A letter to My Muscles

Good afternoon muscles

Didn’t we have fun this morning? We went for a walk. Down the hill and past the pet shop where we dropped in some roasted mutton bones for the dogs and swooned over a Shitzu-Sidney Silky puppy that wanted to come home as much I wanted to take him home. Then on past the roundabout but not over the bridge. Were you starting to get worried at this point? The next building was the….drum roll…horror music…the gym!

Yes, it was the day of the first gym workout in three years. Encouraged on by the lovely (and polite) Josh you pedalled for 12 minutes then did some resistance weight machines with some grinding machine cardio in-between, some Swiss ball crunches and some triceps curls using a strange blue band. Cardio, resistance and core. It was quite impressive according to Josh, you haven’t lost as much fitness as you thought you had. And then you staggered home.

Josh suggested we do it again on Monday, today is Friday and I don’t want you to think you have the whole weekend off, oh no. Once the music starts on the ipod and the endorphins start to rush, you’ll feel as good as I did on the stumble home. I promise. Now where is that very good dark chocolate?

With love from your masochistic, but loving, master
My brain

Agatha and I

Agatha’s just taken me for a ride down the road. I would like to be able to say I’ve just had a bike ride, but at this point in time I am not the one doing the taking, I am the one clinging on for dear life. What possessed me to think that it would be, well…just like riding a bike? I think the last time I rode a bike I was around 10 maybe 12. Once I started going to St Cuths I went by bus and the bike became redundant.

So the other day I strode into the local bike shop and pointed out the shiny new Avanti Metro with 21 gears. That was the one I’d sat on and that was the one I wanted. I took it for a very wobbly ride out the back and turned a corner, sort of. So the nice man sold me a metal basket for the front and a racy grey helmet.

I pushed it most of the way home, tried a couple of wobbly runs and decided it was too dangerous. I knew nothing about gears or front brakes and no-one had given me any instruction. Finally I turned into Wordsworth St and thought, “this is ridiculous” so I got on and pedaled. When I turned into Chaucer St I had to do a massive U-turn to get to my house, hit the concrete and flew through the air.

A neighbour who lives diagonally to me and who I had never met, happened to drive past, stopped and came to my rescue. “Oh, so you’re the writer, I’ve been wanting to meet you.” Fantastic.

One knee has an interesting shaped bruise that looks a bit like a chain and the other has a bruise and a great big graze. Nothing else was dented, except my pride and my inclination towards bike riding. I put it in the conservatory and glared at it for a few days. Then yesterday I had a conversation with my ever helpful (and only slightly amused) brother who explained how the gears work and how to use the brakes. My main problem is my steering is not great and when I get any speed up I am literally, terrified. I’m hoping practice will solve that. I’ve also taken the basket off for now and I suspect the next time I take it out I will find steering easier. I’m still very tempted to put the whole thing on Trade Me.

This Saturday I can leave my transport problems behind and fly to Melbourne!! I am so looking forward to it. My notebook is full of lists, one page for museums, one page for other things to see, four pages for shopping and five pages of themed bars. Oh yes, I have my priorities right. I haven’t had a break since 2009 and this one will be enjoyed to the hilt and back again. If I’m a bit tardy about letting you know how I’m getting on, look for me in Madam Brussels, 1806, Berlin Bar or the Sherlock Holmes Inn…I am intrigued by Berlin Bar, apparently the room is split in half and West Berlin is luxurious and East Berlin is grotty and industrial. I wonder if I could sell a slightly used bike (with a despotic temperament) to anyone in the Berlin Bar??

Going On a Holiday and a Bike

Today is another one of those days when I realise how much I love my life.

From the big things…I get to spend my days writing the books I love and have a wonderful publisher who understands me and supports me…to the little things, I can have a steaming hot shower on a cold winter morning and my dehumidifier means I wake up to a house that is warm and dry.

Another thing is making me excited today, I’m going on a holiday! I haven’t had a holiday since 2009 and life has been pretty rugged at times since then. In a couple of weeks I am going to the beautiful city of Melbourne. Yes, I’m visiting three museums that are important for the book I’m currently writing. And as I wander around the city I’ll imagine what it was like in 1950 for an immigrant family from Germany, but most of my time will be spent sightseeing, shopping, eating magnificent meals and drinking adventurous cocktails, a day spa treat and catching up with a dear dear friend I haven’t seen since 2009. We laugh, a lot.

Over the last few months I’ve nearly gone to the USA and then nearly gone to Germany and now I AM going to Melbourne. My frazzled brain can hardly wait.

I’m also buying some new transport. No, not a car, a bicycle. I am going to fulfil my dream of riding a bike with a wicker basket on the front, although it will also have 21 gears and a very comfortable seat. I’m hard at work thinking of an appropriate name for it, something suitably refined and literary. Agatha is in the lead at the moment, but these things take time.

So, on this glorious day, I am off into Cambridge, the rural town I am proud to call home and which I love so much. It is very possible I shall set out on foot and come home on a shiny new bike. If this does happen I’ll take a photo and put it in my next blog. If you have any ideas for a name, please feel free to let me know. Happy, happy day.

Gardens, books and winter

I know, it’s been too long, hasn’t it? Sorry. Life has just been busy.

A couple of weeks ago I went to New Plymouth for a weekend conference and gave a speech about my writing. It was great fun and I got to go to the New Plymouth Cathedral. What a glorious church! The oldest stone church in New Zealand, it is so beautiful and the service was lovely and funky and modern and not at all what I expected. I also got to carry a banner into the Cathedral and that was a rather wonderful experience too.

Jane has been attacking the garden, with a little help from me. Many plants have been removed, along with all the weeds. Now we are planning what to put in and the discussions have included a Japanese garden with gravel and stones, a chilli garden, a garden that will reflect my current literary project and some fruit trees and lovely smelling plants. It will be a joy once again.

Yesterday I finished my first rewrite of Blood, Wine and Chocolate. It is now much darker and funnier than it was and I’ve invented a new ending. It made me laugh as I was writing it and Jane roared with laughter, so hopefully this new ending works. The book will be published May 2015 and we have some great plans for the launch. Plans that involve copious quantities of wine and chocolate and, maybe, some fake blood. I’ve loved writing this book, it has brought light and joy and laughter back into my life and I hope my readers enjoy it too.

I’m 10,000 words into “Rachel’s Legacy” which is the sequel to Secrets and it is also going well. At some stage before the end of the year I’ll go on a research trip to Germany but it is looking increasingly likely that it will be October/November. I need to be ready and to know exactly what I need to research and at the moment I am far too involved with my thriller (see above) to rip myself away and travel.

It was the first heavy frost this morning and the garden was white. The house was cold and the people huddled around the heater. So winter is upon us, the time of year I love. The bed becomes a snug cave and the food reflects the temperature, creamy mash and steaming bowls of soup, pudding and custard and hot chocolate. Happy days!

Popcorn called Fluff

There’ve been some really enjoyable events over the last few days. Last week Jane and I went to Auckland and had a meeting with my publisher, Finlay Macdonald at HarperCollins. We chatted and sang all the way up in her shiny red car, had a great meeting and finalised details of Blood, Wine and Chocolate and the sequel to Secrets, with a working title of Rachel’s Legacy, stopped on the way home for an ice-cream at Pokeno and at the The Base (big shopping centre at Te Rapa) and found some stunning handmade chocolates.

We have some projects on the ‘go’ at the moment, one being planning the launch of Blood, Wine and Chocolate. This has meant we’ve spent a few dollars on a giant wine glass at a Saturday garage sale and yesterday we went to the monthly Trash and Treasure market and found some stunning fake bunches of grapes (I guess you had to be there). We are planning on making chocolate truffles and purchasing some commercial ones. Consequently, we’ve been trying a few yummy ones and rating them, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

Speaking of food….I have tried a remarkable array of food lately. Not just the magnificent chops, sausages and mince from the home-kill meat that now fills our deep freeze, but everything from homemade figs and feijoa crumble with homemade custard, homemade Nasi Gorang while visiting Dutch friends of Jane’s, stuffed wraps for lunch, and the Hamilton night market on Saturday night – dumplings, plump beef satay with the most delicious satay sauce, BBQ pork steamed bun and these Spanish crunchy long things dipped in melted chocolate.

Last night we went to Te Awamutu to our lovely local picture theatre and saw “The Monuments Men.” This is based on a true story about men who went into the European war zone and saved over five million pieces of precious art. It stars George Clooney, Matt Damon, Hugh Bonneville, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchette etc. I loved every moment of it. I was on the edge of my seat drinking it in. It was so “on topic” for the book we are working on, the sequel to Secrets. (When I say “we”, I’m writing it and Jane is illustrating it) It was the last showing in a picture theatre and it was a wonderful cinematic experience for me. On Wednesday we are going to see the last showing of “The Book Thief” which will also be right “on topic.” Yet another example of how much I love my life!!

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I guess it was my first Mother’s Day without Mum. I posted a picture of her on Facebook and I spent a little while thinking about her. She comes up often in conversation every day, as does Jane’s late Mum who died around 15 years ago, and we talk about our childhoods (mine in New Zealand and hers in Scotland) and the surprising amount we have in common in our past. I am still grieving and of course I still miss her, but having someone in the house again has made a huge difference. Jane and I have been friends for thirty years and we are both easy to live with. And we laugh, a lot. Last night we wandered into the right cinema for the film to find there was a movie showing, the end of the film before ours. The lovely young man at the counter had to come and ask us to leave, much to the confusion of the four people watching that film. When we bought popcorn and he opened the glass door, there was a sign that read “Fluff the Popcorn”. I couldn’t help it, “OH look, they’ve named the popcorn! It’s called Fluff.” Everyone dissolved into puddles of laughter including the lovely young man who was still laughing when we finally went in to see that movie. That’s the way we roll!!

Rachel’s Legacy

I started a book yesterday. It is the sequel to The Keeper of Secrets and it is called Rachel’s Legacy. So far I have written 2500 words and four much-loved characters have popped back up. It is flowing really easily and I am loving being back in the company of these ‘people.’ Once again this book will sprawl from pre to post-war Berlin, to East Berlin, reunification and to modern-day Washington D.C. Instead of the horror of the camps we will learn about the incredible bravery of the resistance in Berlin.

What else is happening? The kitchen has been cleaned and the pantry scrubbed and restocked. The deep freeze is full of home kill meat from farmer friends of Jane and I used some of the mince to make Spag Bol last night. It was some of the most beautiful mince I’ve ever cooked with, lean and rich and delicious.

Winter is coming and the temperature is dropping, especially at night. The drought has broken and the grass has greened up everywhere, the leaves on the trees are changing colour and the figs are nearly finished. I gather one or two a day and I suspect the little ones will shrivel up and drop, rather than grow big and plump up. Between you and me, I will be quite glad to not see a fig again for a few months. I still have a huge bag of frozen ripe figs in the deep freeze, underneath all the meat, and from time to time we discuss what to do with them.

We are trying to trap the family of mice that have taken over the house, they never come in ‘ones’ apparently, so, although one was kind of cute and I fed him, he is now legion. We tried mouse traps with peanut butter but they managed to retrieve the peanut butter and not set off the traps. It is war. We need a better mouse trap.

Today would have been my parent’s seventieth wedding anniversary in St Andrews Church up the road. Mum in her cousin’s dress and Dad in his fighter pilot’s uniform. A wedding breakfast on the farm, a spread the Aucklanders couldn’t believe because it was war-time and they weren’t used to farm butter, cream, meat, veges, eggs and fruit. They went to a local hot water spa for their honeymoon but I seem to remember Mum saying that all Dad’s Air Force friends invited themselves along. Happy anniversary folks, I trust you are celebrating it together again at last.

It is also my niece’s birthday and I hope she has a happy day. She’s a great girl, a wonderful Mum and a strong, loving, intelligent, funny, beautiful human being. Well of course she is, she’s a Thomas.

So, time for lunch and a break before I throw myself back into WW2 Berlin and the excitement and terror of being a spy. I love my job.

Easter Talking

It’s been a week since my last blog and a very busy one. Last Tuesday Jane arrived and I have been helping her to settle in and talking. And talking. And talking. I suspect there are several donkeys around that are minus a hind leg…if you don’t get that, don’t worry. It’s an old saying.

I have to say it has been wonderful to have someone to talk to. It has been a long time. We also celebrated Easter. Jane, like me, is a Christian. Maundy Thursday we went to church for a Christian Seder supper of traditional elements of the Jewish Passover, including lots of delicious lamb, and then we all went into the church for a sombre communion and to strip the Altar.

Good Friday was a 9am service ‘at the foot of the Cross’ which was simple and lovely. We had lunch in town with some friends of Jane’s and then went to the last 90 minutes of the three hour service, which was the “Stations of the Cross.” Very emotional and I had a few tears. Friday night she took me to Hamilton Gardens to see the art installation of “The Stations of the Cross.” Jane is an artist and she has worked on this community project in the past. Each installation talked about a different stop on the path to the Crucifixion and some were very challenging. I really enjoyed it.

Saturday we talked for a large part of the day and Saturday night we went to the lighting of the Pastoral Candle and the Easter Vigil. We served each other communion, which was lovely. Sunday morning was the great big Easter celebration, with a party and chocolate and lots of happiness. Sunday night was the 70th birthday party for one of my dearest friends and we went to a hum-dinger of a celebration.

The last couple of days have been back to work, writing, emailing, planning and doing little housework projects. Tonight I have an AAW meeting (Anglican Association of Women) so I shall make something for supper. I have some very ripe bananas, so I feel a banana cake coming on, or maybe banana muffins with chocolate icing. Over the weekend we stewed a big pot of figs and feijoas from the garden and added spices and ginger syrup and it was delicious!

I have started “Rachel’s Legacy” which is the sequel to Secrets and it is all going to plan. It is very satisfying to be working with characters I know and love. Watch this space! Less talking and more writing.

Of visitors and spaghetti and sausages

Today is Tuesday. Today I would’ve been packing my little red suitcase and checking my documentation and making my way to Auckland airport to fly to San Francisco. I promise I won’t tell you where I would have been for the next three months. But, today, I will say that I am very glad that I’m not doing that.

Instead, today I am having breakfast then washing two bathrooms and vacuuming and tidying up my house. Around lunchtime my new house-sharing person will be arriving! She’s not a boarder or a lodger or a housemate, she’s Jane and she’s coming to live with me for a while and I’m very excited about it. I have prepared her room, new linen on the bed, a bedside table and a chest of drawers and a table with a mirror and a walk-in-wardrobe.

This week is Easter and it starts for us on Thursday with a Christian Seder supper, I’ll tell you all about it on Friday. I went last year and it was lovely. The lamb was delicious!

Talking about food, is this clever? You’d want a sauce of some sort, wouldn’t you?

spagetti and sausages

I have bags of frozen figs in the deep freeze and at some stage inspiration will strike and I will think, “aha, that’s what I’ll do with all these frozen ripe figs!” I’d like to think it will be white chocolate and fig ice-cream, but that’s unlikely.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have their last day in Wellington today and then fly to Australia tomorrow. It’s been a wonderfully successful tour, they’ve charmed everyone with their attitude and down-to-earth willingness to ‘have a go’ at stuff. They’ve ridden in a jet boat, coached ripper rugby, batted and bowled at a cricket pitch, sailed an America’s Cup boat, drunk wine and eaten beautiful food and looked at if they’ve really enjoyed themselves. And they’ve been given literally hundreds of presents for “little George”, from a little bike to a not-so-little boat to a greenstone teething ring, a cycling shirt and lots of books. I wonder if they’d like some frozen figs??

Roving Intrepid Royal Reporting from atop a Table

So here I am, intrepid roving royal reporter, reporting on my intrepid day spent waiting to see a green coat and a tall man with an, err, receding hairline. Given the hours I waited, and the end result, it could have been a massive anti-climax and yet, it wasn’t. Such is the magic of royalty.

I walked into town around 9.30am and people were walking across the bridge and milling around the main street. First stop was the post office to post a bottle of wine to a friend overseas. He was lucky I posted it first otherwise I might have been tempted to open it later in the day. I met our lovely MP, Louise Upston, in the Post Office. She was all dolled up and on her way out to the Velodrome to watch the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge open the brand new facility later in the day.

Then I wandered up to Wrights bookshop, my home away from home in Cambridge. Annette and Maree were resplendent in their crown and tiara and they were folding Union Jack flags for people to take out to the barricade and wave. So I accepted one of those and went on my way…across Victoria Street and up to Victoria Park. I met my niece and my great-nieces there who were having a yummy picnic under the trees with some other children. Crowns were the head gear of the day.

On up the street and into St Andrews, my church. I had a wee sit down and a chat to the Verger, Ian, who was on duty while the church was open. It was all decorated for Palm Sunday tomorrow. At about 11.30 I made my way back to Victoria Park and found a place on the edge of a seat at one of the BBQ tables. It almost immediately transpired that if we stood up on the seats we had a really good view over the road to where the Duke and Duchess would ‘alight’ and go into the Town Hall. Stroke of luck! Somewhere to sit and rest my weary feet and, in time, a good viewing possie.

Over the next hour I made friends with my fellow ‘table waiters’ (in the sense that we were all sitting at the table and we were all waiting) and people watching was the order of the day. Little girls in gorgeous white frocks, little boys in tartan suits with matching waistcoats and berets, women draped in flags and lots and lots and lots of flags, crowns and tiaras.

The man and woman on the loudspeaker told us the town was ‘now in lockdown’ and the Duke and Duchess were 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, then a Veeeeeeeeeeeeeeery long five minutes away. And all of a sudden there they were. A convoy of policemen on motorcycles and in police cars, two plain grey cars and the second one was flying a small royal standard.

The convoy drove around the square and down to the roundabout at the bottom of Victoria Street and then up the main street to stop beside the mare and foal statue outside the newly painted Town Hall. I could see a bright green coat, long brown hair, long legs and black shoes. And a tall young man in a suit. Everyone around us went nuts. They walked to the Town Hall and went inside for a short lunch. We stood on our table and speculated on many things, such as what was in the sandwiches and who fed all the policeman and photographers.

Then they came out and laid a wreath at the war memorial. Our view of that was obstructed by some very old and large trees. They met some old age pensioners who had sat for hours under a marquee beside the Town Hall. Then they came across the street and worked the crowd, lost in a sea of photographers and (presumably) attendants and policemen. But we could hear how much the crowd were loving it. A few moments later they got back into the car and the convoy was on the move.

I had climbed down off the table and gone to the roadside on the Alpha Street side of Victoria Square, preparing for the moment the barricades would be opened and we would be allowed to cross to Victoria Street to walk home. What I didn’t realise was the convoy would come that way. Having taken several useless, fuzzy photos with my phone camera of tiny people in the distance…here I was standing right by the roadside when the car swung round the roundabout and the window was down. There she was, sitting up by the window and waving. We waved back but the photographic moment was gone. She was smiling from ear to ear and she is beautiful.

I walked home and all around me were excited people, children and adults, all buzzing with happiness and adrenaline. It was a lovely day for Cambridge, it put us on the national, and the international, map for an hour. Our quaint, English style, warm and welcoming town and I felt proud to live here. Apparently the Cambridge Cricket Club, who play on Victoria Square, has a new patron. I wonder who? Bright move, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

If you watch the news tonight you will see the Cambridges in Cambridge, you won’t see me, but I saw them.

Of Royals, portraits, trees and cars

Every morning at around 7.50am I listen to the “Royal Roundup” on Mike Hosking’s newstalkbz programme. He gives us a tough-in-cheek look at what the newspapers around the world are saying about the young royals. “While you were sleeping Kate wore two new outfits.” And “she changed up her hair for the first time this year.” Apparently “she gave her hair a rest by wearing a ponytail with fullness at the front and she wrapped a strand of hair around the elastic.” One newspaper said, although royal protocol demands that members of the royal family never comment on portraits, the slightly startled look on the face of the Duchess of Cambridge as she helped unveil the portrait betrayed what she thought, and what everyone else was thinking, of the less than flattering portrait.


I saw the portrait on the news last night, the Queen looked younger but she seemed to be slouching, she was standing with her hand resting on a chair and she didn’t seem to be standing up straight. The ‘experts’ have said that the hands are ‘not great’ apparently hands are harder than faces. Apart from that, it’s obviously the Queen, which is the point of a portrait I would have thought.

Oh, right...

Oh, right…

They are coming to Cambridge on Saturday and the town is abuzz, the Town Hall has been painted and the shop windows are full of very ‘royal’ displays, lots of Union Jack flags and crowns and photos and little tables set with fine china cups and saucers. Apparently they are stopping at the Town Hall for a light lunch before going on to open the brand new multi-million dollar cycling velodrome.

Over the past few days we have had rain and I can hear that the garden has stopped gasping which is good. The lawns and parks will green up very quickly now. And the annual barrage of leaves will start soon. I live in a town that has almost more trees than people and a fair few of them (the trees, not the people) are deciduous. For a few weeks we become the ‘town of leaves’ and they pile up everywhere.

On Tuesday I was in town and I saw my car. I was wandering down the main street and there was a car that looked a lot like mine. I had a closer look and the registration plate was the same, so I took an even closer look and the plastic shield on the back passenger window had a hole in it where a stone had flown up and hit it several years ago. The panels at the front had been replaced and the scratches on the corners were gone. Inside it looked pristine.

As I stood and surveyed it, the new owner crossed the street and started to put his key in the door. He was an Indian gentleman. I couldn’t help it, I went up to him and said, “Hello. You have my car.” He was somewhat startled. But nothing like as concerned as he became when I told him about the major accident I’d had in the car. It transpired that he’d paid around ten times what I’d been paid for the car, which was supposed to have been sent to the wreckers. I suggested to him that he might want to go back to the man who sold it to him and ask about the accident and make sure the chassis and suspension have been fixed as well.

And now I’m off to make a Union Jack flag and practice my curtsey.

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