possible – and legal – that my next husband could even be my wife.