Sitting each day in Mum’s little room with the curtains half-drawn (to reduce the glare on my screen), watching the seagulls across the road strutting around on the patchy coastal grass, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder.
I headed south to the Mount about five weeks ago to keep my ninety-one year old father, company. And now that we’re in lockdown, it’s turned out to be a timely decision. My routine here has been reduced to the bare essentials of: sleeping (or trying to); a slow wake up (usually between 8.00 and 10.00 am); the preparation of three daily meals and the occasional morning or afternoon tea; washing and drying the dishes; and watching very loud TV in the evenings. My alone time is filled with studying Japanese, sorting NZ stamps, walking, and playing Hidden City – a somewhat addictive computer game. And I have plenty of time to spend with Dad, which is the best part of all.
In the first few weeks I diligently took a 30-minute walk every evening. I’d follow Maunganui Road to the end of the town centre and back – about 3 km, making the most of the clean, flat, paved pathways; a complete contrast to the dusty, hilly, gravelly road at South Head. A couple of days’ rain broke the exercise habit until yesterday, when being stuck indoors all day drove me outside.
The sun was beginning to dip below the Kaimais as I set off, striding briskly towards Maoau. Maunganui Road was quiet, all the shops and bars closed save two solitary dairies. There were others about, but only a handful… some singles and couples and a threesome consisting of mum, dad, toddler in a stroller and a dog. I guess that’s four. I looked at everyone to see how friendly they were – one or two smiled, but the rest avoided my glance. Like magnets we repelled each other the requisite two metres.
The previous Saturday would’ve been completely different. There’d have been crowds of people spilling out onto the street from bars, or seated at tables on the pavement, and teenagers weaving along the footpaths on clattering skateboards, causing the punters to curse or leap out of the way. The backpackers would’ve had a clutch of tourists sitting on the pavement outside, smoking.
As I drew closer to Dad’s, I encountered the neighbouring family, also back from a walk. We chatted from a small distance and they told me they’d just witnessed a heated argument in the dairy across the road. Someone getting wound up about people not keeping to the correct space apart. I guess we may see more of this, and the reality is that this unusual situation is already causing anxiety for some people.
About a year ago I was contacted by editor Bryce Stevens and asked if I’d be interested in contributing to a new Lovecraftian anthology, set in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an American writer who achieved posthumous fame through his influential works of horror fiction. He was virtually unknown and published only in pulp magazines before he died in poverty, but he is now regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century authors of his genre. (Wikipedia)
Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud, was released on 14 September in Australia; its New Zealand launch will be at Armageddon in October.
The Caverns of the Unnamed One
The story I contributed, The Caverns of the Unnamed One, commences in present-day Auckland, with the discovery of a mysterious unidentified man, washed up on the shores of Rangitoto Island.
As the tale unfolds, the reader is taken back to 1950s Auckland and we find out what transpires when second-hand book dealer, Frank Woodburn, comes across a journal from the late 19th Century, while clearing a house-lot of books.
This discovery takes him from the safety of his home in central Auckland to the eerie darkness of the military tunnels that honeycomb the promontory of North Head.
Te Kōrero Ahi Kā is an anthology of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, showcasing work from award-winning and emerging members of SpecFicNZ (New Zealand authors, poets, artists of speculative fiction).
About The Mysterious Mr Montague
It’s funny how the senses can enhance memories. The addition of a taste, a smell, or a touch, makes the memory more stable, somehow, transforming it into an easy-to-access snapshot of a place and a time that you visited; able to be examined whenever you wish.
A butcher’s shop has a particular smell. And the smell of such a shop in the 1970s is nothing like the odour of the meat section of a supermarket. It smelled of blood and sawdust. Rattling plastic strips kept out most of the flies, and in Summer, a lazy ceiling fan would push the air around, just a little.
If I smell fresh blood today, I’m transported back to my uncles’ shop. It, too, was situated in Kilbirnie, Wellington; but there, the similarity ends.
How to purchase the book
Te Kōrero Ahi Kā is currently available from Amazon (for Kindle or Paperback) and The Book Depository. It may also soon be available in a bookshop near you.
One of the family stories I’d heard, was that my great-great-great-grandfather, Newell Gascoyne, had been murdered. This seemed a somewhat significant way to die, so when I first moved to Auckland in 2006, I decided to fill in time by checking out some early newspapers. I took myself off to the Auckland Public Library to peruse their archives. Surely there’d be something written somewhere?
It was remarkably easy, I’m sure helped by the fact that he had an uncommon name.
The report transcribed below was published on page 5 of The New Zealand Herald of Saturday 16th April, 1864. It provides a somewhat different version of events. A less memorable version, but no less devastating for his wife Isabella and their 3 children. My great-great-grandmother, also named Isabella, was 16 and newly-married; her younger brothers, Newell and Daniel, would have been 14 and 11 respectively.
An inquest was held yesterday, at the Clanricarde Hotel, on the body of Newell Gascoigne, who died on the 13th inst., through injuries received by falling down a cellar, in Queen-street, on the 7th inst., while in a state of intoxication.
Frederick Sims, stated: I keep the Wheat-sheaf Inn, Queen-street. I knew deceased, who came to my house about 9 o’clock, a.m., on the 7th inst., and asked for some grog, which I refused to give him, and put him outside the door. Some one coming in soon after, I heard there was a man in the cellar, and went to the door. I saw some policemen and others engaged in lifting the deceased out of the cellar of Mr. Kemp’s house, next door to mine. Deceased appeared then only dead drunk, and made no noise. Deceased was then taken away in a truck. The depth of the cellar is about four feet, and the floor is covered with bran. There was nothing in the cellar that deceased could have struck against.
James Jackson, police constable, said, that on Thursday, the 7th inst., he heard there was a man hurt, and went and found deceased lying on his back on the pathway, outside the cellar of Mr. Kemp’s house, in Queen-street. The man was insensibly drunk. I got a truck, with two other policemen, and removed him to the lock-up. He did not appear in any pain, and I did not think there was anything wrong except being drunk.
Francis Jones, stated: I am a carter. I was employed by Mr. Kemp, carting some bran from his cellar, the day before the accident, and I came early on the morning of the 7th inst., to get another load. I had put one bag into the cart, and coming back for another, I saw a man in the cellar, who must have fallen in. He was lying on his back just below the grating. On getting him out of the cellar, he appeared drunk, but I could not see that he was hurt. The cellar was between three and four feet deep.
Thomas B. Kenderdine, stated: I am a legally qualified medical practitioner. I was called in to see the deceased on Friday, the 8th inst. He was in his own house. I found him in bed, lying on his back, with the lower half of his body paralysed. He complained of a great pain in his back. He was sensible and able to speak and swallow. He lived until the 13th inst. I consider the cause of death to have been injury to the spinal marrow, producing paralysis. I did not make a post mortem examination.
The Sergeant-Major of the Police stated he had given up the deceased to his wife on the night of the 7th inst., about 9 o’clock. He was then sober, and complained of pain in his back, and being unable to get up. He was taken to his house on a stretcher.
The jury, having consulted, returned a verdict – That deceased died from the effects of a fall received while in a state of intoxication.
Nothing is as new as something that’s been long forgotten (German Proverb)
Stories from the past are interesting. Especially when they’re about our own families. But the problem is that so little is passed down. You are handed the bare bones without the flesh. Even the Coroner’s Report leaves me with more questions than answers. The records are merely black print on faded paper; they don’t fill in the details I’m curious about.
I have a copy of Newell Gascoyne’s Death Certificate. It succinctly states: Newell Gascoygne, Mariner, Male 35, Paralysis caused by injury of the spine. 13 April 1864, Auckland.
Did he stumble and fall into the cellar? Is that what his family believed? Or did they suspect he’d been the victim of foul play, hence the story about being ‘murdered’? Or was it that they were ashamed that he’d been ‘insensibly drunk’ at 9.00 o’clock in the morning, and subsequently passed on a different version to their children?
The past holds its secrets close to its chest.
Newell Gascoyne (c.1829-1864) & Isabella Barr (c.1825-1880)
Isabella Gascoyne (1847-1916) & Antonio Jose de Freitas (1843-c.1898) (Married: 7 January 1864, St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Auckland)
John Antonio de Freitas (1872-1937) & Jane Eliza Manderson (1880-1949)
William Peter Joseph (1900-1969) & Nina Geary (1895-1972)
In the old records, Gascoyne is variously spelled Gascon, Gasgoine, Gascoigne, Gascoyne and Gaskong. Newell Gascoyne’s occupation is first noted as mariner, and later as sawyer. They also show that his children Isabella, Newell and Daniel were all born in Auckland, and that when younger Isabella applied to get married in January 1864, she was resident at Mills Lane, Auckland (and had lived there for 4 years).
The Mills Lane address is also supported by a report in The New Zealander, Vol. XIX, Issue 1879, where in a report about ‘A Determined Thief’, Isabella (senior) is referred to as the ‘wife of Newell Gascoigne, Mill’s Lane’. She was giving evidence about the movements of a Thomas Hill, who had been ‘lodging for two weeks at her house’. (27 May 1863)
Last Thursday evening (May 5th) I happened to catch the tail end of an item on the TV One current affairs programme, Seven Sharp. I was flicking through the channels at the time, and to be honest, Seven Sharp is something I’ve never more than glanced at before. But I caught part of an interview with New Plymouth mayor, Andrew Judd, who was explaining the reasons he wouldn’t be standing for re-election this year. He used the very powerful term ‘recovering racist’ to describe himself and this is what grabbed my attention.
Mr Judd was talking about how his attitude to Maori had undergone a change during his three years as mayor. That at first he was ignorant of the relevant issues – in fact, when he first became mayor, he knew nothing of local history and hadn’t even stepped foot on a marae. As he became better-informed, he concluded that Maori should have a voice on his own city council. This caused a backlash from Pakeha in his constituency who disagreed. The personal abuse he received ranged from threatening letters to being spat on in public. At one point, Grey Power put together a petition that led to a referendum to vote against the council having a Maori member.
The kinds of things he was talking about are nothing new, of course. But it was reassuring to hear a non-Maori person of some status speaking about this on national television.
It evoked a mixture of emotions in me… the strongest being disappointment that so little had changed since I co-led Treaty of Waitangi workshops in Otago in the 1990s. I also felt admiration that Andrew Judd was prepared to tell it as it really is. It’s clear that he’s hiked a very hilly and personally-challenging path since being elected mayor in 2007.
As the story drew to a close, what I didn’t expect was the opinionated response from presenter Mike Hosking. His words displayed an ignorance that is inappropriate in someone fronting a primetime current affairs programme. It’s left me feeling much more despondent about the state of affairs in our beautiful country. About how attitudes don’t change and how they can be perpetrated and reinforced by a few well-chosen words, spoken to a captive audience by someone who, by being in that position, is taken seriously by many of those watching.
There is an enormous gulf between what he said and what is actual reality. And there is layer upon layer of history lying beneath that reality.
I don’t usually write on this kind of topic. But it just upset me. Attitudes won’t change unless we know and understand our own history. Unless we teach our children to know our own history. Obviously, we won’t get any help on that as long as our schools can pick or choose which parts of NZ history to include in the curriculum.
(Of course, I’m referring to the fact that we still don’t require the New Zealand Wars to be a compulsory component.) But that’s a whole different blog.
“We need to look after our indigenous people. If we can’t do that how on earth are we going to grow and become this multicultural country we say we are going to be.” Andrew Judd, Seven Sharp, 05 May 2016
He moana pukepuke e ekengia e te waka.
A stormy sea can be navigated.
The maize along the fenceline is ready for harvest. It’s a visual reminder that summer is over. The days are slow to lighten and early to darken, and the grass is thick with dew when I make my way to the barn in the early morning. The gravel road is dry and whenever a large truck rattles by, great dusty clouds drift across to settle on our solar panels.
It’s been several weeks since I’ve written about South Head. Or about anything, for that matter. It’s been difficult to knuckle down to writing after taking time off over the Christmas/New Year period.
While it’s been a very long and hot summer, we’ve also had a decent amount of rain, which of course has meant that everything has just kept on growing. We’ve created enough gardens here to keep us busy every daytime hour, and for the first time I’ve been wondering if it’s too much. What with the dead-heading, the trimming, the watering, the sowing, the harvesting… not to mention the tying, the squashing (caterpillars), the sampling, the digging and the weeding, always the weeding. (It’s making me exhausted all over again, writing about it.)
So… we’ve mostly been home over the weekends slaving away in an attempt to keep everything under control, with a couple of diversionary breaks visiting the local A & P Shows – I like to check out the poultry while Ben looks longingly at the tractors. 🙂
Bounty from the Garden
Since I last blogged we’ve harvested a parade of fresh produce, including grapes, lettuces, carrots, rhubarb, cannellino beans, sweet basil, garlic, cucumbers, peas, beans (green, yellow, purple), main crop potatoes (Agria), beetroot, silver beet, shallots, buttercup squash, tomatoes, butternut pumpkins and LOTS of of zucchini.
To use up the rhubarb and zucchini I’ve made several Rhubarb Tarte Tartin and a few jars of Lemon Curd Look-Alike, as well as some zucchini pickle. But the neat thing about this year is that we haven’t had too much of one particular vegetable. Everything we’ve grown we’ve either eaten fresh, or I’ve cooked up, preserved, frozen or baked into something.
Tomatoes and Zucchinis
The tomatoes have been great, but I picked the last one yesterday and I know I’ll miss having them on hand at meal times. I’m glad that I preserved a good amount this season (Spicy Tomato Sauce, Tomato Relish, Greek Tomato Paste) and that I also froze about a dozen packs of frozen skinless tomato flesh for use during the cooler months.
One of the easiest salads to throw together involves mixing chopped tomatoes with a handful of fresh basil (made into a paste), a generous squirt of extra virgin olive oil and finely sliced or diced zucchini or cucumber. I read somewhere that raw zucchini helps you feel ‘more full’ than some of our other salad vegetables, and it’s lovely and light when sliced thinly.
I love cooked zucchini, too. It’s such a versatile vegetable. My favourite quick recipe involves slicing the zucchinis thickly, then sautéing them in a small amount of olive oil along with crushed garlic and sage leaves. The sage leaves turn crispy and add a delightfully fragrant ‘crunch’ to the dish.
Our habanero chiles are ripening as I type, so I’m picking them each day, drying them, then nuking them in a small food processor. We’ll use the chile powder all through the year to jazz up our meals. One of my favourite uses is to sprinkle a liberal amount into cheese toasted sandwiches. Yum!! (It’s very hot, though – not for the chile uninitiated.)
I’ve also raised a pink variety of habanero this year. It’s currently at the flowering stage, so, no fruit, but I can’t wait to see what they look like!
March in New Zealand is the month for pears and melons. Our old pear tree has produced a good amount of sound fruit this year and yesterday I bottled a small sample in a light syrup. Not sure why I haven’t processed our pears this way before – I usually freeze them for desserts – but I do like to see the finished product in our pantry. And it’s so easy to preserve them using the water-bath method.
I didn’t remember until after I’d finished that you’re supposed to pack the fruit tightly into the jars to avoid having them float to the top of the syrup… oh well… next time!
I sowed seeds for a different melon this year,Collective Farm Woman. It’s a small Ukrainian melon from the Black Sea area, about the size of a honeydew, with pale flesh, the flavour delicately sweet and slightly evocative of bananas.
We picked up a trio of Bantams at the recent Helensville A & P Show. They’ve settled in well and having Charlie (the rooster) crow loudly at 5.15 am hasn’t been too much of a shock.
When we first let the bantams join the rest of the flock, they kept to themselves, but they’re now walking around alongside the others. They choose to sleep outside – the rooster up high in a branch of one of the feijoa trees, and the two girls on the fence below. Not sure if they’ll ever voluntarily join the hens in the barn. Perhaps we’ll have to manually move them there in Winter when it gets cold at night.
That reminds me… feijoas! They’re growing plump on the trees. And just now I can see two fat kereru perched up on the yellow guava, eating the first of the golden yellow fruit. The kereru started visiting again a couple of weeks back – I guess our garden is part of their seasonal food cycle, too.
It’s been a busy week as far as having stories published is concerned. Of course, I’m delighted, but there is the problem that I need to knuckle down and write some more, get them sent off, etc. I don’t want to run out of any momentum I may have generated.
The piece of flash fiction I submitted for consideration didn’t make the cut, but that’s how it goes with writing. The actual task of working towards something and fine-tuning your work, is an ongoing process, and it’s one that I do enjoy, even though I don’t have high expectations.
And when you do have a story accepted, no matter how small, it’s as exciting as winning a lottery.
This year, as part of the lead-up to National Flash Fiction, there has been a parallel celebration of micro fiction. Writers were asked to submit works of 100 words or less, and one story has been featured each day since June 1st.
Members of my family will recognise that part of the story is drawn from my father’s experience as a child. That’s what I tend to do… write about things that have happened to me, or that I know about from friends or family.
If you are interested in hearing more about Micro Madness, National Radio’s Standing Room Only programme featured the following interview, yesterday at 1.00 pm.
We’ve had so many plums this season, despite the wind that destroyed so many in mid-December. I’ve been making ‘Plum Everything’, including having started a batch of plum wine. But I think there is nothing nicer than a Plum Jam, as it’s so versatile.
This year I decided to invent a spicy version – and it’s turned out extremely well.
For the spicy component I used Habanero that I’d grown last season and had frozen, as our current plant is too small to produce any fruit yet. It’s been a slow season in the garden due to the inclement weather in December.
Habanero is my absolute favourite chili pepper. It has such an amazing flavour – very fragrant and fruity, as well as the excellent kick it provides (it rates as 100,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville Scale).
This jam is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s definitely worth making. It can be added to sauces or used as a condiment just as it is, or (of course) spread on your toast as a rich and spicy jam.
About 5.5 kilos (around 12 lbs) red-skinned plums, stones removed
3 – 4.5 cups white sugar
4 whole Habanero, seeds removed
Chop the plums up roughly and put them in a large preserving pan. Sprinkle the sugar on top and let them sit like this for an hour or so, stirring from time to time to help the sugar dissolve.
Bring this slowly to the boil, stirring at frequent intervals to prevent anything sticking to the base of the pan. Once boiling steadily, maintain the boil for about 10 minutes then turn off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Repeat the above process 3 times (or more if you would like a thicker jam). The main thing to remember is that you have to stir frequently, especially while you are waiting for the fruit to come to the boil, to avoid the fruit sticking to the bottom of the pan and scorching.
If this does happen, don’t panic… transfer the jam to another container without scraping any of the ‘caught’ jam from the bottom of the pan. Wash the pan then carry on with the process. You can stop and start with this recipe easily.
This batch produced about 3 litres of wonderfully rich jam. Actually, I could just eat it directly from the spoon, rather than add it to anything else. 🙂
Red Plums versus Yellow Plums
You could use yellow-skinned plums for this recipe, or even greengages, but the red-skinned plums give the jam the most wonderfully rich colour, even using yellow-fleshed plums as I have.
I began with 3.5 cups of sugar and then tested the flavour part way through the cooking. It was then that I decided to add an additional .5 of a cup. It’s a matter of personal taste and also, the sugar level in the plums themselves. Also, I like to cut down added sugar where I can, so I tend to start out with a bit less in a recipe such as this, and then add more if I need to.
The above recipe has been adapted from a recipe I found on the Natasha’s Kitchen site.
We were away from South Head from Saturday morning until Sunday early evening, and while we were gone, a very strong south-easterly wind developed. The prevailing wind for our area is supposed to be a southerly, but in actual fact, a straight southerly doesn’t really affect our property due to the fact that there is a convenient rise in the land that protects us. We do sometimes get a nor-easterly. While this is annoying, we’ve put things in place to protect our vulnerable plants – sturdy stakes and protective shelter material… that kind of thing. But this south-easterly is coming in from an angle we haven’t experienced before.
When I hung out the washing earlier I had to use twice as many pegs per garment. It reminded me of trying to wrestle with cloth nappies in Lyall Bay, Wellington, back in the 70s.
I was too exhausted last night to look at the garden, but the first intimation I had that all was not well was when Ben reported that nearly all the fruit had been blown off from my favourite plum tree. This is the plum tree in what we now term our ‘native’ area – it’s an old tree that has less plums than the one growing closer to the vege garden. But the plums are larger and have a deep red flesh.
I love them and have been looking forward to eating them.
When I went out earlier this morning to take stock, I felt like crying.
And I do still have a heavy heart, but I suppose there is no point in shedding tears over lost fruit. At least we aren’t dependent on our fruit or our crops for our livelihood.
Fortunately, the other plum tree is situated out of the worst of the wind. It’s still laden with fruit.
The wind has has had an impact on the birds that have chosen to make their homes here, as well. I’m sure they were just as unprepared for the wind’s unusual direction.
We’ve found quite a few parts of nests on the ground, and the sparrows are busy with recycling; flying down to collect the broken nest parts from the ground and carrying them back up to their respective nesting sites.
Ben found the above nest below the macadamia tree, although it’s so light that it could have blown from anywhere.
It’s quite a bit smaller than any I’ve seen on the ground before. The diameter of the inner bowl is approximately 4.5 to 5 cm and it’s lined with silvery grey hair of some kind. I pulled a couple of strands out and it’s too coarse to be human or from a cat. And I think too long to be from a dog… I’m wondering if it’s horse hair or something like that. I really have no idea.
It’s a beautiful little nest, though, with moss and lichen woven in to the outside.
The above nest is much more loosely-woven than the smaller one. It’s also quite a bit larger – around 9 to 10 cm across the bowl of the nest. We’re pretty sure it belonged to either a blackbird or a song thrush. We could only see the tail of the bird sticking up when it was sitting on, it as it was just out of eye sight.
The nest had been built in quite a small, spindly broad-leaf, and right from the start was partly tipping out, so it’s not surprising that it was dislodged by the wind. This nest is constructed almost entirely from grasses, with a tiny bit of lichen visible… and it seems to be lined with fine mud.
Our resident Blackbird couple are raising their third batch of eggs this season. The female is currently sitting on three eggs – I had first observed her back on the nest on 09 December, which surprised me. Raising young seemed to be a never-ending process for her and I wasn’t sure if was because something had happened to her previous babies or whether she would keep on raising new broods if time allowed.
With her second batch I had noted the following: –
19 November: 2 whole eggs, 2 hatched
20 November: 4 hatched
02 December: 4 chicks, well feathered and alert
03 December: Nest empty
It seems amazing to me that it only took 13 days to go from hatching to flight.
I found an excellent page which provided me with the answers on the Tiritiri Matangi site. It seems that Blackbirds do raise 2 – 3 broods per year, and that the chicks fledge at 13 – 15 days. The other interesting fact I read is that a Blackbird’s possible lifespan is 15 years.
The garden has been flourishing, and as usual, I’ve been struggling to keep on top of things. There has been more rain in November & December in comparison with the past couple of years, which is a good thing. We’ve only had to water the vegetable garden once, and that very evening it rained, so …
We’re been well-served by our vegetables and have been eating asparagus, beetroot, silver beet, green beans, peas, lettuces, rocket, new potatoes and Florence fennel. Probably some other things as well but it’s hard to keep up.
I can’t finish today’s entry without putting in a plug for Sweet Peas. I was very disappointed with the strike rate for the seeds I sowed in winter. I had used up a whole packet but only a handful of seeds germinated.
Well… the ones that did sprout, combined with a few self-sown plants, have provided a wonderful display once again. I’m sure the extra rain has helped, too.
I love these flowers and every other day have picked enough to fill two vases. Even as I sit here writing I can smell their sweet and spicy scent from across the room.