Retirement/Retraite

It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

Hugh Laurie

I am interested in words and connotations and a few weeks ago I “retired”.

Retirement almost always refers to retirement from work. The connotations of retiring are many;

she is a retiring sort of person, that is, she is withdrawn or keeps to herself

they retired a fleet of cars, that is they put them out of action

In French the word retirement is retraite, the connotation being that one is retreating from something, presumably life.

In my casual job, most of us are over 60 so we are referred to as “the ladies”. If we were under 50 I am sure we would be called something less patronizing.

We are also mocked generally about computer use and are the butt of endless jokes about tuning the TV, using Zoom or using the apps on our phones.

Other language becomes more ageist too. Young people “fall”, old people “have a fall”. The skateboarder “fell” while trying a new move but granny “had a fall” on her way to the letterbox.

In my many hours of ”spare” time, I watched The Crown on Netflix. When Louis Mountbatten is speaking with his bedridden sister, Alice he says something along the lines of, “When one retires, one becomes a spectator, not a participant.”

He says it like it’s a bad thing. I quite like the idea. In fact, in retirement I have withdrawn from lots of activities because I don’t want my life structured and scheduled. The article below from The School of Life is the best article I have read so far and I have interwoven my comments in red along the way.

How to Retire Early

One of the most common and deeply-cherished fantasies of our times is the idea that we might ‘retire early.’ Websites abound promising to help us with the dream, managing our finances, working out where we might live and deciding with us how close we might want to be to a beach – or perhaps a mountain.

I only worked two days a week for the last four years and I think some do think I am lazy and a bit spoilt at giving up even that small work commitment. During that time, I woke on my non-work days with a feeling of deliciousness and freedom and not once did I wish I was going to work. It gave me time to see what I could manage on financially and I have no regrets at all about choosing time over money.

But what we often miss in glowing discussions of early retirement is the extraordinary work that is being done for us across this subject by the apparently innocuous term ‘retirement’. This word manages to pull off an astonishing feat: it momentarily anaesthetizes all those who hear it into forgetting their society’s founding pressures and most ingrained competitive values and renders deeply desirable states of inaction that could – without the word – simply have appeared contemptible or downright lazy. 

Some colleagues were surprised about my retirement as I am not 65 until next year. One inquired whether I had won Lotto (I haven’t). As a single person, finances for me are often a night time cause for anxiety and sometimes I panic thinking I may not have calculated correctly. I have listened to podcasts and read articles about needing a million bucks (I don’t have) but in the end I relied on what I hope is my own good sense.

Someone in the prime of life who loses any interest in going to the office, who doesn’t care about promotion and who isn’t trying to accumulate ever more money would standardly be described as a loser.

That was me, I lost any sense of ambition even as early as my 40s, after my husband died. I just couldn’t see the point but ploughed on, applying for jobs I didn’t really want because I felt I had to.

Unless, of course, that is, they could declare that what they wanted to do was ‘retire early’ – at which point they would be transformed in our eyes into fascinating and near saintly figures. We would know that they had stopped working not because they were incompetent or got sacked or were mentally weak-willed. They were almost certainly very good at their jobs; they just gave them up freely to focus their attention on a host of intriguing things that gratified them far more. 

Strikingly, at present, we only invoke the idea of retirement around employment – which is a profound pity because there are so many other things that it might be extremely important for us to stop doing, but which we feel obliged to continue with because we are under punishing pressure from others to conform. ‘Retirement’ is the word we should learn to use to explain quitting a host of activities otherwise deemed crucial without forfeiting our claim to be classed as honorable and dignified.

Earlier this year, I retired from a range of activities especially around my area. I have kept up only one charity and have left worthy causes to other people to organise. It is not that I am uninvolved, but rather, I do not want to be the organiser. I started to feel exposed in the community. “Oh, so you’re Sue…” became a common refrain wherever I went it seemed.  I know I am seen as an extrovert, but I couldn’t survive in the world without a lot of home alone time. I’ve stopped commenting on Facebook very much  and think a lot more about whether to comment when I do.

Ironically, it might not even be work that many of us most want to retire from. We might be far keener to retire from, let’s say, late nights, going to the theatre, using social media, holidaying abroad or having sex with new people. Take the idea of announcing ‘early retirement’ from parties. Usually, if someone turns down every invitation and stays at home, they’d be seen as lonely and withdrawn – and probably unfit for human company. But suppose we could say that we’d ‘retired’ from social life; our decision would instantly acquire nobility and prestige. We’d be seen to be giving up not because we couldn’t stand other people or because we were gauche or unpopular. The implication would be that we might have been perfectly capable of making witty conversation over cocktails – but that we had decided we’d done enough of that sort of thing and were going to concentrate instead on deepening our friendships with just two or three people or on learning a new language by ourselves in bed. 

This struck a real chord with me. I like to hold parties, at least I like the idea of them. In reality, however, especially as I go alone, parties hold less and less interest for me. When I split from my partner, invitations changed to one on one lunch dates anyway and I have not been invited to many dinner parties since. It might be my personality! or it’s just plain awkward with the numbers. Parties often mean rushing around introducing people or if at someone else’s place, holding fairly shallow conversations with people you barely know. I had a couple over for dinner the other night and it was a much more rewarding affair. We talked in depth about lots of things that interest us.

The same could hold around material competitiveness. We could step back from having an impressive car or a large house and declare that we were ‘retiring from consumer society’. While such a move would typically be seen as a mark of failure, with the word retirement in tow, we can imply that our interests have been willingly and intelligently redirected towards new more aesthetic or spiritual targets.  

I have been trying to do death cleaning, reasonably successfully and I am  happy with my small wardrobe but recently during lockdown I spent a bit of money on doing things at home that didn’t actually need doing. They were just ideas I felt like trying. I bought a print from Jaco Putker and got his permission to convert it to wallpaper.

I also asked 2Creative to paint one wall of the dining room silver and two others gold… call me pretentious but I really needed to give my chandelier more of a glamorous background! These two women also hand painted my bedroom wall and I had the rest of the walls painted in Heggie Pink. Porters Paints liked the colour enough to give it a name.

Sometimes I feel a bit indulgent and extravagant but equally, we are all spending more and more time at home so I thought I may as well do it. If you can’t please everyone then you got to please yourself.

2Creative at work

A flaw in the current notion of retirement is that it is unimaginative about what an individual might retire from. Mostly, the vision is that one stops working so as to be able to undertake outdoor leisure pursuits – tennis, gardening, sailing – and perhaps move to a place with a milder climate. But we can get more ambitious about what we unshackle ourselves from: we could retire to connect more deeply with our own minds, to develop our creative potential, to keep a handle on anxiety, and to explore who we could be if we stopped caring so much about what other people thought of us. 

The old chestnut of worrying about what people think of us.

Alain de Botton, my favourite contemporary philosopher spells it out.

Reference to retiring also softens the blow for others. When we retire from work, people don’t feel we’re letting them down – our colleagues will perhaps throw a party for us, congratulate us and say how much they’ll miss us. Likewise, by announcing our retirement from social life or relationships, we’re making it clear that there’s no suppressed personal hatred at work. We’re just rejigging our priorities.

It’s ironic that life-advice for the young is so overwhelmingly focused on what to do in one’s career. In a wiser society, the emphasis would at the same time be about retiring – as early as possible – from a host of supposedly necessary demands which, on closer inspection, are entirely unsuited to who and what we are. 

Our societies are very keen for us to have busy, competitive, complicated lives. We should express thanks for the well-meaning suggestions and then, without causing anyone offence, make our moves towards announcing early retirement from a host of areas that torment us in the name of the simpler, kinder lives we long for.

The School of Life

I have been told a few times that in retirement I need structure. This may work for others but not for me. Why stick to a structure? If I haven’t slept well, I can simply lie in bed and doze and read a book from time to time. I can do TV yoga in the morning or at midnight if I feel like it.

“It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.”

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations

It isn’t all beer and skittles or as in my case wine and chips. The hardest thing I find is suitable companions for holidays. Most of my friends have family commitments or work and are not free to escape for mini breaks. I’m not into group tours and it’s always much more expensive for the single supplement and I am not a room sharer so I am experimenting now with little trips away. This week I drove to meet up with a friend in Taupo and had a few days away. I don’t like driving but I found it okay. I don’t mind eating out alone so will go again soon.

All in all I am getting into the groove of retirement very nicely. I am possibly not doing enough chores and doing a surfeit of binge watching TV (I recommend Upright) but I think I will get the balance right. I am doing Coffee Break French most days, reading, going to the library, Adriene’s yoga and still getting that rush of joy when I wake up and realise I don’t have to be anywhere.

And best of all I can go to movies on my own in the middle of the day.

My current recommendations:

23 Walks - Film Review - Everywhere
  •  By the way, why do I eat an ice-cream only at the movies????

I continue to indulge in my favourite addiction and fantasise about my herb farm, novel, and great enlightenment but mostly it’s just day dreaming. Here’s my latest obsession.

https://www.trademe.co.nz/a/property/residential/lifestyle-property/hawkes-bay/central-hawkes-bay/central-hawkes-bay-country/listing/2772597642

Happy October. FG

Father’s Day

“Alpinism is the art of climbing mountains by confronting the greatest dangers with the greatest prudence.” René Daumal (March 16, 1908–May 21, 1944)

Inevitably, on Father’ Day my thoughts turn to my late husband who died in a climbing accident when our son was 21 months old. I feel sorrow and grief for both Brett and Sam. Brett for he has missed all the great joys of Sam the person. And Sam for never knowing his father. When Sam was little I used to feel such pain when I saw fathers in the park, holding their children high on their shoulders, cherishing them, or kicking a ball with them or coaching their team, or teaching them how to ride a bike, fix a car, make something out of something in the shed. I often felt Sam got the crumbs from other kind fathers, that he would never be the one to be saved first. I always imagined that Brett could run up a mountain, rescue Sam from the sea, protect him like some superhero, from the vagaries of the world. He would have taught Sam how to survive in the bush, bowled him a million cricket balls, instilled great confidence in him. That Sam would always be his number one. And he would have been too.

Then after the accident, there was just me; clingy, fearful, panicky at each stage of Sam’s life-  being kidnapped, or bullied, learning to drive a car, drinking and teenaged behaviour, then going to night clubs, working alone in the hills. All the usual suspects. I know the poem below is hyperbolic but it’s the way I felt (and still feel, I guess) at the time.

For Sam

Gentle hands with fine-boned fingers

Holding a flute, a bat, a book.

Inching a knight across a chequer board

Or arms bras bas, a demi plié,

The leotard outlining your lean shape,

My graceful gazelle.

I would kill for you

Wistful brown eyes, see things through,

See through things,

Dreams turn to whimper and murmur,

A word, a sigh the storms and fires

Rumple your nights,

My leggy colt.

I would kill for you

Pushing wet tendrils back from your face,

I kiss your downy cheek and know that I would

Dash out the skull, take the bullet, hide you

Fiercely in the folds of my skirt. Wield a sword, a knife,

 A gun. Starve, steal, willingly, viciously,

To keep you from harm.

I would kill for you.

A late bus, a man cruising in a car, a careless playground moment,

The wrong place at the wrong time, a truck, a bike

And I would embrace death as a lover.

I would kill for you.

Sue Heggie

 I have never stopped doing the worry, in case when I do, something terrible happens. People often say they “knew” something had happened, but when Brett was killed, Bev and Sam and I were happily out at a café, eating muffins and admiring the beautiful blue-skied Dunedin day. All the while Brett was lying severely injured and taking his last breaths.

Logically, I know this is a silly waste of time and I try to free Sam from the stickiness of my anxiety, but I hardly ever succeed. Then I worry that I have instilled a sense of fearfulness in him so that he can’t lead a full and adventurous life. And so I worry about worrying.

Keep your eyes fixed on the way to the top, but don’t forget to look at your feet. The last step depends on the first. Don’t think you have arrived just because you see the peak. Watch your feet, be certain of your next step, but don’t let this distract you from the highest goal. The first step depends on the last.

René Daumal (March 16, 1908–May 21, 1944)

I know I should watch my own step and let Sam watch his own!! The photo below of Brett and Sam was at Arthurs Pass. We had gone for a walk on the swing bridge and up into the bush. I returned there when Sam was a little older and Brett had died. When I put Sam in his car seat to return home, he looked at me very seriously and said, “I love this.” Hardly surprising he became an ecologist but so glad he didn’t become a climber….

A strong similarity to his dad

 I wrote the poem below from the accompanying photograph when Sam was around 10 and it encapsulates my clinginess and Sam’s need to escape. Not much has changed, call me a helicopter mother!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed Father’s Day everyone who has a good man in their lives and for those who don’t, I hope you did something kind for yourself.

Some have suggested we rename Mother and Father days just to Parent Day. Fortunately these days we have all sorts of families so Parent Day seems sensible to me. FG

It Takes Two

On the day of lockdown my 27 year old son, possibly feeling sorry for his old mum, decided to join me in my bubble. I was a bit nervous of this as I like living alone and he certainly enjoys his own space. Sam was gently nudged out of the nest by me at aged 18 into a hall of residence at uni as I was aware of being the ultimate helicopter mother. Those rotor blades were constantly at high speed.  He hadn’t been home for any significant time since.

I had no idea how gutted I would feel but he was the proverbial duck and water. I missed him terribly. I reasoned beforehand that he was still in the same town and I worked at his university, I would see him in term breaks and at uni too. Not really.. He exchanged his new house and own shiny bathroom for a shared a room with a mate from school. The place was old, the toilets and showers campground basic and the only time I saw his room, the floor wasn’t part of what I could see. The smell was a bit peculiar as well.

From this to something that was more like this…
Well not quite Bottom, but close.

He loved it and all those clichés held true. He has friends for life and still spends a lot of time socialising with them.

After first year he went flatting. It was a great location near uni but had no windows in the bedrooms and the only lounge window looked out on a blank concrete wall about a metre away. I had to not think about it otherwise I had nightmares about fires and claustrophobia and Sam being trapped inside. After that he had a few flats, one called the brothel (because it was an ex brothel, but the number of bathrooms were a great advantage). He had a couple of other flats after that where I could practically see the hepatitis bugs disco-ing in the kitchen.

Last year, I think he finally felt ready to have his own place and have his own mess to himself so he bought a Kiwibuild apartment that will be ready in the next few weeks. It was a steep learning curve to get a handle on all the paperwork and mortgage requirements etc. but well worth it. I am very proud of his frugal ways and have not opened up the Bank of Mum at all.

It was disappointing that it was so close to completion at lockdown when everything came to a standstill but small fish disappointment in the grand scheme and he took it calmly in his stride.

Back to the homestead. We did a bit of rejigging to get a good workspace in the spare room and we slipped quite quickly into routine. Sam getting up a bit earlier, (well alright, a lot earlier than Moi) and me taking breaks from my part time job to bake muffins, soup, crackers and a favourite, fruit tarts.

I continued with My Food Bag and as Sam is vegan, he ate all the nice vegetable bits and supplemented when necessary. Our kitchen routine involved Sam doing the chopping and most of the dishes. Each evening we would have a round of Scrabble and watch one episode of something we both enjoyed.

I discovered it takes two for a number of things, especially when one of the two is over 6’ tall:

Changing paintings around

Cleaning fly dirt off the ceiling without needing a chair

Moving the outdoor furniture inside for the house wash

Running up and down the stairs for the washing

Cleaning the heat pump filter

Changing the summer curtains for warmer winter ones

Folding the duvet cover

Sharing a meal together

Making cups of tea for each other

The best chore though was part of my “Death Cleaning” initiative. Death cleaning or as it is known in Swedish, döstädning, is basically decluttering the shit you think you need or want or thought you did, so that your offspring don’t have to deal with it after you die. As an only child, I thought it would be a considerable burden of anxiety to know what to do with stuff with no siblings to argue with. I have now given him open slather to ditch whatever he likes and not to keep anything because he felt he “should”.

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=12031120

We have also had discussions while wandering around a local church cemetery about cremation and what I would like. Cremation all the way for me. This is mainly because of JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, where Holden gets very upset when it rains and he has to leave his little brother outside in his grave. We did have a bit of a laugh about imagining a weird and wonderful headstone though.

In Chapter 20 of The Catcher in the RyeHolden sits in Central Park with water freezing on his head and starts to worry that he will catch pneumonia and die. This sets him off on a mental tangent about funerals, cemeteries, and his dead brother Allie:

I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.

All the visitors could get in their cars and turn on their radios and all and then go someplace nice for dinner–everybody except Allie. I couldn’t stand it. I know it’s only his body and all that’s in the cemetery, and his soul’s in Heaven and all that crap, but I couldn’t stand it anyway. I just wish he wasn’t there. You didn’t know him. If you’d known him, you’d know what I mean.
(Salinger, 
The Catcher in the Rye, )

Which brings me to the understairs storage on the ground floor that had become depressingly Tardis-like and even if I could remember what was in there, I couldn’t get to it. So, while I had Sam captive in iso, we hauled everything out and went through it. As a mother of an EXTREMELY GIFTED child.. I had scrapbooked all his birthday cards, reports, and certificates. Sam had once received a certificate for reading the word “the”. If you think about it, it is a hard word to read as it doesn’t look like what it sounds like. (See? Gifted.) I had saved baby clothes and loads of photos that wouldn’t fit in the copious albums I have also assembled.

Sam had a more pragmatic and possibly ruthless approach. He laughed at his stories, his art works of genius and biffed most of them. He ditched most of the truly beautiful clay sculptures, although to be fair, it was a little difficult to tell what they were. I was embarrassed that he found my decidedly mediocre uni grades and quickly hid them under yet another school portfolio, in the “discard” pile.

I sneaked a few favourites, particularly the school report that began, “Sam is a true gentleman..” and I could never throw out his tuatara, a portent of his future career as an ecologist.

The process was both emotional and freeing.  It would probably only have ever happened in Lockdown and it is now a pleasure to look in the storage and be able to see what is in there.

We are down to level three now, so it is likely that Sam will move back to his flat soon and then into his own home. I’ll miss this time together; it has been special and fun but I’m also looking forward to joining him in the pre-inspection of his own place and helping him out with a few Briscoes bits and pieces and some of my old furniture. And of course, giving unsolicited advice about where to put stuff.

Still, I will look back on this moment in time where we spent these few weeks together and had conversations we may never have had otherwise. I also beat him at Scrabble more times than he beat me. Thank goodness. Good to know it helps keep Alzheimers at bay.

FG

PS I’m aware this has been an easy time for us with jobs etc. so this is just a personal account and I hope for those going through tough times, we emerge into a new and better normal for everyone.

Puzzled and Puzzling

Puzzling

Things I’ve picked up from doing puzzles:

 The tradition of doing the edge pieces first still holds good. You need a framework.

When you least expect it a piece fits into a space that you never thought it would.

Close observation is required to note the tiny wee bit of black or the marginally different shade of pink.

It’s really satisfying when you have done a block of interlocking pieces in isolation and you realise it all joins up with a whole section of puzzle.

You know when it’s the right piece as it just clicks into place and feels right.

The satisfaction is in the doing, not in the completed puzzle.

The fear of a piece missing is ongoing until the final few bits.

You know its pointless but its satisfying anyway.

There’s no point in keeping the finished product and it’s fun to mess it up and put it away. again.

Two resources I think are quite useful in the lock down.

Firstly from the elephant journal- stop romanticising the lockdown- it’s a mental health crisis in the making and secondly, as always my favourite philosopher, Alain de Botton on how to get through this crisis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JeEXki3IVAc

Apart from puzzling I am doing a range of lightweight activities like listening on Borrow Box (a library audio link to Auckland libraries). I’m listening to marginally better written books than Mills and Boon. Not that I’m knocking Mills and Boon. I genuinely admire people who write these. I’m only interested right now in happy endings.

I’ve knitted for my nephew’s son, and soon I will start a beanie for a friend’s grand daughter.

I know it looks a bit like a hot water bottle cover but I like to think of it as a tabard. Definition: noun

“a sleeveless jerkin consisting only of front and back pieces with a hole for the head”

I’m watching Girlfriends, by recommendation and it has two of my favourite actors, Miranda Richardson (Queenie from Blackadder), not least because when I was teaching I would borrow her words, “Either you shut up or I chop your head off.” Secondly, Zoe Wanamaker whom I have always loved in anything she was in.

Zoe Wanamaker

I like this show because the women look like us, they have wrinkles, they do messy crying, shit happens and they keep the world spinning for a whole raft of family and friends on a glass of gin. And there are, so far only men being murdered and no rapes as yet.

I didn’t realise quite how many episodes there are though….I think there are 22 in Season 1 alone.

So in this lockdown, I make no apologies for staying awake until 3 am, getting up at 11:30 and eating quite a lot and wearing the same clothes quite often. Fuck the routine, the keeping the same hours. Why? What for? Nothing is the same, why pretend? I know I’m lucky in my circumstances but I’m not Pollyanna either, my hair is way too short, albeit getting longer by the day. Who knows what the future holds. Stay in bed if you want and eat chocolate. I spend quite a lot of time looking at property in France, cottages by the sea, country retreats and knitting wool sites. There’s my two cents worth, do what you like.

Who could resist? https://www.french-property.com/sale-property/1624-63

Hope your lockdown is okay. FG

Who this way comes-three wise witches

Wise Women

During my life I have had the good fortune to have my triumvirate of wise women guiding me in my life.

I met Jean when I was teaching at Cashmere High School as she was the school librarian. She was highly intelligent, a brilliant potter and a wise woman. I loved visiting her house in St Andrew’s Square where we were surrounded by lovely old things. Jean had a penchant for sunflowers and collections of things in general but especially liked a local vintage/junk shop known as Mrs McIntyre’s and was always buying me a wee something for one reason or another. I am pretty good at decluttering clothes, but I simply cannot ditch things that Jean has given me because they represent such lovely memories.

When Sam was born, Jean played a full role in his life and when he went to school around the corner, Jean would walk along and pick him up and look after him until I finished teaching. He loved going to Jean’s and not just because of the treats. He remembers the grandfather clock in the hall and the toilet because it had a chain and a handle to pull. There was something about Jean’s calm, loving nature that created a bond between them where I knew he felt loved and safe.  They owned a beautiful old wooden Christchurch house filled with her family treasures. Jean had five grown up children, but the bedrooms always looked as though they would return at any minute. One of her sons was a talented artist and as teddies are in vogue at the moment, I’m posting my painting that I “bought” from him when he was in year 13. Jean had two more themed teddy pictures up the elegant staircase.

Jean always had some interesting object out for Sam. I remember, there was an old wooden pinball type affair. Jean was a huge comfort to me when Sam’s father died in a climbing accident as she knew what to do and how to be with me. I still have her letters and cards as a guide to help me with other friends who are suffering.

Sadly, Jean developed Parkinsons and severe dementia in her 60’s and died after a period of confused existence in a secure unit. We went for a walk quite near the end of her life along to Addington and she wasn’t talking much at all and was as frail as a bird skeleton. We couldn’t go far but we got along to a small block of shops and we were looking in the window of a secondhand furniture shop. As usual I was whinging and complained that I had never owned a new couch in my whole life. And from the frail wee woman beside me there came a little whisper, “Susie, it’s not the couch, it’s the people who sit on it.”

I still bought the new new couch…but Sam refused to sit on it for me and as we are in isolation it’s empty.

My second wise woman, Hel, worked at Cashmere High School too. She was a kind of Jill of all trades and did the uniform distribution, the administrations tasks, the photocopying etc. and was also a close friend of Jean’s. How lucky I was to have these two power houses of wisdom around me. We had a lot of laughs in the wee back room and had a running joke about her degree in stapling. Again, highly intelligent, the tasks were way below her pay grade but the school was so fortunate to have someone who could do all those jobs properly. It’s only when they leave that people understand just how efficient and hardworking they were. Hel also adored Sam, and her husband Jeff was also particularly perceptive… as he thought Sam was terribly gift 😉 Hel was there for me when I needed to retreat to her room. She too, had a home filled with an indefinable sense of love and security. I can’t put my finger on it, maybe it was the garden, or the bottling or the simple food or the lack of need for keeping up with the Joneses or just that I knew I was always welcome whatever the weather. Again, Sam adored them both. Sadly, Hel too has dementia and is unwell but we shared a thing for tamarillos so I tried to find them whenever I visited.

Tamarillos - a jewel in winter (+ recipes) | Otago Daily Times ...

As I mentioned in my previous blog my close friend Bev died earlier this week also with a form of dementia. It was a very fortunate serendipity that Bev came into my life. My geography teacher was her husband and as I lived quite close by, he asked me if I would babysit their three children. Thus began a lifetime of friendship with Bev.  I have known all of these women for at least 40 years but I have known Bev the longest at 48 years. Bev taught me how to be a parent. I genuinely didn’t know that some children adored their parents or that they could talk and be listened to with respect, have opinions and ideas and also have very firm boundaries about what was and was not okay. I’m not complaining about my childhood, it was more of a Janet Frame kind of place where the six kids were in one place and the parents were in another and the two only really collided at dinner time and there was no discussion about what we were grateful for, more just endless rows about whose turn it was to dry the dishes after the curried sausages and junket and prunes. I will be eternally grateful for our crib on the Otago Peninsula where we kids ran wild but that’s another story.

Bev also taught me about beauty. There wasn’t a mile of dosh in the household, it wasn’t about that, but way before clean whites and afghan rugs were de rigueur, Bev’s house had a unique calm and charm that was foreign to me. It is a Basil Hooper design but tiny and she and her husband lived there all their lives and John remains there still. Our house was all lime floral carpet and three to a bedroom. Ensuite? What’s that?

To be fair, my mother had neither the time nor the space in her head to even think about décor with 6 children under 8 years of age. It is not about the comparison but I was an angst-ridden teen with diaries filled with dreams and these were not to be shared with the parents.

Bev had beautiful objects and books and best of all she was an accomplished pianist and would play for me and then for Sam. When I moved to Christchurch and then Auckland Bev would come up for our girls’ long weekend where we had an amazing time in antique shops, print shops and clothes shops. We ate delicious food and talked long into the evening. Bev always spoiled me and I have a few very special objects that she either bought for me or we shared or I bought when I was with her. On her last visit we went to our favourite print shop in Devonport (now in Parnell) and Bev picked out a poster that I had coveted a few months before. We were in sync like that so it had to come home with us.

When Sam was little it was the one time I slept the sleep of the drugged as I knew Sam was totally happy and I could hear them in my subconscious chatting and making things. They both sat at Sam’s little table and chairs and Bev was so tiny she felt perfectly at home right there. She was definitely not a grandmotherly figure for Sam and I can’t really think of the right word, perhaps soulmate touches the heart of it. Bev made this beautiful tapestry for Sam and it is now a family heirloom.

She went through everything with me but never dramatised anything. When I needed her she was there but when it came to Sam, they had their own thing going. They would sit up in bed with one ear phone each listening to music, they would scour rock pools, smell flowers, examine bugs at length, talk about everything together. They did paintings, made cards and had a secret code on the backs of their letters.  When Sam took up his father’s flute at 5, it was Bev who had the expertise to help him and when he took up the guitar, Bev was the one who got to hear him sing and play, not me. Their close friendship lasted until the day she died. She was always, and I mean always, on his side. Far be it from me to chastise him for anything.

Sam is now an ecologist and I am sure this seed was planted with Bev and he examining and discussing all things in nature. He is an after hours musician for fun because she fostered a love of music purely for his own soul. I believe this is Bev’s huge legacy.

We all need wise women and I was fortunate to have the best crones ever. “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes”. Blood mothers, and totally “wicked” in the current terminology.

“When shall we three meet again?” That is trickier to answer.

To protect their privacy I won’t be posting pictures online.

How lucky are we to have wise women at the helm right now: Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister, Dr Siouxie Wiles , Sarah Stuart-Black, Director of Civil Defense, (Masters in Disaster Management). That’s girl power right there.

Hope you are finding calmness and peace in self-isolation. Ironing is a non-essential service. Who knew? FG

Coming up, a very deep musing on the symbolism of jigsaw puzzles..

Day I, lockdown. When I’m 64

When I’m Sixty-Four

The Beatles

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine

If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four

You’ll be older too
And if you say the word
I could stay with you

I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride
Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more

Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save…

Ah no, you won’t. And it’s not many years from now, it’s at the end of this month in fact. No valentines, but plenty of wine, we can all shop!

I am okay with the feeding, it’s the needing I’m not so sure about. There are wants and then there are needs. My hair is intact. More so in lockdown as there is no haircut to be had. Grows like a weed. No fireside but I’m handy with a knitting needle or two. No cottage rental, no light fuse fixed or Insinkerator for that matter. The fruit flies are bugging me. I still lock the door and usually I’m up until 3 am but I’m already on the inside. Sunday mornings I still go for a ride. Scrimp and save? Mostly.

Questions day 1.

Is doing a jigsaw puzzle completely pointless? You spend hours looking for little bits and then it’s finished and then you pull it to bits again.

Is it more pointless than watching sport or sudoku?

Question 2 Is knitting, erotically off putting? A friend of a person I know said her husband hates her knitting as it is so unsexy.

I think it can be

Question 3 Why do I feel so bereft by my dear friend dying when it was a merciful release for her?

Question 5 Is this house too big?

Question 6 Is the world changed forever?

Things I found out today:

It’s worth taking more notice of the world on the quarantine walk.

Stillness is surprisingly good.

Friend on a bench reading

 It’s really annoying when you have been through all the puzzle pieces and there is still one edge bit missing.

Death is sorrowful and far too close. Stepping up to the front line is a salutary reminder.

8 episodes of Virgin River in one day is bad for your health.

but he is seriously cute, not hot priest cute but okay as runner up

Microbes are everywhere, like fruit flies only worse and smaller.

but weirdly other worldly and you have to admire their fire power

It’s better to avoid reading anything about he who cannot be named- the orange, stupid one as he is so dangerous in his frightening narcissism.

“We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on Coronavirus” Apart from anything else he doesn’t know an adverb from his arse.

Jacinda is a star. ” I have one final message. Be kind. I know people will want to act as enforcers. And I understand that, people are afraid and anxious. We will play that role for you. What we need from you, is support one another. Go home tonight and check in on your neighbours. Start a phone tree with your street. Plan how you’ll keep in touch with one another. We will get through this together, but only if we stick together. Be strong and be kind.

Little kids are looking for bears in the neighbourhood while they get their daily dose of exercise. I didn’t have a bear so made do with Max from Where The Wild Things Are, a monster from the same book, a lion and a rabbit.

It’s very good knowing noone is going to see you and it’s okay to get up late. I knew that whale onesie (actually its a cat but I look like an orca in it) was going to be handy.  (Day one is officially over right now.)

That I miss my friend very much even though she was too unwell to really see me these last months.

Lastly, I’m propagating thyme. We have a lot of it on our hands and maybe it’s good that the world has stopped spinning but hopefully just for a bit and may we be changed by it in a good way.

May you be safe and well. FG

New Year Resolution #1. Get back to writing.

I’m getting a head start on my resolutions and looking back over the old 12 months.

January: I didn’t want to start so negatively but I read this poem in early Jan 2019. I won’t mention him again, hopefully.

February: Now that’s over with, I’m moving on to more joyful things. Auckland traffic is hell. Me coming home from work. Love my commute.

March: To heck with the budget. Call me materialistic. Timothy Oulton, you are my main (furniture) man. Hey, it’s now a family heirloom…justify, justify. Now saving for the (small, come on I’m reasonable,) gyro chandelier and maybe the infinity mirror…or not.

April: Happy birthday to me. Will there be enough food? You can’t eat flowers. (Or can you?)

April was also rat catching month.

I know I shouldn’t look so gleeful and evil.

May: Friday Poem book, edited by Steve Braunias. A great buy. Paula Harris you make me guffaw in an unseemly kind of way.

June: A Little Sortie to Samoa.

A little sortie to Samoa.

July: A spot of winter knitting. Paige has duly arrived now and is entertaining my BFF, a doting new Grandma.

August: Sam secured a Kiwibuild apartment that is supposed to be finished soon…it was all that smashed avocado he cut down on. He didn’t even use the Bank of Mum, so very proud of his frugal ways and savings record.

Also in August was the Women’s Bookshop birthday celebration. A great afternoon of women’s stories. Name drop alert, my friend Fiona Farrell was the best!

September: they finally started on my possible next move…. 15 months late so I’m still deciding. the Shexit survey is underway. Should I remain or should I leave?

October: Poppy season, my number one favourite. I love to watch those furry testicles drop and the papery flowers emerge. Note to friends, these and violets only at my funeral please.

November: an act of kindness. I came home to find that a friend’s husband had water blasted my deck. So delighted and grateful.

December: Scaling down on Christmas decorations.

December was also when family and a friend had a perfect day out to Fleur’s Place in Moeraki. By (blue)cod it was good!

December culminated in a wonderful Christmas at Waipu. Christmas Eve elves were out and about, walking with dinosaurs.

These are of course, mainly the lovely things. Call it fake news I guess. It wasn’t all elves and poppies. My dearest friend is now in a home with Alzheimers, the fires raging in Australia are unimaginably horrible, Whakaari, a nightmare. Every day we hear of another unbelievable rant from a mentally unstable orange man who is now joined by another bad hair day bloke. If only it was just the hair. In the face of mortality, though, onward we go and I am now attempting to fill in the required Christmas card official form.

Wish list: This is purely indulgence on my part, I am not wishing for peace on earth or an end to child poverty and a miraculous miracle for the climate crisis, though I do wish all these things. This is all about me….and I can’t get number 1 to justify. Argh technology! I also can’t resize the pictures so sorry about that.

  1. Paris for ten days, a walking or cycling stint of ten to fifteen kms a day on a flat surface with great food breaks at regular intervals and a stay with old friends in the Pyrenees. See what I did there? Got three wishes in under the one wish category.

2. Retire completely, although this may be a bit unrealistic.

3. Transform Jacob Putker’s print into a full-sized wall paper. He has given me permission! I am keeping which one a secret. But here is a sample.

4. To love and be loved. That’s all. I know Leunig’s record is blemished this year and I agree with the women who called him to account but..

5. That those around me; my book club, walking group, other friends and family have lives of meaning and bouts of happiness amidst the chaos of the everyday, oh and eat some really good food and drink some great wine and read some inspiring poetry and some brilliant books and laugh quite a bit after the crying bit and watch the Black Caps win a test (well it is wishful thinking). Oh and flowers, every day.

Lastly, favourite stuff this year

TV series -Fleabag,

and in second place to Phoebe, the hot priest.

Movie Bellbird, who needs dialogue? Brilliant.

Non fiction, The Art of Travel Alain de Botton,

” A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making its first appearance: that I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island.”

Fiction, Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Don’t know how but somehow, Porter nails grief.

Poetry- The Friday Poem

Finally, take your pick from this year’s crop of quotes:

  1. Every New Year is the direct descendant, isn’t it, of a long line of proven criminals? ~Ogden Nash
  2. For last year’s words belong to last year’s language/And next year’s words await another voice./And to make an end is to make a beginning. ~T. S. Eliot

With love and hope and a glass of bubbles, happy new year! FGx

Brain overload

Even though I only work two days a week at a university, the last two weeks seem to have caused brain overload. I am juggling a few different things right now with two friends very ill with dementia, helping with the rat catching programme at Hobsonville Point, running the book club, working casually but more often at the info centre, collecting for the Aunties , writing a monthly article for The Westerly and being MC for the New Horizons for Women-Hine Kahukura ceremony last Saturday.

Sorry to look so gruesomely pleased but I am siding with our native birds even though I know the poor rats were brought here.

I am not complaining, I like my busy life but I find myself getting brain overload so I was lucky enough to have a couple of days in Waipu. I spent two great days feeding ducks, admiring gardens and new planting, listening for kiwi at night, walking in brisk conditions, petting two dogs, eating great food cooked by the hostess with the mostest, overdoing wine and chocolates, sitting by a roaring fire and generally doing nothing much. In a ten minute window of blustery rain, I picked daffodils. It is so satisfying picking them in a beautiful wee glade on the farm, the crisp stems snapping and the electric fence zapping…

Since returning home I have been enjoying Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travelling. He takes one chapter to explain Wordsworth’s love of nature and its curative powers. He says, “The poet proposed that Nature, which he took to comprise, among other elements, birds, streams, daffodils and sheep, was an indispensable corrective to the psychological damage inflicted by life in the city.” I think he is onto something right there.

In the earlier section of the book he also curbed my romanticising of another holiday in France by reminding me of something I have always known but which I carefully lock away in the back of my mind and forget about a month after I have been anywhere. He was discussing a visit to a particularly idyllic beach resort in the Carribean.

A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making its first appearance: that I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island.

However, a tree in blossom, laden with little ballet girls may be all I need to restore myself to myself.

I am trying to be more Wordsworth-like and notice the small joys around me. I am always enamoured by poppies at this time of year. I love the way their furry “testicles” split open to reveal the gorgeous papery flower. I get a seriously good dose of pleasure from that small Spring phenomenon. I can’t say truthfully though, that I have stopped romanticising about another holiday in France

I have had this post sitting around a while as I was having so much trouble loading images but it may be fixed!

Happy October, it’s about now we start saying to one another, “Good grief, it’s nearly Christmas!!” belatedly, FG

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

A moment of gratitude.

My friend who always supported my blog is going overseas and when he asked me what I wanted to do about it, I told him to ditch it as I didn’t seem to have anything interesting to say these days. But then, I went back and reread some bits and pieces and realised I still wanted to keep it. He had already cancelled it but was kind and thoughtful enough to have kept a back up so here I am reinstated with a different theme and not sure that Humpty is entirely put together again but it seems more or less as it was. I’m having trouble with the photos though, so it may take some time to work this out.

Today was Mother’s Day. Sam came over to mine and we walked to the Catalina Bay Market and chose from a few different stalls- the Italian bread, the vegan smoothies, the new fresh salad stall and just me, at the fudge stall. I am so grateful to have him in my life and this simple lunch and a companionable stroll around the coast was perfect.

My latest imaginary fantasy trip is to Paris to see the Van Gogh Starry Night at the Atelier des Lumieres. I’ve got until Dec 30 2019 to get myself there. It looks amazing.


I’m doing my usual round of movies and Netflix and can highly recommend Woman at War. It was on at the IFF last year but I missed it and it is now doing the rounds of local theatres.
“Iceland’s Benedikt Erlingsson (Of Horses and Men) winningly mixes absurdist comedy and tense thriller, with Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir as a fearless eco-warrior, juggling environmental action and foster motherhood. ” I loved its quirkiness, the cinematography was great and it was refreshingly different.

Related image

I’m going for a new look at home, veering towards the English rather than the French country thing. I’ve always liked some of Timothy Oulton’s style and have splashed out on a couch and chair. I blame my friend because she turned 65 earlier this year and remarked that in 15 years she would be 80! it shocked me into buying what I really like.. I like to think they will wear well and be family furniture for Sam to inherit. Not that he would be interested really. Some of Oulton’s is a bit country gent sort of thing with chairs that look like saddles but I like the handcrafted element and the comfort.

His signature is a bowler hat as apparently the bowler is classless, but his range hardly caters for all classes.

Having all sorts of trouble uploading photos so you will just have to put your head on the side. This is on the bottom of the chair.
'The Avengers' - TV Programme - 1967
This chap looked rather spiffing in it.
And Magritte had a thing for it. So do Bolivian and Peruvian women.

Magritte’s The Invisible Man

Apparently back in Manchester, shortly after the bowler hats were invented, two brothers were manufacturing a line of bowler hats. Their plan was to sell them to the British railway workers who were working in Bolivia at the time.

However, when the hats arrived to South America they found that they were way too small to fit the heads of the men.So, instead of throwing them out they decided to create a “fictional” story to tell the Bolivian Cholitas. This story was that all the fashionable women in Europe were going around wearing these bowler hats and it was the new fashion trend!
There’s also a myth that those who wore the hats did not have any fertility problems.

Once I started thinking about bowler hats all sorts of men came to mind, Churchill, Chaplin, Prince Harry…

Image result for men who wore bowler hats

Clearly time to sign off with a tip of the hat. FG

What’s luck got to do with it?

I have just had a fun few days with a friend I’ve known for forty years. We keep in touch sporadically and J doesn’t come to NZ that often. She says she finds it depressing, the melancholy seeps through the  soles of her feet.

So she has spent the last forty years living in Palma De Mallorca for 90 days and then having to go off because of visa restrictions. Some years she goes to yoga retreats in India, sometimes Turkey, some times Thailand. J has explored South America. She attends hula hoop conferences and dabbles in alternative health and medicine. J is adept at Reiki and other forms of spiritual healing. On multiple occasions she has gone to India to hear the Dalai Llama.

Image result for dalai lama

In the time I have known her she has sold vintage kimonos, Indian jewellery, colloidal silver, hula hoops lessons, and is always a considerate and fun guest. Many people are fascinated by her lifestyle and a few comment on how lucky she is.

Image result for joyce hampton hula hoop
Off to the German Hula Hoop convention

J can do four hula hoops simultaneously and can entertain in the evening using hula hoops that light up. As a result, she has a pelvic floor and a great figure that will no doubt be the envy of many over 60s

But actually there is no luck involved. in her early 20s J asked yachties if she could learn to sail with them if she washed barnacles off yachts and did a lot of cleaning, and I mean, a lot. She eventually had sufficient skills to go off to Western Samoa on a small yacht, unfortunately, with a bit of a nutcase. She jumped ship and managed to get taken on on another yacht and spent quite a long time crewing and cleaning on yachts all around the world. She cooked the 1980’s Pritikin diet for one truculent old man and cooked for the granddaughter of Henry Ford. Needless to say, there were plenty of Ford Fiestas for the crew to use when they weren’t on the boat. 

J travels with her Tibetan bowls and her travel-size hoola hoops, she has been known to drink her own urine which she alleges cured her varicose veins, J also enjoys a glass of wine, (thank goodness, just saying) and knows the value of nutritious food.

She spends her time doing odd jobs, cleaning, house sitting sometimes and renting out her modest apartment in Palma. J chose not to have children and her evenings are spent quite frequently, enjoying a nice wine and tapas in a Mallorca cafe.

Image result for palma de mallorca cafes

It would be fair to say J is frugal but never tight. At 65 she is happy to stay in a back packer and take the $40 bus from Auckland to Wellington, when most our age prefer a few more of life’s luxuries. She is never happier than staying in a back packer in Turkey for 7 Euros a night, including three meals a day.

But she is not lucky, or if she is, she has made her own luck. She has made different choices from others, that is all. J is brave and resilient and always up for a laugh. We could all have chosen her life but frankly I’m too lazy to clean toilets, I’m too fussy to stay in a place without an ensuite, and so I have not chosen her path but that’s not to say she is lucky. She is simply going her own way, following the sun and making the most of each day. Spain is her turangawaewae. You go girl. Best of luck with your Visa to remain in Spain. FG

Image result for palma de mallorca apartments