Saturday, February 28, 2009


On New Year’s Eve in 1911 five men sat talking in their tent on the Antarctic Plateau for over four hours. They were Robert Falcon Scott and his fellow-officers. In the nearby tent the Petty Officers kept their own company. A naval officer, Scott stuck to the rules of the class system within which he had grown up. Teddy Evans, the only man in the tent to get back alive to Base Camp describes the camaraderie of that evening. At the end Scott reached across and squeezed the arm of Oates, who’d been reminiscing about his childhood, teasing the soldier about coming out of his shell. Oates had a reputation as being taciturn. They had reasons to be content. They were on schedule. They had seen no sign of the Norwegian party for they wrongly assumed Amundsen would use the Beardmore Glacier, the route the English had pioneered. Little did they realise he’d found an alternative route, reached the South Pole and was already returning north. Unlike his group Scott’s party did not survive the assault on the Pole. Unfortunately for them they were destined to face one of the coldest autumns the continent has experienced.

Captain Scott is part of my mental folklore. I have never been to Antarctica but during my formative years the Little River public library and Akaroa District High School library held many books about Scott and Shackleton’s expeditions. I devoured them all. Names like Bowers, Crean and Ponting were part of my mental furniture. There was no reality TV then. My entertainment was books about these and other similar epic journeys. Bowers and Cherry-Garrard’s valiant efforts to save the ponies trapped on floating ice floes and surrounded by killer whales is an example. Oates saying "I am just going outside and may be some time," sacrificing himself in an effort to ensure the other three got through And then the final tragedy – Scott and his two companions dying in a tent – gentlemen to the end, courageous and decent. Throughout my adult life I’ve continued to read new books about their exploits.

Recently I read Ranulph Fiennes’s Captain Scott. When I was young, Scott was extolled as a hero, indeed an imperial role-model. Then there was a debunking period – the foolish leader whose enterprise was a disaster waiting to happen. Now the pendulum has swung back. Fiennes manhandled a sledge through the same territory. He feels entitled to make judgements about Scott – on the whole favourable. A few years ago I read a similar book, Canadian meteorologist, Susan Solomon’s The Coldest March. She argues from the scientific evidence that Scott’s returning polar group struck one of the coldest recorded autumns. Temperatures plummeted as the final assault party returned – undoubtedly dispirited at finding the Norwegians had beaten them. Solomon also made a point I had not grasped. If Wilson and Bowers had left Scott alone and pressed on they had a good chance of making One Ton Depot, picking up supplies and maybe – a very big maybe - rescuing him. We have turned full circle and returned to the heroic age. Her theory was that being the men they were, Wilson and Bowers chose to stay and die with their leader. Fiennes is less sanguine about their prospects. But he agrees with the heroic re-assessment of Scott.

That legend was part of my childhood. Dying, Wilson wrote to his wife. "The Barrier has beaten us – though we got to the Pole." Scott penned a ‘Message to the Public". "Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman."

At school, teachers had us copy out that final message. In Christchurch, Mum pointed out his statue sculpted by his wife on the banks of the Avon. "She didn’t finish it you know." One of the first books I personally bought was the Penguin Ashley Gerrard-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World. I still have it, battered, marmite-stained and dog-eared. Scott sailed both times from Lyttleton – our port. People I knew had seen his ships set off. Relics from his huts were in the Christchurch musuem. Later, the Globemaster planes servicing the American and Kiwi bases at McMurdo Sound left Harewood aerodrome for the long trip south and their noisy flight as they lumbered south echoed up Okuti valley where my stepfather and mother farmed.

That early hero-worship was under-cut to the extent that most people were critical of Scott’s decision to take four others instead of the planned three. But the brave way he faced defeat and death was held up as a virtue to be emulated. The Second World War was happening. Bravery was in demand. Sacrifice was needed. The connection between the virtues Scott and his colleagues practised and the carnage of the First World War was rarely made. Gallipoli, Dunkirk, the British are at their best when their backs are to the wall. That was the message our teachers gave us. My reading reinforced the message. Of course Mallory and Norton got to the top of Everest. Like Scott they’d challenged the elements and lost, but bravely. That’s what men did.
Once I was in the bath listening to the radio. The late news came on. The Argentineans had landed on South Georgia claimin it was no longer British. I felt a surge of completely unexpected imperialism. In my mind that desolate little spot was associated with Shackleton and British pluck and daring. I recalled that Akaroa primary class listening with attention as I told of the story of Shackleton and his four crew men sailing the James Caird, an open boat, from Elephant Island to the south coast of South Georgia through the stormy south Atlantic ocean, and then climbing over unexplored mountains to get aid at the Norwegian whaling station. They had to get through to bring help to their marooned comrades. I was never a fan of Margaret Thatcher’s. But I cheered when her troops ‘liberated’ South Georgia.

Reading Scott’s diaries I am struck by how confident he was about the British Empire. He was a loyal naval officer in that Empire. His career reflected its zenith. His death was during my childhood used as one of the definitions of that Empire. The words glory and duty hovered round his story. There is an irony in that the British were not the first to reach either Pole. Would he have been such a hero if he’d survived – after all he’d come second. Scott’s valour, loyalty to his companions, diligent planning were all held out as role models. His bravery at the onset of death was the very model of appropriate behaviour. Did he bully Oates into crawling outside? Such a question was unthinkable then.

For the flip side of the myth of Scott is that the various manifestations of "stiff upper lip" helped create the carnage of the First World War. Discipline meant that orders were not questioned – or disobeyed. The English class system still prevailed. Being British meant muddling through. Right equals might and thus will succeed. The fall of Singapore was a shattering blow to my elder’s myths of Empire. The old claims suddenly began to ring hollow. ‘The whole British navy couldn’t fit into Akaroa Harbour’, "The sun always shines somewhere on the Empire." So it was no surprise that a period of debunking set in. It pleases me that Fiennes restored some balance.
But the hierarchical symbols of the two tents still rankles. It clashes with some deep semse of Kiwi fairness.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Miss Greenwood

Miss Greenwood

In the two-teacher secondary department at Akaroa District High School Miss Greenwood taught English, Geography, Art, Music and Horticulture. The school gardens won prizes for the best in Canterbury - she worked long hours in them and lessons saw our labour put to use. ("What do you do in horticulture?" Mum asked. "Shovel horse shit", I replied.) Miss Greenwood opened up new worlds of art, music, and literature. For a bookworm boy she’s just what the life-doctor ordered. Here is a poem of belated acknowledgment:

Blast me for an idiot
when Miss Greenwood put on
Jesu joy of man's desiring
spurred by the rest
I sounded "yuk"
her look of pain
her brilliant student
a ZB upbringing no excuse
my audience built by challenging hers
never questioned next door, Sticky's H20
she had her revenge
she hustled us to orchestra
Strauss, Sibelius
& on the bus coming home
Finlandia bouncing in every bone
I was hooked and delivered scaled
She once said looking straight at me
"You're not fully adult until you love Mozart."
a teacher's success can never be measured
too late now, but I apologise Miss Greenwood
third movement scherzo (allegro vivace.

After playing seven-a-side rugby at Hagley Park we went to the National Orchestra. The bruises from the morning's rugby forgotten I was rapt.
We had two poetry books, Mount Helicon and Grass from Parnassus. I still have them both - one bought school texts then. She took us through them, we chanted poems together, we chose a stanza, copied it out and illustrated it. I pored over both books at night. (I didn’t tell my classmates about this. I sensed their disapproval or at least misunderstanding). Many lines remain, a layer in my literary midden: "There's a breathless hush on the close tonight"; ""The Albatross fell off and sank like lead into the sea"; "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree"; "Oh England is a pleasant place for them that's rich and high."
Miss Greenwood’s conviction that poetry counted proved contagious – it entered my bloodstream, though an opportunity was missed - we talked about the poems and ideas in them, but she never suggested I write poems nor did she give any creative writing lessons.
But she did something else that was important for me. There was only one New Zealand poem in the two anthologies - Pember Reeves, "God girt her about with the surges" with its borrowed diction. To make up that deficiency she put up on the blackboard - no banda or zerox in those days - for us to copy New Zealand poems, Dora Wilcox's Onawe, McKee Wright's Arlington and Blanche Baughan's The Old Place. All deal with questions of displacement and change as well as reflecting the pioneer values of my childhood. [What I didn’t realise was that they also contained their own indoctrination] But they represented an attempt to speak the language of our place. Poetry could be about places I knew. Onawe, the pear-shaped peninsula at the head of the harbour where we fished for flounder, was where Te Rauparaha swept down from the north to capture and destroy the local pah.

...Here once the Haka sounded; and din of battle
Shook the grey crags,
Triumphant shout and agonized death-rattle
Startled the shags...
Tena koe Pakeha! within this fortification
Grows English grass -
Tena koe! subtle conqueror of a nation
Doomed, doomed to pass!

Arlington - Granddad McQueen once managed a station like that and in his cups in his declining years bewailed the passing of that way of life.

...The good old boss of Arlington was everybody's friend,
He liked to keep the wages up right to the very end;
If diggers' horses went astray they always could be found
The cow that roamed across the run was never in the pound.
He was a white man through and through, cheery and fair and plain,
And now he'll never ride the rounds of Arlington again...

The Old Place, was the world I knew - summer droughts and winter floods, the Bush Paddock and old-timers gossiping about the room where Mary died and John...

...Yes well! I'm leaving the place. Apples look red on that bough.
I set the slips with my own hand. Well - they're another man's now.
The breezy bluff: an' the clover that smells so over the land
Drowning the reek of the rubbish that plucks the profit out o' your hand:

Poetry was not something from the other side of the world. Poems could be made in New Zealand. I was fascinated to learn that the old lady slowly pedaling around on a creaky bicycle was Blanche Baughan. Writers were actual people. And New Zealanders too. I mentioned this to Miss Greenwood. She lent me a book by a woman called Mansfield. I struggled to read the stories. They had no story, no plot. Miss Greenwood said that one day I’d understand.

The slips that she helped plant have lasted my lifetime.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A List

My condition means I tend to review the past. A few weeks back I wrote a list which I thought could be a basis for a poem. Of course, a list is merely representative. The events of a lifetime are manifold. Anyway, here it is.

Moments that will never occur again

Going to Quilters to look for old masters or bargain books
Driving to Franz Josef
Putting a roast with yams in the oven
Seeing the Sydney Harbour Bridge beyond the Opera House
Digging new spuds
Teaching poetry
Making love
Climbing a hill
Swimming in a hot pool
Luxuriating in a warm bath
Sipping g&t over the Indian sub-continent
Letting off fireworks, Guy Fawkes Night
Cooking for friends
Admiring the mosques of Ishfahan
Picking up a billiard cue
Drafting sheepTaking the cat to the vet
Representing New Zealand at a UNESCO conference in Geneva
Dining with a Prime Minister on the evening of his retirement
Cutting manuka
Erecting a tent
Painting a house
Building a fire
Riding a camel
Chairing a meeting
Walking to the city through the Botanic Gardens

But of course there are still fresh moments. Last evening Lesley and Paul Hill brought Derek and Lyn Challis to meet us. Derek is Robin Hyde’s son. He was 8 when she died. He talked about her family. He met her mother twice but had a lot to do with his mother’s sister Edna. His foster-parents lived for a while in a construction camp north of Wairoa while they were building the rail line to Gisborne. He recently went back there - it is just empty paddocks now. I was reminded of Robin’s descriptions of the building of Arapuni dam on the Waikato. Derek talked about her poems, his favourites and how he’d spent the afternoon exploring the setting of the poem The White Seat. It was fascinating.
Yesterday Anne took Dorothy our cat - when we got two kittens we had just returned from a visit to Britain, so she and her brother we named after the Wordsworths, he whined a lot and she bustled around - to the vet to have an infected tooth removed. On her return she made a bee-line to my bed and cuddled up at the foot and stayed there all night. Part of me says it’s devotion, another part says she merely knows which side her bread is buttered.
Today it was my turn. We went to Bowen Hospital to have two growths removed from my ear. For forty years I’ve had growths burnt off or cut out, the price I pay for a sunlit youth - vitamin D was seen as essential for health.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


A) The blog is working. Illustrative is Ken Millar’s response. Ken and I worked in the Curriculum Development Division of the old Department of Education. We were both Assistant Directors during the Merv Wellington period - a particular trying time, made worse by a switch to Open Plan. We’ve been supportive of one another with our respective health problems.

Hi Harvey
I enjoyed stoatspring so went to your blog link and tried to respond. But I have much to learn!!! Couldn't do a thing, so here is my response in email format.

To Harvey from km


slashed me
two years ago

The years
the days
the hours
spring past
and winter

Friends with health
and friends without
are support

Their advice is
enjoy today
But no -
too long

I must enjoy
this moment

B) Here are two of my own poems. The first written last year is an accurate account of three actual events. The second is a few year’s old. I try each winter to reread one of the old masters. I cheat, in that Hardy keeps jumping the queue. This was written during my Austen winter. William, our cat, was an excellent mouser


Think of it as a journey
brightly says the welfare worker

Hell, it’s an operating theatre
not a jaunt to darkest Africa

I’ve a student with me, do you mind?
Avoid that artery - careful, there’s a nerve

Hell, that running commentary intrudes
scalpel, blood, existence, vulnerability

We’ve a diagnosis; bad news I’m afraid
some time though before a wheel-chair’s needed

Hell, should one scream and shout? Stoicism
under siege buckles but rallies; old habits hold.


Austen shouldn’t be read until middle age.
False start - wrong to start with obvious facts

Her young sailors sought fame, prize & fortune,
her heroines never experienced matrimonial felicity.

What would she have made of Helen Clark
or Mrs Clinton’s spouse?

Interruption - the cat brings in such a little mouse,
demands praise, performs acts of great rage
capering the tossed and uninhabited corpse.

Magnificent Mansfield Park
‘Most troubling of all is its preference for rest over

Only the bloodied head left to be buried

Time to reread the folio of that maiden aunt’s
pen, such steadiness midst all that gothic chaos.

‘Do you remember the first lesson you ever taught?’ people ask. I do. Teacher education means some time in schools, a semi-exercise in class-room learning. These periods were called sections; three terms then, so three sections for secondary trainees. For my first (1959) I returned to Akaroa District High School where I had spent my first three years as a secondary school student. The primary and secondary departments were on different sites. On the second day the primary headmaster fell ill with scarlet fever. I found myself without warning in front of his Standards 3 and 4 class. They sat in rows, silent, small hands on their desk tops, bright eyes sizing me up. "We know you", one said. "Well, I don't know you but I'd better begin. Could you each tell me your name and a few sentences about yourself." I learnt my first trick fast. They all started speaking at once. I glared. The noise subsided. "One at a time, we'll start with you."
A teacher poked her head in, "You seem in control," and withdrew. Hastily I looked around. At the back of the room there was a large map of Antarctica. On the shelf behind the desk lay a rather battered life of Birdie Bowers. Introductions finished, I asked if they knew about Captain Scott and the South Pole. Vaguely a few had but not much. I told the story, read a bit from the book, got them drawing the men pulling the sledges across the snow. "We usually do maths this period, sir," one boy said. Several hissed "Ssshh" at him. Having got their attention I wasn't going to change tack.
"What do you do next?" I asked the informer as they raced out to play. "Phys Ed. Here's our timetable." He produced it from his bag. When I went into the staffroom someone said, "The Boss normally takes phys ed next period." "I know" I said. "Quick work. Here take my whistle and there's the key to the store cupboard." College lectures had not prepared me for this. I was a history graduate, not a primary teacher trainee. When the bell rang I met the class at the door with four large medicine balls at my feet. "Carry these". I marched as far away from the classrooms as I could while remaining on the asphalt. "You and you and you and you pick four teams. We're going to have some relays." The reaction was one of enthusiasm. "Can the girls have two teams and the boys two teams?" "Why not?" Medicine balls passed over heads and under legs with general cheerfulness while I umpired. At the back of my mind I heard Dr Crawford’s [my tutor at Christchurch Teachers’ College] voice, ‘Every lesson should have a purpose.’
"Arithmetic next, we did Social Studies this morning" said the informer. He must have seen the look of panic on my face. "Don't worry, the answers are at the back of the book. I'll show you what we did yesterday." I decided arithmetic was a piece of cake for they worked while I walked round assisting them. As my own primary schooling had been one-teacher I was accustomed to one on one teaching. At lunchtime one of the staff said, "you kept them busy I see, that's the stuff." Somehow I got through the afternoon. "Here, we should have given you this," someone said in the staff room, giving me the class plan. "We thought you'd stand in just for the day but you could do it tomorrow couldn't you." Pride forbade a negative answer. No mentors now. I was on my own. A transition threshold crossed, at long last I was doing adult work.
Back at Miss Opie’s boarding rooms I collapsed exhausted. University seemed light years away. After dinner, declining an invitation to play euchre with the other boarders as I had on the previous evening, cursing my lack of resources, I began to prepare something for the following day. Next morning three girls from the class waited outside to carry my case with its hastily prepared lessons. One with a warm smile gave me a fresh Granny Smith. An apple for the teacher - it really was true. They chattered all the way to school. For three weeks this continued - each day a fresh apple. I learnt a lot about three Akaroa households. Indeed much more than I should’ve. Baby-sitting, entertaining, surviving, trial and error, inventing, I got through the days. It was not good teacher education. I never observed a lesson or for that matter received much assistance or advice. But I did notice when attention was captured. There was an engaging innocence, enthusiasm and vulnerability about them at all times. But there were moments when their interest was engaged and the tempo of learning moved up a notch.
In evening preparation I began to think about how to encourage and enlarge upon this when it happened. Obviously a striking beginning helped but the tough part was to keep up the momentum. The risk of failure existed, my personal failure. But it began to dawn on me that if that happened it would affect the learning of others – an awful and frightening responsibility. This recognition gave purpose to my lesson preparation plus a questioning as for what purpose the lesson existed. The curriculum had meaning - it was not just tablets of stone from on high. An amateur, my learning curve as a teacher had begun. Today’s teacher education is so much better.
When Sheila Crawford came to observe my ‘crit lesson’, which was with this class - historical whaling in New Zealand - she made it quite plain she did not approve of my teaching at this level. Teaching she told me is more than keeping a large number of children occupied. At the same time, contradictorily, she told me I was doing well. She particularly praised my getting the children to pretend to be whalers, the captain, the harpooner, the oarsmen, the vessel owners and to talk about their feelings as they hunted the animals, rendered down the carcasses or counted profits back in Boston. Then, with a flash of intuition I asked one group to imagine themselves as the whales. ‘Just feeding when these brutes arrived in their row-boats.’ ‘They harpooned my baby.’ With such ignition material the lesson took off, indeed too much, uninhibited they began to show off shrilling chattering all sorts of unarticulated resentments and desires. ‘You need to learn how to defuse a situation,’ Dr Crawford said in her written critique. Her spoken comment was interesting. ‘Fascinating, the imaginative life of young people.’
I became dog-tired, but remained happy, indeed elated. There is a buzz in a good lesson. In the last week I returned to the secondary sector where my old teacher Miss Greenwood blowing smoke rings said "I always knew you'd be a teacher. You didn't ask for help? We could have given you assistance you know. Your problem is you always want to do things your own way."
Mr Mahar, her colleague, expressed a different opinion. ‘You’ll end up an administrator.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘All good teachers do which is a shame.’
‘He’s far too creative to fall into that trap,’ said Miss Greenwood.
I felt a captive lamb being argued over by two tigers. In their different ways both foresaw my life as an educator.
I’ll make a confession. Those three weeks were fun - skills which became habitual not yet formed. I treasure that time, a rite of passage.

D) Postscript.
It has been pointed out that yesterday’s comment about dwindling could be misconstrued. I meant opportunities for companionship. I can see my habitual carelessness will get me into trouble with my blog entries if I’m not careful.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Little Thoughts

Sister-in-law Margaret responded to my blog by email. ‘Did enjoy reading your poems and especially about the past on Banks Peninsula. Certainly brought back memories of our trips with Tom. It is changed so much out there now – just fished out! Bruce and I went fishing two years ago down at our favourite place off the cliffs through Jim Wright’s property and hardly got a niggle. Whereas when we lived out there we would pack the kids up and head down there once a week for our fix of fish using a stick and line attached.’

I see I spelt ‘mine’ yesterday when I meant ‘mind’. No excuse. Stuff had Oscar ‘Awarsd’. Editors are needed. Slumdog Millionaire scooped the pool.

After dinner last night Anne went off for a walk on a lovely balmy evening. In the old days we went together. The dwindling of companionship is one of my big regrets

Monday, February 23, 2009


This morning I attended a respiratory rehabilitation course at the public hospital. Before it began several of us began reminiscing about our childhood. It brought to mine one of my youthful experiences which I recently wrote about.


Banks Peninsula – two large extinct volcanoes – juts out from the Canterbury coastline. I grew up there in Little River, in those days the end of the rail line from Christchurch.
My extended family were keen on picnics. Many of these centred around the fishing expeditions of my mother’s brother Uncle Charley, who was the local rabbiter. In easterly weather he put out a raft (now called a kon-tiki) at Birdling's Flat, at the south end of Lake Forsyth. To get bait he would set an eel trap in the river the night before, baited with a rotten egg or a lump of stinking, ancient mutton. Once they swam through the narrow entrance, the eels were trapped. In the morning he would lift it, kill them, cut them into pieces and bait the long lines.
The stony ninety-mile beach was treacherous: a hubbub of crashing waves and a confusion of spray and spume, as the long-combered ocean waves gathered power to batter the shingle, rattle the stones in the retreating breakers and pound in again. One of Granny's brothers drowned there at the turn of the century. Once, during the war, a fishing boat from Timaru lost power in a southerly buster. Helpless, the men on the beach watched it drift closer and closer until it was dumped in the surf and every man drowned. With such treacherous seas and undertow, there was always tension as Charley tried to get the raft out through the surf, slipping and sliding in the loose shingle.
Once it was out to its full length, we had a long wait on the treeless beach. Sun-hats were essential but there was the constant threat of a wind gust sending them bowling into the surf or beyond. Then came the excitement of hauling the raft in - coiling skates digging their tails into the shingle, very hard to dislodge, dogfish galore, the occasional larger shark and usually several big fat slippery groper.
A shingle bank stood between the lake and the sea. Unless this was regularly cut, the lake would flood. The Council used huge scoops pulled by draught-horses, the great beasts straining in the sliding shingle to get a foot-hold while the perspiring men encouraged them to give that extra pull. Occasionally we were present when the channel started to open, the men quickly pulling horse and equipment to safety as the force of the water undercut the banks and widened the cut. Later they replaced the horses with caterpillar tractors - but the task remained dangerous. When the lake was let out, local Maori pitchforked up the stranded, wriggling eels into a dray hitched to a horse, and dried them on racks standing on the Lake side of the beach.
Charley and Uncle Tom, who’d married my mother’s sister, had a boatshed and a dinghy at Jones Bay in Akaroa Harbour, a small rocky inlet between Barry’s Bay and French Farm. When the tide was right the extended family would drive over to scramble down a steep clay track through manuka, buddleia and broom, to picnic on the beach and go floundering.
While the men rowed out it was my task to sit in the stern and play out the net with its sinkers and floats. Sometimes, while we waited, the men would row over to Onawe Peninsula to collect and smash a few mussels from the rocks as bait for us to fish with long lines in mid-stream – mostly for red cod, but every so often, to much excitement, there would be a blue cod. Behind us the peninsula – the plutonic plug in the volcano’s core – loomed, Friesian cows peacefully grazing. It was hard to imagine that it was once the scene of a brutal massacre, as Te Rauparaha swept down from the North Island in 1832 to raid and capture the local pa, and over a thousand Ngai Tahu died.
Other times, we splashed in the sea in our togs while the adults sat round and gossiped over billy tea, bacon and egg pie and scones. Mid-afternoon, not too late - Tom had to get back over the hill to milk his herd - the net was pulled in, all hands to the task, with a few cod, the odd puffer fish, lots of crabs and usually a good feed of flounder for every household. That evening, Mum deftly handling two large frying pans on the wood stove, we would feast in relays on the succulent fresh fish.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why a Blog

I wrote this two days ago. It's now a crisp autumn morning.

It’s pelting down with rain at present, good for the lawn and garden suffering from a summer drought. Two wax-eyes work through the abutilon flowers despite the downpour. I like most animals, tame or wild. I envy their apparently simpler existence. To me it appears they live only in the present. Modern science tends to dispute this theory but I’m with Robbie Burns lines to a mouse, 'Still, thou art blest, compared wi’ me! The present only toucheth thee.' But of course animals share the same imperatives. As Auden wrote, "Territory, status, and love, sing all the birds, are what matter." But they do not laugh, weep or blush. Social issues and morality are not their concern.
I’ve been reading Burns. A friend, Hillary Lapsley, working in Edinburgh, sent me recently A Night Out With Robert Burns, a volume of his best poems. I’ve never spent much time with him before so I’ve been enjoying him. Two lines that take my fancy are
The minister kisst the fiddler’s wife
He canna preach for thinking o’o it.
A Romantic’s view of the age-old clash between emotion and morality. Milton would have handled it very differently.
Of course, the mouse poem is there. The best laid plans ‘aft gang agley.’ The story of my retirement. I had it all worked out. I would garden, albeit in a smaller section. I would share the cooking, experimenting with new dishes as well as the trusted and proven ones. I would walk to the Karori mall and library. We would travel, both around New Zealand and abroad. I would go to shows, drama and exhibitions. I would continue to bird feed in the near-by sanctuary. Alas, I’ve been diagnosed with inclusion body myositis, a rare muscular degenerative disease. In my case, even rarer, it’s affecting my breathing. I have to have a Cpap breathing machine at night with an oxygen converter - a massive piece of equipment - which means I cannot travel. I can’t garden and I can’t cook for I cannot plant seedlings or lift a casserole out of the oven. Even with raised pots I don’t have the strength or energy to garden. Even chopping up an onion leaves me breathless. I’ve had to give up driving which means I’m dependent upon other people. It’s very rugged on my wife Anne for it means I can’t help around the house even to the extent that I cannot feed the cat. I’m at risk of falling - l’ve already had five. Thank heavens, I still can read, use the computer, watch television and DVDs, talk to friends. From being a participant in life I’ve become an observer. Hospital waiting rooms loom large as other events narrow down. So I begin this blog to widen my contacts

Two poems


Old age creeps up
until suddenly it’s

a gnarled
tall totara

dressing's a comedy of errors
socks pure slapstick

in a youth culture era
where exuberance is all

old age
consists, persists


cicada sing summer songs

of those couplings
some immense in their intensity
it seems so long ago
all that remains is fickle memory
the price we pay for being animal

wheel-chair bound
I watch with dismay
white butterflies
lay eggs on the rocket seedlings