Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Great Way to Spend a Tuesday Afternoon!

Tuesday 30th December found us doing a spot of entertaining (and not before time either!).   The trouble with downsizing is that it becomes harder to cram too many friends at any one time into one's  new and limited space.  
`It'll be easy in the summer time,' the husband announced confidently one winter afternoon with the rain pouring down, `Because then we can use the courtyard.'   I agreed so on the Tuesday in question we were found using the courtyard just as he had planned.   We had even thought ahead and bought sun hats from the two dollar shop which we now keep under the bed (the hats I mean).   There really is very little space at this oh so smart city perimeter address.   But the good news is that it did not rain!
Four of the guests had themselves already downsized from vast family homes in various suburbs and understood perfectly the problems involved in entertaining under the new and challenging circumstances.    Philippa said she often gets ten around her dining table in Grey Lynn and then she added, `with a bit of a squeeze that is.'   And Margaret's expertise viz a viz holding lunches and cocktail parties in her large room with the sensational view in Newmarket is already the stuff of legend and she's only been there a year.   Shirley, still in her palatial home at Red Beach (of which we are all secretly envious) has yet to come to terms with the complexities of city living though knowing her she will do it with panache when the time comes.
I won't lie and say that Tuesday was totally effortless - there are things I will do better next time like remembering the switch the oven on and counting the wine glasses but overall we all had a splendid time though I say it myself.   The lads certainly enjoyed catching up and reaffirming what medicine was like in the good old days.   The ladies were the main contributors to any conversation of note and had the most interesting ideas on euthanasia, gay marriage and whether the Pope is likely to be poisoned whilst eating in the Vatican canteen.
The next soiree is planned for early in 2015.  
Wishing you all a very good New Year.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Lunch at Euro the other day....

The other day, well on 22nd December to be more precise, we decided to give Euro a try for our wedding anniversary lunch (Forty Two Years! - the mind boggles.)
We are very glad we took the plunge back in their direction again,  it being several years since our last visit.   A rather small menu but the food is absolutely excellent - the husband loved his Steak Tartare starter.   The fish dishes we both chose were divine.   The service was outstanding.  We will certainly be returning.  In fact Euro might become our 2015 favourite because sadly Harbourside really does have to be put firmly on the back burner.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

The Sad Tale of Uncle Paddy and the search for Patricia Doran

Such excitement a day or two before Christmas.A breathless email from brother Bernard the family historian.  He’s the one who some years ago decided to sink a great deal of time and money into attempting to discover illustrious ancestors and found only Horse Traders and Pikeys, in fact generally the kind of individuals any self respecting Gipsy would cross the street to avoid.  Anyhow it seems the family also harbours a bigamist in the form of Poor Uncle Paddy.  Who would have thought it?  
Now Uncle Paddy Doran hailed from Ireland and had married our mother’s sister Martha and shortly before the outbreak of World War Two a daughter was born to them – Cousin Patricia.  He went off to war at about the same time as our own father.   Some time in 1945 Aunt Martha received a telegram to tell her of his imminent return and Cousin Patricia confidently told me he was bringing back with him a walking, talking doll from Italy, especially for her.   To that I retorted that my own father was bringing twin dolls and a twin pram – so there!
A day or two later Aunt Martha received a second telegram, this time to say that unfortunately during a drunken episode to celebrate peace, Paddy had unfortunately fallen from a roof and broken his neck.
I asked Patricia if she thought she might still get the walking, talking doll but she didn’t know and told me she didn’t really care but I knew she did.
Well that, you might imagine, would have been the end of the sad business but you’d be wrong. Imagine Bernard the historian’s surprise to be recently contacted by a half brother to Patricia.  Yes, it appears that God fearing Uncle Paddy who attended Mass every Sunday  had a second family in Liverpool of all places where a son was born who would now very much like to meet his sister.   The problem is that no-one seems to know what finally became of Patricia Doran.  I can remember her teenage marriage to a local Crayford  lad in 1957 or thereabouts and the birth shortly afterwards of an infant named Sharon, who was blessed the following year with a little sister called something like Cheryl-Anne.   Then Patricia seemed to fade onto the periphery of the family and it was rumoured that because of their dysfunctional nature her husband had forbidden her to have anything to do with her many aunts and cousins.  Although she was seen pushing her daughters through the Dartford shopping centre from time to time it was said she rarely stopped to chat.  
But common sense dictates that as none of us has heard to the contrary she is presumably still alive and living somewhere, tending her garden and her grandchildren.  So if you are still out there  Patricia, you should urgently contact any one of your many cousins who are all bursting to tell you the news.
(And if any curious non-related reader wishes to know more of the story behind the story, you should go to Amazon or Smashwords and download `Chalk Pits & Cherry Stones’)

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas Eve in Parnell, Auckland.....

I always think Christmas Eve is much nicer than Christmas Day so this year we are adopting what I am reliably told is a German tradition - exchange of gifts and carols on Christmas Eve and if the weather holds maybe supper in the courtyard with candles and reminiscences of times past.  Nice, cosy and a little bit sad at the same time;  what could be better?
Christmas greetings to all, far and near, especially to Seamus in Taiwan and Sinead who as I write is heading towards Cape Wrath in the north of Scotland along with Luke to spend a Pikey Christmas with as many members of the dissolute, disreputable and dysfunctional family as can make it that far. We are crossing our fingers that Luke won't be too horrified by them en masse at this festive time of year.
Patrick has promised he will behave exceptionally well this year and is hopefully at this moment heading from Panmure to Parnell without partaking in too many hostelries along the way.  
We three - he, me and the husband will be dining on marinated fish this evening and roast pheasant tomorrow.   We will be thinking fondly of all of you.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Harbourside Demise perhaps?

A sad sentence or two regarding what appears to be the demise of Harbourside Restaurant in the old ferry building on the waterfront.   The husband and I have been fans for more than twenty years, popping in regularly for lunch even at times when we didn't feel all that flush.  I can even remember once going there because it was somewhere quiet to discuss how to cut down on our spending!
Today we met newly weds Cathy & Jossi there for a pre-Christmas lunch.
`You'll love it,' I told Cathy confidently.
We managed to exchange the terrace table by the door where the wind howled through for a nice quiet table inside by the kitchen easily enough though I had to promise the rather doubtful Lady In Charge that we wouldn't later complain that it was too close to the kitchen, or that the tables around us were `not laid up'.  I promised.   And we managed to get the music turned down sufficiently for the gentlemen to hear each other - well to be fair it wasn't much to ask, the bridegroom being in his nineties.
We really did not want to complain so in the final analysis we didn't.... BUT......there was no excuse for the cold chips, which we sent back and which were replaced though not too speedily.   There was no excuse for the fact that when they were replaced I was forced to collect them myself from the kitchen service area because they languished there so long they were in danger of  joining  their predecessors.   There was no excuse for the fact that although the restaurant was far from full nobody came to refill the water glasses or to ask if we wanted a second glass of wine.   And there was no excuse for the long, long delay in delivering the second glasses once they had been successfully ordered.     It was the newly weds' first experience of Harbourside and I must admit that having spoken of the place in more than glowing terms I was a bit embarrassed at the whole service fiasco although I have to say that overall the food was very good indeed.
I had hoped that considering the various cock-ups they might have made some gesture of regret such as at least removing the offending chips from the bill.   They didn't and by the time we left I had come to the conclusion that perhaps they were simply having a bad day and the less that was said about it the better.   I won't be returning with guests in too much of a hurry though.

The Nights Before Christmas.....

Only a week or so ago it seemed we were doing absolutely nothing over the Christmas period and suddenly there are not enough hours in the day.
The husband's Thursday Golf Group (yes there's a Wednesday Golf Group also - different participants) suddenly decided that was what needed to end the year was a pre-Christmas/New Year grand dinner somewhere grand.    They decided against Banque in Remuera; that would be too noisy they thought.   Organiser in chief, Colin finally booked a table for ten at Cibo which as far as we were  concerned was a great idea as it is just at the bottom of the road and walkable to in less than two minutes.   And it would be quiet too!
Of course it was anything but quiet and the party crescendos emerging from the place could be heard as we left the house.  I even imagined I could see fireworks but they could simply have been the lightning flashes that raced across the city just to remind us not to take summer too literally.  So for the next couple of hours we screamed at each other across the table and I had enormous problems hearing the waiter when he tried to describe to me what the `cigar dressing' on the venison loin actually consisted of.    I ordered it anyway.
We spent yesterday recovering from the noise assaults from the restaurant and by five pm, fortified with stout gins and tonics, made our way to Bob and Margaret who have a top floor apartment with a breathtaking view over the city and harbour.   Pre-Christmas drinks and nibbles Margaret had said and indeed the nibbles were so substantial I cannot imagine eating for the next week or two.  Very civilised it was, even the lads with hearing aids could actually hear each other and what is more we were home in time for Coronation Street.
And when we returned we found that somehow or other a gift giver had arrived, gained access to our Fort Knox style block, and left a vast assortment of French pates and cheeses in the courtyard.
`It's a mistake,' said the husband doubtfully, `They are not meant for us.'
I was putting them away in  cupboards by that stage though.
He handed me a jar of potted crab and mentioned the name of the oldest son, the one who has no control over his spending and to whom we in vain email learned articles on obsessive-compulsive disorder.
`Or else it's Patrick,' he said shaking his head doubtfully.
I crammed the potted crab into the last bit of shelf space, beside a carton of cornflakes and said I would send a text of enquiry in Patrick's direction, which I did.
`Did you come by our place earlier this evening?'  the text queried in suitable bland fashion.
This morning a reply  sprang from the Samsung S3 screen as I blearily began to think about facing the day - `No - that was Santa'  it said.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Independent Publishing Update

Yesterday I attended a morning seminar at the Central Library with Jennifer.  I think we had rather thought we would be two of possibly ten attendees and were surprised to find ourselves lost in a sea of other Indies - at least sixty of us of all shapes and sizes.   Joanna Penn, a very successful writer and publisher herself told us more of the nuts and bolts of how to get started along the path to success.  Some of it we already knew of course, and some of it we certainly didn't.   Overall what it seemed to amount to was a much greater investment of time and energy and at all costs never, ever overlook the need for an editor!    I knew neither of us to be all that keen on taking the latter piece of wisdom all that seriously.   And we both struggled with the even greater investment of time and energy too.   Jennifer already fits far more into each day than I do so I couldn't see her even pausing to reflect on how it could be done.    My current pace of life at present is to meander much of the time and not make too many firm plans in order to be available for anything exciting that may turn up.  At the same time I do try to write every day and often do not succeed (NOT GOOD says Joanna!) and recently I really have tried to check social media daily (A MUST says Joanna!).    I feel uneasy and upset if I don't have time to read each day,.....and if I cannot find time to listen to music I can sense an attack of something nasty lurking.  And once all that is done there has to be time left somewhere for meeting friends for coffee, tea or chardonnay and catching up with all that's new about their husbands, toy boys, cats or grandchildren.   I have a feeling that Joanna might frown on such frivolity.   
Yesterday's group of writers wrote in a variety of differing genres from Romance to Sci-Fi, Action Adventures to Family History.  There was even a poet or two and a fair slice writing for children.  Only a few had started via traditional publishing.  At one stage Joanna quite rightly pointed out that although we would all be able to remember the titles and authors of our favourite books, few of us would be able to confidently name the publishers.   Independent Publishing was now quite respectable!   We breathed sighs of relief.
The event was very well organised and Joanna Penn was an energetic and interesting speaker who had done extremely well in a short space of time by publishing independently.   We were both glad we went.  
Oh - and she thought that blog writers would do no harm by promoting their own books from time to time.   We all need something to read over Christmas don't we?
My latest three books are now available on Amazon.  The Links are:    Chalk Pits & Cherry Stones   8.10 to Charing Cross    Deceived by Faith

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Christmas Letters

One the things about this time of year that really irritates me is the Grand Yuletide Letter some people seem to send out indiscriminately (and ill-advisedly to my mind).   You know the kind of thing, at least you will once you’ve received one.  There’s a formula to it, rather like an Enid Blyton book.   It’s not actually for you, it’s for the world in general and it’s not really a letter, it’s a platform for a self-important, swaggering rave about how wonderful they are, how very, very clever their children and grandchildren are, and how many simply splendid places they have visited and prizes they have won during the past year.   It’s full of names you don’t recognize (never an explanation as to who they might be) and the intention is to make you reflect upon how dull irrelevant your own life is together with those of your immediate family – and what is more, how very lucky you are to be on the sender’s Christmas Letter List.
For the curious, it goes something like this:

Hello All, just grabbing a moment or two to send a little Christmas Cheer to friends and family and let you know how the year has treated us.
Myra has been awfully busy of late  finishing her International Degree in Banking Law whilst officiating nightly at the Ebola Clinic and thankfully managed to complete it all with Honours.  She’s so relieved as at one stage she thought she might have to delay it all until next year.  We have now re-negotiated our weekends with Babs so that the twins only come to us every third weekend as it was getting a bit much trying to accommodate their violin and skating classes and Myra was getting tired.  They are both doing fantastically well – due to play a duo at the Town Hall in February.
Tyrone has been offered three film parts for this coming year and is wondering which one to take.
Hamish and Zac conquered that Everest North Face climb last month  - the youngest in the group again!  
Juanita and Maurice booked in for a walk through Nicaragua but just before they were to leave the divorce came through so in the end only Juanita went.  Maurice is currently sky-diving at Cape Wrath where he has just bought a holiday cottage.   It used to be a hunting lodge so a bit drafty but he’s almost completed the alterations.  Did a lot of it himself as it was so expensive flying tradesmen up to the Cape.
You will remember our youngest, Elissa.  Well she’s now quite grown-up at eighteen and finished her combined Maths & Physics degree rather early so opted for a gap year in Trinidad before choosing one of the positions she’s been offered.   She certainly has zest for life – we were surprised to hear via the Family Notices columns in The Herald that she had recently given birth to a son.  It was rather touching – it said, `To Elissa, daughter of Myra and Tom of Auckland, a son born in Trinidad’. Myra said it sounded a bit like a virgin birth.  Apparently she delivered him herself and the afterbirth was turned into pate and eaten at the birth celebrations!  Well, they all do these odd things these days don’t they?
Christian got married this year of course to one of the Astor girls- a great great niece of Nancy.  They are having to live as tax exiles in Jersey so unfortunately we don’t see as much of them as we would like to.

Hope all is well with your lot.  Keep in touch!   Tom, Myra & The Gang.   

Friday, 12 December 2014

Poor Health in the High Ability Child

This week I have had conversations with three different women concerned about the poor health of their children.   Was it the Asthma, the Allergies or the Epilepsy that was holding them back at school?   Surely something must be causing their poor academic results.   It certainly got me thinking about the early health of some of those very highly able people who ultimately seemed to rise above their various problems and do very well indeed in life. 
Many had significant physical problems as children or were said to be delicate in some way. A number such as Churchill, Voltaire, Isaac Newton, Charles Wesley, Victor Hugo and Anna Pavlova were very premature and not expected to survive. Others were born after difficult labours and their outlook was considered to be poor - Rousseau, Chateaubriand, Robert Stephenson, Samuel Johnson, Picasso and Thomas Hardy.

Descartes was said to be a sickly boy who rarely left his bed, Blaise Pascal had tuberculous peritonitis as a toddler. Christopher Wren’s delicacy caused his parents much worry but he lived to be ninety. Thomas Gray was the only survivor of twelve children so naturally his parents worried about him. Jonathan Swift was always preoccupied with his health, as were his family. Horace Walpole’s mother was told that her puny baby would not live to be one year old. The Earl of Chatham was said to have suffered from childhood gout. Mozart’s early years were punctuated by lung infections and fevers and he had smallpox at the age of nine or ten. Sir Walter Scott had poliomyelitis. Chopin and Liszt were both repeatedly struck down with a variety of childhood illnesses. Charles Dickens seemed to suffer from wheezing, possibly asthma and Albert Schweitzer was more often ill than well throughout his entire childhood years.

A number of the children suffered from various forms of epilepsy – Alexander the Great, Pythagoras, Julius Caesar, Peter the Great, Napoleon, Pascal, Paganini, Swinburne, William Morris, Van Gogh, Mohammed, Lord Byron and Dostoevsky. Some were more afflicted than others, Edward Lear having up to twenty fits each day.

Samuel Johnson was deaf in one ear, William Cowper partially lost his sight at the age of eight, Edison became almost deaf at twelve, and Kipling had ongoing problems with his sight. Helen Keller became both deaf and blind as the result of an illness as a toddler, possibly meningitis. Louis Braille lost his sight as a result of an accident. Both Goldsmith and William Penn were horribly disfigured by smallpox.

Some of the children grew very slowly and never reached average stature – Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Nelson, Wren, Alexander Pope and Lawrence of Arabia. And most people know of the particular physical problems experienced by twins Chang and Eng.

Despite their handicaps all the above children went on to do extraordinarily well, the story of Helen Keller, in particular, being astonishingly inspirational.   It seems to prove that there's no holding back some people.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Grandparenting in the Twenty First Century

The husband and I don’t have grandchildren, not a single one, in fact none of our children seem to fully understand how to procreate.  The other day somebody gently suggested that it might have something to do with all the years of home schooling and added that you learn more than how to be a good loser and part of a team at primary school but I don’t subscribe to that idea.
The fact remains that ALL of my friends have grandchildren.  I’m not talking about a trifling one or two here because several people I know have five or six, even seven of them.   Grandmothers are no longer apple cheeked white haired old dears baking muffins.  They are today much more inclined to sport trendy hairdos and have regular injections of botox.   Some have jobs – and one or two run businesses.   Not full time jobs though because today’s grandchild requires a greater investment of time and energy than yesteryear’s.   
In fact if I could be re-assured that I wouldn’t be rendered totally friendless, I would almost say that there is a whole generation of over sixties who are actually being exploited.  Yes, exploited!
A decidedly different set of grandparent rules seem to apply than those of past years and some are difficult to navigate.
For one thing there are new names to be chosen because being known as Granny and Grandpa or Nanny and Grand-dad  no longer appears to be appropriate.    The more avant-garde are Josie and Tom or Mary and Bill.   More often they are Momma and Poppa or Ma and Pa, possibly in the vain hope that those within earshot in parks and cafes will mistake them for the child’s parents.   One couple I came across recently have chosen to call themselves Oma and Opa, and my neighbour along the road assures me that the three year old twins themselves chose Nonna and Nonno.   There doesn’t appear to be a solitary Dutch or Italian gene in either of these families at first glance but of course you can never be absolutely sure.
However, they have a perfect right to decide what they want to be known as of course and more especially since many of these older couples spend far more time caring for the grandchildren than they did for the children’s parents.  I know for a fact that Nonna and Nonno employed a full time Nanny in the early eighties.
Because of the inordinate amount of time that is taken up with grand-parenting, from time to time theatre and dinner dates have to be cancelled at the last moment.   There are also occasions when they  are forced to bring the children along on lunch dates or shopping expeditions, often dressed in new outfits flown in from Marks & Spencers or in one case Harrods, and looking very endearing, like fashion statements from the pages of Hello Magazine.  One local grandfather frequently takes little Jemima-Jane with him to tennis games with his friends.   He says they find her absolutely adorable.
Social liability aside, a grandchild can be an expensive luxury, what with the mounting cost of grandma hosted birthday parties, flights to London to visit Santa in Selfridges Grotto,  birthday laptops and school fees.  More prosaically as mothers themselves are generally working full time in corporate law or accountancy, the subsequent calls upon the time of the older generation for child care grow daily more demanding.   It could almost be called `Elder Abuse’.
And the abused elders are only too aware of the fact that they are being maltreated – you can tell by the way their eyes harden and glitter whenever a well-meaning friend strays anywhere near the topic of how exhausting it must be spending three weekends in a row taking half a dozen assorted under eights to swimming galas.   They usually hasten to assure you that they love every minute of it and it keeps them young.   Occasionally they are more honest.
`My choice,’ snapped one tired and drained looking seventy year old, more aggressively than I thought was really necessary.
`D’you have a problem with it?’ another who had recently gone back to smoking, demanded.
See what I mean about losing friends?
Despite all this, I cannot help thinking that it would be rather nice to have just one under five year old on hand for Christmas because there’s something very engaging about a tousle headed small person in pink pajamas helping to decorate a real pine tree.
If only it was possible to hire one for a day or two.