Monday, November 25, 2013


Within two days three things happened:  (1) I finished clearing the long-time weedy mess of the shrubbery at the front of the house.  (2) A young woman arrived with a bleeping machine and cans of spray paint.  (3) Earthquake no. 13,811 woke me up.

After weeding the shrubbery it looked tidy but bare. I padded around the garden trilling, and rescued self-seeded baby foxgloves from cracks and crevices to re-plant in the empty space. I watered them in and stood back with a vision of  a dozen or so majestic, colourful flowers in my mind’s eye.  Overdue job well done, even if doing anything to or around the house is spitting in the wind, given its short-term and uncertain future.

Next day the young woman who brought the hi-tech machine wandered around the outside of the house with it.  There was a-squeaking and a-bleeping, and soon there were red lines where the power lines are buried, and purple crosses showing where it was possible and safe to drill holes. The drilling is to determine the nature of the ground, and what kind of foundations will be required when the house is eventually re-built because of earthquake damage. After the woman had gone there was a purple cross in the grass at the back of the house, and another at the side.  A third had been made unobtrusively outside the living room window.  The fourth was in the middle of the patch of baby foxgloves, now trampled into the newly friable earth, and right across the biggest, bravest seedling of them all. Awww!

The quake that shook me awake was 4.6 on the scale, severe enough to rattle my wardrobe doors.  There have in fact been twelve quakes in the last week, most of them unnoticed by those who have become accustomed to the ground moving after three years and 13,800+ quakes. With all the disasters and mayhem around the world right now, a few minor “events” as they have come to be called are very small beer indeed. But a quake that strong, after all this time, was a finger-wagging reminder that weeding and planting are pointless here while we wait for our city, our houses, to be rebuilt.

How petty of me to care.  That I had bothered to weed at all. That I had spent all day clearing the space and filling it with new life.  That when people come back to drill in the spots marked by purple crosses there will be more than a few baby flowers trampled underfoot.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013


All voyages come to an end, although the last two weeks of this one were as frustrating and hard as the first two. The dangerous rocks of The Snares, south of New Zealand, were sighted on 12th December but four days later diarist James Martin wrote that there was still a headwind and they had not got far. They caught sight of Stewart Island’s lighthouse that evening but drifted too close to the Traps, and had to retreat again. Two days later a stiff breeze sent the ship bowling up the coast but that didn’t last, and Euterpe bounced around off the coast for several more days at the mercy of the currents and hard winds that blew and blew.

The passengers caught tantalising glimpses of their future home but it took the ship twelve days to reach harbour after the first sighting of land. The South Island appeared and disappeared “like a cloud” and “some say they can see land from the rigging” although Martin didn’t climb up to check it out. On Monday 22nd December they sighted Timaru, halfway up the coast, and the next day, in spite of the wind still blowing in their faces, there was Banks Peninsula, with Lyttelton harbour tucked around the corner. On Wednesday the battered but gallant little ship beat around the headland and into the safety of the harbour where she dropped anchor at about four o’clock. It was Christmas Eve, 1879.

The passengers’ diaries all end with the arrival of the ship in the beautiful Lyttelton harbour. What would I have done without the three diligent diarists who brought this voyage to life for us, 130+ years later, so we could read about it and marvel at the courage and perseverance of all those thousands of people who made the voyage down-under from the other side of the world to start new lives.

Practical Joshua Charlesworth noted the welcome sight of small boats which "brought us fresh provisions including meat, potatoes (fresh), vegetables, milk etc for our sea stores were just about being finished and in some instances were finished. You may judge that living for 20 weeks on sea fare (biscuits, salt junk, preserved potatoes, pea soup, burgoo, rice & mollasses) we heartily enjoyed the above addition of New Zealand beef & mutton for the first time very much."

Prosaic George Lister thought that the “land seemed very pleasant and it was very warm. It is the warmest Xmas Eve I ever felt, for it is the middle of summer. The Harbour is a fine inlet but I had to ask where Port Lyttelton was for we only could see a few houses and they looked very pretty on the side of a hill and plenty of trees around them.”

Sometimes lyrical James Martin reported that "the scenery today has been more like a panorama than a reality with the sun shining warm and a gentle cooling breeze.  On our left, slopes of sheep-rearing land. Before us and on our right the snow-capped Southern Alps.  It seems just like entering a little heaven. Wild ducks and divers just like a young duck with a long neck. The water very tranquil." 

This is only the end of this voyage. There are more sailing stories to tell – of this ship’s other voyages and of her captain. And there are other masters – my great-great grandfathers Captain Samuel Clarke Gibson and Captain Robert Aurelius King.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Gordius is a piece of cake.  Rufus is a breeze.  Paul is growing on me. Pasquale, Orlando and Arachne are only slightly tooth-grindingly infuriating. I’ve nearly tamed Bonxie.  Chifonie is a sweetie – I think she might be a woman, and kindly. Brummie and Qaos? Hmmm, not too sure of them yet.  I thought Araucaria was a witch at first but, like Crucible and Tramp, she (surely a she?) turned out to be challenging but fair. Brendan is diabolical. He goes for the jugular and has so far got the best of me although I came close to knocking him off recently.

Painting: Garden Wall (detail)
Only occasionally have I actually completed a cryptic crossword puzzle set by one of these evil, chortling demons, with or without the help of dictionaries, encyclopaedias, thesauri, atlases and books of quotations. The demons inhabit lairs at, or within a broomstick ride of, the Guardian newspaper headquarters and spend their time thinking of ways to tease, mislead and scramble the minds of cryptic crossword addicts.

As time-wasting activities go, it’s reasonable to claim that cryptics are good for the brain if not for the temper. My mother, who did the Times puzzles over lunch in her day and lived past 92, used to remark that you needed a twisted mind to do cryptics. Not for her the easy, one word, definition type of puzzle – she liked to think through and around the quirky traps set by the compilers and emerge triumphant.

That’s what the Guardian demons do – set traps, and plait clues into other clues, and skate close to unfair without crossing the line. They can be downright sneaky and mean. And unlike most other puzzles, foreign words and phrases are allowed, as one might expect from an English newspaper in these European Union times.  French, German and Italian are presumably lingua franca over there now, but it’s surprising how much Latin appears. My pocket Latin dictionary is becoming well-thumbed after years of neglect and resident silverfish have had to migrate elsewhere. Another surprise is that even non-words are allowed. For example, the answer to an “expression of cold British basic school skills” was “brrr”.

Some clues are crisp and clever: “Range popular – range popular?” (again).  Some are easy, like “I’m flipping plugging the blessed lecture!” (homily).  Some are convoluted, intertwined or scattered around the grid:  "Oriental leaves circuit, having chanted verses about painful outburst” (lapsang souchong, i.e. lap sang s (ouch) ong = oriental leaves = tea). 

Is my mind twisted?  More like spaghetti, mushy and limp. Do I cheat? Yes, occasionally, if I can’t bear not to know the answer. More often I scrunch up the paper and hurl it at the wall. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


The Euterpe Times recorded that a testimonial, and an engraved silver cup (pictured), were presented to Captain Phillips on 4th December by a deputation. They wished to thank him for the care and attention he had shown for the welfare of all which, they assured him, was “beyond all praise.” The testimonial had been “very beautifully illuminated” by diarist Joshua Charlesworth and read as follows:

“To Captain Phillips: We passengers of the Euterpe wish to testify to the kind and considerate manner in which you have discharged your duties and the readiness you have displayed to make our voyage to New Zealand as pleasant as possible. Now that we are close to port we beg to tender you our hearty thanks for your kind and obliging conduct and our good wishes for you and yours in the future.” 

Captain Phillips received the deputation in his quarters, apparently without enough warning to make himself presentable because he apologised, saying, “I am only sorry I was not on deck to receive it. If I had known, I should not have been in the deshabille in which you see me.” He was, however, accustomed to the ceremony because he went on: “It is very gratifying indeed to me to receive the testimonial at the end of a somewhat long passage … It will add one more to the many testimonials which I have received since the year 1864 as since then I have taken nearly 2000 passengers to New Zealand.  Many who have gone out there to settle permanently make it their business to come down to port when they know I have arrived.”

He had some advice: “I hope you will all succeed in whatever you undertake and will never regret, for I do not think anyone will have cause to regret if he is only willing to work and able to do so.” He thanked them for their good wishes and hoped they had enjoyed their long journey: “Sea life at the best is very different to shore experience.  We have been favoured with fine weather in this part of the world, for it is not always that we have such a run of fine weather & such good winds as we have been favoured with lately.” He spoke too soon. They thought they were close to the end of their journey but they still had twenty days of frustrated sailing ahead because of blustery headwinds.

Mr Duff spoke on behalf of the deputation. He hoped his own family would come out to New Zealand under Captain Phillips’ care and that he would “always sail under the great Captain of our Salvation”.  He added that he hoped the captain’s son, Master Aleck (then aged 14 and on board for this voyage) would follow the example of his father*. The captain replied, “I hope he will not!” to laughter from the company. According to Joshua Charlesworth, the evening ended with eating, drinking, merry-making and fine conversation.

*Master Aleck – my great-uncle – did not grow up to be a master mariner but certainly went into the shipping business and, like his father, travelled the world.