Monday, February 28, 2005

Lotsa books!

It's been a productive few days here at Purua. I have finished a new book, made four copies of an old one, and almost finished two other new ones.

I think the new book is delightful and funny, it makes me laugh out loud when I play with it. It's called Boob Book, and is almost a 5cm cube when closed. Inside each page has a line drawing of a pair of breasts and a different word for breasts. It is bound on two spines, similar to a book called Tumbling Blocks by Claire Van Vliet, so it moves in your hands like a toy. I know/know of so many women who have/have had breast cancer and it's too easy to start thinking of breasts as problem areas. Also in the context of increasingly common cosmetic surgery suggesting that many women are unhappy with their breasts, I wanted to playfully, lightly, happily celebrate this wonderful part of our bodies. I hope this book will appeal to anyone who has/has had/ enjoys/wants breasts. (And watch this space, as I am planning a second breast-themed book called Extravagant Promises).

The old book I have been making up today is Houghton Bay, about surfers in Cook Strait. It's a little book that I'm hoping will go well at the Artisan's Fair this weekend. 18cm x 2.5cm, the cover is shiny blue, the end papers silver, and the accoridian fold pages are printed on tracing paper so the punchline of the poem is almost visible as a misty hint before you get to the end.

The two almost finished new books are both part of the bush book series: Waitawheta Valley and Wairere Falls. They are both about walks in the Kaimai mountain range that runs between the Hauraki Plains and the Bay of Plenty. The insides are all done, I just need to do the covers.

I'm sorry I can't post any photos yet (any reader who gives me a digital camera will get lots of lovely free books!) but Katrina Ching, who took many of the beautiful photos on my website, is going to get all my books on film when I am in Wellington in a fortnight- soon after that I will update the galleries on my website with all the new pictures.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


I have been going for a different walk from my new place every day since I've been here. Talking to my neighbours on the same driveway as me, who are also keen walkers, it sounds like I will never run out of new places to explore on foot from home. They have been here three years and are still finding new walks in the hills behind our houses.

Last night I followed the main track past the pines but following Cathy's suggestion soon left it, to follow the stream through paddocks. There are lots and lots of totora everywhere around here, mostly covered in droopy grey lichen. The stream has some really pretty bits cutting through mossy, ferny rock, babbling over stones. There are a couple of goodlooking water holes where I intend to go for a dip while the weather is still hot. Apparently the water is very clean, good enough to drink and even better than the rain water which supplies our houses. Most of the paddocks are overgrown and weedy because the previous owner wasn't running enough stock.

My neighbours, who have welcomed me very warmly (I spent last evening drinking bubbly with them), have offered to take me on a big walk today, showing me lots of good tracks and taking me to the top of the big hill to get an overview of the area..

It was a great walk... much more adventurous than I would have attempted on my own so soon. But I was very sad to find a dead kiwi at the top of the hill. Obviously only recently killed and not eaten by whatever killed it, the big adult's (chicken-sized) only visible injury was a small patch without feathers and with scratch marks on it. I've never seen a real kiwi in the wild before, (for non-NZ readers, the kiwi is an endangered species, and nocturnal and very shy) so I was sad but also very interested to be close enough to touch one.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Rat Story Part 2

Sensitive vegetarians and rat lovers skip this one.

After my awful night with the rat I couldn't bear to eat anything in the house, even if there was no way the rat could have touched it. So by the time I got into town for my rat trap shopping I was pretty hungry, and strangely craving red meat (I think in reaction to all the adreneline residue still in my body). I bought a rat trap and a fly swat. I ate a steak at a steakhouse where I was the only diner (it was good). I bought a box of dusty old jars at an op shop. I went to the Warehouse and consoled myself with that peculiar form of discount retail therapy that the Warehouse does so well -and in the US Target and Walmart- they may be evil but they know what makes you feel good. I bought a rat proof rubbish bin and a vacuum cleaner for the rat poop and dead flies. I got seriously lost in Whangarei on the way home so I bought a bottle of vodka.

Town took all afternoon but when I got back to Purua, it was still a beautiful 27 degrees at 5pm. I had a stiff drink and set the rat trap (with difficulty and lots more adreneline surges everytime I missed and it went slam). I went for a long walk up over the hill and down into the next valley (Riponui). I came home again and there was a dead rat which I put outside. I reset the trap and started feeling better about living here. I slept long and deep. No more rats so far. Today I can make some books.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I was looking forward to waxing lyrical about how lovely it is to be in my new place... but that will have to wait. Most of my initial pleasure is currently being overshadowed by a rat. I knew there was going to be one because my new landlord tried to show me how to set the rat trap and figured out it was broken. How bad can one rat-night be I thought? Ha!

The rat woke me hourly as it systematically explored, tasted and defecated on everything I had brought into the house. The rubbish bag was the first casualty, and gave me my first glimpse of the bright eyed beast. Then a gastronomic tour of the pantry- taking a bite out of everything it could and really pigging out on the paprika. A clattering parade across all the dishes etc in my cupboards. A riffle through my handbag and wrestle with the chewing gum therein. A visit to the linen in the hot water cupboard and a circuit inside the washing machine.

Every hour or so I woke to the sound of the rat having fun with my stuff, turned on the light, got out of bed, stomped and shouted my way out of my bedroom in the hope that I wouldn't have to actually see the rat as I didn't even have a broom in the house I could brandish at it. But it always waited until it actually saw me before scurrying away (away as in sort of towards me) no doubt getting a good laugh from how I couldn't help but jump and shriek everytime I saw it. Then I would have another go at trying to anticipate what the rat might try to chew through next and where I could put those items out of rat's way. Then I would go back to bed, wait for the adreneline to stop surging through my body and try to ignore the little scurrying noises.

Eventually I would fall asleep- just long enough for a bad dream before the next rat encounter. Dreams of being assigned impossible tasks i.e. cleaning every tiny, dusty box in a huge, dirty cobwebby, rat-poopy warehouse; suddenly having to be substitute teacher for a rebellious 4th form science class; hiding the 'evidence' planted to frame me for a series of horrific murders; making my way through a dense jungle of scarey animals like pythons and camels... you get the idea.

Now I am going to drive the 30kms into town to buy a functional trap for the rat. And possibly some strong drink for me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Hot water

The other day I read a novel about Mary Queen of Scots called Fatal Majesty by Reay Tannahill. I was reminded that Queen Elizabeth I was considered unusually fastidious by her contemporaries because she had a bath once a month whether she needed it or not. (Mary bathed once a week, but she was raised French and therefore full of peculiar habits). Let us not forget that a bath in Elizabethan times would have involved many servants carting water to be boiled over a fire and then carrying it in buckets up stone stairs etc etc.

Bathing here at the cowshed is also a challenge. Hot water is to be heated in a zip (remember those from school halls?) but the zip doesn't have its string (to turn it on) anymore. I am by far the shortest person on the farm (not unusual for me the be the shortest adult in most situations but here even the kids are taller) and it took me a long time to work out I had to climb on a ledge and reach round to poke blindly with an old chopstick into the place from which the string should emerge.

There is no immediate way of telling whether this has worked but when I'm lucky within half an hour the zip will feel hot to the touch and eventually it boils and I can have a bath. Unfortunately, whatever knack I had for turning on the zip last week has failed me this week and I have been clambering and poking to no avail for two days now.

I am going into Town today and while it is one thing to have chosen a reclusive and simple life, it is another thing to smell like an Elizabethan in the company of those who take limitless hot water for granted. So this morning I am anxiously clambering and poking and testing pretty constantly.

Tomorrow, I move into my own place, with its hot water cylinder and shower-no-bath. I can't wait to shower every day, whether I need it or not!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

She sells sea shells

Today I made some sweet little books specifically for the Artisan's Fair in Whangarei on 4 March.

The one other market type environment I have taken my books to was a total failure, but that may have been both the atrocious weather keeping the punters away from Thistle Hall in Wellington last winter and the inappropriate company I was keeping (pretty much all the other people were selling zine-type publications i.e. photocopied, stapled, punk). In the week before that market I had quickly put together a bunch of cute little books for relatively low prices... and despite the disappointment at Thistle Hall, they eventually all sold, at parties or through my website, in the lead up to Christmas.

Given my increasingly desperate need to generate some income I thought the Artisan's Fair might be worth giving a go- I'm assuming I will be in the company of some classy potters & weavers etc and that the punters will be looking for art not punk. I will take all my books, but it seems like a good idea to have some more choice available for under $25.

I have been collecting pretty bits and pieces on my beach walks and incorporated these into some cute little books. Two wee (2cm) blank books using scraps of special paper are sewn into shell covers. Three little (5cm) square books contain a poem called wavelets and have a piece of either kina, paua or coral glued on the cover, with a ribbon to close.

Making these little beach books was a fun break from the intensity of my work on the bush books. I'm sorry I don't have any photos but if anyone is interested in an advance purchase (blank books $10 and wavelets $20) I'd be glad to post you one of these little cuties.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Fair friends and fowl (evilrooster)

One of the notable differences between city life and being here on the farm at Pataua North is the presence of so many kinds of fowl. Ducks, pukeko, turkey, chickens and my favourites... the geese.

The pukeko are of course iconic New Zealand birds and I enjoy the way their white bums flash when they walk and their clumsy flight, but lets face it they are kind of goofy looking. The wild turkeys are ugly though I have picked up some beautiful feathers I'm pretty sure are theirs. Ducks are ducks, though the ones with the white heads are nice looking. The chooks are lovely big black ones and their rooster is very fine, but he is starting to piss me off with his impersonation of an alarm clock stuck on snooze every bloody morning from 6-7, right outside the cowshed... because of course it is within cooee of the cock across the road (who roams with his hens among the most adorable looking kunikuni pigs).

The geese are definitely the most glamorous of the fowl around here. There's a flock of about 14 and they are a much more cohesive community than the other birds, always together with their classy white and grey curves bobbing along in the lush green meadows or parading up the driveway. They look very French to me, for some reason. They never let me get very close when I am out walking around, but sometimes they just appear right outside my backdoor like a surprise present.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Waitawheta Valley: Secret Directions to Magical Places

"Veer left at the hint of an unmarked track by a celery pine"

a good licking

Procrastination is a funny thing. The task I have set myself for today is to draw the illustrations for the book I am working on, Waitawheta Valley. I don't think that I am very good at drawing (though people say nice things about my drawing it never looks much like I want it to). However, drawing is not an unpleasant task. You would think it would be more appealing than doing a budget or filling out change of address cards.

But the budget I have procrastinated on for weeks is now done, my change of address cards filled in and half a bag of M&Ms eaten (M&Ms are not my favourite chocolate- chilled care packages of Lindt 70% can be sent to RD 6 Purua- but M&Ms have the advantage of NOT MELTING on the way home from the supermarket).

I have managed to do about half of the drawings I need but almost everything else around here is more attractive to me today. Every strange farm sound must be checked out, a craving for peaches fulfilled with a walk to the orchard, my swimming suit rescued from being licked by a cow (I mustn't have rinsed the salt out well enough- and it turns out that cows' tongues are dirty!).

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Orchard at Pataua North

Lizzie the dog under a banana tree, chooks and bee hives in background amongst peaches and apples.

Courtyard photo

The door to the cowshed is on the right of the photogragh.


I have been reading a book about antique maps as well as using maps a lot to travel around New Zealand this summer and to orient myself as a new arrival in Northland. I've picked up work on another bush book- Waitawheta Valley- Secret Directions to Magical Places- which is in itself a very idiosyncratic map. So... maps are on the brain. Following my book of life dream yesterday I rewrote an exhibition proposal to describe my new plan to make An Atlas of Purua- in which I will map my experience of my new home.

Then I drove into Whangarei to do a bunch of errands and spent hours driving around in pretty much total confusion, unable to make sense of my maps or the directions that I had been given, both written and verbal. In my defense I would like to say that both downtown Whangarei and its northern suburbs accomodate natural features with minimal use of straight lines, parallel lines or right angles. Unfortunately, in general these natural features are not easily visible landmarks, being rivers, streams and the harbour. I also wonder if economies with street signage and eccentricity in road markings are more likely to be putting off visitors to Whangarei than the need for a new gateway development project.

Anyway, with much deep breathing (easily accomplished during endless waits at poorly organised intersections and massive yet mysterious roadworks) I did eventually manage to do most of the things I needed to in the time available. I also decided that my Atlas of Purua might usefully include as an appendix, my own street map of Whangarei showing the few landmarks I know: the Farmers carpark (prepaid @ 60 cents an hour), Putiputi Ra (the organic and healthfood shop), Caffiene (the cafe where my friend Ash works) and of course the Warehouse where everybody gets a bargain (but my bargain CD player was so dumb I took it back the next day and got a refund and am playing music on my laptop while I figure out another solution to my need for music/need to not spend money equation).

Beyond these few places which I can generally find with a minimum of circling, backtracking and road rage, Whangarei remains a mysterious maze of low rise buildings and unmarked intersections. As an explorer in poorly charted territory I feel it is incumbent upon me to become a cartographer.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The book of life

I had lots of dreams last night... about Wellington and people I hardly knew there... about Nicola my old RC buddy who lives not far from here... and best of all about the book of my life.

Unsurprisingly (to me anyway) it was quite a technical dream about how the book is structured and bound. Each day a single loose page is added to the binding as I live it. There is no way to flick ahead in this book and see what is going to happen next, though there are sections where routine will predict the shape of days or weeks to come. And the way the pages are sewn to the spine is loose, without any knots, so that pages from the distant past often fall off and away out of memory. This dream made me feel very happy when I woke up, and also helped me to solve a book-planning challenge I have been mullling for some weeks.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


My arrival prompted Vikki and family to clear out the cowshed of quite an accumulation of stuff. Much of it ended up as a big pile in the middle of a paddock, which Vikki described as a bonfire, and last night the kids lit it at dusk. I might not have known except I was taking some scraps to the chooks and saw the magnificent blaze. Vikki has gone away for a week and I am nominally in charge of her teenagers but Vikki's instructions to me mentioned nothing about fires.

I stood around with the teens for 15 minutes or so watching the flames and then they went inside to play video games, either bored with the fire or their style cramped by my presence. This surprised me as the fire was burning beautifully and it seemed a shame to waste it. (Not to mention safety issues, though after the recent, frequent rain it seemed unlikely anything untoward could burn). Anyway, I dragged over a chair and spent the next 2-3 hours enjoying having a big fire all to myself.

It's been a few years since I've sat around a bonfire, and I've always been in company before. Without conversation, storytelling and Stairway to Heaven I could hear the crackle of flames over the steady drone of cicadas, the distant crash of waves, mournful moreporks, occaisional pukeko screeches, cattle lowing here and horses snorting there. Orange sparks swirled into a sky creamy with stars. Time passed, the fire burned down, I patrolled its perimeters, poking the edges towards the centre, encouraging the flames for as long as I could. But eventually the embers could no longer keep me warm and I went to bed.

The kids had never so much as come out to check on the fire they had lit.

Friday, February 11, 2005


Yesterday I found my next home, where I will move in a couple of weeks. It is at Purua, about 30k northwest from Whangarei- even more isolated than Pataua where I am now. It is a very dry 1 bedroom flat on a dairy farm with a river and plenty of trees about. There is a lawn where visitors can pitch a tent and a lovely big deck for watching the sun set behind the hills, where kiwi live apparently.

I then spent some time in Whangarei trying to find a good copyshop and art/paper supplies. I found very basic versions of both, but this requires more research.

Returning home, the sky opened up with a tropical deluge. The cowshed has a relatively contained water feature in these conditions, but I decided to try and bail out as much water as I could from the rushing torrent along one wall- about 20 litres from an hour or so of rain! Nothing got wet except the concrete floor and that has dried out already.

Waking late this morning after a mostly sleepless night, and with premenstrual languor upon me, I walked the couple of kilometers to the harbour and spent sometime floating in the silky, limpid water. I did eventually get to work on Karori but then decided it was too hot to start glueing- the adhesive will dry too quickly for me to position the paper properly. So I have been noodling around with various pop-up mechanisms instead.

While feeding the chickens I found an egg and discovered that the sun oven will even cook scrambled eggs (slowly). Yum.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


I think my favourite thing about the cowshed is the courtyard. I have always wanted to live around a courtyard and whenever I am visualising my dream home there it is, with sun, plants, a water feature... The courtyard here reminds me of my Aunt Janet's place (which enchanted me as a child visiting the Ozarks) where at least three trailer homes circled around a swimming pool. Here, the cowshed, the barn and two caravans surround a square of hot sunshine with a concrete water trough with gold fish. Yesterday I put my sun oven out in the courtyard and cooked potatoes for lunch (steamed, then dressed in lemon, oil and thyme) and dahl and rice for dinner.

Other highlights from my first day as a Northland resident include: a remarkably painless and apparently successful attempt to lay out the text of 'Karori' using Adobe InDesign, which has only given me very tight shoulders on previous encounters. Getting very hot and sweaty while cleaning the kitchen and then, oh joy, Vikki took me for a swim in the sea. Heavenly. And I finished my day with a dusk walk around Pataua South which can only be reached from North by a footbridge, utterly peaceful.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Here I am, writing in my cowshed in Pataua North on a gloriously sunny Northland summer day to the sound of calves lowing, cicadas buzzing, birds chirping and the chugging of the waterpump that shares the shed with me.

The good news is the internet connection works, there is hot and cold running water, the space is big and full of natural light, there's just enough trees to feed my soul and Vikki, my landlady, is lovely. After a very pleasant walk past cattle, sheep, horses, pukeko and wild turkey I have spent my morning working on the next bush book- Karori.

The bad news is that the cow shed leaks (it rained before I arrived yesterday and there are still puddles all along one wall) and I am afraid it is just too damp here for my paper and books. If we can't fix this problem (and a few other basic issues that only impinge on my comfort rather than my art) I fear I will have to move to somewhere drier before long.

But for now, I am very happy to be here- its a dramatic and welcome contrast to the relative luxury of my recently departed inner-city Wellington home.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Cock a doodle doo

My final night living in Wellington was graced with a spectacular fireworks display in the harbour celebrating the Chinese New Year. It is the hottest night I remember in all my five Wellington summers. We walked up to the top of our steep Mt Cook street to watch with a few dozen neighbours.

I thought my favourites were the ones like giant balls of fire zooming towards you in 3D, but then I became entranced by the flock of birds with suitable sound effects. On the bigger ones, the steep crater walls lined with houses echoed the explosions like a train bearing down, or waves crashing on a pebble beach. The lights left their shadows in smoke like the bare tangled branches of an huge hawthorne in the clear night sky.

It's too hot to sleep so I will finish packing tonight, including my laptop. I'm not sure yet about my internet access from the cowshed so there may be a gap in transmissions. Fear not, dear reader, I shall write again as soon as I can.

Friday, February 04, 2005

A puzzle

The end of my packing is in sight, I'm done with jury service for this turn and I am leaving town on Sunday so the five books lined up in my brain waiting to be made are starting to jostle impatiently for creation. Yesterday I tried to satisfy the cravings by buying more of the paper I think I'll need but of course that only increased my desire to start making.

The other three bush books to accompany Waipua Forest are my priority because I am making them for a gallery, but they are all at the stage of needing lots of care and time and space, none of which are available to me for bookmaking right now. In contrast, the germ of an idea for a puzzle book is my lowest priority (as I am not clear about who it is for, other than me) and yet because it is so undeveloped it is most suited to my circumstances right now.

So in little spaces around my packing, cleaning, returning borrowed items and collecting money owed, redirecting mail (I had no idea getting rural delivery was such a palaver), saying goodbyes and this morning, rising at 6 to bake cake... I am folding and cutting and playing with what may become a boob book.