Just a quick post, because shortly I'm off to see my birth mother and sisters up the island. Julio will take care of the house while I'm gone. I've known my mother for close to thirty years, and she's now 91 and in a rest home, so visits have to be carefully organised - she gets tired after about an hour. my sisters will lok after me very well, it's always good to see them. Then on Sunday night I'll stay with a dear friend whom I haven't seen for ages, so all in all it should work out very well.
This weekend the Downtown Community Ministry held its famous Bookfair. For a bookaholic like me it's a major event. Every year I had to decide how to resist buying ridiculous numbers of books - given that I just didn't have any room for more, unless I removed some first (though I've sometimes resorted to buying them one year, reading them, and taking them back the next year.) This year, with the gaps left by Harvey's poetry collection, I knew the temptation would be even worse than usual.
For some years, too, I've been wanting to go down and help sort the books beforehand. Of course I really did want to help this brilliant organisation with tis biggest fundraising drive of the year, and I knew I'd be pretty good at sorting. But also - I thought that if I was helping in this way, I would get an early look at what was available and maybe just confine myself to one or two books I really couldn't live without...
Harvey's illness put this idea on hold, because I couldn't help for long enough to be useful. But this year there was nothing to stop me. Unfortunately I offered my services too late - they already had enough sorters. They did want help, though, on the weekend itself. I thought about it, and said yes. After all, I figured, if I was helping I wouldn't be exposed to nearly as much temptation - but I would still get to look at the books for a little while at least.
It all worked out perfectly. I got myself down there early on a wet, cold Saturday, met loads of lovely people I knew, and managed to be useful handing out plastic bags, pointing people in the right direction, and above all, giving free rein to my inner librarian by going round picking up piles of discarded books and returning them not just to their correct table, but to the right section. (I even rescued one of my own books from "Women's Health" and moved it to its rightful place in "Women and Politics".)
And at lunchtime, when the crowd thinned out a bit, I did have a quick browse, confining myself to biography and picking up just five books - such restraint!
The other news of the week (and the reason this post is a bit late, sorry) is that my first paying guest has arrived. I advertised with the universities for short-stay visiting academics, and Julio replied. He's a young mathematician from Brazil, and we're getting on very well indeed (see Something Else to Eat). I'm so pleased I got up the courage to do this. As I told him today, he's setting a very high standard for anyone who comes after him.
As someone who spends a lot of time with words, I really enjoy getting away from them - drawing and painting or, much more frequently, cooking and sewing. This week I did my first sewing for a long time. I had a friend of over fifty years coming to stay, and a week ago I found a remnant of furnishing fabric that I knew she'd love - brilliant tropical flowers, leaves, and parrots.
Her house is full of bright Pacific artwork, cushions, etc, and she actually has her very own parrot, the devilishly clever Claude. (Parrots are notoriously hard to sex, but she knows he's a boy because he likes to hump her hand.) Whenever he does anything wrong, he tries to blame the cat by shrieking "Puss!" He lives on the verandah, and when a sudden gust of wind toppled the clothes airer, full of washing, he screeched endlessly. When she came out to see what the fuss was about, he was lying on the floor of his cage with his claws in the air to show her what had happened.
I found a couple of bright red cushion covers and stitched on squares of parrots and flowers. There was just enough left over for a table mat. She loved them, and I loved making them.
I've never felt nervous sleeping in the house on my own, but I'm always just that little bit more relaxed when I have someone staying here. So by the time she left, I was well set up for my next undertaking - going to Guardian Memorials to look at the options for Harvey's plaque. I didn't go alone, I had a steadfast friend with me, and it also helped immensely that the person who dealt with us was a warm, empathetic young woman.
From a quick look at other plaques in Karori Cemetery, I'd thought black granite was the only option (I didn't want bronze). But you can get different colours, and we chose a lovely dark green that looks like pounamu, a good fit for Harvey's love of nature and gardening. Now I just need to work out the wording, and later we'll get together for an unveiling (I don't think that's at all the right word, but there doesn't seem to be another one).
And earlier this week, I finally managed to begin work on the next chapter of my food memoir, after a nine-month drought. I used a trick I've often taught to other people: you turn off the computer screen, so you can't see what you're writing and have to concentrate on the words in your head. Two hours later I had 2,500 words, not all of them useful, of course, but still - it's a good start.
I'm never quite sure what people mean when they're in difficult circumstances, you ask them how they are, and they say, "Oh, we're getting there". But this week I did feel as if I was getting there too, at least as far as the house is concerned.
First, I've been moving books around, filling up the shelves which once held Harvey's magnificent collection of New Zealand poetry, amd making room upstairs for a better arrangement of my own books, papers, notebooks, sewing things, cards, photos...
Today I also managed to deal with a pile of Harvey's files and folders, keeping all the important things, such as his references right back to when he left his first teaching job at Morrinsville (as a writer and former bureaucrat, he kept his paper history in very good order), and throwing away the rest, such as the letters and forms and instructions sent to us by the many, many agencies we had to deal with because of his health problems, from the three different hospitals which took care of him to the people who lent him vital equipment like walkers, grabbers and shower seats. I didn't enjoy any of this, but there was a sort of sad satisfaction in getting it done.
And on Monday Ali and David came and added the top layer of mulch to my new garden bed. I thought it would be just that dull plain brown stuff, but I was wrong. They brought eight bags of their own mulch, made of trees and trimmings from their section, all ground up and left to mature for a while. Instead of being dull brown, it was a gorgeous rich many-shaded chestnut. The garden looked as if a great pile of autumn leaves had drifted down and miraculously landed neatly in exactly the right place. I keep forgetting to take a photo before the rain and wind come back, but as soon as I get one, I'll add it. (Done!)
So that was very satisfying too. I'm sure Harvey would have been delighted. And I got Jan's comment (see "Six months", below). All in all, it was a good week.
My partner of thirty years, Harvey McQueen, poet, gardener, educator, 13/9/1934 - 25/12/2010
The Colour of Food: A memoir of life, love and dinner
This is an e-book - click on the cover to see how to buy it.
This Piece of Earth: a year in my New Zealand garden
Harvey's memoir, now available as an Awa Press e-book - click on the cover to see how to buy it.
At my book launch - Lois Daish, me, Mary Varnham of Awa Press. Click on the photo to go to the book's Facebook page.
MY FOOD BLOG
Click on the lemons to go to Something Else To Eat
Harvey's last anthology, These I Have Loved: My favourite New Zealand poems, published by Steele Roberts, was launched on 10/10/2010. To see what Beattie's Book Blog has to say about it, click on the cover.
"I read for pleasure and that is the moment I learn the most." — Margaret Atwood