Thursday, 31 January 2013

Cat Culprit Caught at Scene of Crime: Identity Withheld

“Prominent NZ economist and environmentalist, Gareth Morgan, wants his country 100 percent cat-free and he's willing to go extraordinary lengths to make it a reality.” Leads the

This Eradicate-Killer-Cats Campaign has got me riled. Let’s stop the bird slaughter and save our cats, I decided and promptly bought my cat a double belled cat collar. I’d show Mr Morgan. I’d stop my moggie serving up his first avian dish at dawn. Pft said, Burnt Toast, ‘I’m a country cat, that’s how I roll’.
BT was riled too, when I put the spiffy electric-blue-belled stretchy piece of elastic around his throat. It ruffled his fur, made him look like a cad, not the rural lay about that he is. He mewed and thrashed at his neck with his hind paws. He got that collar off within two minutes and looked at me like I was a cruel ringmaster.  Fiddlesticks. I put it back on. Three times.
Strangely, by then he accepted the noose around his neck. Then he lay back looking like the cat that got the cream AND a fancy new accessory.
The next morning, he entered our bedroom, through the toilet window, as is his habit. That awful muffled meow,  now with a double belled salute, trumpeted in his first kill of the day.
What a waste of $14.50, I thought and listened to sharp incisors crushing delicate bone. It was too late to save it, so I put the pillow over my head and waited for the alarm. The lady at the vets said people had been rushing in and buying extra bells, were they also trying to stem Mr Morgans fury? Save life with cats as we know it? Or save their white shag pile carpets? Perhaps I needed three bells. Or  four? Were the birds around my property deaf or plain dumb?  I got up, picked speckled wings off the carpet and filled the cat bowl with Purina One.
By 10 am Burnie had toasted another sparrow. This was followed by a field mouse, (they’re most fun to play with). Then a waxeye at noon.  
The stupid collar had done nothing but instigate a massacre. Its happy jingle had drawn the defenseless birds to him. He’d become a feline pied piper.
He disappeared for the rest of the day. Repleat.
Naturally, I worried he’d snagged his brand new collar on a branch, struggled to free himself and twisted his collar tighter and tighter around his neck and inadvertently hung himself.  Mortal moggie terror welled within.
At 5pm, casual as, Burnt Toast strode into the courtyard calling that mocking, come-and-see-what-I’ve-killed call, I’m sick to death hearing.  Not another one? He dropped a sparrow onto the grass and washed his paws. His bells rattled. He was too hot and bothered to eat. I was too hot and bothered to start cooking the kid’s dinner and save the birds. Bag tally: 4.
I wanted to contact Mr Morgan. Wouldn’t it be more humane (fel-ane mm not a word) to do some R & D, to create a run-away-quick-little-birdie bored cat about to claw you in the neck then eat you alive device?  It could be added to the microchip Mr Morgan wants inserted in every cat. Responsible owners and all that.
Instead of jumping in boots and all and dealing up payback for the lost birds by eradicating the entire cat population of NZ. I know, I know, Mr Morgan actually wants to neuter every domestic and feral tom cat so our feline population gradually dies off. Completely.
I’m caught in the middle. I LOVE the company of cats. I also love our native birds and skinks and geckos. If there is such a thing as cat shame?  I have it. But what to do. I can’t kill my cat. The kids would be bereft. He sleeps on their bed at night, when he’s not eating fresh kill under mine.

I’m happy to say by 11.45pm the following day, collar was still intact and no birds had been consumed. Perhaps it’s all down to education. 
(please note: this cat has constant access to catbix. Birds are most active one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset).

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Don't Call Me Nincompoop

Last week I mentioned the book, The Leisure Seeker, by Michael Zadoorian.  About, Ella with cancer and John with Alzheimers, packing up their RV and hitting the road in Detroit, destination Disneyland.
This is one funny book. It’s also an enduring love story. I’d recommend it to anyone with a partner, relative or friend, currently losing their marbles, or their health.
My sister and I, in our early twenties, enjoying the local delights in Puerto Escondido, Algarve, Portugal, made a pact. Firstly, we would never enter the institute of marriage.  Secondly, when the time came we’d establish and inhabit our very own old people’s home. Aged good times guaranteed. Single-fun-seekers need only apply. Despite our youthful ages we were obviously convinced our hedonistic tendencies would never stop.
After reading, The Leisure Seeker, I can see we were on to something. In this story the desire for adventure and the light relief of humour never wanes, even when the participants have a combined age of 170 and rapidly rusting bodywork; it just comes with Antacid, random napping and a five pronged walking stick. In fact, this novel could be a guidebook. How to enjoy a US road trip of the octogenarian kind: pack meds, Manhattan mix, handgun and memories.
Despite her increasing ‘discomfort’, Ella manages to keep John under control. Hiding the keys to the RV at each stop, so he doesn’t take off without her.  Dosing him with valium so they wake at the same time. John doesn’t know Ella is dying. There's no point telling him as he wouldn’t remember. 
“I’m feeling better, no longer shaking, but John hasn’t said an intelligible word since we got here. He’s yawning and talking to himself, his window of lucidity squandered by nincompoops.”
On the lighter side the pair has hilarious conversations, swearing at each other like truckers. It’s the dialogue of two old friends, gnarled with familiarity.
My sister and I didn’t keep our first pact, we’ve both happily married. As for the second, it’s too early to know. And  you’ll need to read the book to see if Ella kept hers.

Last week I read a blog posts about the current DO’s and DON’TS of blogging on: Anne R. Allen's Blog . It said:

Don’t write TOO much. Oops.  (Mostly I aim for 800 words a post).

People skim read everything onscreen, even novels on E-readers. Really? 

Leave     a      lot     of     white     space.   Another oops.

Photos aren’t necessary. Oops again.

You don’t have to write about writing. Phew.

Moreover, if you are a pre-published author you NOW don’t have to keep a blog as a prerequisite to building your author platform.  Right.

You don’t have to blog regularly either: but it helps.

It went on. Don’t let blogging affect what you really need to write eg. that novel.  

Turn off the spam filter codes under 'post a comment', and your comments will triple. Tick.

Subsequent to this post, many bloggers commented. I subscribed to the comments link, 25 and still coming. I learnt more.
My conclusion: if it feels right; write it.

Depending to whom you say, “I write a blog” to, it can be a bit like saying, “would you like to buy an entire Encyclopedia Brittanica set, 1974 edition. Mint condition."  “I’ll send you the link,” and their eyes glaze over. So be it. People are busy. I can’t keep up with all my online reading. My gmail inbox often sits on 300. Eek.
Luckily, one of my busiest and bests friends told me my blog posts are one of the things she looks forward to each week. She subscribes by email and reads them at work. She does work for a local council, so probably needs a break from educating the powers that be and rate payers. Nevertheless, that one comment was enough to make me want to blog-on until I buy an RV, pack my meds and hit State Highway One, with the old boy and his surfboard. 
Thank you for reading readers and happy blogging bloggers.

Ps. I’m almost through Ms Denise LSC’s book. Some of the editing makes me SCREAM.
Next I’m reading, ‘The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket’, by John Boyne. Two thirds of my children start back at school tomorrow and I need to get back into children’s fiction mode. There’s that novel to write…

Sunday, 20 January 2013

I'm in a Book

Every year since I was 18, come December 31st, I’ve made my obligatory sure-to-fail New Years Resolutions.  The mainstays were always giving up smoking and losing weight. The fags were easy. At 25, I was unceremoniously dumped by a Central Hawkes Bay farmer (who I was in a long-distance relationship with, not a fight). I hit the road back to Auckland; a thought-provoking seven hours in my racing green Mini with no stereo. On the flat stretch of the Te Aute plains I crushed, one by one, the contents of my last ever packet of Benson & Hedges Gold.  Discarding paper and tobacco bits directly onto the disappearing tarmac. All the while sobbing and wailing -you bastard. It felt good. The nicotine withdrawal period was intense however, akin to stopping thumb sucking at age 10. But I stuck at it and never looked back. By 27 I decided to never look at my backside either, nor my thighs which in my critical eyes bulged too widely from my hips. It was finally time to be happy with the body I had. Pity it took so many years of dieting for that dysmorphic acid-drop to finally dissolve.
Nowadays, I set less drastic personal targets. This year I plan to read more books. It’s January 20 and I’m ploughing through numbers 3, 4 & 5. I like to read New Zealand fiction over the summer, somehow it just feels right. Delving into the nation’s psyche while minding the kids and trying not to go psychotic over the neverending dirty dishes attracting flies in the sink, or the spider webs in every out-of-reach corner doing their darndest to catch the flies attracted to...
After a moist Christmas in Auckland, we spent a rainy New Year at home in Queenstown. I didn’t care.

I was immersed in Charlotte Grimshaw’s, Soon.

Set in mid-summer on a built-up beach front (which could be Omaha) the sand was sizzling hot. I almost had to put on my bikini and a quick dollop of fake tan. Kidding – I just snuggled further under my Fairydown espresso throw (never quite understood why marketers named these light feather blankets after coffee?). 
Anyway, this is the first Charlotte Grimshaw novel I’ve read, but I’m told, “It mirrors the current social and political landscape, like all her novels”. And it does. Her frightfully rich, National Prime Minister, David Hallright, reminds me of a man my son calls Don Key. I’ve never met Bronagh Key, so couldn’t say whether, David’s mysterious control-freak wife, Roza is similar. I found the complicated fairytale she retells, as a private game with her four-year-old son, a bit distracting. It parroted the social malfunctioning of the main characters, but I couldn’t be bothered re-reading the details to match up each character with their assumed pseudonym. Roza had a little too much power over, Simon Lampton, obstetrician/gynaecologist and protagonist. Simon was a flake. I kind of felt sorry for him at the start and wanted him to get away with the silly manslaughter of the nosy filmmaker. Although, when he continued to be mean to his wife and revealed he’d had an affair with a woman on the DPB in south Auckland, I changed my mind. ‘Soon’ is a galloping read, however for me the sand dampened (it may have been the two days of rain) towards the end of the book. Thankfully Simon manned up, overcame his sordid crimes, thus leaving his reputation intact to continue on and serve those pregnant women so reliant on him. Phew.


The sun came out and I moved on to Emily Perkin’s, ‘The Forrests’.   

Unlike ‘Soon’, a Christmas present and a book I wouldn’t have necessarily purchased myself, I’d been itching to read, ‘The Forrests’. I'm a big fan of EP. I have a signed copy of, 'Not Her Real Name' (her first collection of short stories published in 1996), in my book shelf. However, as I began reading I found myself worrying about the life of Dorothy Forrest. I felt depressed when I came to the end. Dot's end. The sun was finally shining outside but it may as well have been raining again. Dot’s husband was her friend, if only that, and the father of her four children, which she enveloped herself in the raising of, giving in to never losing her baby fat and baking herself further into her track pants. Dot was the perfect nurturer. 

But sad things happened. Her sister died. Daniel, her unrequited love hovered seductively in her mind as the answer to her happiness, but only ever showed up fleetingly. I wanted to give Dot a slap every now and then and tell her to get on with it, that she was a good woman and deserved to be happy etc. I guess for some people Dot’s life and relationships are as good as it gets. Perkins certainly puts us into a mother's world by paring back the minutiae of the day to day raising of children etc in fine detail. 

However Dot is no shrinking Violet, in her old age she becomes a serial shoplifter, to the point where she needs to bus to other suburbs so not to get caught in her local! She also touches the lives of many in her role as caregiver. Fast forward to being elderly and ill, Dot enters a hospice. In the final chapters (my favourite) Perkins narrates in her lyrical style the inner/outer body experience of Dot’s morphine-addled mind beautifully. In the following excerpt she chats with the hospice orderly:

‘Those morphine dreams are fruity, man,’ the boy in the blue coat said, his tattoos falling to the floor like vines.

‘You’re proving your point,’ Dot said. ‘I’m so sick of gargling,’ she said. ‘Morphine doesn’t mean the end. This is not over. I know what your game is.

‘You know it,’ he said. ‘You know.’  (from The Forrests, Emily Perkins, Bloomsbury Circus)

From time to time Dot's deceased sister sat on her bed and they discussed childhood things, like snails in the letter box. Then finally Dot Forrest slips away. I love reading about the human condition. I’ll definitely be buying the next book.  

Onto book number three by Steve Braunias, ‘Civilization, Twenty Places on the Edge of the World’. 

Steve is a story hunter and this book is full of trophies. From Hicks Bay all the way down the country and back up, he’s interviewed characters and narrated details most of us would overlook. “For three years… I went to places no one went to, drawn to their averageness, their nothingness, their banal and exhilarating New Zealandness …” says the blurb on the back.
Steve thinks in sentences. I know so because I attended the Wanaka Autumn Art School, 2011 and he was our tutor.  The first exercise we had to do was interview our neighbour, write four sentences about them as per a radio news story.  I turned my interview into a fictional ‘morning coffee chat show’.  I must have added an exclamation mark because Steve called me a *#@*wit before he read my offering the next day. I didn’t mind, I just replied, what an &@**hole. New Zealand’s most awarded journo is pretty straight up. He’s also incredibly passionate. I learnt heaps that week.
Steve announced mid-December, the names of Class of 2011 were to appear in ‘Civilization’ (and possibly some of our writing). Call me vain, but I ordered a copy straight away. In a famous author’s book? What a privilege. What an idiot. There I was, Jane Bloomfield, second paragraph, page 189. I read out ‘my sentence’ to daughters, 14 and 12. 14 burst out laughing, 12 said, ‘what a perv’. I fumed and felt deflated. Not consoled by appearing three years younger in print. 
A few days later I started Civilization. Chapter 1: Hicks Bay, A Brief History of Meat. Fascinating. It transported me back to a holiday on the East Cape many years ago. We ended up at a motel in Hicks Bay. Local Iwi was holding a hui. The dining room was full, so we were delivered a deep fried room service meal, the partial remains of which floated in the toilet bowl the next morning – no kidding. I’ve never felt so white. We snuck out, heads lowered passed a room full of laptops the next morning.
And on I read around the country. Fascinated. The stories in ‘Civilization’ are funny, scary and full of misfits. Who would find an 85 year old ex-freezing worker living rough in a kind of loft in a derelict freezing works with only a family of cats for company? Braunias. I savoured each story. I forgot about my name, finally in print. My insulted body part was starting to get over itself. 
You can read about me too and other oddballs: ‘Civilization, Twenty Places on the Edge of the World’, in good bookstores now. 
I haven’t set a target total-read for the year. If I average 5 a month that’s: 60 books. I’ve now started, ‘All that Glitters’, by Denise L’Estrange Corbet, of World fashion. ‘She’s a complex person with a big story to tell’, apparently. As well as, ‘The Leisure Seekers’, by Michael Zadoorian. Not homegrown. About two 85 five year olds, one with cancer and one with Alzheimer's going on their last roadie on Route 66. I’ll keep you posted. 
Oh, if a never-cause-sleeping-partner-to-fidget bedside lamp exists, please let me know? 
Happy reading.

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