little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: bookshops

Reading list

Occasional notes on what I’ve read.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird and all the rest
I’ve got a whole stack of books lined up to add to this reading list thing. We had the Readers and Writers Festival and it’s winter and the evenings have been peaceful, so I’ve been able to pick up my reading pace a bit.

I seem to be a bit shy/lazy about blogging, though, so there they sit in a teetering pile, apart from the ones I had to take back to the library already.

Every male member of the household is down with some nasty virus thing that gives them a temperature and a sore head and makes them very tired. I’m fine so far, but touching wood often and getting nervous every time my nose feels a bit blocked. My main role seems to be to dispense hot drinks and maternal kindliness, to keep the crumpets coming and to play card games with the smallest, healthiest one. Also, to roam the house periodically in search of used mugs and grotty hankies.

I wish I could say that I am performing this role with grace and patience, but I’m borderline grumpy, feeling the cabin fever and vaguely repulsed by all the lying around being germy. Also, three days! The grown-up one has been a sleepy wreck of a man for three days! I don’t know that I could get away with such a thing.

Plus, there’s crap everywhere and the whole house needs a good airing out.

In more positive news, I’ve started going to the gym and, after three days of feeling like my legs were going to fall off, I would hurt something if I bent over and my shoulders needed a hot water bottle permanently strapped across them, I walked out the pain and have been feeling chipper and fit ever since. I had a day off and a massage on Thursday and physio and yoga on Friday, and now my main motivation in caring for Ian is to get him well enough to watch the kids while I go back to the gym.

Just while I’m having a moan, we put out a bird feeder a few weeks ago and I was delighted, DELIGHTED, on Thursday to see that the waxeyes had at last discovered it and were massing in flurried green enthusiasm to eat porridge and drink sugar water. Blackbirds and thrushes patrolled the ground underneath to collect anything that fell, also the occasional chaffinch and a small sparrow-like bird I have yet to identify, the chief household birdo being uncharacteristically prone and lethargic.* So all this was charming, spiritually meaningful, fascinating, beautiful. Then I got up this morning and realised they were using the washing line to perch on. I haven’t looked closely yet, but I suspect at least half the load will need to go back in the machine. And the only person tall enough to comfortably reach two of the lines is lying on the couch covered in blankets drinking hot water with lemon and honey in it.

All of which is a very long-winded and pathetic way of saying that I have discovered Anne Lamott and I love her. I started with Bird by Bird, and if you have any thoughts of being a writer, you’d best get a copy and devour it as soon as possible.

Then I read the novels, then Operating Instructions, then Some Assembly Required, and now I’m moving on to the faith ones. Lamott is funny, apt, wise and, thank God, human. If you’ve ever been a parent, Operating Instructions will recall to you everything you never dared fully admit you felt or thought or experienced. You’ll look at other parents and marvel at the love that drives the whole enterprise, at the fortitude needed to get through a damn day. You’ll look at your children, whether they are still small or well grown, and marvel that you got to be the one to carry them through childhood.

Speaking of which, the physio said I have “mum shoulders”. She said I’ve spent far more time holding a child — and here she curved her arms in front of her as though a small creature was nestled against her heart — than I have writing, and as a consequence my upper back is locked in a forward stretch that is going to take quite some time and work to unfold. But Lamott reminds me that the letting go is parenting too. As is the writing, the recording, the telling that forces the truths about mothering — or seventh grade, or sex, or faith, or families, or life — out of your heart and onto the page.

 

*I was thinking it might be a dunnock (the one bird against which no word of complaint has ever been raised, quotes the birdo), but no. He thinks it’s a female chaffinch. All I know is its head is a very nice shape, blunt and with a slight incline towards the back.

Reading list

Occasional notes on what I’ve read.

Helene Hanff, Underfoot in Show Business and all the rest
I can’t remember whether Helene Hanff got caught up in the first Great Book Loss, but she was definitely part of the second. The first Great Book Loss happened in the late 1990s when my sister and I rented a tiny wooden house on a one-way street between the campus and the gardens. The house had deep green painted walls inside and a brick wall enclosing the garden. Boys lived in the flat next door and sometimes we would peek over the wall at them drinking beer and sitting around in shorts and jandals, and sometimes they would peek over the wall at us planting broccoli or drinking gin with our woolly hats on or decorating the edges of the garden with mussel shells, and generally there was a feeling of mutual intrigue and bewilderment at the utter weirdness on each side of the wall, but also a sort of benevolent live-and-let-live vibe that was best exemplified by Mushroom the Cat, who wandered from house to house over probably the radius of a full block, eating wherever she lit on some food and sleeping wherever she lit on a bed.

Anyway, the house was small and, to be honest, pretty cold, but it was a refuge from the intensity of student life and we loved it. It had an outside loo that we painted midnight blue with a silver ceiling (it was the 90s, remember, and — now that I think about it — I had my Masters thesis bound in much the same colours, only purple in place of the blue, GOOD WITCHY TIMES those were), every hole in the walls was stuffed with Steelo pads, the bathroom had rose-pink walls and pot plants all along the bench beside the shower, we had beautiful old plates and a big shared bookshelf in the front room, and every morning we’d walk to university together and every evening we’d walk home.

We also had many meals and drinking sessions and cups of tea and deep meaningful conversations with our friends, around the old formica table in the garden or nestled in the dusky green of the living room. One of these conversations involved cups of tea, the bookshelf and a dear friend. We got to chatting about our favourite feminist writers and, in our youthful enthusiasm, my sister and I started pulling books off the shelf and piling them up for the dear friend to take home. It was intoxicating, as choosing books for someone you love is, that full-throated joy of “Oh, you must read this one” and “This changed my life” and “I cannot wait for you to see what she does here”. Off our friend went with, I don’t know, three bags of books maybe, and we settled down to contemplate the gaps in our bookshelf, the gaps where we were making connections, sharing ideas, spreading the joy.

Time passed.

Eventually, our friend brought the books back. Only, not quite. Perhaps half the books she brought back were ours. The others, not so much. In my better self, I love the egalitarian librarianishness of this story, the idea of books passing from person to person, wending through the world as reader gives to reader gives to reader. In my not-so-better self, I still miss the books that didn’t come back, even though we never managed to fully work out what they were. Because they were our Young Women books. The books that we used to figure out the first bits of being adult and political and strong. The books that we cried to and laughed with and roared at. The books of the small makeshift house with the brick-walled garden.

So, I think Helene Hanff must have been in that lot. And then I lost her again. I gave another friend a set of books to help her through a rough patch, and they are with her still. I’m still looking for replacement copies of Primo Levi’s Other People’s Trades and Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but last week my mum’s cousin sent a bunch of Hanffs from his sister’s collection. And if any writer exemplifies the Sunday afternoon bookshelf type, it is Hanff. God, but she’s gorgeous. What I would really like is to sit around drinking martinis and listening to Hanff tell stories, high up in one of her New York apartment buildings, perhaps with a bunch of other broads and dames, my sister certainly, Nina Simone, my mum and her friend Christl, Allison Janney, Patricia Grace, Ani Difranco, the Renegade Mother, the Yarn Harlot and anyone else who cared to join us. Mum and Christl and probably Grace really aren’t  either broads or dames, and my sister and I neither, but we’d do our best.

Hanff wrote plays, television scripts, articles, letters, telegrams and books. I’ll bet she wrote terrific shopping lists and notes. She’s sharp, big-hearted, well-read, funny. She used a typewriter and you can hear it in her prose, the staccato rhythm and the emphatic punch of sentence ends and paragraph breaks. Here’s a bit:

The problem of my Greek and Latin lessons remained unresolved. I wrote dignified letters to all the free city colleges, none of which, it turned out, gave free night courses in Latin and Greek. I took my one remaining piece of jewelry — a lapel watch — down to the Empire Diamond and Gold Buying Service and they wouldn’t even make me an offer. Just as I was getting completely discouraged, Maxine, as usual, came through with the solution.

“Why don’t you run an ad in the Personals column of the Saturday Review?” she suggested.

“The problem isn’t finding a tutor,” I said. “It’s finding the money to pay him!”

“That’s all right,” said Maxine reasonably. “Just mention in the ad that you can’t pay anything.”

And if you think I got no response to an ad that read:

Wish to study  Latin and Greek.
Can’t pay anything.

you underestimate the readers of the Saturday Review. I got five offers, one from a German refugee who said he would teach me the Latin and the Greek if I would teach him the English, two from retired professors, and one from a Lebanese rug merchant who didn’t know Latin but offered to teach me modern Greek and Arabic instead.

The fifth letter came from a young man who wrote that he’d graduated from the Roxbury Latin School and Harvard; and after careful consideration, Maxine advised me to award the coveted post to him.

“In the first place, he’s young and he might be cute,” she pointed out. “And in the second place, you can’t do better than Harvard.”

So Tom Goethals, who turned out to be six-feet-four, lean and shy-looking, and whose grandfather had built the Goethals Bridge, put his Roxbury Latin School and Harvard education to use by teaching me to read Catullus and trying to teach me Greek grammar.

Maxine phoned me after the first lesson.

“How was he?” she asked.

“Oh, he’s great!” I said.

“I told you to stick to Harvard,” she said. “Taking somebody second-rate would be like sneaking into the theatre and sitting in the balcony, or borrowing clothes from Gimbel’s instead of Saks. If you’re getting things for nothing, it’s just as easy to get the best.”

We always got the best.

Underfoot in Show Business, 1961 (London: Futura, 1981), 65–66.

I’ll have to work out a book-share system on this set with my sister. In the meantime, I’m hovering Hanff in every break in the day — with breakfast, while cooking dinner, while eating dinner, in the evening, in bed, while lighting the fire and playing Mastermind with the Rabbit, while cleaning my teeth and washing the dishes and making supper for the Cat.

I did the same 20 years ago and I’ll be doing it 20 from now, God willing.

Reading list

Occasional notes on what I’ve read.

P1010262.JPGSteve Braunias, How to Watch a Bird
The Cat was a fully-fledged birdo by the time he was one. I don’t know why — I was a brand new and desperately sleep-deprived mother, so who knows what I was thinking, every thought was of shining, crucial importance, shimmering with light and meaning, ungraspable, everything and nothing, over and over and over — but I spent hours sitting on the sofa with him flicking through bird books and telling him the names of the birds. He even had a bird book for meal times, which became so thoroughly encrusted with food that we had to buy a new one. We went on outings to places where we could see birds, we kept lists of birds we had seen, we bought binoculars and guides and found websites and painted pictures and basically it was birds birds birds until he discovered bus routes aged four or so. After that it was maps and bus journeys and bus poems and bus games and visits to the bus station, and then it was briefly dinosaurs and a short stint of car names, and then geography, and now soccer. Each time, his interest has been total, comprehensive, encyclopedic and consuming.

New Zealand robin, toutouwai (18cm): The robin is a small bush bird found in many lovely places, especially Ulva Island. The Cat saw robins at the Karori Sanctuary.

New Zealand robin, toutouwai (18cm): The robin is a small bush bird found in many lovely places, especially Ulva Island. The Cat saw robins at the Karori Sanctuary.

We eased off on the birds for a while, but the interest is still there in the background, as are the birds ever and always.

Somewhere in all that birding time, I read How to Watch a Bird by Steve Braunias. Before that, I’d read his Listener columns on birds and I’d started to notice birds, to see them in all their strangeness and familiarity. Australia helped, with its pelicans and parrots and fairy wrens and crows and magpies. You’d have to be blind and deaf to not notice the birds in Australia; they’re all colour and noise and foreboding and joy, and they’re right there every time you step out the door.

P1010453.JPG

Kea (46cm): The kea is a mountain parrot found mostly in the South Island high country. It is olive-green, with orange-red on its rump and under its wings. The Cat has never seen a kea in the wild, but he spotted them at Staglands and Wellington Zoo. He does a very good impression.

So I had those two birders, Braunias and my boy, reminding me to look, to be still, to wonder, to observe. But I didn’t think to bring them together until I heard Braunias talk at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival. He was funny and cogent and even wise, and I realised that I wanted my son to read his book. I wanted the Cat to have stories and people to go along with the facts and numbers and maps and descriptions, and I got them for him, signed and inscribed by the author himself. It’s a lovely book and if you don’t have it on your Sunday afternoon bookshelf already, then your Sunday afternoons are not everything they could be.

The Cat’s verdict: ‘Pretty good, actually.’ The Cat never sugar-coats, so I’m taking that as high praise. Plus he’s quoting from it, which is the better sign really. A sample, to convince you:

Mandarin duck (51cm): The mandarin duck is a colourful Asian duck, which eats rice. The Cat saw this duck at Melbourne and Adelaide Zoos, and at Staglands.

Mandarin duck (51cm): The mandarin duck is a colourful Asian duck, which eats rice. The Cat saw this duck at the Melbourne and Adelaide zoos, and at Staglands.

Keith was very nearly a classic New Zealand birder — long and loping build, wears a beard, but came from Invercargill. He’s an accomplished artist. He lives in a house right next to the centre. It was a rather desolate spot, a sea breeze stirring the flax, and his only neighbours were birds; and yet, like me, he couldn’t drive. He hosts 12,000 visitors a year. There is a lodge at the centre for overnight accommodation — the day I arrived, a merry group of Lionesses were drying dishes and making lewd jokes.

Keith walked me towards the shore. As a bonus, there was a single white heron, white and absolutely enormous, reaching to the sky on its slender black legs. I could add it to my year twitching list of the black stilt, the terek sandpiper, and a very weird sighting of an albino oystercatcher. Feeding on the tide were 300 wrybills, about 500 red knots, and 1500 to 1800 bar-tailed godwits.

Eastern rosella (33cm): Originally from Australia, the rosella is a noisy, social bird with bright plumage. The Cat saw a flock of six rosellas at Orokonui Sanctuary near Dunedin.

Eastern rosella (33cm): Originally from Australia, the rosella is a noisy, social bird with bright plumage. The Cat saw a flock of six rosellas at Orokonui Sanctuary near Dunedin.

The godwits were slim — they lose drastic amounts of body fat on the long voyage to New Zealand — and small, and slow, and dazed, and greedy. Their sensitive bills probed the sand for movement. They feed on crabs by shaking the legs off one by one, and then scoffing the body whole. For dessert, they eat the legs. They had come all this way — light, precious things that witnessed cataclysmal horror, curdling temperatures, terraqueous distortions, all the rest — and I stood and watched them on a white-shelled shore on a cold afternoon. It was Friday, 15 September.

Superb lyrebird (100cm): The lyrebird is a remarkable songbird found in the bush of south-eastern Australia. The Cat saw a superb lyrebird at Adelaide Zoo. In the 'Life of Birds' DVD, David Attenborough listens to a lyrebird making the sounds of a chainsaw, a kookaburra, a camera, and a car alarm.

Superb lyrebird (100cm): The lyrebird is a remarkable songbird found in the bush of south-eastern Australia. The Cat saw a superb lyrebird at Adelaide Zoo. In the ‘Life of Birds’ DVD, David Attenborough listens to a lyrebird making the sounds of a chainsaw, a kookaburra, a camera and a car alarm.

Braunias writes about birds and birders, and about himself and New Zealand too. It’s like an avian social history ethnologico-geographico-zoological guidebook memoir, but really more like a  rambling walk on the seashore with a kind, wonderful, sharp-tongued friend, and what better for your nine-year-old son as he figures out who he wants to be and what he knows and what he needs to learn.

Bellbird, korimako, makomako (20cm): The bellbird is a songbird, endemic to New Zealand. It drinks nectar, and loves sugar water. There are lots of bellbirds at Granny and Dada's house and at Taieri Mouth. The Cat also heard bellbirds at Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

Bellbird, korimako, makomako (20cm): The bellbird is a songbird, endemic to New Zealand. It drinks nectar, and loves sugar water. There are lots of bellbirds at Granny and Dada’s house and at Taieri Mouth. The Cat also heard bellbirds at Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

After reading the book, we took the Hoopers Inlet road home from a soccer match at Portobello. We dropped over the hill and saw the inlet plunk down in front of us, curved and graceful and quiet and full of birds. Swans, herons, kingfishers, pied stilts, spur-winged plovers, oystercatchers, paradise shelducks, ordinary ducks, pukeko, the lot. The Cat’s antennae lifted, he named each bird he saw, told stories, showed his little brother this feathered, mud-shanked, fish-catching, sand-probing, greens-foraging world. He became a birder again, and his own gentle, clever, funny self. I ruffled his hair, looked at the water, drove home.

* The pictures and captions are from a calendar the Cat made for Christmas 2009, and he would like to point out that he was not yet four at the time.

Blue-crowned parakeet, kakariki (32cm): The Cat made this bird up. It is slightly larger than its cousins, the red-crowned, yellow-crowned and Antipodes Island parakeets.

Blue-crowned parakeet, kakariki (32cm): The Cat made this bird up. It is slightly larger than its cousins, the red-crowned, yellow-crowned and Antipodes Island parakeets.

P1010448.JPG

Royal spoonbill (78cm): The spoonbill is a wading bird, which sifts the water for small crustacea. The Cat saw spoonbills at Manawatu estuary and in the crescent lagoons on the road to Port Chalmers. The first spoonbills of the season are rightly greeted with the cry, ‘Welcome back, spoonbills!’

 

Little shag, kawaupaka (56cm): The little shag is the most common of the fresh-water shags. It feeds on fish, crayfish and eels, diving from the surface of the water. The Cat saw two little shags on wood and water in the Hutt River.

Little shag, kawaupaka (56cm): The little shag is the most common of the fresh-water shags. It feeds on fish, crayfish and eels, diving from the surface of the water. The Cat saw two little shags on wood and water in the Hutt River.

Piwakawaka, fantail (16cm): The fantail is a companionable bush bird, which finds humans useful for stirring up insects. One afternoon, the Cat saw three fantails together at the Nursery.

Piwakawaka, fantail (16cm): The fantail is a companionable bush bird, which finds humans useful for stirring up insects. One afternoon, the Cat saw three fantails together at the Nursery.

Korora, little blue penguin (40cm): Little and blue is a good way to describe this bird. At Moa Point, signs warn cars to slow down so the korora can cross the road to their burrows. The Cat saw korora swimming at Stewart Island.

Korora, little blue penguin (40cm): Little and blue is a good way to describe this bird. At Moa Point, signs warn cars to slow down so the korora can cross the road to their burrows. The Cat saw korora swimming at Stewart Island.

Banded dotterel (20cm): The banded dotterel is an elegant wading bird, which breeds only in New Zealand. In winter, it migrates to the North Island and to Australia. Daddy saw a dotterel at Pencarrow Lakes, where they lay their eggs on the beach. Now the Cat and Mary want to go there.

Banded dotterel (20cm): The banded dotterel is an elegant wading bird, which breeds only in New Zealand. In winter, it migrates to the North Island and to Australia. Daddy saw a dotterel at Pencarrow Lakes, where they lay their eggs on the beach. Now the Cat and Mary want to go there.

Reading list

Occasional notes on what I’ve read.

Maurice Gee, Under the Mountain
I read this book as a child (teenager?) and it freaked me right the hell out. There were sluggy creatures and hot stones and lurking giant people and a scene where the children were standing in a cavernous room coming to terms with what they needed to do to save the world from apocalyptic horror.

It was terrifying, and for years I avoided even thinking about it if I could.

But then I saw it in the library and wondered if the Cat would enjoy it. Which is crazy because he bridles at fantasy literature and also, you know, terrifying. So I read it instead.

I have to say that reading it in middle age wasn’t so bad. Although someone could have warned me that the twins have red hair.

The characters are fantastic, the twins tightly connected, but different enough to be interesting and believable. Mr Jones is heartbreakingly right. Ricky anchors everything with his teenage courage and non-bullshittiness. Auckland, well, you’ll never look at Auckland the same way again.

Reading list

Occasional notes on what I’ve read.

Usually when people ask me what I’ve been doing, my mind goes completely blank or I can only remember the Listener, the Cat’s latest adventure series, a spy thriller and a newsletter from the council. I know I’ve read more interesting and significant stuff, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was.

Sometimes I’ll remember how what I read made me feel or the state of mind I lurched around in after finishing a book, or I might remember the countries I visited and the characters who lived there, but have no idea which author took me there or what the book we journeyed in was called. I’ve even resorted to wandering along my bookshelves pointing at things with happy recognition. “I read that one,” I’ll say. “Oh, and that. That was an absolute cracker.”

So, I thought I might start writing a few notes on everything I read. Sort of a record, sort of a diary. This is a good time to start because I’ve been at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival (the acronym, inevitably, being DWARF) and my mind is full of writers, words, the magic that happens in books. Also, Ian is making doughnuts. And it’s Friday. Pretty good, huh?

Ann Patchett, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Ann Patchett is one of my long-term favourite writers. I started with Bel Canto, which lived in my mind for a long time as one of the most surprising and beautiful books I’d stumbled across, then some years later raided the library for more. I’ve bought a couple, and if I spotted others in a shop I’d likely buy them. Her books make good presents and lovely Sunday-afternoon bookshelf items. Patchett is one of those authors you want everyone to read: “You must read Taft,” you’ll say. “I can’t believe you haven’t read Taft. Or RunRun really got me.”

I found This is the Story a year or so ago, devoured it, then was reminded of it when I was thinking about my favourite memoirs for a workshop I did during the DWARF. We were asked to bring along our picks and be prepared to read a selection; I had a big crisis about what would work and lugged a dozen books around town all day. We didn’t end up doing the readings, but it was great to think about what I like in a memoir and why. It turns out that the best memoirs aren’t necessarily the most quotable: The Periodic Table has a lot of tricky words that could get embarrassing in a roomful of attentive strangers, and Stet is a moving and glorious whole, full of people and stories, but doesn’t lend itself to easy extraction.

Patchett, though, is eminently quotable; I could open her book anywhere and give you a slice of wise and well-honed prose that will have you thinking for hours. Case in point:

We ease into the late-morning traffic of downtown Billings, the plastic-wrapped captain’s chairs cradling us like La-Z-Boys. Two blocks out, a black-and-white dog runs into the street and heads straight for our front wheels. Karl slams on the brakes. We then discover the First Great RV Truth: Like ocean liners and oil tankers, RVs do not stop. While Karl grinds the pedal into the carpet, I scream at the dog, “Go! Go!” We might have clipped its tail but the dog itself is spared, and we, very nearly stopped now, are ecstatic. We did not kill a dog in the first five minutes of the trip! We say it out loud to one another. What a good omen! What a positive sign! Five minutes in a Winnebago and we haven’t killed anything. (p 91)

This is the Story gathers essays from Patchett’s long and varied writing life. It’s a pleasing way to get a sense of a person; you find out what matters to them, you get a flavour of the world around them and the people and animals that shape their life, you know the things they’ve tried and the values that drive their decisions and actions. You know what makes them tick. It will also leave you with images that you can pull down from your mind on a bleak autumn afternoon, polish, hold to the light:

The books, the cities, the stores, the airports, the crowds, or lack of crowds, all fall under the heading “What Happened While I Was Away.” What I always remember clearly are the times I saw other writers, the way pioneers rolling over the prairies in covered wagons must have remembered every detail of the other settlers they passed, cutting through the tall grass from a different angle. “How was it back there?” you shout out from your wooden porch.

“Rough,” your fellow homesteader calls back, and raises his bottle of Evian in warning. “Be sure to drink your water.” (p 164)

Three days I’ve had that image in my head now, the homestead, the porch, the long grass. The calling across open space, the raised bottle of Evian. And it’s taught me something about writers and what book touring is really like. I can see it now.

I should warn you though, you might finish this collection wanting to get a dog, get divorced, get married, try out for the police academy, open a bookstore, hold your grandmother, write novels, go to Paris, be with your best friend, go to university, live somewhere with rampant plantlife, go to the opera and try life as a nun.

I did.

 

Travel: the first few days

We’ve been away for six weeks, travelling around the UK and Europe. A little bit exhausting, a lot wonderful. Here’s some snippets.

17-19 April: Dunedin | Hong Kong | Frankfurt | Edinburgh
It’s a long way from Dunedin to Edinburgh. Two 12-hour flights, hyphenated by a day in Hong Kong, and an agonising wait in Frankfurt before the final hop to Scotland. Hong Kong saved it — a sleep in a firm, flat bed, hot showers, a morning swim with the Cat, walking in warm rain through tropical gardens, steel, and glass.

Our first glimpses of the city were at night — just water and light, towers of it, everywhere. And then there’s the ferry and the narrow, twisting streets, the steep Old Peak Road, and the mist rolling in. I could live here, I thought, for a little while.P1040430P1040438

20 April: Edinburgh
Well, we struck it lucky finding this flat It’s old and clean and bright and spacious, with generous rooms, art, books, rugs, a good kitchen, and central heating, which is wondrous to an Antipodean.

And thank god for this comfort — with Rabbit waking through the nights and the Cat off his nut on an unholy combination of culture shock, exhaustion, jetlag, and aesthetic disturbance (“the buildings all look the same, the only interesting bits are the doors, and there’s no nature”), we’ve been extra grateful for the simple homeliness of this place.

P1040485Postscript: Things that can save a seven-year-old grouch: sleep, food, rolling down a hill, gardens, routine, attention, cuddles, a new bird book. Give that boy air is the answer, air and space and light and food.

21 April: Edinburgh
After one of those parenting nights from hell, I was in no shape for the day. But Ian’s aunt, uncle, and cousin came to spend the day with us. We had a cuppa, then went to the Botanic Gardens; the boys ran about looking for squirrels and birds, the Cat fell in the lily pond, and we caught up on each other’s news and the way the year’s been falling out. P1040540

I cooked a tagine, with salads and rice. The charms of this city are a little clearer today, easier to see.

22 April: Edinburgh
I saw my sister’s Edinburgh today. We did second-hand clothes and bookshops — perfect, small, quiet bookshops with careful and interesting selections of books. Can’t think of anything similar in Dunedin; we should create one.

P104052623 April: Edinburgh
Date day. Nona, Duncan, and Dad took the boys to the zoo. Ian and I walked around the New and Old Towns, visited bookshops, ate Greek meze for lunch, had an afternoon in the flat on our own. Just lovely. Haggis for dinner. Pretty good.

Bookshops

I think we call them “bookshops” here, don’t we? Anyway, this made me laugh. And it also made we want to spend the afternoon holed up in a bookshop/store, maybe on my own, maybe with someone I love, possibly with a child, probably the bigger one, not really talking, just browsing, reading alongside each other, maybe finding something to buy, maybe not.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/expresident/reasons-why-we-love-bookstores

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