“A Return to Nature”, Jutta Chisholm

At last we have, on the far wall of our main room, a beautiful large oil painting which Colin has owned for some years and which was hanging in the board room of his chambers. Much to the vexation of his partners, I cajoled my way into having this very big painting moved over the hill and into our house. It was too big to go down the lift of his building, so had to be taken out of its frame, then reassembled in our garage before being carefully hung on our wall. It is by Eastbourne, Wellington, artist Jutta Chisholm and is called “A Return to Nature”. I really love it, and could look at it all day long. We also have hung, around the corner on a smaller wall, Jutta’s explanation of the painting, which is too long to reprint here, but which I believe is pertinent to today’s world. Here are some extracts, followed by my photograph of the painting which, I’m sure you understand, does not do it justice:

“A Return to Nature seeks to engage the viewer in a meditative and contemplative appreciation of its subject. It’s a tranquiliser for today’s heady pace, where we are offered an explosion of images, to an extent where our senses are dulled and life becomes superficial. The simplicity of its composition is emphasised by its grand scale and in being so, draws us into a more intent focus on those images we would usually overlook. What we do see is an idealised, unpolluted world where nature is benign and peaceful. Unlike the Romantic artists from whom the painting quotes stylistically, nature is seen not as threatening, but threatened. In our returning to a more natural state we are offered one last chance; for Nature’s survival is ultimately our own.”



Alone again, naturally

Kids all gone, Colin back in his  court trial, just the vineyard workers, the animals, and me. But wonderful memories of a few action-packed days with my adult children, and it’s interesting seeing their reaction to the New Zealand landscape when they return – albeit briefly – from the other side of the world. Here are some photos Valentine took while she was here.

The first is the Kia Ora Dairy in Featherston. Now, I pass this every time I go to Wellington and just take its eccentricity for granted. For those overseas readers, a dairy is not where the cows a milked (that’s a bail), but a sort of local convenience store where you can buy bread, milk, icecreams, cigarettes and limited groceries. Kia Ora is Maori for, literally, Good Health, but it’s our way of saying, “Good Day” or “Hello” or “Gidday Mate”.


She took this of me riding Lily (she was on Smitty):digi0168


Then, also from her vantage point of being on horseback, she took these lovely shots looking across our netted Pinot Noir to the house:



And finally, a little vignette inside the house:


Back at work and out of shape

Phew, two weeks of sitting on your toosh in a truck all day makes you soft and flabby. Plus I ate too much – stopping for lunch, stopping for icecreams, then there was the Christmas cake and chocolates to finish up so we didn’t bring them all the way home again.

Since we’ve been home we’ve bought three trailerloads of mushroom compost and spread it over the gardens. We’ve shifted two trailerloads of pine mulch across from the far side of the property, dumped it in piles ready to go on the orchard and the front garden. We’ve weeded all the back gardens. We’ve taken delivery of our new chook house and pig house (today), and I managed to buy 10 bales of pea straw cheaply by picking it up myself and carting it here. And we’ve had the horses hooves trimmed by Colin, the fantastic farrier.

Colin (my Colin, not the farrier) came home two nights ago with a new present for me – a Littl’Juey line electric line trimmer. I’d stuffed the old one, and this is a new invention, far superior. While the old line trimmers had a continuous spool of nylon that always busted, then you spent hours undoing the head, spooling out the line, lining it up with the holes and screwing the top down quickly before it all sprang apart, Littl’Juey has one piece of nylon threaded through the head. When you wear that out, you simply thread another piece through. It does a marvellous job, and I love it. See more at www.littlejuey.com.

And it’s been so hot! Day before yesterday, Monday, some areas of the country were boasting the temperature reached 35 degrees but in our vineyard, according the Harvest, we reached 40 degrees. It was unbelievable – too hot to even go outside.

But now all the nets are on, the guys finished today, and cross fingers the wind won’t tear them off this year. There’s a few holes, and a fair bit of mending for me to do, but this time we might have outwitted those pesky starlings.

Tomorrow I’m going to collect my six new chooks, and their rooster, from Trevor the chook man.

The Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday we had the most amazing day at Redbank Estate when friends – who up until a few months ago were strangers (at least to me they were) – drove up from the South Island to gift us the most beautiful piece of greenstone. Weighing in at over 400 kilograms, they had to transport the rock during the day, otherwise the headlights of the ute would have been pointing at the sky. Friends from Wellington were coming over to help with the celebrations, and also Colin’s sons and their families.

Mum joined in, plus we invited Archdeacon May Croft to bless the greenstone, and stay for lunch. Her husband, Peter, unfortunately couldn’t come because he had a wine tasting (they have a vineyard, Crofts). There was plenty of wine tasting went on here too, plus beer tasting. And swallowing.

As usual, I started preparations for the kai several days ago (weeks ago, in my head) and roasted two whole fillets of beef, smoked two large sides of salmon, eggs with thyme, served with focaccia and another bread the name of which I cannot recall. And salad, of course, don’t forget the ubiquitous salad.

Raylee, from Colin’s chambers, took care of the desserts – mixed berry frangipani tart and a cheesecake, made by her husband Geoff.

The crew bringing the sculpture up from the West Coast are all miners – West Coasters through and through, and what they don’t know about mining is not worth knowing. I showed them pieces of greenstone jewellery I have, and they knew exactly which part of the South Island these were mined from.

One of them, Patrick, is a gold miner. He said an ounce of gold is about the size of the ten cent piece, and slightly thicker, then he asked me to guess how big an area this ounce would cover if you could flatten it out to as thin as possible. As big as this dining table? I answered, figuring I was exaggerating. No. An acre of land! Reminds me of the line in the John Donne poem – “And gold to airy thinness beat.”

Rowan was here at the vineyard, supervising wire raisers, so he got on the forklift and help hoist this giant piece of beauty into place, on our front verandah.  I will let the photos tell the rest of the story:


The Evening Sky

One of the loveliest times of the day, out here on Te Muna Road, is late evening, just before the black night falls over the valley. I often go out and put the cat to bed about this hour, between eight and nine, and just stand still to listen to the noises of the night. Across the other side of the valley, down by the river, the sheep and lambs are baaing as if in panic that they won’t find each other for the night. Down by our barn, in the pine trees, a morepork (ruru) chants. That haunting call – “morepork, morepork” – to me is actually one of the most comforting native bird calls in this land, though to others it symbolises imminent death. That superstition is not confined to New Zealand – I remember reading, in my youth, a Canadian book called “I Heard The Owl Call My Name”, about someone who had cheated death. Well, the superstition can’t be wrong. In nature, creatures dies every day, and others are created to take their place.

The wind has dropped, the air is still, the plants have switched to breathing oxygen – it’s a treat to just sit on the verandah and meditate, looking down over our property at the night sky. This was yesterday evening’s painting, taken at twenty past eight. It’s a good world.



Auckland – Still Crazy after all these Years

I’m in Auckland. Why have I eschewed bucolic bliss to be in the city of bad driving, dug-up pavements, and silly weather? Good question and the answer has its genesis in 1972. That’s when I studied journalism at what was then Wellington Polytechnic. I chose magazine journalism. A lovely woman called Lyn Barnes, in the same year, chose newspaper journalism. We wouldn’t actually meet until 2000, when we were both on a junket to Fiji (with another fabulous journalist from the same year, Andrea Fox). Today Lyn teaches journalism to students at AUT and, because she’s a good friend, I agreed, reluctantly, to come up here and talk to her third-year students. I was nervous. It went well. They were kind to this old, semi-retired hack. I’m glad it’s over.

I drove up yesterday; left the vineyard at 10am, collected my friend Rosie who took the opportunity to come up and stay with her daughter for a few days and provided welcome company. We stopped in Taihape for refreshments, then again in Taupo to see her bach, and I showed her the little bach Dad built for our family way back when you didn’t need permits. I was only tiny. There was a longdrop (toilet) up the back of the section in the manuka bush, we had no bathroom just a kitchen sink, and there were only two rooms in the bach – one for sleeping and one for eating, sitting, etc. Despite these privations, none of us died of typhoid, the roof didn’t leak, and everyone was happy. So much for red tape and bureaucratic nightmares via which one must battle these days to even erect a chookhouse.

We arrived in Auckland at around 6pm. The drive was magnificent – this is indeed God’s Own Country. Especially at this time of the year, well into spring, when everything is green and looking washed clean. The kowhai trees along the eastern shores of Lake Taupo are stunning. The desert road landscape never fails to take my breath away, and I always think of the time I was doing a story for “North & South” magazine on the wild horses of the Kaimanawa region, and the photographer, Gareth Eyres, and I spent several days staying up in these wilds in an old hut, creeping around the tussock tracking down the horse herds. It was just like a scene out of the movie “Dances With Wolves”, and every which way you turned, the scenery was just beautiful, in that abandoned, isolated, lonely way.

Just north of Taupo, there are now huge tracts of land cleared of forestry, awaiting conversion to dairy farming. How strange it all looks, after years of seeing it covered with trees, now the hills look like someone’s body which has been prepped for surgery – all shaven and exposed and humiliated. I suppose next time I drive through it will be dotted with cows. Who knows?

We knew we were getting close to Auckland when, after perfect balmy weather all the way, the raindrops started spattering down, and after good, sedate driving, we began encountering the crazy risk-takers. Drivers is ghastly-coloured Fords or Holdens Vee Sixes (or some such hoonish vehicle) overtaking on blind corners, desperately wanting to be a statistic, or tomorrow’s headline. Why don’t they just do us all a favour, and get a penis enlargement?

It’s funny being back in Auckland. I wouldn’t want to live here again, but it’s nice to catch up with the latest good restaurants (which I shall review later), and run into friends on the street. I’ve just had a coffee with the Mayor of Waitakere City, whom I found loitering in High Street chattering on his cellphone, so we sat down and cooked up a book together which may or may not eventuate. Drifting by were various luminaries from the higher echelons of the legal profession – Galbraith & Anderson, Moore & Grieve. All say I’m “looking well” and I tell them it’s the country life and having, as your work colleagues, a horse, a cat and a dog. They look at me as if I’m barmy, and maybe I am, but I wouldn’t spell it that way.

Meet the Candidates, Dibley Style

Last night in Martinborough the Lions organised a “Meet the Candidates” meeting in the Town Hall. I know this blog is deliberately a politics-free-zone (you can read my political columns, if you really must, and have nothing better to do with your time, at nzherald.co.nz) but this meeting was so humorous I thought I’d not only write about it in this week’s official column, but blog it here too because it’s such a classic slice of life in a small community.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you were actually in a Polish version of The Vicar of Dibley. One man in the audience had an accent the same as Jim Trott on The Vicar of Dibley. You know him, he’s the one who prefaces everything he says with “no, no, no..” when he actually means “yes”. Every time questions were to be asked, our very own Martinborough Jim Trott referred the candidates to politics in Poland. At one stage he asked the Act candidate if he was aware that Sir Roger Douglas had travelled to Poland to give the Poles political advice, and ended up forming a Polish Communist Party. I bet that’s news to both Sir Rog, and the Polish Communist Party which was formed long before Roger walked onto the New Zealand political stage. I got the giggles so much I had to hold my nose and turn red.

The Labour candidate got off to a bad start when she thanked everyone for coming out when they could have stayed home and watched Prime Minister Helen Clark “make John Key look like a schoolboy or a boy scout” (it being the first of the leaders’ debates on television). When we left home to attend the meeting, John Key and Helen Clark were having a grand old time and no one was looking worse for wear. This morning’s commentary confirmed that they both gave as good as they got, so the Labour Lady jumped the gun a bit. (Apropros of nothing, did you know that Lord Baden-Powell’s comically-titled book “Scouting for Boys” is the third of fourth best-selling book in the world, after The Bible and The Koran? So perhaps looking like a boy scout is not the derogatory term Ms Labour Lady thought it would be.)

National’s candidate (who is the sitting Member) was grumpy and red-faced. The night before they’d been in Waipukurau (where I was born) and had taken all day to get to Martinborough so perhaps he was weary of the campaign. However, he didn’t need to put down a woman in the audience who had asked a perfectly reasonable question. And his cellphone not only rang during the meeting, but he also got up to answer it. Not good, Mr Local MP.

The candidates from the minor parties were the best – sticking to their messages and refraining from attacking other candidates. The Maori Party weren’t represented, nor was the Alliance because that candidate had a sick child, we were told. Best she doesn’t go into Parliament, then, because you can’t take time off from that place if your children are sick. You need a good, supportive, partner to do that. The electorate are unforgiving of personal foibles and weaknesses.

But not one of them looked happy! We are in the midst of such depressing international news at the moment, I want someone to come along and cheer me up, cheer us all up, because we shall get through all this. It’s not the end of civilisation as we know it, and in many ways, I think the financial crisis is a damn good thing. A wake-up call to all of us who mistakenly believe that “stuff” will make us happy. It won’t. I don’t mean you have to be poor to be a good person, not at all, but shallowness, I believe, comes from measuring your effectiveness, and worthiness, by what you earn, how much you can buy. That way lies dragons.

But good luck to all of them, poor lambs. Having been there, I can’t think why they’d sacrifice such a wonderful bucolic life in the Wairarapa for the stifling frustration of the debating chamber. But at least they are prepared to put their hands up, and give it a go. For that, they deserve a round of applause.