Friday, 30 November 2007

Terry Street to Our Street

Years ago, I had the occasion to meet the poet Douglas Dunn at a poetry reading. I was reminded of this encounter this afternoon by a quirky series of events.

We have our lawns cut by a gardening company. Not because we are lazy (OK, maybe a bit), but because we don’t trust ourselves with the kind of equipment that is required to cut lawns on death defying slopes. The contractors have to use a strimmer for the entire property, such is the incline. Anything heavier, and gravity would drag them to the bottom of the valley.

Each week a different young man shows up, and when he’s finished, he drops the bill into our letterbox. Today my husband remarked that the chap who did the lawns today looked remarkably sleepy/hungover, so it didn’t surprise him that he forgot to leave the bill. I quipped that maybe he didn’t just cut grass but smoked it too.

Later in the afternoon, I noticed that one small area of garden which has grown it’s own lawn (and is flat) had been neatly trimmed and the massive poppies which also grow there had been carefully avoided and thus preserved. When I told my husband that the gardener had left the poppies standing he quipped “Oh, he’ll be coming back for them later”.

The link with Douglas Dunn is from his Terry Street poems. The last line of “A Removal from Terry Street” developed a double entendre in the 1960s when it was written.

On a squeaking cart, they push the usual stuff,
A mattress, bed ends, cups, carpets, chairs,
Four paperback westerns. Two whistling youths
In surplus U S Army battle-jackets
Remove their sister’s goods. Her husband
Follows, carrying on his shoulders the son
Whose mischief we are glad to see removed,
And pushing, of all things, a lawnmower.
There is no grass in Terry Street. The worms
Come up cracks in concrete yards in moonlight.That man, I wish him well. I wish him grass.

Vanishing Atolls

Whatever I may believe or understand about climate change, last night I met a group of people for whom it was an “ever present danger”.

Our community college last night put on a graduation show by the performing arts students. They danced and sang for two and a half hours (without much of a break), and their performance was truly breathtaking. The pieces came from Maori, Samoan, Tokelauan and Cook Island cultures. The Tokelauan s are watching their Islands vanish under rising sea levels. I quote from the programme:

“What happens when the Tokelau atolls no longer exist? When the next generation of Pacific peoples asks “where am I from?” What do we tell them? Oh, your island doesn’t actually exist anymore!”

I sat and cried as I watched a powerful contemporary piece showing children being taken through a museum, showing how their people used to live.

Most Tokelauans now live in New Zealand. They don’t have much choice. Makes you think.

Photos of the evening on Flikr (the quality isn’t good because of the stage lighting)

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Who owns the purse strings....

A Middle Eastern economic newsletter I subscribe to reported some disturbing news this week. An Arab investment group, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority now owns the biggest single share holding in Citigroup, bringing the total investment from Islamic investors to over 10%. A Saudi prince makes up the other part of the 10%.
This move has gone unquestioned by both regulatory and political authorities and has been approved by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. I don’t think I am being overly sensitive, but how come it’s not OK for Arab investors to buy into US ports, but it is OK for them to buy big time into the financial fabric of the nation? If I were American, I would be concerned.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Florium Vincit Omnia

Don’t you just love getting short notice for things? Our tutor was given 48 hours to prepare us (students) to design flowers for a big event at a local museum. It will be attended by the head honchos from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – er, no pressure!

The organiser obviously didn’t have a clue about the planning which goes into organising flowers for large arrangements.

Oh well, we’re doing it anyway – our tutor being of the “bring it on” mould!

So tomorrow afternoon ten of us will do a culturally appropriate series of floral art from native plants and flowers at a launch of a Pacifika Performing Arts Event. Yippee doodle.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Business or pleasure?

Today I had the luxury of browsing for half an hour in a large bookshop in town. I ended up in the business section and was struck by how “samey” the books were. To get the right formula to publish a book on business you should:

1) Tell your readership that coming up with an original idea is easy
2) Making your first million is possible because you will be the first person with this idea
3) You will have a better life for your family because you will be in control of the hours you work.
4) You will achieve recognition that you are due and your sense of self worth will be at an all time high.

I think my friends who are in business would say the view is different from their bridge.

I think a more accurate spin on the above would be:

1) If you have an “original” idea, nail it to the floor and copyright it, because someone will surely come along and steal it.
2) To make a small fortune, you usually have to start with a large one
3) The hours you work will be controlled by the tax returns, bad debts, failed deliveries and broken promises of other companies. Your family may get to see you more than the average person attends their local church – if they are lucky.
4) You will be punished with self doubt over why you ever tried to run a business in the first place and would be happy to be an anonymous cog in a machine, if only you could work regular hours and go home and forget work at the end of the day.

Having said all that, I bought the biography of the siblings who started a super successful coffee franchise in the UK. But I did have a 50% off voucher!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Trying to find lots of things not to do

Ben Elton, in his early career, did a very funny sketch around the problem of emptying the kitchen dustbin. He talked for twenty minutes about every conceivable excuse he would come up with in order not to take the bin liner out and dispose of the contents.
One of his evasion tactics was to start a conversation with his flatmates about the late Queen Mother. At this point he knew he was running out of things to talk about.

My version of this happened this week. I had to do the final page of my portfolio and managed to think of numerous excuses not to. In the end, I decided to weed our garden. This was truly desperate. I filled a black wheelie bin to the top, shaken down, with dead forget-me-nots. My ankles were eaten to pieces by mosquitoes and I was covered in burrs from the plants, but I did feel good about the spaces created after the blue carpet had been removed.

The superiority didn’t last long. The gaping hole in the jaw of the portfolio awaited me. I have run out of glue, I reasoned. It will have to wait until tomorrow when I can borrow a glue stick and laminate the last page.

But in the middle of looking for an unrelated piece of paper on my desk (another diversion), I found more glue, so I fixed the page and went to bed feeling positively virtuous.
Now, I have to catch up on a week’s worth of housework, and the bin isn’t emptied until Tuesday morning, so I would have nowhere to put the weeds, even if I did dig them up (only a quarter of an acre to go).

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Southern Belle

My portfolio for my course is finished, and I intend to hand it in today, a day early. I feel as if I have laid a very large egg after roosting on it for sixteen weeks.

We have just come back from a fantastic three days on the S. Island. The weather was fabulous and time spent with friends just GREAT. I would move there tomorrow, but my better half has to stay in the capital for work. Sigh – roll on retirement!

The cats are exercising their cold shoulders, but will no doubt speak to us again when they want to share the duvet. Our house sitter tolerated them interfering with her portfolio, which included them sniffing the gluesticks and playing with the double sided tape. To be left in peace, she should have just taped them both to the ceiling. Er cancel that – Otto’s weight would have brought the roof down.

A highlight, apart from seeing our friends, was stumbling across an old fashioned village fair. The local rose and peony growers and societies had filled the village hall. It was spectacular. Also present the local crafts people, including miniature makers and quilters. After speaking to the quilters, we visited an amazing shop, in the backend of beyond, devoted to quilting and sewing. Photos on Flikr.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Over and out

Flying south for three days. Kitties in capable hands of a fellow florist. I expect them both to be able to tie bouquets and wrestle carnations by Tuesday.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Never ask a lady her age.

It was reported yesterday, in the local rag, that the government has finally got around to ordering new trains for our very creaky transport system in the capital. They have vacillated over this for years, the upshot of which is that there will be nearly NZ$300 million spent.

But the rolling stock is falling apart, not to mention the signals and the electrics on the actual tracks. The text service my husband subscribes to for the trains bleeps almost daily with some problem or another on the main commuter track.

He was reminiscing this evening about the age of the London underground trains. When he was travelling from central London to his school in Ealing, he thought the carriages were horrendously old, as most were from the 1930s. This was in the early 1960’s, so perhaps most were 30 years old or more.

The capital’s new rolling stock will appear in 2010 and 2011, replacing stock going back to 1954.

The British Rail slogan of the 1970’s was “This is the age of the train”. In our capital, the carriages would blush to divulge their’s.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Blow winds and crack your cheeks

........but please, no spouting of hurricanoes (apologies to King Lear)

The evening news reported 100km hour winds in the harbour today. One of my course mates said the glasses in her kitchen cupboards were rattling in the middle of the night because the house was moving. I believe it.

Our trip turned out very well, inspite of the weather. I take my hat off to the commercial flower growers. They really are amazing with all the risks of weather, pests, volatile market prices, and they still work 365 days per year. It must be for love too, as it can’t be for money!
The wind is still howling and our cabbage tree is waving around ominously. The cats have taken refuge underneath things, so I’m taking to my bed with cocoa, in the hope that I can catch up on last night’s lost zzzzzzs.

Weather is here.

I am in serious need of sleep. Last night we had a very noisy storm, complete with high winds, rain, thunder and lightning. I hid my head under the duvet, and half way through the night our Tortie joined me. Our big Tom cat curled up into my back and muttered every time we had a thunder clap. Hubby slept through it all. I did not.

Today I am supposed to be trudging through fields of lilies and roses at some commercial growers, about an hour’s drive north of here. Thankfully we have ordered large coffees en route.

Pictures on Flikr later.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

In stitches

I find it a bit difficult to identify with ladies who love to shop. To me shopping for clothes is tedious beyond belief, and other shopping only a necessary evil. My husband tells me I’m low maintenance.

There are, however, two exceptions to this; shops where I can buy books and fabrics. My husband’s comment when he is with me and a shop is within view is, “It is like getting a dog past a butchers”. He’s not wrong.

It seems I’m in good company. On Thursday, I was a guest at a local Quilter’s Guild in the capital. I sat in a room with at least 50 quilters. That is just for the city centre and doesn’t include the outer areas of the capital. I had to smile when the Chairwoman welcomed the guests and introduced herself by saying “Hi, my name is Judy and I’m a fabricoholic”. Moi aussi.

I blame my mum, who trained as a seamstress before WWII and only gave up sewing daily aged 77. I was always surrounded by fabric and pins as a child, and was forbidden to walk barefoot around the house, in case I was impaled by overlooked tailor pins.

I have lugged swatches of fabric with me around the world, and can’t resist picking up odds and ends in charity shops. But unlike most quilters, I make mine by hand, preferring to sit and stitch laboriously onto paper templates.

I think I will have to attend the Guild meetings regularly. I will sit in the circle and introduce myself “.............. and I haven’t bought fabric for three days!”

Saturday, 10 November 2007


Last week I had a temporary crown fitted. The numbness in my face took nearly four hours to wear off after the procedure. Drinking coffee was a no no and communicating without drooling was impossible.

This evening, in the process of looking up details of books for the bibliography in my portfolio, I came across a book title which I am grateful I didn’t have to pronounce post dental work: “Peptidomimetics Protocols (Methods in Molecular Medicine) by Wieslaw M Kazmierski.

There is a reason I am studying floristry and not medicine – I simply couldn’t pronounce the book titles at the library.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Byebye blackbird

A good end to the birdy tail/tale.

I phoned the vet this morning, who said the lady blackbird had survived the night and would be released today.

As for Fraulein Jaegermeister, she hid under the cover on the sofa all night and didn’t come out to make friends with our visitor. She knows she’s in trouble. I just hope she doesn’t get spiteful and bring us another offering today. The birds are a bit clueless when spring sets in, and bask in the garden or hop around on our lawn, total oblivious to tortie tigers!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Kitty in the slammer

Our tortie is SERIOUSLY in the doghouse. She isn’t much of a hunter – too darned lazy for the most part, but tonight, in the middle of my cooking Moussaka for an overseas guest, she brought a squawking blackbird into the house. I managed to get it off her, but it flew into our bedroom window, fell out and down onto the grass 12 feet below.

I screamed for my husband, who was directed to find a shoebox. I had a lot of cotton wool brought from class yesterday (it was cushioning 30 stems of orchids), so the bird was placed carefully into the box. Its beak was bleeding and it was panting – I suspected a broken neck and expected it to die from shock. Temporarily, I didn’t know what to do I was so upset.

So, I called the vet, who told me to bring her in straight away. I just called and it seems the bird is staggering about. They will give her 24 hours to recover, and if she doesn’t, they will euthanise her.

Poor sweetheart.

And as for our Tortie, she’s on Navy rations!

Monday, 5 November 2007

Go to bed eyes

I am puzzled. When I wear cosmetics on my eyes (once in a blue moon), I always sleep badly, even after the war paint has been carefully removed at bedtime.

I proceed to dream in technicolour, 3D with surround sound.

It’s not something they tell you on the label.

Perhaps eyeshadow soaks into the brain to transform the “leetle grey cells” into multicoloured warp speed message scramblers. Max Factor with the X Factor.

If I want to sleep, I think I will have to stick to powdering only my nose.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Unhinged and brackets

Hubby dug up some information recently (in the public domain, so no secrets being broken), which makes you wonder what qualifications you need to work at the Pentagon. It pays to quote the article in full from Defense News:

Ken Pedeleose's eyes popped as he plowed through a bill for airplane parts in 1999: $2,522 for a 4½-inch metal sleeve, $744 for a washer, $714 for a rivet, and $5,217 for a 1-inch metal bracket.

Lockheed produced and sold to the Pentagon 219 1-inch metal brackets called clip strut support vapor barriers. Lockheed proposed charging $5,217.91 per bracket. This price was based on the premise that each bracket was produced in single-item lots, with each lot assuming the costs of setting up, tooling, manufacturing, overhead costs, profits and other factors.
The Defense Criminal Investigative Service found later that this was untrue: The brackets were produced in lots of larger quantities, and Lockheed knew this.
But the Defense Contract Management Agency rejected that price and, after careful analysis, said a fair cost was $258.90 per bracket. This price was based on Lockheed's own data, pricing methods and scales of economy, as well as historical data of previous purchases.
The final price is still in dispute; the Pentagon agreed in September 2000 to pay $1.05 in materials costs for each bracket until negotiations on a final price conclude.
When Pedeleose discovered high price tags attached to those C-5 parts in 1999, it was not the first time. Just a year before — in 1998 — he had wrestled with Lockheed over pricing for the very same parts. That struggle resulted in government savings of $34 million, according to his agency's estimates.
Nevertheless, at the time of his 1999 discovery, Defense Logistics Agency officials were negotiating a sole-source, virtual-prime-vendor contract with Lockheed to provide management and logistics support for 11,000 C-5 spare parts. The deal was signed in December 2000.
As the single source and broker for the parts, Lockheed was expected to apply modern commercial logistics technology and processes to anticipate the Air Force's needs for spare parts and coordinate with scores of subcontractors to make sure they were delivered just in time.
But the three-year contract was canceled by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) in summer 2002 after 19 months and a cost of $89 million.
A Lockheed official, in a written statement, characterized the company's performance on the C-5 virtual prime vendor contract as "good."

They should appoint a busy housewife to run the Pentagon, she would certainly make a better job of the purchasing division.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Holy Hollyhocks Batman!

It never ceases to amaze me what appears in our garden. I suspect we have a fairy gardener who plants on our behalf.

This afternoon I looked out of the kitchen window and a 4 foot high hollyhock was staring back at me. It has never been here before. I suspect it’s a tourist from the south island looking for bed and breakfast accommodation. Well, it is welcome to our flower beds any time, gratis.

Thimble time

The chores are done, and I can’t cook or bake because the oven is disconnected. Yesterday we had tiles laid on the kitchen floor under the new cooker, so the oven is parked in the middle of the kitchen for us all to fall over. Mercifully the bread machine is still operational, so a cardamom and nut loaf is rising as I type.

Today is a quilting day. It is overcast and drizzly, feeling more like an English autumn than a southern hemisphere spring. A blackbird has been singing since 7am, so my needlework is accompanied by inflight entertainment.

The cats are patrolling the four extreme points of our section after “enemy cat” came calling at dawn. They occasionally come in with a thin layer of drizzle on their coats, and moan at me about the weather, as if I could do anything about it.

Local fish for dinner tonight courtesy of the best fish and chip shop in the capital (well I would say that wouldn’t I?)

If anyone would like to join us, let me know by 5pm NZ time, so I can phone in the orderJ