little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: family lines

Each of us, together

20161126_192610Well, that was a week. Ian went to Kaikōura to cover post-earthquake things, and all manner of bollocks descended on me at work.

Home was good, though — our new after-school childcare person is a footballer, so the boys are well thrilled. He is also a jolly good cleaner, so I am well thrilled too. The boys are used to being journo kids — they missed their dad, but flicked straight into helping-out, getting-on-with-it mode.

I kind of enjoyed the quiet and calm of the week, but realised within half an hour of Ian being home that the volume in the house had quadrupled and I had slowed to snail’s pace. I guess we had all been managing and looking after each other and that was good, but we need Ian to relax us and let things go. It was a good reminder of the ways we balance each other, of the dance we do as opposites.

The boys were pretty scratchy, but by the time we had eaten bento, driven round the harbour, played soccer, made a sandcastle, conducted watery experiments on the sandcastle, snuggled on the sand, driven round the best inlet in the city, seen baby stilts and a kingfisher and got home, we seemed to have made it back into ourselves again.

20161126_192514And then we each found our own peace. Ian tidied up and did chores. I planted 40 zucchini seedlings out, picked a salad of baby leaves and flowers, and cut back some lupins and sorrel that had gone to seed. The Cat watched soccer videos. And the Rabbit made things.

He started by cutting back sorrel, but was interrupted by his bowels, which we only knew about because he left the bathroom in a less than ideal state. Then Ian found him in the workshop with a large piece of wood in the vice with the words “side 1” written on it. “What are you doing?” Ian asked. “Making a run for the guinea pigs,” said Rabbit.

Later, we were having dinner. Ian was drinking wine, eating pasta and talking to me. I was drinking wine, eating pasta and reading a book. The Cat was calculating the value of our car relative to the weekly income of a professional footballer (low). The Rabbit was drawing circles and cutting cardboard. Five minutes later, he had finished a set of traffic lights.

20161126_190707“What’s your plan for the lights?” we asked. “I’ll shine a torch on them,” he said. Damned if it doesn’t work, too.

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Keeping warm

Yeah, so I might spend all winter writing about heating sources.

When we get up in the morning, the house is not particularly warm. We put a fan heater on in the kitchen and start a coffee pot going on the stove. Ian puts away the dishes and I make school lunches. We coax the boys out of bed and go through a great deal of unnecessary rigmarole to extract breakfast orders from them. Somewhere in there, we eat our own breakfasts and have showers and make beds and clear the table and let the chooks out.

So, when the boys have made their way to the kitchen — bleary-eyed, soft-skinned, looking for cuddles — they fight over the heater. They both want to sit right in front of it, which means that they are completely in the way as Ian and I do all that other stuff above, and they want equal shares of any radiating warmth. It’s not a big heater, so there’s a lot of disagreement about where the midline is and who’s been there the longest and whether small or young or big people have more need for heat. NONE OF WHICH MAKES BREAKFAST HAPPEN FASTER. The other day, we ended up drawing a line on the floor with a toy snake, and still they argued.

Our next strategy was to put the heater under the table and tell them that it would warm the room and they could sit in their chairs and eat breakfast like, well, adults, I suppose. You can probably guess how that went.

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On the island

Rakiura | Stewart Island is one of my homing spots. My family has been coming here for many years; slipping into the bay on the ferry — the boats, curved beaches, quiet bush all around — always makes me feel like dropping anchor and staying put for the rest of my days.

The proportions are right here — lots of birds, few people, fewer roads, more boats, and everywhere the water and the trees. We walk everywhere, avoid screens, sift through our memories and dream of new beginnings. We take turns cooking and test relationships with epic games of Monopoly. The Cat rejoices in the birds, the Rabbit and little Squirrel get sand everywhere, an uncle builds boats, an aunt reads stories and gives cuddles, a grandfather lends a gentle hand, and we walk through the rain and the sun and the grey and blue and green of it all,  not talking much, just taking it all in, breathing it all out.

We are also fairly silly, as you will see.

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Marmalade days

The llama made marmalade, marmalade jam.

Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam, Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis (Illustrator)

P1070335Well, I did it. I made marmalade. It’s like I joined the matrilineal mafia in one long evening of chopping, stirring, sugaring, boiling, testing and bottling. When I say “I”, I’m lying. I did the chopping, slicing grapefruits, a couple of oranges and some lemon into fine golden slivers, and I added the sugar and water and turned it all on. I washed the jars and put them in a low oven, and I poured the final product into the jars, screwed on the lids and wiped down the benchtops, but Ian led the charge on the stirring and testing regime, which I nearly fucked up by removing a pile of cold plates from the fridge at the tail end of the process when we were both hot, tired, frustrated and TOTALLY OVER IT ALL. And then, BOOM, we had a beautiful collection of jars filled with glowing, softly jellied, sweet, sour goodness. Jam —and all its kin — is magic.

When Mum died, I thought we’d finish the last jars of marmalade, then never eat it again. I couldn’t imagine making my own, and store-bought seemed like a sacrilege. My childhood was filled with marmalade, with the hunt for pulp in the freezer section of every supermarket, with weekend afternoons in the kitchen, the sweet, steamy smell of sugared citrus all around me, with a pantry full of agee jars, with toast and marmalade at the sticky heart of every breakfast.

P1070339Then a little while ago, I inherited my grandmother‘s marmalade jar, one of the few remnants of her rich, full life to pass to our side of the family. It sits in my cupboard, pushed back out of the way of clumsy hands, and comes out each morning, bringing a little grace and history to our bright, battered kitchen table. I’ve been buying marmalade, trusting in a facsimile to carry the past for me, which it does, a bit, through the alchemy of an old jar, sunlight, butter.

P1070337But now I’ve made the real thing, and how much more powerful that alchemy is when you add effort, love, a mess created and cleared, the lessons I should have learnt while I still had the teachers. I’ve been making oatcakes too, a sort of light, crisp, aniseedy alternative to the stock-in-trade porridge and toast I grew up on. Put butter on one of those babies, add a spoonful of marmalade, pour fresh coffee, sit in the sun, and you’ve got a fine breakfast on your hands, my friends. A fine breakfast, some gentle ghosts, a lick of the past.

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Will you read with me?

My great-aunt told lovely stories about her parents, her mother Mary and her father Percy. Percy was quiet, a bit of a socialist, a reader. Mary was a cheesemaker, a manager, a maker-doer. She would invite everyone for Christmas dinner and he would go out and dig his turnips. In the evenings, Percy would read by the fire, and I imagine Mary would knit or sew or make elaborate plans and organisational lists, not that I’m projecting or anything. After a while, she’d crack it and say, “Do talk to us, Percy.” And he’d slowly put down his book or paper, take off his glasses and look around like a mole emerging into sunlight from the dark and fragrant earth. He might talk then, a little bit, but after a while he’d retreat back into his book and silence would fall again. Not that I’m projecting or anything.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that there’s precedent, and it’s taken me a long time to realise that not everyone holds with reading in company. Some people find it disconcerting and kind of rude, and they want you to come out and talk to them or at least keep an ear open for what they’re saying.

But we readers go a long way under when we’re reading, and spoken words take a long time to reach us down there. Surfacing takes effort, and we don’t function so well bobbing about with the chat and the questions and all. Haul me out of the water and talk to me on dry land or let me sink back down. Better yet, join me underwater.  My sister knows how this works. Every now and then we’ll go out for coffee, and somewhere between the stories that must be told and the ordering of drinks one of us will ask if it’s okay to read. Then we’ll sit there, coffee at our elbows, books in our hands, and read together. Together and apart.

The river mouth

 

From the Otago Daily Times

From the Otago Daily Times

My family has a crib at Taieri Mouth; sometimes I think it’s my one true place. It’s where I go to wear jerseys and drink tea, where I go to slip into the old stories of people no longer here, of the child I once was and sometimes still am.

The house sits on the hill below the bend of the river, facing not to the light and the open sea, but upstream, turned to the dark green hills narrowing the river, to the bush and the water and the gentle birds of mud and tree. It’s a simple house, a rectangle slowly falling into the hillside, with concrete steps to a wide, dusty veranda, rugs, floorboards, speckled windows. Nothing matches much, although a faded, pinkish red seems to be a theme — the red and the deerskin brown of old wood and a limey yellow.

bridge and mudflatsThe house came by the river, well, the bits of it did, floated downstream on a raft from Waihola by my great-grandfather. I write that sentence and I realise that I might have all the details wrong, but I think that’s okay. This must have been before the first bridge was built. There’s a new bridge now, built in the 1980s, an efficient slice of concrete curving out of and into the road on either bank. The old bridge was wooden and as rickety as you might expect, with gaps between the boards through which you could see the slow, deep water. Things went into that river and were never seen again: crabs collected from the mudflat, an old bed, a car that would now be vintage, but then was just worn out and heavy. I think that’s what happened to the car. That’s the story I have in my head, anyway.

paddlingDad taught us to kayak on the mudflats. When the tide was in, we had plenty of shallow water to practise in, and you could look down past your paddle to the river bed. When I got bigger, I went further up the river or over to the other side, but I always came back to the mudflats, cool and squelchy, with the crab holes opening and closing like eyes. It’s quiet out there, in a kayak on a slow river. Just the soft dip and lift of the paddle, the ripple where you trail your hand in the water. Dad built his own kayak, a sweet, sturdy craft of canvas and wood. It was just big enough for two people, two smalls or a big and a small. It’s still there, and one day I’ll take my boys out in it.

It wasn’t all good though. One day we drove out to find the house full of dead rats — in the beds, the vacuum cleaner, under the table. There’s no rustic charm in the rats; they’re plain disgusting. The possums I can handle, their scratching on the roof, their yelling in the night. But the rats are a problem.

cabbage treeThe water is always a bit of situation too. We have rainwater tanks, and I would happily drink rainwater — two such lovely words — but the rain passes through the leaves in the gutters on the way to the tanks and then it all sits there fermenting between visits, so the water is often brown, with a pong of leafmould. We don’t drink the water, but we shower in it if it’s not too bad, and after a few days we all smell faintly of leaf, so that the first shower back in the city is a miracle of clean, white water, a bleaching back into adulthood and the everyday. I always crave that first city shower, yet it saddens me too to wash off the mud and the sand and the leaves, to stop being grubby and clearheaded and sunsleepy and happy.
brothers boys birds upstream volcano castle sweeping steps spoonbill and oystercatchers sleeping by the river sisters rocks rockpool minigolf hole

wharfinside

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