Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A life of Bill Pearson

No Fretful Sleepers (subtitled A life of Bill Pearson, by Paul Millar, AUP, 2010) was a surprise and much appreciated gift by a reader of 'Letters from Wetville' called Christopher who was the fortunate owner of two copies. This feature, combined with being on bed rest for a nasty chest infection, meant that I read the book entirely to the end, when I am prone to skipping bits of literary biographies. I am glad I did. There is something satisfying about this book which I would have missed had I foundered on the sections filled with who Pearson had tea with in London and who else wrote him a letter about the price of milk (oops, the price of publishing Coal Flat).

I knew nothing of Paul Millar before I began this book. In the photograph on the back dust jacket, he has his arms folded and his face, neither smiling nor frowning, seems deliberately closed to the reader. I didn't warm to his image, suspecting a writer given towards postmodern theory. If you are still reading this and the term 'postmodern' means nothing to you, dare I suggest that it is a movement which began by challenging notions of singular truths and quickly moved into competitions to make the longest and most obfuscating sentences of theoretical wankery and nonsense in the history of the English language.

Thankfully, No Fretful Sleeper: a life of Bill Pearson is in no way an exercise in conceptual posturing.

The book begins and ends with the scattering of Pearson's ashes. Some of them are buried with his parents, surely in the Presbyterian section of the cemetery very close to us, some are scattered in the highlands of Scotland and some are scattered, by Pearson's specific request, under some trees by the entrance to Greymouth High School. Although this was not widely (if at all) known before the publication of Millar's biography of Pearson, moves are now afoot to make a lasting visible commemoration of Pearson's connection with the school.

Pearson was born in 1922, to parents who valued education and had experience of economic disasters preventing the pursuit of academic learning. Pearson was forever grateful to the Labour Government which enabled him to go to university.

How much is this book the life of a West Coaster? There is a modesty, a determined ordinariness to this man who went on to travel the world, write scholarly articles, short stories and a novel and earnt the merit of a handsome published biography. His story could be the story of a boy made good from any small or smallish town in New Zealand but for his experiences in Blackball and his re-rendering them in his novel Coal Flat. Blackball was a unique place, then especially as well as now and in Coal Flat he lays the politics alongside the grinding pettiness of small-minded squabbling.

Reading this biography, I'm not entirely sure that the endless rifts, squabbles and differences in the academic and literary worlds Pearson later inhabited were notably superior to the nastiness of small town judgementalism which drove him crazy as a very young man.

The book gave me a powerful insight into the strictures of finding oneself homosexual even in the quite recent past. Millar paints a portrait of a man touchingly sincere. This quote, relating to Pearson and Hone Tuwhare, struck me particularly:
Hone's apparent offhandednessabout his marriage was particularly galling.
As a homosexual denied such an opportunity, Pearson tended to idealise the
marriages of heterosexual friends, and was saddened when some failed. (p.251)


In my eagerness to place exactly which house Pearson lived in in our small wet town as a child, I picked up an error in that 51 High Street is changed to both 135 and 138 in the biography.

This book is carefully and thoroughly indexed, a wonderful thing to me after a frustrating lack of, or glibness of, indexing in non-fiction I've read lately. I guess it comes down to money. The photographs are wonderful too.

The posturing of postmodern language games which I bemoaned at the beginning of this review is something which I don't miss at all. It didn't dominate my experiences as a postgraduate student, but where it was prominent, it sometimes demonstrated what I thought was a nasty piece of pyramid-shaped linguistic gymnastics. Only the most theoretically adept and fulsome of vocabulary could work out what was actually being said.

The larger project of postmodernism (as I saw it) was a destabilising of the canon of big men of literature (or history or science or whatever) and the recognition of many voices. Bill Pearson was not the classical big man of New Zealand life or literature. His secret of homosexuality clung to his back like an invisible hump weighing his walking into a stoop. It saddens me (when it isn't making me angry) to know of the homophobia which still exists in New Zealand and most dangerously those who claim that their God so needs us in nuclear boxes procreating that we must strike out all diversity which does not lead to conventional heterosexual marriage.

Pearson comes across as a man who loved his friends, who demonstrated valuable insights into New Zealand life and literature. He also comes across as flawed, anxious and often unable to see the bigger picture in a challenging situation. He is an interesting person, though a less skilled biographer may have struggled to bring that out.

It's a good book, and I'm glad that my current obsessions with West Coast life prompted me to read it. Next stop: Eric Beardsley's novel 1908, based around the 1908 miners' strike. Also the name Jeffrey Paparoa Holman recurs throughout my reading so it is time to find out more about him.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

booze and getting ahead

chest infection.

too much pushing out the boat to get that one more essential thing done.

but still.

a few things my brain has still been thinking about.

This post by Reading the Maps is one I keep going back to. Not because of the main content (though that is good) but because I am so intrigued by the comments section where someone called Giovanni talks about a 1970s survey of NZ freezing workers which found that half of them would like to be self employed. Class solidarity is not a first instinct for much of New Zealand and I find it intriguing.

So how about this march in support of Dick Hubbard? I get the strong sense of lots of ordinary working people out marching for their local millionaire, their scout leader who lived the dream of many and helped others along the way.

No one I know marched for Dick Hubbard - I don't have strong links to Timaru - but this dream of independence, a sense that working for someone else is what you do when you have to but not what it really is all about, is strong on both sides of my family. We were raised on the ethic of hard work and moderation.

At the same time as people were marching for Dick Hubbard, I was reading an article from my friend Greg Ryan on the historiography of alcohol in New Zealand 1840-1914 (published in the NZJH which isn't available online, or not easily or for free anyway). Greg was an enormous support when I wrote my masters thesis on women and booze in the nineteenth century back in the 20th century and I appreciate getting to read his excellent article.

The nature of sources on alcohol consumption mean that you can really only analyse commercial production. No one needs a license to make their own alcoholic brew (for their own consumption) in New Zealand. Greg deals with this and notes the decline in home brewing knowledge in early nineteenth century Great Britain.

Which brings to mind a couple of family stories. Lou was born in 1918. He served in World War Two and when he returned back to his home town, he met and married my Dad's cousin Mary. Mary shares my Cornish ancestry and her mother and aunty were Methodists who disapproved of alcohol. Lou liked a drink. He bought it from the pub most of the time but he also made his own. One time, after Mary and Lou had been married many many years and Mary's parents were coming to stay, Lou wondered about where to put his home brew and they decided to keep it where it was. As Lou and his mother in law (my Great Aunty Emma) were doing the dishes, Emma asked what it was. When Lou said it was his home brew, Emma was very interested, not disapproving (she had had decades to get used to her son in law drinking by this time) and said that her father had used something similar.

Her father? Married to a woman who like her daughters never drank and wasn't fond of others doing so? Of course, she was the Methodist and although my Great Grandfather was Cornish also, he was an Anglican. I've been to the church in Cornwall and found the old family gravestones. But clearly he did enjoy an occasional drink and how he provided it was not by spending the money that they were slowly earning on the farm by frequenting a hotel and perhaps shaming his wife but by making it himself. Both Lou and Mary have told me this story and sadly Lou is no longer alive. I really wanted to know about how he made his home brew but he wasn't interested in telling me, saying they had much better methods nowadays. Or perhaps he couldn't remember.

I've got other family brewing links, though in quite a different context. The Roils who owned and ran a cider factory in this article on Stoke in the 1920s are my relatives. Their parents brought them all out to Nelson in the 1840s from the small brewing town of Alton in Hampshire, England. His occupation was a brewer and I assume that would have been for an employer. Nelson soil grows great apples and the cider factory was an amalgam of both old world skills and new world opportunities.

I still ponder making our own home brew. Frankly, it would save us plenty of money. Favourite Handyman has a birthday coming up and I might just get a home brewing kit for then.

Monday, June 21, 2010

yule coal squeal

There is a fancy word for that - words with the same final sound used together. Please tell me if you know it. I like a bit of fancy technical vocabulary, though best with sentences, financially ominous if it comes from the mechanic.



Anyway, the winter solstice. Yule, according to my Southern Hemisphere Pagan Calendar.



Here at the messiest house in Wetville, we are for the most part thoroughly, dredgedly institutionalised and much more likely to celebrate when work takes a break in two weeks' time.



But I have been thinking a little about pre-industrial winter solstice. I figure the two key things people must have worried about are food supplies and heating. Which is rather similar to right now when I check the bank balance and plan for food provision and try and work out firewood provision to last us until fireless warmth (very late down here, we have had the fire on in December before).



We haven't bought enough wood (a fortnight of sick people requiring all day fires burns a big pile) for the entire winter and the last load of dry wood has not all been stacked so now it is not dry at all but rather sodden and FH is always either sick or working weekends or it is raining too hard for wood stacking. So today I ordered more coal and carefully negotiated the prder size so there would still be food money left for the week and hope that we can stack the wood soon and it will be nice and dry in a few months' time when we have burnt all the coal.

Coal is naughty. Environmentally extremely bad to burn it. So naughty that from next Thursday the $80 per scoop I paid today will become $110 per scoop because of carbon taxation.

So there you go. I am so naughty that I prefer to burn coal than to be cold. It's pretty dirty stuff and every other year Fionn's excema has flared when we have resorted to coal. But cold houses aren't much good for his asthma.

It's still our goal to be coal-free and also to collect and stack wood a year in advance. I think we will get there. But for the moment I am appreciating the warmth (though looks like it's my turn to go out in the rain and refill the coal buckets after this blogpost).

What else did I appreciate today? The sun shone a little while I was home and nobody was getting stuck-on-purpose and I weeded some of my garden for a few minutes. Those few minutes were so precious. To be a gardener in the now, not just in the history.

Hope you all had a great time somehow and that the lengthening days bring pleasure. Time for some mulled wine I think.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

arraign, arrange, rain.

Today was the Joan Rosier-Jones writing workshop here in Wetville. Indeed it was very wet but as we still live in a prosperous country not yet devoid of any services for non-rich people, we got to have the workshop in the warm, dry and carpeted local primary school library.

Two years ago under the same scheme (Society of Authors writer in residence for the top of the South Island), we had a workshop with Kate de Goldi. Both of them were very good, though I must confess that I fell in love with Kate de Goldi (total vivacious enthusiasm with unpretentious charm and vivid imagery games) and Joan's workshop was more aimed at getting your manuscript or short story to win competitions. A colder approach but I think the variety is a good thing. Out of the first workshop arose our local writers' group, which has been a pretty good thing. It's even made me write more than shopping lists and blog posts (though not a lot more of late). Out of this one, definitely some new members for our writers' group, maybe also a group based in Buller, and who knows whether a germ for something else as well?

I have been thinking about my wedding anniversary project. This year Favourite Handyman and I celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. Soon after we got to the UK (which was in turn soon after we got married), we used the money some of my relatives had given us to buy a goose down duvet, duvet covers and matching sheets and pillowcases. They are all in good condition still. I did think that a bed covering might be a nice thing for the celebration though. I've considered a quilt (very very briefly, that is a lot of straight sewing, plus my machine is now broken), a knitted blanket (big big big project) and a crochet blanket. The crochet one seemed the most accessible but I hadn't got beyond thinking about it. Then last night I was looking at the open drawers of fabric, the piles of projects on the dresser, the wool, the knitting, you get the idea... When I spied the lovely Welsh herringbone tweed skirt length which my sister bought for me in Wales itself. This fabric length has travelled to home after home after home with me as I love the red fabric and I know I will do it justice one day.

I laid it out on the bed and thought, and then finding it productive, I thought some more. I think I will find some more of the fabric (contrast colour though - there is some oatmeal on trademe) and join them together with woollen embroidery thread and make a cover for our bed.

Red of course. The colour of revolution, of love, of dancing, of fire, of the left. The colour which sings to me and the colour I got married in.

In less than 111 hours, my parents will arrive. They are going to come to the primary school shared lunch with Brighid and I and then we will all go down to the domain and watch the whole school fly the kites they have been making and then in the early evening they will look after Brighid and Fionn while Favourite Handyman and I go to a work function. Then in the morning we will all go somewhere wet and watch Fionn play rugby league.

This is a lot of time for my Mum to notice our home. 111 hours to get the house clean is not much, specially when I need to sleep and go to work in a significant chunk of those 111 hours. I have warned the children that I will be throwing many things out this week and they will never come back. I kind of hope they don't put everything away then I will be able to do what I want to do - get rid of lots of junk.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

big bellied band player

Like a zombie. Most of the zillion meetings and deadlines for this week have been met and although I may die younger because of eating mostly carbohydrates today (the pinwheel scone for lunch was most pleasing on the tongue) and fish and chips likely cooked in canola oil for dinner and red wine for right now, sleep and happiness shall be mine tonight and there is only one more alarm clock day this week.

I have been thinking about things like national identity a bit (an excellent alternative to considering the merits of rest homes and the size of the washing pile) lately, prompted by my Bill Pearson phase. A man who came out of nowhere to me, who was invisible until I saw a brief news feature on his biography a few weeks ago. Now, I have options on the book as I have reserved a copy at the library and even more exciting, someone blessed by winning superfluous prizes would like to send me my very own copy, which is very nice indeed I got the 1970s book of Pearson's essays out of the 'stack' at the local library and read a few sentences before two x three year olds jumped on me and clamoured for the story of Humpty Dumpty's sister and drinks of water all at the same time. Today I even found the latest copy of New Zealand Books where C K Stead has reviewed the biography and called Coal Flat possibly our only regional realist novel.

Which got me thinking a bit more about the distinctiveness of West Coast living, often overplayed for the tourists, but there is something in it. Favourite Handyman and I went on holiday to Westport once upon a time. Indeed, we saw the new millenium in there and decided to commit to each other forever. My abiding memory of New Year's Eve coming into the 21st century was being in a pub when the pipe band came through, well before midnight. The person playing the largest drum was an extremely fat man with the distinction of carrying all his weight out in front of him, a beer/pot belly of admirable proportions. How he managed to get the drum and himself through the doorway was not clear, but he did.

The extremism of small detail flavours life here.

On Sunday I will meet more people from Wetville and its equally wet neighbours who like to write. Joan Rosier Jones is running a workshop. I've played a small part in organising it and people have been asking me what to bring for food for the shared lunch. I tell them whatever they like. I tell them this because I am not their mother. They also ask me what else to bring. I desist from saying frilly red knickers and clothes pegs and try not to wonder what they imagine they could need. What I do say is a pen and paper. I don't suggest two pens in case one runs out because like I said, I am not their mother.

In other news which is not news, the chooks are still alive and the garden is so neglected by my workingmotherplayingsolowithlotsofdeadlines ness that I have not even picked anything to eat from it this week.

Apart from rocket. If I die young, you will know it is the absence of kale this week. If I grow hale and prosper, you can tell yourself to grow some rocket and eat it every day just like that Sandra woman on her blog.

Monday, June 14, 2010

ginger beer & schnapps

Out of beer. No wine. Meetings and squeatings and deadlines and people with cancer and the boy who both threw a tantrum this afternoon about tomorrow's dental nurse appointment and is yelping and moaning and begging for paracetamol (I've got him on garlic and cloves) because his tooth hurts tonight. Oh and no car as FH is out at one of 85 totally important and most inconvenient meetings which seem to be scheduled for this week.

Really. A girl, a 38 year old going grey girl who knows how to make her own bread and grow her own garlic and how to at least get one child properly to sleep, has to do something a little resourceful.

There is ginger beer in the fridge. Supposedly for the children but they didn't eat their pumpkin for tea so baaaaaad luck. I wondered if I had brandy left in the spirits cupboard.

I have a line in the sand. Spirits are for drinking at pubs, with company, in strict moderation. [wine and beer are for anytime after 4pm or at lunchtime in company and the moderation is more moderate]. The spirits cupboard is for Christmas puddings and other boozy puddings for special occasions and when my brother comes to visit.

Anyway, no brandy in the spirits cupboard and I didn't feel alcoholically desperate enough to have sherry, or ouzo or bourbon or whisky. But the bottle of schnapps down the back, gifted to us several years ago by someone who was most likely passing on an unwanted gift himself, well how would that be with gingerbeer?

Not bad. I can report, having drunk most of the glass as I typed this, that it is pretty passable but not something I would crave. But I seem to recall reading that making your own schnapps is quite easy and I've made ginger beer before, so maybe something useful for the post-peak oil days, the dark and dusty days when there is no oil and we are all living the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder only with wandering vigilantes adding to the drama and despair?

I found out tonight that maybe there are many frustrated fans of Letters from Wetville watching and reading and commenting and despairing when their comments never make it to my site. What a thought eh? Well one person has had one comment go missing, and the possibilities...

Finished Coal Flat. Liked it. So much about the Labour Party MP seemed just like now. Now I need to get hold of the Bill Pearson biography.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Telling lies

We lie to our young people. Big bad lies.

We tell them that education is everything and they have to work hard and get lots of credits. We tell them that employers now want Level Two to underline how serious this need to do school work diligently and successfully is.

What we don't tell them is that employers are not, on the whole, now asking for Level Two (Year 12, sixth form) where once Level One (Year 11, old school cert age group) was enough because the jobs have become more intellectually demanding.

They raise the bar as some kind of filter as there are nowhere near enough jobs.

We skirt this issue and suggest to young people that if they study hard enough, then good jobs will be theirs. We reprimand and punish and despair of those who refuse to play this diligence game.

We are telling lies. The harder everyone works for pieces of paper bearing qualifications, the higher the qualifications bar will go.

Education offers a lot of wonderful things. But to suggest that if everyone does their bookwork carefully enough we will have full employment, is a terrible coasting, skating, hiding of an important and nasty truth: our economy (nationally and globally) is structured for significant unemployment, which keeps wages low. The New Zealand unemployed are then blamed for their audacity in applying for state funds to survive. It is structured this way to protect and enhance the lifestyles of the very rich.

I am not suggesting that young people should not strive to achieve their potential academically. I'm pretty keen on the learning thing. But we tell our young people lies about the supposed magic of schooling and we should not be surprised when some of them tell us to f*** off, school sucks. If we listened to them, really listened, and they listened to the oldie socialists and looked through their bookshelves and had a read, then revolution may come sooner not later.

It ain't all about cellphones and sex. Teenagers don't all frame their critical thinking within the structures of power, but there is an interesting amount of critical thinking going on and if we stopped telling lies, then we would have to face those people and actually listen to them.

Scary. A post-neoliberal world. Paulo Friere, one of my favourite thinkers, talks about education as a banking system. And what has happened to our global baking system of late?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Sally Fallon experience

I first learnt of Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions online. In a forum I was part of at the time and also on some blogs, this book kept coming up. Instinctively, from the snippets I was hearing, I thought it might be worth me having a look. But I'm not big on buying books these days. Mostly I lust unrequitedly after them or chase them at the library. But every year I allow myself a new non-fiction book. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Meat was a worthwhile purchase and much consulted book. Andrew Whitley's book Bread Matters is so utterly useful that one day I will buy it again because I will have worn our copy out. Eventually, I was so intrigued with the Fallon references I was encountering, that I bought the book. It was worth the money, but I have reservations as well as praise.

Miriam (thank you for your recent comment which prompted this post), I would highly and hugely recommend Bread Matters over Nourishing Traditions. Then, when you are ready to make sourdough bread which will make the gluten much more digestible, give Terrace Farms a ring and order yourself some superb flour, freshly milled after you place your order and quite affordable if you compare it with the price of organic flour in the supermarket. Whitley's Cromarty Cob recipe (replace the plain flour with wholemeal) is a winner even with my seven year old who has to contend with idiots at school criticising the contents of his lunchbox. I am also very fond of the caraway rye recipe. His hot cross buns are not sourdough but they did turn out divine. He has a chapter on gluten free bread, with recipes, which are based on actual food not expensive pre-mixes and very hard to find ingredients. Whitley has links to some fascinating research on additives and gluten intolerance.

Back to Fallon and Nourishing Traditions. I've paired it with other reading I've been doing finding the benefits of solid fats, the importance of fats for absorbing fat soluble vitamins, cultured foods and the superfood which broth is. Fallon has a chapter devoted to making stock and I am totally with her on the importance of stock. She talks about enzymes and cultured foods at length and is interesting as she does so. I have started to think of traditional foods not merely as foods from the 1940s (jam, beetroot bottled in vinegar, vinegar pickles) but of foods before any of the modern conveniences of fridges, glass jars, ovens etc.

She also has some very unconvincing stuff on the side bar of the book. Each page has recipes down 2/3rds of the page and snippets of information on the other third. Only there is a lot of circular quoting and some of her venom for vegetarians seems quite inconsistent with what I have learnt anywhere else. I don't expect someone with her claims of expertise to confuse vegan and vegetarian practices the way she appears to.

I recently found Nourishing Cook, a website aiming to cook every recipe in Nourishing Traditions. It includes one which I have cooked and liked, the meat loaf recipe, which I plan to do a variation on tomorrow night (my idea is to use up the leftover mushroom risotto from tonight instead of breadcrumbs). I wish I looked on this website before I made Fallon's banana bread. Mine came out like the photos on the link. Seriously inedible and an expensive waste of ingredients.

Top of my wish list for purchase this year? Healing with Wholefoods, by Paul Pitchford. I borrowed a copy last year and was riveted. Laksmi, our local complementary therapist who has helped our family improve our health hugely, recommended it to me.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

eco devil

An eight kilometre round, single purpose trip just to buy fish. I'd run out of onions so couldn't make risotto as planned and then no time to buy onions and cook. So a dash to buy turbot - food of the goddesses surely - and they asked me if I wanted the fish with or without roe.

Roe.

Fish roe. As in super-nutritious and subject of admiration and recipes by Sally Fallon and her devotees.

Yes please. Too late now to save those babies. Do devout Catholics refuse to buy fish roe? Not that I've heard but where I grew up no one I knew of any religious or other persuasion ate fish roe anyway.

So I cooked up the fish for dinner and we had it with some butternut squash which I threw in the oven before we got in the car to kill the planet in pursuit of the delectable flesh of nearly extinct piscine species. We also had it with kale and garlic which I chopped up and cooked in the pan which had cooked the fish. Yummo.

Tomorrow, in which I do not have to race off early to earn money, I plan to cook FH and I fish roe and eggs for breakfast. The heathen short people can have eggs but the big ticket delicacy stuff will be ours.

Tonight's other great excitement? I bought us tickets to Auckland for two weeks in December. Big Big excitement. I've not been out of the South Island since I had my daughter three years ago, not been to Auckland for seven years and not been to Auckland proper (central, with the link bus, not an hour's drive away in the 'burbs) for over a decade. The short people in particular will make their relatives happy and we can all go sightseeing. Planning adventures already.

Monday, June 7, 2010

whose life in print?

I'm currently reading Bill Pearson's novel Coal Flat, set in Blackball soon after World War Two. I start to get articulate about my feelings on this book and then I lose the threads in front of the screen, recognise them as wavering threads, easily pushed aside like a cobweb across the doorframe.

The main character in Coal Flat is unsure of where he stands on socialism. Sometimes he feels quite clear on his conviction for a socialist society and other times he finds himself arguing and on wobbly terrain in the company of other socialists, men more sure of themselves and their purpose than himself.

I'm pretty interested in this character. I want to know if he finds clear conviction by the end of the book (I am half way through).

It exerts a pull, Blackball does. A place with character which isn't what they call character when places have lots of old cooking utensils strung up on the ceiling and apparently that is character, period charmer, atmospheric.

We came up to Blackball to the pub when we first moved to Wetville just over four years ago. Met some friendly people and enjoyed the sunshine. In summer it is hard to fathom how wet and foggy and relentless the weather is in winter in Blackball, or in much of the Grey Valley. I saw the photo of Micky Savage in the bar and began to learn the story of the 08 strike and the union beginnings here and West Coast militancy. I can't remember any more how much I knew before we got here.

I remember taking my in laws up there - raining it was of course - and the carefully restrained silence about buying a house in Blackball as we drove past houses decorated with rusted car shells on their front lawns.

As we made good friends with Paul and Caroline and got involved in the Blackball Working Class History project, we began a link which brings us up the valley more purposefully. When someone dies, it is of the pub in Blackball I think to take us, where we are away from home yet peaceful.

Now Paul has sent me a proposal that we organise a plaque for Bill Pearson at the local high school as Pearson loved his time there, according to the biography which Paul has just read. Which is an excellent idea and I can see that now that the museum is open and on its feet, Paul has found not just himself but myself a new project.

I was the generation which had some New Zealand literature at school and plenty of it to read at the library. I took for granted what earlier men and women had written and campaigned for - a widening of the canon. But it was still intensely wonderful when I read Maurice Gee (somewhere in the Plumb trilogy I think but not sure) describing my corner of New Zealand. The part between Stoke and Richmond, the part where not only have I ridden my bike and driven endlessly (before the soulless new motorway of course), but also where some of my maternal relatives grew apples and made cider 150 years ago.

Reading Coal Flat is quite exciting because it is here, or near. Our world in print. I remember reading Rose Tremain's book The Colour not long before we moved here. Just before we left London, a friend and I went to the launch of Tremain's then latest book of short stories. I introduced myself at the end and told her I was about to live on the West Coast, where she had taken inspiration from a museum exhibit for the book. Her initially gracious and interested expression faded as she realised I wasn't a passing enthusiast for the stories on display at the museum but someone hick enough to live there. Outpost of nowhere.

But Pearson is born and bred. A Coaster. It's not a slick story so far, but it is interesting.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

In which I break the inside stuff and get some outdoors poo

Broken sewing machine. Really broken. From today's discussion with Jackie at the Bernina shop, the belt may have come off. Surely you understand that this is beyond my fix-it abilities. Stuart the sewing machine fixer is recovering from heart surgery and can only fix 1-2 machines per week at the moment and has a backlog of 15.

So that all sounds like a substantial break from sewing. All good. Not like a substantial break from wine, or sleep (Remember pregnancy and newborn babyland anyone? Major break from both.)

This afternoon Brighid and I visited Raelene. Raelene has an oversized back garden with lots of chooks (truly a LOT of chooks), sheep, a couple of dogs, a cat and now a donkey. Totally marvellous and always something new for the children (and poo of some kind or another for my garden). We spent the afternoon collecting donkey poo and I now have about eight plastic bags of prime garden fertiliser waiting to go on the garden. It is beside the grass clippings (dropped off by our friend who mows the high school lawns) and the unstacked wood (I managed to stack three barrow loads this morning after breaking the sewing machine). And surrounded by the long long grass. Better not rain too early tomorrow, we need a family working bee.

I could spend my evening knitting but Bill Pearson is calling louder. Coal Flat. A university person somewhere has written a book about Bill Pearson and I want to read the novel first before I get the library to buy the biography.

Friday, June 4, 2010

home time

Kings Seeds has burdock. Which is a mighty fine discovery as burdock crops up in my herbal reading again and again and again. According top the Kings catalogue, it is also a vegetable; so much the better.

Seventeen hours until Alice's birthday party. I intend to sleep for a lot of those hours, so the timeline for completing the bag is going to be tight. But these things always work out somehow. I have changed to a lighter fabric for the bag handles and the lining is lighter again. So dark denim for the main bag, blue floral denim for the handle and sky blue with white spots for the lining. No picture likely as I still don't know where the battery charger is.

I have a new kitchen challenge. A home made snak log. Snak logs are relatively expensive, beloved of my son, useful for tramps and otherwise heavily spliced with undesirable ingredients (the link has the ingredients list) and packaging-intensive. They are coated entirely in chocolate and it isn't hard to see the attraction - I'm prone to grabbing one from the cupboard when I am in a huge hurry myself.

So it looks like I want a finely whizzed muesli slice recipe with a chocolate coating. All over chocolate coating seems a bit tricky but chocolate on top surely is not. Dark chocolate with lots of magnesium in it. Perhaps I should play round with soaking the oats first. Sally Fallon and all. Though last time I tried one of her recipes it was a total waste of ingredients and had to go in the bin. I wasn't even sure about giving it to the chooks.

Better go to bed and then get up and finish the birthday present bag first. Though I do want to read a bit more of Coal Flat by Bill Pearson which is set on the West Coast and which I have never read until now.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

not just dissonance, a gaping wide gulf

I grabbed the book Living on $21 a week (or very similar title) at the library late this afternoon. Something in there for me to learn no doubt.

The extent of my commitment was rather obvious not long afterwards as I almost bowled another shopper over at the supermarket while rushing to the booze aisle for a bottle of wine. Yes I did leave my young daughter alone in the queue. We do live in Small Wet Town, not New York.

To those who have commented on my last post (thank you), I too wondered about the May Day comment about capitalist appropriation of transition towns. Jared also mentioned farmers markets and it was easier to see how they could be assimilated into a capitalist framework. The problem is that Jared was summing up from the group I was not in and this was a throw-away comment and then I was busy sorting out the afternoon tea in the kitchen for the opening and then I didn't get to the evening function as we didn't have childcare so I didn't get to follow the comment up at all. Sounds like a depressing case of a woman in need of Germaine Greer really.

My best guess from the surrounding comments which Jared made is that transition towns does not challenge our current status quo, but works within. Which I guess is the case, but that doesn't make transition towns bad in my books.

Actually that is another dissonance/gulf thing for me. It is high time I named this one, which I alternately fear and accept. I understand, for a lay person, a reasonable amount of the socialist project and the exploitative premise and reality of capitalism. But I wonder how strong I am to actually be a revolutionary. Not amazingly so I suspect. Last year when I first encountered the Christchurch anarchists, I found myself agreeing with them, especially on the problematic, dodgy nature of union bosses. At the time Andrew Little was the object of much of my wrath (nothing he has done since has ameliorated my assessment). I'm pretty unimpressed with my own union bosses and find their modus operandi to be greatly similar to the big work bosses themselves. I've read Against the Current's posts on recent union rollover and absolutely seen his point. Here is an example. But there is a niggly voice inside of me which says: 'if you were that person, would you roll over as well'?

This article, Heresy of the Greeks offers hope has been a great inspiration for me. By John Pilger and brilliantly argued, thankyou Steven of Against the Current for bringing this one to my eyes as well.

Sewing. The fabric I chose for the bag is very heavy, too heavy really. The wine I've been drinking at the same time is not too heavy. I've retreated to the keyboard and the knitting needles and tomorrow I will work out what to do. Indeed, it is time to retreat further, to bed.

Oh Johanna, the ear candles worked a treat, I did get FH to administer them though, OSH and all.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Loving Jackie

No attempt at political thought tonight. I've got a blocked ear. Although I could ruminate on the benefits or otherwise of hydrogen peroxide, levisiticum, olive oil and ear candling (tried 'em all at some stage), I won't.
Because I love Jackie and Jackie told me what to do with the tension on my sewing machine. If the bottom is bunching up and misbehaving, that means the top tension is wrong. Tighten the tension means move it to a higher number. If it is on four, move it to seven (for my heavy fabrics, using my new heavy needles). I don't need a spotlight in my town (just as well) but I do need Jackie who runs our local Bernina shop.
I did it. Still took a couple of goes because of special additional glitches. But five months from when I hand stitched the hem, Brighid's braided red corduroy trousers are finished. Not that she is interested, they aren't from her heroine Alice like the bag of tops which arrived this afternoon.
Which brings us to Alice who turns seven very very soon. My attempts at sewing without a pattern are really too wonky. So today I bought a pattern for a dress (for Brighid and maybe for the short nieces, sometime) and a bag (for Alice, this Saturday). Simplicity 4927.

I've washed and dried and ironed the fabric (washed and ironed! posh eh? That's because it smelt musty from sitting in my drawer and before that in my-patron-saint-of-fabric-friend Susan's basement) and now I am about to cut it out.

And when I wake up in the morning, it will be pay day. Makes going to bed all worth while.