Wednesday, 23 December 2015
Ernest Britten Page was an extraordinary man and looked exactly the way I have always imagined John The Baptist would look. I think I must have met him in the early 1960s in one of those all night coffee bars that flourished uneasily in the grubby streets of Soho and Covent Garden at the time. He was intentionally homeless and during the day slept in the reading room at the British Museum or on the Circle Line, which then did what Circle Lines are supposed to do, hour upon hour encircling central London. By eight each evening he emerged refreshed and ready for another night’s work casting horoscopes and interpreting astrological charts which in 1964 cost five shillings apiece. Ernest was no mere forecaster but rather a mystic of immense depth and intuition. His sensitivity to the human condition was unsurpassed and he was unique among the many misfits who frequented the night streets of the city claiming either to have found or to be searching for `answers’. He is said to have been a post office worker for the first twenty years of his working life, one of those who weighed parcels and issued postage stamps to orderly queues. One day whilst eating a cheese and pickle sandwich at lunchtime in Hammersmith he decided to give up his mundane job and from that moment the local postmaster never laid eyes on him again. Ernest walked into central London, grew his hair and a long white beard and did what he had always wanted to do, cast horoscopes. He was particularly adept at Horary Readings where the concerned client asked a question to which the possible answer was of enormous concern to them and Ernest constructed a chart by noting the exact time at which the question was asked. A number of young women like myself, suffering varying degrees of unrequited love, lined up on Friday and Saturday evenings to ask our strikingly similar questions. Ernest was consistent in his predictions for me – the man I adored did not adore me; he advised me to leave him but knew that I would not do so. He then told me precisely when I would leave, down to the very month – February 1968. My closest friend in those years had recently had a baby, a child who was to have significant health problems in years to come. Ernest accurately predicted a number of events that would occur in the child’s future, including some unexpectedly tempestuous and turbulent incidents. At the time we treated the matter light heartedly and I had almost forgotten it until reminded recently by the child herself, now a middle aged woman who still has the original reading that Ernest charted that night. Later in the sixties her mother and I came across Ernest again and were shocked when he said with no hint of trepidation that he would not be available for future astrological work as he expected that his life was soon to end. Within a week or so he was found dead in a deck chair in St. James Park, the sunny day enticing him away from the Reading Room and the depths of the London Underground system. It was an enormous shock to all who knew him. For one thing, despite the fact that his general appearance led his friends and acquaintances to assume that he was an elderly man, Ernest Page was in fact only in his early fifties. It has been both pleasing and satisfying to be once more reminded of him and more than thought provoking to attest to the precision of his predictions.
Monday, 21 December 2015
It would be true to say that I never feel full of the joys of Spring in the lead up to Christmas - never have, and even less so when the lead up features humid nights where sleep evades me, and choirs swelter in shopping malls belting out various versions of `The Little Drummer Boy'. The first Christmas I remember with any kind of clarity was when I was four years old and my mother bargained with the local butcher for the Red Cross Doll in his window display so that I could become its proud owner and name it Arabella. Toys were hard to find in wartime. The second one was with my father safely home from Italy, Greece, North Africa and wherever else the Eighth Army went. Despite our poverty I remember him staggering into my bedroom with a pillow case full of second hand books - Rupert Annuals and a long forgotten book character called Toby Twirl. Oh, and a red plastic tea set with which I played for years. Then of course there was the truly awful Christmas of 1951 when he suddenly died on the twelfth of December, struck down with a mysterious illness that turned him yellow, far too yellow and dispatched him within days even though he went to hospital. How odd that in those far off days we all believed in the magical powers of the local hospital. How guilty I felt, how responsible because he and I had been locked in ongoing battle since 1946 and I had so often fervently wished for his demise. After his death the poverty became more grinding and the Christmases more miserable than usual, undistinguished one from another. Then when I was seventeen a suddenly more exciting Christmas spent in London with new Australian flatmates whilst my poor mother and young brother sipped their festive whiskey tea in North Kent and told themselves I would surely put in an appearance on Boxing Day. Seven yuletides with Vidar my oh so controlling lover and the father of my first child, passed indifferently although I do remember him once giving me a tiny Steiff bear that I treasured for years and then lost. Suddenly the love of my life was in the past and I was once again alone, now with a baby that he assured me he never wanted to lay his eyes upon. He kept his word in that respect but those first festive seasons as a mother were delightful despite the fact that money had once again become an issue. To have happy Christmases you definitely need children around you, preferably your own. The happiest of all were then yet to come once securely married and within a few short years, mother of three. I recall working frantically to create my own little Dickensian world in this corner of the Pacific, complete with roast goose (hard to find I can tell you), and puddings made in November. When others headed for the beach with their glazed hams and fruit salads, we stayed firmly at home in Kohimarama mimicking the characters from `A Christmas Carol'. And of course it was most definitely worth all the hard work when two out of three of those children, now heading towards middle age, still get excited at the thought of Christmas Trees, carols and roasting chestnuts.
Saturday, 12 December 2015
I was recently exchanging a few words with a Facebook Friend as to how Auckland weather compares with that of London. I regaled her with the fact that when I arrived in New Zealand forty years ago I was considerably surprised by the novelty of winters where no heavy coat was needed and I could happily navigate my way from kindergarten drop-off to shopping trip with only a chunky Aran sweater to protect me from the elements – unless it rained of course. Then, unaccustomed to the kind of deluge Auckland could produce I not so happily became soaked from top to toe because it was a little while before I worked out that I needed to purchase an umbrella at the very least. I distinctly recall asking several people if it really was winter and them saying that July was usually the coldest month of the year. There again, this was Auckland and I had not yet experienced the rather different climate of the South Island. `It is so, so much colder in winter in London,’ I pronounced to anyone who seemed willing to listen and mostly they looked indifferent, which is unsurprising. It is safe to say that unless it was raining I was as warm as toast bustling around the streets doing house-wifely things. It was a different matter inside the apartment where the rather new husband and I were living. Number fifteen Karori Crescent was quite smart for its time; open plan living with wide windows dramatically overlooking the entrance to the harbour. I spent a great deal of time contemplating the view, observing the variety of vessels coming and going, and as the novelty of the new climate began to diminish, wishing I was on one of them – but that’s another story. It was inside that quite smart apartment that I first realized how fundamentally chilly New Zealand homes could be and how odd it was that the locals appeared to be immune to the fact and continued to explain that they did not own heaters because after all, Auckland had a semi tropical climate. As time went on I realized that our own draughty home was far from unusual and that the city’s splendid Art Nouveaux houses with their impressively high ceilings, ornate verandahs and lavish belvederes had been designed by an army of hopeful architects confidently expecting that this far flung outpost of the empire was yet another tropical paradise. A little bit of India in the Pacific perhaps. They rapidly came to the conclusion that they were mistaken and began to gaze enviously towards the rather more cozy and comfortable dwellings constructed by the local Maori who had no intention of putting up with chilly Julys. As time has progressed Aucklanders have become accustomed to the idea that perhaps a mistake was made all those years ago by the first settlers; possibly central heating is not a completely unreasonable idea. This sensible conclusion was much aided twenty years ago by the sudden influx into the country of groups of Russian musicians and trapeze artistes who immediately and significantly lifted both quality and performance of Orchestras and Circuses from Whangarei to Invercargill. Having an orchestral player in the family, from time to time we met these new immigrants, at parties organized to welcome them. Invariably they sat hunched and miserable and plainly shivering. One cellist romantically called Anastasia told me almost with tears in her eyes that she had never been as cold in her native Siberia and added, `There we have heaters of course.’ I met her again a week or so later at another welcome to Auckland event and this time I could not help but notice that she had taken the precaution of wearing a fur jacket. `That’s a lovely jacket,’ I told her shivering resentfully in my silk blouse. She simply looked smug.
Wednesday, 9 December 2015
So I’m revisiting what might be called a hoary old topic – the pitfalls of an afternoon’s shopping for something as ultimately mundane and commonplace as a white blouse. Yes, I know it’s tedious. I hate shopping and almost need to be topped up with a large gin before I can even contemplate the idea. It’s not that I hate entering shops (though they could turn the music down) or that I find clothes boring (I definitely do not!). No, what I hate with a vengeance is the third degree the customer is put through as they quietly traverse the rows of goods on view. Quiet contemplation of garments is impossible as one eager assistant after another wants to know if I am merely browsing. Then, thirty seconds later, if I am still happy to be merely browsing. Once reassured that I am happy indeed to continue the browsing option within a milli-moment I am asked if I am shopping for Christmas and if my day has been good so far. I am then of course tempted to say that the day was great until their inquisition began but I force myself to simply nod and smile. I begin to feel stalked as the breathlessly excited shop person then desperately needs to know if I have anything good planned for the weekend – followed by an urgent need to know what I am doing for Christmas. But by this time, if I have managed to control a furiously rude response…..I am exiting the place. Today both MAX and COUNTRY ROAD lost possible sales and I headed towards GLASSONS where the interrogations by staff are not usually as ferociously determined. The only problem being that most of the customers look about thirteen and after grabbing the nearest white blouse size twelve I hastily pay for it then slink away. Overall though, downtown GLASSONS was definitely the store of the day.
Saturday, 5 December 2015
I confess to finding the game of cricket tedious. I have never understood the rules and never wanted to. In England the best thing about it was that it was often played on village greens on balmy summer afternoons with onlookers (who clearly did not find it as monotonous as I did) spilling out of pubs with names like The Red Lion or The Black Bull, pints in hand to lazily observe the progress of the contest. The spotlessly white garments of the players were pleasing to the eye. I especially liked the way some of the more fashion conscious draped their v- necked sweaters around their shoulders as they ambled towards the pub as the sun went down. In New Zealand the absence of village greens and Red Lions rather sealed the fate of the game for me, however. I really didn’t like those coloured pajama type outfits the players began to wear a couple of decades ago. I have an aversion to the background noise of the game on television, hour after hour, day after dreary day as the husband remains glued to the screen with the volume just a little too high on account of his challenged hearing. I feel murderous when he suddenly reverts back to the cricket in the middle of Coronation Street - `Just for a second because I want to know the score’. Oh how my knitting needles want to leap from my homicidally inclined fingers at those moments and sink themselves into the back of his neck. If he knew how deadly my intent was he would refrain from score checking even though it is generally, as he is quick to point out, only during the commercial breaks. So you’ve got the picture I’m sure, I really do not enjoy the game of cricket. However, in recent weeks I am ashamed to say that a whisper of interest has been kindled via the trial of one unfortunate Chris Cairns. I followed the action with great attention. As former friends and colleagues lined up to tell the world what a disgraceful cheat he was, I was convinced beyond any doubt that the outcome could only be several years in prison for young Christopher though the first uncertainty set in when the Judge seemed to me at least to be directing the Jury to `find him not guilty or else…..’ He doesn’t really mean that I thought to myself. So it was with disappointment that I woke on that fateful day a couple of weeks back to a Chris Cairns telling the world how relieved he is and what an ordeal he has been through. The husband harked back to the lack of what he called hard evidence and went back to munching his muesli. That’s all very well but I could not help but feel disillusioned by the result – most particularly since Mr. Cairns seemed to me to be remarkably understanding and even forgiving of those who had turned against him, appearing at the proceedings merely to tell lies about him. I could almost hear him turning several cheeks whereas if I were in his position I would be planning revenge and retribution. Chris Cairns does not concern himself with the settling of scores. It only goes to show how capricious the game and its players are. As I said, I’ve never been able to work up much enthusiasm for it.
Tuesday, 1 December 2015
I made a lightning visit to Countdown on Quay Street this morning. I should explain that although I have the all important One Card and generally speaking I am a Countdown customer going back to the dark ages, I really HATE going to the Quay Street branch even though it is only a couple of minutes down the road and the parking is under cover and should be stress free. There is an unpleasant atmosphere in the car park which might or might not be simply to do with the poor lighting or more likely because of the Hitleresque Warden policing the area and making sure that no would-be customer stays over time or (heaven forbid) pops up the road for a cup of coffee. Deviating from the parking time limit rule results in a hefty and official looking fine designed to look as if it emanates from the local Council – which it does not. The keeper of the parking places although diligent in his duties did nothing to stop my neighbour’s bag being snatched a few months ago. If I go to Quay Street at all I try to get there early, before the beggars rise from their beds to patrol the pedestrian walkway by the stairs because as beggars go they are unusually menacing and though I have reported their presence on a number of occasions to the duty manager, nothing much is done to deter them. On one occasion I had to wait to lodge my complaint while an argument took place between staff as to WHO the duty manager actually was that day! Another frustration is the fact that having navigated the stairwell vagrants and actually entered the premises, there are often no trolleys to be seen. This is because they invariably pile up in long chains like a giant conger eels in the car park below. It would appear that most of the staff are reluctant to push them up the ramp so that they can be ready for customers above. It’s possible that they too are wary of the beggars. All in all it almost seems that the supermarket on Quay Street is not really a part of the Countdown chain at all, but a charlatan store of the kind you might come across in a disagreeable dream. So since I moved into the city, unless I am really pushed for time (like today) I much prefer to drive over to Mission Bay and supermarket shop in the more congenial atmosphere of New World, Eastridge.