A Cracker Birthday

Yesterday I turned 55. Significant for two reasons, my first birthday without my darling Mum and also I’m still here. 50 years after my heart operation, I’m still going strong. A little frayed around the edges in parts, but still here.

I thought about having a party, haven’t had a birthday party for years. But it is a lot of work and I didn’t want my friends and family to feel obliged to bring a present. So, I thought about it and decided that what I would REALLY like is a trip down memory lane. And I would like to take one of my very best friends with me. I met Lynne through my church and she’s a few years older than me but you’ve never know it. She has more energy and spirit and love for life than many I know half her age. She is kind and funny and very, very well read. She reminds me very much of my Mum. We have become firm friends and I consider her to be God’s gift to me to make the passing of Mum easier.

We took off on our adventure after doing Mainly Music at the Church on Thursday morning. All these lovely little children and their Mums or Nannies, singing and bopping around and playing with ribbons and balls and creating organised chaos.

We drove to Rotorua, talking all the way as always, and through Rotorua out to Lake Tarawera. We stopped on the way at the lookout between the Blue Lake and the Green Lake. I remembered how excited that used to make me, because it meant my mountain was just around the corner. There is was, my brooding mountain. The sight that brings the childhood memories flooding back.

We were staying at my darling brother’s lodge, “Rainbow’s Return.” A lovely place on the lake edge. Before we even unpacked we were down to the end of the jetty to look at the birds, the lake and the mountain. On the way back to the house we found a trout in the stream that runs through the property and took pictures of it gracefully keeping its place by waving its tail back and forth.

After unpacking and settling in, having a banana sandwich for lunch and enjoying the view, it was back into the car and into Rotorua. I spent years walking through the Redwoods with Mum. It was one of my parent’s favourite places and it was wonderful to be back there. Majestic, giant trees and soft paths of bark and dirt, darting fantails and the occasional runner or biker politely passing us. The trunks were all individual and we found some that belonged in Lord of The Rings, spirit faces and twisted lines, and one that had an overhang that created a house. Surely a creature from my childhood literature lived there?

Then it was back to the Lodge and time to put the roast dinner on and make a fire in the log burner. Took me a little while to get it going but eventually it was roaring out welcome warmth. We had a Pimms and some nibbles and talked more. Then it was farm-killed roast mutton, veges and brussel sprouts with bacon and almonds and a small bottle of Saxon apple cider each. Followed by fresh fruit salad, lemon delicious yogurt and chocolate mousse with salted caramel and a Baileys, then a very special chocolate. A combined feast and better than anything we’d get in a restaurant! Time for some music DvDs and some singing and a little toe tapping.

Midnight and soft, comfy beds with beautiful linen. I woke around seven and decided to get dressed and go down to the jetty to spend some time remembering. The misty cloud was covering my mountain and I could feel God telling me that “just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there anymore.” I thought about the 54 years of love and devotion I received from my Mum and how incredibly lucky I am. I felt a soft wind touch my tear-stained cheek as she reminded me that she is still beside me…and then less than eight feet in front of me a great big trout leapt out of the water! Again, childhood memories came flooding back.

After a lovely birthday breakfast and little more music, it was time to pack up. We took our time, there were two trout in the stream now and they needed their pictures taken and photos and videos down on the jetty. A lovely selfie video of the two of us laughing our heads off.

The trip home was slow and full of more adventure. First stop was The Buried Village. My goodness, it has improved since I used to save up my pennies and buy tubes of coloured sand and pretty rocks from the shop! We wandered around the museum and then out into the village itself to see two metre high petrified mud and half buried houses and the stream. When we got to the waterfall track I decided “I can do this” so we did it, carefully and slowly and boy, was it worth it!! A thundering waterfall. Lots of photos and video. The climb back up was a challenge but nothing I couldn’t cope with.

After lunch at the café there it was on to the Rotorua Tree Trust to find the Kauri Grove planted for our family, then on to the Polynesian Pools for a long soak. Bliss! 39 degrees was warm enough, how people can soak in 43 degrees is beyond me! Back into the larger cooler pool for some very gentle aqua-aerobic bobbing up and down and then a strawberry, banana and yogurt smoothie.

When I dropped Lynne off she invited me in and she, her husband Gary and I enjoyed a tea of cold roast mutton and veges and some political discussion as we watched the minor party leaders debate. Home by nine and a good long sleep.

What a cracker birthday! I feel restored and my heart feels light. Soft misty rain, bird song, trout waving their tails in perfect sync with each other, my mountain, wonderful food, hot welcoming water to soak in, magnificent trees, gorgeous music and most of all, laughter and great company. I am truly blessed.

The Perfect Book

This morning I found a You Tube Clip which features a song. It’s an interesting song. It was written by Lord Lloyd Webber and Leslie Bricuss and it is called The Perfect Song. It was recorded by Michael Ball, who has a long history of performing in Lloyd Webber musicals, and features on his most recent CD “Both Sides Now.” I love Michael Ball’s melted chocolate voice and his interpretative abilities and his brilliant diction and his way of telling a story with lyrics. And I really love this CD. It is almost unplugged, there are songs recorded with just voice and piano. Many of the songs I didn’t know before, but they have now become firm favourites.

Still, I digress. The reason this songs fascinates me is because it is simple and clever. It is a song about writing a song, a perfect song. “If I could have just one wish of mine become reality, I would write the perfect song.” In his introduction to the song on the concert DVD, Ball asks if Andrew has ever written the perfect song. A subjective question. I guess an initial reaction can be, “of course not, there is no such thing.” For one person it might be an operatic aria (La Boheme comes close for me) and for others it might be heavy metal, rap or hip hop.

As an author I take the concept and apply it to myself. Do I wish I could write the perfect book? Is there such a thing? Of course not. And no, I don’t wish that, because if you did, where would you go from there? Not only do you want to improve with each book, but you re-read a book you wrote and wish you could have just one more try to improve it. I have a novel with an editor currently and in about three weeks it will come back to me with pages of ‘suggested changes.’ I’m thrilled by it, I love it the way it is, but I am not dumb enough, or precious enough, to believe that it can’t be improved. The editing process for The Keeper of Secrets was a real eye-opener for me. My editor was a very experienced and wise woman and she told me before we started that I had done an ‘astonishing job.’ Yet, every single suggestion she made strengthened the book.

If you think you’ve ever read The Perfect Book, or heard The Perfect Song, I would love to hear about it. In the meantime, we keep striving…..have a listen to the song. This video is an official one from the record label, so the visuals are a bit ‘PR like’, if you know what I mean, but ignore that and listen to the lyrics and let me know what you think. (And in the right hand column you will find a video for “Walk Away” one of my very favourites!!)

Stark Contrasts

It’s only Wednesday and yet it has already been a week of stark contrasts.

I was in Auckland on Sunday and I stayed the night with my Aunt. On Monday I went into the Auckland Museum, a place I spent a lot of time in as a child. In fact, I remember asking Dad to buy it for me so we could live there and he told me that the heating bill would be too high in the Winter. It has had a major make-over and I was SO impressed, it is a wonderful place. I spent hours there and I loved every minute. On the top floor I spent time honouring the brave New Zealanders who have served in wars, some laid down their lives and some returned. I always visit the Spitfire and remember my Dad, that’s the place in the world where I feel closest to him. I found the names of my ancestors, and people from my Dad’s letters, carved into the memorial wall of people who died in the World Wars. The Scars on the Heart exhibition always brings a tear to my eye. I spent a long time in the Holocaust Hall and marvelled at the courage and resilience displayed there. I walked on the Sacred Ground outside and paid my respects at the Cenotaph. Truly the very best of New Zealand.

Last night I was watching the news and I heard about a song that has been written about Killing the Prime Minister and having Sex with his Daughter. I was angry, shocked and appalled. Irrespective of your politics you should respect the office. I know I shouldn’t give the perpetrators of such vile language, I refuse to call it music as that denigrates an art form I adore, any oxygen and publicity. But they are the very worst of New Zealand and they make me truly as ashamed as my experience on Monday made me proud.

In some ways I will be very pleased when this election is over. I’m a ‘political animal’, I do love politics. I love watching debates and watching fortunes rise and fall. BUT this time it has been so nasty, so dirty, so personal and so upsetting. I keep shouting at the TV, “Play the ball, not the man!” I want to hear about policies and it is lost in a torrent of slime. I hold out the hope that most of my countrymen can rise above it all and make sensible decisions and I pray I am right in this.

On a happier note I sit at my computer and I look out the window. Parts of my garden are covered in pea straw and a large collection of birds have found this free nest-building material. I watch as they collect a beak full of straw and fly off to a tree, then come back for more. My pebble garden is finished and it looks superb. I shall organise myself to do a pictorial blog soon and show it off.

So what do you think of this ice bucket challenge thing? It certainly has taken off and yes, it has given us the opportunity to see some very attractive people in wet shirts. The Benedict Cumberbatch video is just superb! And no question, the charity is a very worthy one and hopefully the money raised worldwide will help to find a cure. I’m just glad it isn’t a ‘putting wells into third world countries’ charity because then the irony would be almost unbearable.

I took a quiz on Facebook this morning to establish what my career should REALLY be and the result was writer…phew, thank goodness, too old for another career change.


Many years ago my eldest brother told me that you couldn’t become a radical unless you could spell it. I had told him I’d marched in a rally and I was a radicle. He told me that meant I was a radish.
So…I would make a hole in the bookshelf, not a whole. Sorry, my proofing hat had a hole in it today, it was not whole.

Goals and Dreams

I was thinking this morning about goals and dreams and it exercised me enough to blog about it (on a tangent, would that exercise was literally that easy) before those thoughts disappear to wherever it is my thoughts go nowadays.

When I was young I had what you would describe as ‘usual’ goals. I fell for the ‘Cinderella dream’ and wanted to grow up, get married and have children. I knew their names and their genders and how many they would number. In turned out that other women would give birth to them and they would call me “Aunt” but never mind, love them just as much. And I get to create people and name them all day long, my ‘children’ number in the hundreds.

My burning goal was to walk into a book store and see my book, a book written by me, on the shelves. If the books were shelved alphabetically they would be in the “T” section and yes, it is sad but true, I used to make room for them by making a hole on the shelf. My mind didn’t really grasp the full implication of this dream. I would have to write the book AND get it published. As far as I was concerned it would magically appear and I would be an ‘author.’

So what happens when you achieve your lifelong goal at 53? In June of last year I walked in Wrights Bookshop in Cambridge and there it was…my book, all over the shelves. I took photos, I brought Mum down to see and exclaim at it. Not only was the book on the shelves but there was a whole window display and it stayed up for two months. People started to refer to me as ‘writer’ or ‘author’ and I saw pictures of myself in the media.

Life goes on and you reshape your goals. It became a second book on the shelves and to prove that I am not a one-book-wonder. Next April that will happen and I am very excited about the next book. It is not something written years ago, it is me, right here and right now. There are experiences in it that come from the bottom of my heart and soul. I have written two books and now I am writing a third.

This is all good stuff. Life has changed in other ways, I’m a regular public speaker and I really enjoy doing it. I enjoy hearing an audience laugh. Life is full of many little joys, a lovely warm pool for aqua-aerobics three times a week, hot showers on cold winter days, listening to great broadcasters on the radio, singing with the CDs in my gorgeous little blue car, the wickedly stolen delight of salted caramel chocolate mousse and cuddles from my absolutely devoted cat who follows me around the house like a shadow.

BUT underpinning all of this is the knowledge that I have achieved the main goal I’ve lived with all my life. Nothing can take that away from me. If I died tomorrow I would be happy, with no regrets and no sense of lack of fulfilment. I remember my Dad telling me years ago that he survived the war, he did his bit to defeat Hitler, and everything else was a bonus. I didn’t understand that then, but I certainly do now. I’ve published a book, I’ve shared a precious story with the world, everything from now on is a bonus.

The Price of Fame

I was genuinely shocked on Tuesday when I heard about the death of Robin Williams. Volumes have been written and said since about how sad it was and his immense talent. Like most people, I have many memories of his performances on film and in interviews and it feels like a personal loss. The depression side of the tragedy hit me because it is a condition I suffer from and it reminded me so clearly of the state I was in when I found Sir John Kirwan’s website and that sent me to my GP. Since then I have been medicated and things have been SO much easier. I know how lucky I am that a low-level antidepressant works for me. And now we know that he suffered from Parkinson’s, another level of sadness. I really hope the publicity around his death results in people seeking help if they suffer from undiagnosed depression.

Then a couple of days later, Lauren Bacall. This made me sad too. I’ve always loved Humphrey Bogart, I actually had a poster of him on my bedroom wall when I was a kid. I love his delivery and his burning eyes when he stares at his co-stars. Casablanca is one of my very favourite movies. I loved the love affair between Boggy and Bacall and she was so elegant and timeless.

Yesterday, shock of another nature. Sir Cliff, under investigation. Really? Cliff? Where will this end? And today they say that other people are helping with the enquiries which might mean that more complainants have come forward. Don’t get me wrong here, I think it is vitally important that people who have been seriously assaulted and have suffered come forward and their complaints are taken seriously…BUT, I have a feeling that people with public profiles, like entertainers, will feel a shiver when they think of all the parties, all the times they don’t remember exactly how they behaved over the years. Who is waiting in the woodwork and what will they say? The unfortunate thing is that mud does stick and no matter what happens, there will always be people who will believe everything they hear and read. There will be an aspect of convicted in the court of popular opinion. I look back over my life and remember times when someone made an inappropriate suggestion or I felt a hand or two where it shouldn’t have been, did I feel assaulted? Not at all. But I wasn’t vulnerable, I was educated and confident and I put them in their place without hesitation.

I woke up this morning and ‘leapt’ out of bed and thought to myself how nice it was to feel pain-free and flexible. This year I have decided that it is time I put a regular exercise regime back into my life. I will be 55 next month and the body needs a little help! So Monday, Wednesday and Friday I go to aqua-aerobics for an hour a day. It is in a scrumptious warm pool and I just LOVE every moment of it. Then Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I go to the gym for around 45 mins. I listen to my ipod so I have a little concert as I go through my paces, at my own speed, and have a good stretch afterwards. Sunday I walk, or dance to a DVD, or just have a really good stretching session. And my body is feeling good.

This coming Monday night I am having a little neighbourhood gathering, a few friends and neighbours over for drinks and nibbles and to meet our lovely MP Louise Upston. I’ve decided to make the food an ode to all the meetings I remember in my childhood. We often had quite important political figures around our dining room table and meetings leading up to elections. The food served was the height of fashion, so now I am recreating the food my Mum made. There will be prunes wrapt in bacon, little vol-a-vonts with snapper in white sauce, meatballs with a satay dipping sauce (not tomato sauce as Mum would have had), kiwi dip and chips and the one concession to modern tastes, a humus with caramalised onions through it and raw veges and pita chips. It will be a cold winter night so I think I’ll make a spiced apple punch, as well as wine and beer.

I have a speaking engagement at Waikato University Wednesday night, in a series of lectures open to the public. This one is about digital innovations and I am speaking about self publishing and ebooks v paperbacks. The other speakers seem to be academics so it will be an interesting evening.

Time to put the washing on the line, it is a beautiful winter day, then hit the gym and pick up my ‘Saturday weakness’ the New Zealand Herald, for a good weekend read. Happy Days.

The Closest Thing to Crazy

Life is busy at the moment, that could be a small understatement. I’m writing, gardening, electioneering, volunteering, going to church and eating, sleeping, doing housework (the last one could be an overstatement)

Last week I visited the Rest homes in Cambridge to make sure they were supplied with Special Votes and to let them know that there was help available for residents who wanted to go to the polling booths on Election Day. That meant I went back to Resthaven for the first time in seven months. The rest home Mum was in. It felt strange to pull into the car park and park a different car. It felt strange to walk in and see faces I knew and not sign-in the book, not go down the corridor. I had my “Both Sides Now” CD playing so as I drove out Michael Ball was serenading me with The Closest Thing to Crazy and then I saw my old car in the car park. Someone who works at Resthaven bought the wreck that was my old car.

Yesterday I did a stint at the monthly Trash and Treasure market. I had information on the National Party, blue sweets, free pens and a great big bear with a sparkly blue hat, blue bow tie and “I’m a Key Person” T-shirt. And for 90 minutes or so I had Louise there too before she had to go to Wellington. It was a blast. People came up and chatted away, no-one asked any curly questions and most made a comment about Kim Dotcom. One woman asked for a pen so she could write Louise (my local MP) a message “Get rid of the German!” I’m a writer and I don’t have adequate words to express my disgust at that man and his antics. Still, six weeks and it will all be over. All I can do is do all I can to help.

This morning I was listening to “Sunday Night with Michael Ball” on BBC Radio2, it plays from 6am Monday morning here for two hours and the music is simply superb. Sinatra, the Carpenters, Simply Red and he played a song I’ve never heard before. It was a request and I was so moved by the lyrics I looked it up on You Tube. It is sung by Jenn Bostic. Have a listen, it is a gorgeous ode to anyone you’ve ever loved and lost and miss and know you will see again. I suspect it is going to become a favourite.

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