Saturday, April 29, 2006

Pooh's House

If you go down to the Waikanae River, and walk along the north bank you might notice this little door in a tree by the side of the path.

If you bend over and open the door you're in for a big surprise. Inside Pooh and friends are partying hard.

Everytime I've visited I've caught them in a different arrangement. The obvious explanation is that here at last is the parallel universe where toys come to life when there's no one looking, and then freeze when the door opens.

On the one day I had a camera with me, they were engaged in a relatively civalized tea party. Last time I checked it looked like I had interrupted an orgy.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


First birth day

I woke at midnight

to stumble under moon and comet,

stars blistering the sky,

belly swollen full with you

bursting to get out today.

Our journeys that morning

were in a darkness so bright and clear

that pain was transformed

and you were born into the light

on a wave of bliss.


Every year you grew more defined,

emerging from the fog of babyhood

and the battles of childhood

with determination and joie de vivre;

with a talent for being loved

and constancy in your loving.

This birthday

Since you first woke me to welcome the dawn

you have taught me how to love well,

and now my heart cannot contain my delight.

The universe would have to explode into symphonies

with quivering supernovas of dancing spacegypsies

splattering honey across galaxies

under infinite rainbows of gold and indigo

lighting up black holes

in glorious commemoration

of all I feel for you.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


The answer to the cryptic clue which is the title of a book I described in the post before last is rebelled. You remember, the clue was Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8).
Pretty Girl = belle
Crimson Rose = red
Put BELLE into red and you get reBELLEd

Since the cryptic crossword post prompted more comments than anything else I've written for a while, I assume that you guys are interested in this subject. So, let me tell you about this clue I just worked out: Beserk now. All right following morning (4)
All right=OK
OK following AM is AMOK which means beserk.
Cool huh?

Here's an one for you from the same David Tossman crossword in a December Listener:
Make hardier variety of carrot top (3,4)
Hint: 'variety' is an anagram indicator

I glimpsed a Guardian with crossword at a friend's house this morning and I recognised Janus as one of the clue setters written about in Pretty Girl and felt a flash of the feeling that I get when I see a book/record/movie that I've read a good review about. We were doing yoga at the time so I didn't ask then if I could have her paper when she's finished with it and later I forgot, but if you are reading this Jo (though I'm pretty sure you don't), can I have your old Guardian please?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Nothin' much

We had an impromptu pyjama party here the other night, as refugees from the snarled up end-of-Easter traffic came to stay at our bijou-by-the-highway. It was jolly good fun, especially compared to the alternative of taking four hours to crawl 80kms towards Wellington in first gear. I'm especially proud of the thrown together meal which managed to satisfy the gluten-intolerant guest, the garlic-onion-intolerant guest, the kosher-for-passover hostess, the vegetarian host and the one person who will eat anything with gusto, especially if there's a glass of wine to wash it down.

Two days later I'm trusting that the traffic has eased and my own journey to the Big Smoke will be swift and no more painful than necessary in a car where the tape player is jammed on a road with long stretches without radio reception. I've been avoiding the city for many weeks now but I think I'm ready to cope with concrete and crowds for a day. As always, I'm looking forward to a leisurely browse in my favourite public library- my personal equivalent of retail therapy- dosing up on quality contemporary sci-fi.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8)

I'm learning to do cryptic crosswords and have had a real boost to my abilities from reading Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) by Sandy Balfour.

The book is a memoir (written when he was the same age as I am now- how can I be old enough to warrant a memoir!?) of a life as a South African immigrant to England, his relationship with his girlfriend and growing passion for crosswords. It weaves together themes of world politics and national identity with personal memories and a lot of interesting and useful information about cryptic crosswords.

My dismal personal best of completing two clues in a cryptic grid (maintained for many years of desultry bafflement) doubled to four clues by the time I was half way through the book. I have dreamed about or in crosswords for the last few nights (weird dream objects/scenes in grids of black or white boxes). My absorbtion of the cryptic approach was sufficient that before I finished the book late last night (reading out loud the final few chapters to laughter and tears) I had completed half, that's right HALF, of the Listener crossword.

The light has dawned, at least partially. The other half remains in bafflingly obscure shadow, but my approach is now systematic rather than desultry. I am comforted by Sandy Balfour's confession that it took him seven years of keen solving before he completed a whole grid on his own. Mind you, he refers to British 'broadsheet' puzzles such as the Guardian and Times (and discusses at length the cultural meaning of their different settting styles), which I suspect are much harder to solve than the Listener. But I am a complete novice so I'm not sure about that. Those stubborn second half of David Tossman's clues may be of British broadsheet standard.

I'm very pleased with my progress but am painfully aware of how far I have to go. Even when I successfully solve the word game part of the clue (anangram or other manipulations) often I'm at a loss to understand the cryptic reference. Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) has raised my expectations regarding clue's multiple layers of meaning and the significance of every word or letter but I just don't get it most of the time. Ah well, I look forward to a lifetime of pleasurably plugging away.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

New Toy for the Boy

This evening I am writing to the aroma of freshly mown grass. It appears that the long and agonising saga of buying a ride-on-mower is finally over.

First there was the endless searching and bidding and losing auctions for second-hand mowers on Trade Me. Then there was the mower paid for but rejected on pick up because it was not as promised and wholly unsuitable for mowing conditions at Te Horo. Then there were the long afternoons of minutely detailed examinations of brand-new mowers that cost more than my car did.

Then finally, the successful bid on the new mower through Trade Me, the subsequent long wait for the seller to return from some trip and ship it out and the exciting moment of the huge box's arrival. Then the long, loving, careful unpacking, assembling and servicing of the new mower (including an thrilling few minutes where I played my most significant role in the whole business by finding the 'missing' piece still hidden in the packaging material). And then the crushing disappointment of finding that despite being Brand New, the bloody thing didn't work. Numerous phone calls and emails followed to negotiate solutions and finally today we had delivery of replacement blades.

Oh glory be, the new blades work and Al is whizzing back and forth outside my window leaving trails of smooth lawn in our shaggy meadow as the motor purrs like a happy cat. Thank you thank you thank you.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Kapiti's Edible Books

The Kapiti Book Arts Group celebrated the International Edible Book Festival with a delicious, inventive, playful and creative lunch at Teresa's place in Pekapeka. I'm sorry that I can't convey the sensory overload of so much colour, smell, taste, texure and excited bibliophiliac conversation. But you can at least scroll down and admire the photos of the books before we ate them.

Teresa Francis set the tone with her gingerbread hearts spelling out Kapiti Book Arts-delicious dunked into tea and coffee.

Fiction and Chips (A Battered Book) by
Ngaere MacKinnon was not very inviting to eat, but wonderful to look at. She dipped an old Georgette Heyer novel in batter and deep fried it to a golden crisp, served wrapped in newsprint with chips. This was personal pick for 'best concept.'

by Carol Devlin was a lolly cake sewn onto raised cords (of licorice). Sinfully sweet and possibly the most technically adept of our edible books structures today.

Brigid Grant's Cheese Straws was a flaky pastry and cheese concoction which looked very book-like before being served up with crudites and blue cheese dip.

Prue Townsend ruefully named her work Failed Florentines but as a book structure this was a winner. Based on Clair van Viet's Narcissus hanging scroll structure variation on Aunt Sally's Lament, this edible book had serious book arts credentials which more than compensated for the florentines being not quite as chewy as Prue would have liked.

Dawn Ellen's little Prayer Book combined fruit leather and mountain bread in honor of Easter.

And me, well I did another version of the Mexican landscape book I pictured last week. It didn't look quite as good today (though it tasted just as yummy). The main difference was that in honour of Kristin, our guest from Arizona, I renamed it an Arizona landscape.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Stonehenge Aotearoa

Our weekend visit to the Wairarapa involved more than just alpacas. I also persuaded everyone to check out Stonehenge Aotearoa (right above). Our hosts Brian and Colleen had watched it being built on the neighbouring hilltop and have enjoyed its dramatic addition to the skyline but they had never been there! I've wanted to go since I first heard about it, while it was still being built. Unfortunately, by the time it opened to the public last February I was living far away in Northland. When I saw the Stonehenge sign as we drove towards our friend's place, I began to lobby for it to replace the Pinnacles on our weekend itinerary.

The tour party we were in consisted of the Wellington Triumph motorcycle club, ten men and ten women in leather who roared up on their ten bikes, a young, attractive, stylish gay couple, and us. But there really wasn't a chance to chat with the other punters because the show was so intensive. Our guide, Jennifer, conveyed her passion for astronomy, past and present, with lyricism and clarity, speaking for an hour and a half almost without pause. It was one of the most educational experiences I've had in years in terms of the sheer volume of information that I managed to pay attention to.

The Stonehenge itself is a bit of a letdown in the daytime, the only time that the public can access it. Like the original on Salisbury (and all the other astronomical stone circles around the world) it is designed for night use, to follow the movements of the rising and setting sun and stars accurately predict seasonal changes and astronomical events like eclipses. But it is a special place to be, with amazing acoustics and an awesome 360 vista of the Wairarapa.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bringing Peace

Merle Harris sent me this lovely story about taking one of my books, Karori Sanctuary, to a school in Canada.

...Do I have a story for you. I'm back working again and Monday and Tuesday for the first time in a year I was one of four authors doing writing workshops for grades 4-6 students during our spring break.

I always show them how to make some simple book structures and take a small collection of the handmade books I own. I think this gives them an incentive to do the best writing they can and to think about actually making books from their work. This year I added "Karori Sanctuary" - people are always stunned that I take my good books to show "children" but I find they treat them with reverence and delight.

Anyway there was this one fellow in the gr. 5/6 group I had on Tuesday morning who spent a lot of time at the book table - later when I was walking around I noticed your book at his table and he said to me excitedly (paraphrasing but pretty accurate) "Mrs. Harris this is the most amazing book - but even more than how it looks, the poem makes me feel so peaceful, I've never felt like this before. I hope you don't mind but I copied it out in my book so I could read it when I needed to." On a single sheet he'd written out your poem, all the bibliographic information and the workshop name and date and my name. All around the poem, as a frame, he had written the leaf names. Then he said "Even just reading the names out brings me peace."

He thanked me profusely at the end of class and then at the end of the day when I was leaving he came and gave me a hug and thanked me again for bringing your book.

I thought you'd like to hear this. As I told you, Karori Sanctuary is one of my favourites and it was sheer magic to see the effect it had on this kid.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


I'm just back from a weekend in the Wairarapa. We stayed with Brian and Colleen who share one and a half hectares with four male alpacas. Oh, they are so cute! (The alpacas, I mean, though B & C are very nice too). With their limpid brown eyes and sweeping long lashes, their soft fuzzy coats, camel necks (and feet) and soft furry lips. They are tame enough to eat from our hands but not willing to be petted, despite inspiring a strong desire in me to cuddle them. They are elegant as well as cute though and can have an air of dignity and aloofness.

These four boys originally came from a herd of 50 and seem to miss the crowd. We saw them trying to get to know the bull in the nextdoor paddock. He reached his nose over the fence for a kiss/sniff which obviously overstepped the bounds of alpaca etiquitte. A little spit in his eye from the lead alpaca had him jump in surprise, but luckily not retreat from their ongoing conversation.

In the Andes, pumas are the most dangerous predator that alpacas face. The two cats on the Wairarapa property kept them very alert at first, but after the puma-kitten-sized felines failed to grow into alpaca-threatening-sized predators they aren't so concerned.

They are not keen on dogs either. Brian and Colleen told us that a few days ago someone had been walking their dog along the road, and all the alpacas assembled on the highest point in their enclosure to bark menacingly at said dog from a safe distance (alpaca barking sounds like human laughter). But when Brian emerged from his shed to see what all the fuss was about, the alpacas were emboldened to rush to the fence and bark directly at the dog (who apparently was unconcerned by all this fuss).