Friday, September 12, 2014

A book in the hand without Harvey

 The print edition of my memoir has arrived. I talked to Kathryn Ryan about it on Monday, and yesterday it was launched with a lunchtime talk at Unity. It was the first time I'd ever had a lengthy queue form for me to sign books.

And next Wednesday (Heaven help me) I'm going to be simultaneously cooking and talking about my book on Good Morning at 9am. Live. For seven minutes. I just need to get through without (a) burning or dropping something, which happens frequently in my own kitchen, or (b) forgetting the name of my book. If the leaders of political parties can manage this (though some have definitely been better at it than others), surely I can.

I ought to be feeling really happy about all this - and of course I am. But not entirely, and I know why. I hadn't even thought about it beforehand, but this is the first book I've had published without Harvey at my side. Of course the e-book came out last year, but somehow that wasn't quite the same. Having the memoir in print suddenly brought home to me the fact that for every other book either he or I published, we were there to cheer each other on.

But in another sense he is here, because he figures so largely in the book. So I just have to hang on to that and be grateful that I had him by my side for all those years. Still - I do wish he could have been here to welcome me home next week from my TV cooking session, regardless of how it goes, with a wide, warm grin, a large gin and tonic and a good dinner.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

More on reading

"It’s a common and easy enough distinction, this separation of books into those we read because we want to and those we read because we have to, and it serves as a useful marketing trope for publishers, especially when they are trying to get readers to take this book rather than that one to the beach. But it’s a flawed and pernicious division. This linking of pleasure and guilt is intended as an enticement, not as an admonition: reading for guilty pleasure is like letting one’s diet slide for a day—naughty but relatively harmless. The distinction partakes of a debased cultural Puritanism, which insists that the only fun to be had with a book is the frivolous kind, or that it’s necessarily a pleasure to read something accessible and easy. Associating pleasure and guilt in this way presumes an anterior, scolding authority—one which insists that reading must be work."
         But of course, most of the time it isn't. This is from a fine New Yorker piece by Rebecca Mead, who wrote a splendid book about reading Middlemarch. You can find it at http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/pleasure-of-reading
         I was thinking about this distinction at the book fair today. There were scores of copies of recent mass market best sellers, from Philippa Gregory to Stephen King, but there were also plenty of copies of the "classics" of every era - books that people have so consistently responded to that they have embedded themselves in the life of readers in English everywhere.

Never too many books

DCM Bookfair 2014

Today was the first day of the annual DCM Bookfair. It's been a milestone in my life for as long as I've lived in Wellington. Like everything else, it's been affected by change. For years, Harvey and I went together, then I went alone. After he died I started volunteering there, mainly because I wanted to help DCM - but also because I thought working at the fair would prevent me from buying too many books.
       There is, of course, no such thing. I've yet to see a reality show about people who can barely move in their house because of their hoards of books. I reckon books make great wall insulation, too...
       Anyway, this year I had my son home for a holiday from his teaching job in China.  His timing was perfect, because for years I've had to hunt out books for him and then post them to him at exorbitant cost, since NZ Post has stubbornly refused to recognise the vital importance of having a special rate for books. This year he could choose his own, and carry them back himself. Meanwhile I would do my morning stint, followed by a brief bout of shopping.
        I was very good. While I was channelling my inner librarian - floor-walking, answering questions ("Where is the chicklit?"), tidying up the tables, and (my favourite thing) relocating misplaced titles - I saw more than a few books I wanted, but I didn't collect any until I was free. Of course, by then some of the ones I'd spotted had gone, but that was the luck of the game - I just wasn't meant to have those particular books.  After all, there were plenty of others to choose from.
         I reckon you could get an entire lifetime's education, as well as vast amounts of pleasure, from what turns up at the fair. Of course I saw quite a few that Harvey would have liked, but never mind, he certainly never went short of books. Here's what I ended up with.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

So far, so good

The walking plan is going quite well - better, as you can see, than the blogging plan. I keep getting distracted by books to read and review, friends to phone and see, lunches and dinners to cook, the fact that it's warmer down in the living room than it is up here at the computer - and a mild winter addiction to House Rules.
         I'm well aware that such programmes are carefully designed to hook you in. The contestants are obviously hand-picked to be compared and contrasted - the older couple, the parents of seven kids, the rough-and-ready ones ... though I come a bit unstuck on the two very similar-looking young blonde women and their handsome husbands, I tend to get them and their "zones" confused.
          Like most TV contest series, this one has a subtle and uncomfortable affinity with the appalling Depression-era marathon dance competitions so effectively captured in Sydney Pollack's 1969 film, They Shoot Horses, Don't They. In those contests, too, the audience was manipulated along with the contestants. It's a hymn to conspicuous consumption, too - this week the couples have been hard at work tearing down the bits of their renovated houses they don't like and replacing brand new stuff with another lot of new stuff.
           But I keep coming back for more. I started watching while I was organising the bathroom reno. That one room took me a couple of months to plan and it took my nice tradesmen weeks to complete. They didn't work slowly, they were just fitting my small job in with all their other, larger jobs, waiting for things to arrive or dry properly, and so on. (Only in TV-land do tradesmen appear instantly and either all at once, or immediately after each other, and heaven knows when or if anything gets to dry or set or whatever.)
          Of course, a good part of the appeal was that what the HR couples were expected to cope with every week made my bathroom seem a piece of cake. And I didn't have to suffer inspection by two snooty designers at the end. (Maybe I should have asked my viewing friends to fill out little score-cards.)
           The baser aspect of HR's hold on me has to do with my own pretensions to home decor expertise. I like watching what everyone comes up with as they wrestle with a swarm of trendy "house rule" style concepts from "junkshop chic" to "modern rustic" to "vintage luxe", while dealing with the untrendy realities of rotten framing, asbestos linings and cockroach infestations. I have no idea myself exactly what such phrases mean, but it is a mean kind of fun to watch obviously awful  choices being made (the hideous wall-art, the sacking ceiling...)
            What really interests me most, though, is the whole notion that it's fine for complete strangers to come charging into your home, turf out pretty much everything you own, and replace it with stuff they have chosen that has no history or meaning for you apart from its newness and trendiness. I remember when I wanted to replace some of our kitchen plates and bowls because I'd seen some really pretty Hooker's Fruit ones on sale at Briscoe's (and I needed the right size bowls for microwaving Harvey's porridge).
             Harvey looked hurt and said, in a puzzled sort of way, "Aren't you loyal to the old china?" He agreed only when I pointed out that we hadn't actually chosen the ones I wanted to replace, he had won them by buying a bottle of brandy at the local liquor shop. The  were thick and white and we'd never liked them all that much, but we'd felt we shouldn't look gift china in the mouth, so to speak.
              He had been born into the Depression. I grew up in better post-war times, but even so, when I first got married there was very little around in the way of affordable, attractive household goods. So we both had  a tendency to hang on to and hoard things once we got them, even if we really didn't need or want them any more. But we also both cherished things harking back to our respective pasts and our lives together - books and pictures, inevitably, but also familiar pieces of furniture, pottery, china, even kitchen tools (I wrote about some of these in my memoir). And now Harvey is gone, they mean even more to me. I can't help hoping (almost certainly in vain) that somehow it will be my son, not me, who will have to deal with their disposal.
            Meanwhile I can enjoy shifting them around into new lights. The bathroom has at last provided me with a place to put the collection of small Crown Lynn vases that I've stubbornly hung on to since we moved here seven years ago. And in case you're wondering, I've called the bathroom concept I was working with "upstyled '50s retro". Just so you know.  You may have missed them on Facebook, so here they are again, for your viewing pleasure. 


       

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Wintering

I see my last post here was the end of April. It hasn't been a good time for writing anything much since, but I think something's shifting now.
        Just for completion's sake, I'll post a couple of bathroom photos here. Is it finished? Yes, and no. Something strange has surfaced in the vinyl floor, so I'm waiting to see what happens about that before all the final details can be finished off. Anyway, in the meantime I can use it and I'm enjoying it very much, especially the brightness of the blind I made for it. (If you read me on Facebook you'll have seen this already, but Facebook just flows on forever and everything drifts past and away. I'm kidding myself, I know, but a blog has at least the illusion of being more lasting.)


So now I need another project. I've been agonising over what it might be, and getting depressed in the process. Something had to be done, so I decided that until I got a good idea, I'd make one small simple change that I knew would be good for me and, more importantly, would instantly make me feel better - I would go for a walk every day.
       On the whole I've managed to do it, helped by a spell of fairly fine weather, and I do feel more cheerful, or rather, perhaps, more hopeful (a good friend has pointed me to the notion of "reasonable hope" espoused by Kaethe Weingarten). I'm also getting a new hard drive made for me by my excellent computer expert, so now I urgently need to start clearing out the vast cupboard full of obsolete documents and emails that my computer has become over the years. And my third change is to return to posting on both my blogs more regularly, instead of endlessly deferring it and making do with Facebook instead, which is not at all the same thing. All good for wintering.




Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Roses from my builder

This is another post related to my bathroom, but in a tangential way. Larry, the builder working on it, has been sorting out our houses for a long time. He goes right back to the first house Harvey and I bought together, in Woburn Road, Northland, not far from Larry's own home.
         When we moved to Karori, he came round to build us a deck at the end of the garden. This required taking out a pretty pink rose planted by the previous owner. By that time Larry was building himself and his wife Chris a new house in Waikanae. If we didn't want the rose, he said, he'd like it for his new garden. So he carried it off and it flourished. He and Chris named it the Harvey rose, and told Harvey how well it was doing.
           When he arrived on Monday morning, he presented me with two beautiful buds from it. In the warm room, they've opened up into my favourite rose shape: a round cup with a cluster of whorled petals in the middle. I've had a look at a website showing the different forms, and I think this is a rosette shape - but I'm not entirely sure, it might be a quartered shape. If anyone knows, please tell me.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Going, going, gone

Tomorrow my plumber and builder start work on renovating the bathroom. My back bedroom is full of mysterious cardboard boxes holding all the fittings, and beside me on the landing is a gleaming new bathroom sinkbench and lovely long drawers. (I've decided I'm not going to use the stupid work "vanity" any longer. What's vain about cleaning your teeth, washing your hands and combing your hair?)
      This is the first (and will probably be the only) major house project I've tackled since Harvey died. I know this is really silly, but although I'm looking forward to the new bathroom and I know I'll enjoy it, I can't help feeling a bit sad. It's partly because the old bathroom was here when Harvey and I moved in, and for the first two and a half years, until he had to move downstairs, we both used it. I don't like doing away even with household things he used, let alone surroundings he knew and lived in. But also, it feels very strange to be making changes to the house that I can't consult him about and he'll never see.
       We were lucky - we always agreed exactly on the houses we bought, three of them altogether. There wasn't quite the same concord about doing them up. Like many men, Harvey wasn't very keen on changing things, and he couldn't visualise colours and shapes in spaces the way I can. I once left him alone to work in the garden with a builder (not the lovely one we found later). Big mistake. Between them they constructed a hideous over-sized Fort-Knox-like structure of half-round logs right along the side of the top lawn in Woburn Road. On the other hand, when I found a wonderful stripey velvet to recover our old armchairs, Harvey was sure it would look awful. But I was so convinced it would work that I told him I was going ahead anyway. I promised he would like the result - and he did.
        He would certainly have agreed that the bathroom needed upgrading - the old fittings are falling to bits - but goodness knows what he would have thought of my choices. Oh well, of course it's entirely up to me now and I can have exactly what I want. But it's not as much fun doing it all by myself. Much nicer to have someone to discuss it with, even if it means having to work out what would suit you both.
         I did try to think very practically, as he was good at doing, as well as about what would look good. I think he would have liked it all. But he might have been a bit bemused by the two vases I just bought on Trade Me (amazing how clever you feel when you put in the winning bid for something you really want).  A friend's getting the red one, and the white one's perfect for the bathroom.

Set of 2 vases
       
 

Monday, March 24, 2014

A birthday

Today, 24 March, is Patrick's birthday. He would have been 45 - he was 18 when he died in 1987. His friend wrote to me, and I had phone calls from Ali and my sister. Here's the piece from my book about his birthday.
We placed his ashes under a pōhutukawa tree we planted in the Botanic Gardens, on a rise with a view over the city he knew and enjoyed so much. Although the tree is now so tall it’s hard to reach the lower branches, on Patrick’s birthday, on the day he died and on Christmas Eve I still reach up and leave a posy wedged there. One of his roses if they’re flowering, and a few forget-me-nots. Mock orange blossom, for the wedding he never had. Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme. And a chocolate in the middle.
Of course I used to go with Harvey, but now I ask Lesley, the oldest friend I have in Wellington, to come with me. It helps when the sun is out, as it was this morning.
       The mock orange blossom has finished flowering. His rose, the original Remember Me, has died, and its replacement isn't doing at all well. So I took two other late roses, a red Dublin Bay for Harvey, and a creamy Jude the Obscure, as well as the herbs - and the chocolate.