My Favourite Window

February 28, 2011


I noticed today that the understanding of how lucky I am to have escaped death is akin to the state of falling in love.  Heightened awareness: of the tint of leaf or the way foliage falls on a branch, the low morning sun glancing under silver clouds to shimmer on variegated shrubbery.  And I am lucky.  Bryony attends school in central Christchurch.  I am there two, sometimes three times a week, moving around the Unlimited campus or having a coffee, browsing in bookshops... and quite often craning my neck to admire some detail of Victorian and early 20th Century architecture: corbels, arches, colonnades, cuppolas, balusters, stamped brickwork;  I adored it all.  Killer design.  And I am in Love with Life.

February 25, 2011

Hearth and Home

I have felt strongly that I do not want to leave the tranquility of this village.  For the time being it feels that everything I need is here. We have food in abundance, good company, less intense aftershocks, and with rain today, an excuse to light the fire and set the kettle on the hob.  But I am aware that the dread that accompanied the immediate aftermath of the Earthquake has introverted me too much, and I must try to break away from home comforts: from baked pears with blue cheese and walnuts, ice-cream, stewed blackberries and cream, glasses of wine... and become part of the greater support network.  I realised today that just because someone may have texted after the Earthquake to say All safe, this did not mean they were untouched.
Today my step-daughter, Tina unburdened to me, her narrow escape from falling masonry as she left a restaurant to return to her office next to the CTV building: her son Paul, pulled her to safety just in time. My brother-in-law Simon working in one of Christchurch's venerable furnishing stores, experienced the building collapsing around him, watched a fellow worker plummet with her entire floor from above and then helped extricate her from the rubble.  On Tuesday my great relief was that Bryony had left her school in the central city less than an hour earlier.  Her teachers were due to hold a stop-work meeting in the afternoon and the students had been released.  Bryony's secondary school, Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, is within the Cashel/Lichfield/High St precinct of colonial buildings which have been shown crumbling, in the news footage.  If the school is ever re-established there (the campus has escaped relatively unscathed) can I ever let her return to study on that site?  Kitty, here in Ashley was skipping in the school playground and never felt the earthquake at all!  Unlike me, Bryony is out with friends: digging the silt left from liquefaction or composing heart-aching three part harmonies about the experience.
This morning I idly picked up a local newspaper that had been delivered on Tuesday, but lain unread. It reported new accomodation assistance funding for Sept 4 Earthquake victims; it reported the repair of the 35mm projector and imminent re-opening of the Rangiora Regent Theatre after earthquake damage closed the Town Hall; it reported the approaching International Ellerslie Flower Show...  The preparation of the site in Hagley Park was well under way, but this is where the refugees were mustered on that first damp night huddled amongst the marquees and the liquefaction.

Most of my NZ readers are likely to be familiar with the  websites that show the intensity of the earthquakes and the aftershocks.  My favourite is listed in a side bar of this blog, but I'll mention it again because it gives a very good visual idea of where and how the quakes are occuring.
A little guidance is in order: for me the site takes about 50 seconds to load to the point where it begins playing the 4 September quakes. Once it has reached that point you can click on 3/6/12/24 hours or the 7 day option. It takes 30 seconds or so to begin playing these readings.  When the selected period of quakes has loaded you can use your cursor to run through the list of magnitudes, depths and times again.
For a different perspective you can go to Select the Earthquake Drums tab and then the MacQueens Valley reading for the Canterbury quakes.

February 23, 2011

Thank You

The support that Cantabrians are receiving through emails, text messages, facebook, phone calls... blog comments, is having a truly healing effect - and the messages are coming from all over the world: the best of globalisation. Your thoughts are so valuable and if you do not hear back immediately, know that you are gratefully received.  Thank you.

And while the television plays painful images of a city I have loved so well, the Secret Garden provides damp and fruity solace with a spot of blackberrying with neighbours.

February 22, 2011

Another Earthquake

A quick post tonight: this latest earthquake has shaken us all here in Canterbury. The 6.3 shock was less in magnitude than the 4 September earthquake, but far more devasting, due to the proximity to central Christchurch during a weekday lunchtime.  The death toll has reached 65, rescue workers will continue to search the wreckage throughout the night and city dwellers are homeless.  My home, my family (and the Skudder house) are safe and sound. Why do I feel so much more vulnerable this time round?

February 21, 2011

Ice Breaker

With the focus yesterday on the Skudder family, it would have been easy to abandon my latest photo matching project.  A dress, a handbag and a familiar photo, with a poignant story attached...  Then with sublime serendipity, (I'd already taken the dress-based photos), I discovered in two separate parts of the house, a newspaper clipping and a diary entry, that brought life and colour to this moment in time.

The newspaper article goes on to describe a day of false starts and delays as the Magga Dan prepared to sail from Melbourne.  The loading of hundreds of drums of aviation spirit delayed departure, but my father's diary entry adds another dimension to events with palpable frustration.

8.45 left for Walshes [?] where prepared launch, about 10.35 left for Fishermans Bend where took in tow Beaver aircraft, after some trouble getting it off the Beach, grounding ourselves twice in process. A lot of wind made operation a bit awkward. Made 3 runs into ship before dropping plane safely.

And opening and closing the entry, my father makes intimate observations about his newly wedded state and his bride. I can't help feeling a little curl of pleasure in knowing that I was there in that farewell scene too: a tiny and probably unrealised presence, embarking on my own voyage of discovery.

But since this post started with a dress and a photo, I shall close with a dress and a photo: Bryony wearing what was in fact her grandmother's wedding dress!

February 20, 2011

Out of the Past

In his latest post, How Old Did You Say! blogger, Grumpy Old Ken, lays out his wonderful collection of vintage labour saving devices, which he would have us believe his wife still uses.  My daughter, Kitty, would have me believe this labour saving device, that she helped me uncover in the Secret Garden, is really an alien space-craft. However, I can clearly remember carting water from it one parched, childhood summer, for my mother to wash the laundry in. I was fascinated, watching the transported mosquito larvae wriggling amongst the sheets in the bath!

It feels this week as though I am making great strides with the Skudder House, clearing the Sleeping Beauty-tangle from its skirts with help from Ashley School PTA members; fielding another visit by the Earthquake Commission and this time getting a chimney inspection.  Re-building of one chimney will be necessary and possibly some re-pointing around the kitchen chimney breast, but the inspector considered the house safe. Coming after the structural engineer's accessment this is more reassurance that restoration of the house is going to be feasible.

And then today like a blessing from the past the Skudder House had visitors.  Elaine Downes and her husband Lloyd, stopped to photograph the house while I was working inside this afternoon. I was immersed in my own family history discoveries, while Elaine was searching her roots.  She is the great, great granddaughter of Thomas Skudder who built the house and has a wealth of information to share about the family. The Skudder family as far as I can tell have no named descendents locally, but Elaine, who lives far away in Mt Maunganui, named a giddying list of familiar locals, who are descended from the original Skudders.

February 19, 2011

Savoury Apple Tart

Following on from yesterday's photo of my summer harvest, I want to share my dish of the moment.  Really, the recipe changes according to what is available. I make it sweet with wild blackberries over the apples, and I can see that it is time to buy a nice mouldy cheese to mix with last year's walnuts over this year's pears.  Not a day goes by without one of my neighbours dropping garden surplus in: tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes, and just today - carrots, onions and sweet corn!
But here is one way to use up all those manky apples.

Gather up your windfall apples - don't be timid - codling moth, wind-burn, bounce-bruise and all; slice out the bad bits and sliver the good over a sheet of savoury short pastry laid on a baking tray. Tweak the edges of the pastry up all around to hold the cooking juices.  Thinly slice red onion, finger olive oil and balsamic vinegar through as you separate the rings, then scatter over the bed of apple. Grate a good strong cheese all over. My preference is for Karikaas Vintage Gouda, but any NZ 1kg edam is delicious too.  Bake at 200C for 2o minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the tart to sit for another 10 minutes, before eating it all up.

Summer Fruit

February 16, 2011

Taking Stock

"It's a good thing that this garden can look after itself," says Lady Mondegreen primly, snapping off a spent rose bloom. "I thought you were supposed to be my gardener."
"Life seems to have other ideas," I counter in defence.
For the time being it seems that the less cultivating I do, the less I will have to tend, while I continue to clear and sort through the effects in the Skudder House; supervise the children's return to school; prepare my own house for the Earthquake Commission builders who will come to refurbish soon; and sometimes am simply unable to function when grief and a broken heart make themselves felt.
Remarkably, I have been able to watch some plantings that I made in the Spring, flourish.  These include some of my 50th birthday gifts, though the rosy picture shows well grounded plants including one I mentioned in my last post: Verbascum blattaria.
Here it is in a garden setting
- rather than on shingly reaches - 
making artful arrangements
with side stems that
have appeared after
the first huge spire
flowered in November.

Other plantings that have
grown with little attention
since I planted them, are a
questionably named
Thalictrum, Diascia 'Coral Splash'
and the miniature Gladiolus
'Holland Pearl.'  I had anticipated a deeper red - my taste inclines more to burgundy reds than scarlets - but here it is flaming
luminously under the walnut tree. This 
position receives full afternoon sun all year round.  I planted ten corms in a drift and have watched breathlessly during the high winds as the emerging flower stems weathered this summer's nor' west gales.  


February 10, 2011

Rain and Shine

On a sunny day I barely notice the flowers on the leafless spikes of moth mullein, but on a foggy morning or a rainy day the yellow blooms shine like so many lanterns across the shingly river terraces that stretch beyond the Secret Garden.

Whatever the weather, pastoral scenes abound, cattle grazing, oats sheaved and ready for stooking...

And another reminder of the rural nature of this place I call home: a bank of village letterboxes with their backdrop of

Moth Mullein  Verbascum blattaria
Oats  Avena sativa
Agapanthus, Lily of the Nile  Agapanthus africanus 

February 6, 2011

Accidental Still Life

I found this uncomposed image in the screen of my camera this morning. I had been photographing fabric layed out on my bed, and set the camera for a moment, on a handy cabinet. When I reached for it again, this still life was framed for me: a still life of some of my favourite things.  The little vase was a 21st birthday present given by a fellow Classics student; the brass candle lantern, was one of our lamps on our English narrowboat, and the Egyptian perfume bottles were sheer indulgences from a little shop in Islington in London. The wallpaper, since patterns of the past are an emerging theme in Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden, came with the house I live in, Mowbray.

February 4, 2011

A Different Kind of Fabric

Since Elwin's death, the day after the Earthquake inspectors came, I have done nothing structurally progressive about the Skudder House at all. I have been awaiting the return of the inspectors to survey the chimneys, but otherwise understood that the house did not qualify for either Earthquake Commission cover or private insurance cover. Today my insurance company sent a structural engineer to look at the building. Whatever the insurance outcome, this specialist has at last given me hope that the cracks in the fabric of the house are not terminal. Glue! Apparently there is a sandy glue for jobs such as this (Cracked 4 November 2010).  And here's me imagining into existence great steel rods tipped with steampunk bolt heads to brace the old walls.  I feel such a sense of relief to have this professional insight.

Looking at the state of the concrete walls meant pulling away the wallpaper in some places.  We discovered that it had been pasted over layers of newspaper. I haven't found the date yet, but the Phillips electric razor suggests the 1950s.
I am intrigued by the blue wash over many of the walls, and wonder whether it was an earlier decorative treatment or had a practical application: a copper-based mildew deterrent maybe?

February 3, 2011

Photographic Evidence

Vintage Hawke admired 1940s tailoring in her post, Forties Foray, last Sunday, so following on from my mother's handwork yesterday, I couldn't resist pulling this out of the wardrobe especially for The Hawke.  My mother may not have been a decorative needleworker, but she was a prolific and inspired seamstress, making many of her own clothes and her children's too.  The photo above shows my mother (lower left) in her youth, wearing this sumptuously detailed jacket.  My sister, Ingrid, agreed to model it for me today, creases and all.  I'm afraid to iron it too thoroughly due to its unfamiliar and ageing slipperiness.

Although I don't get a lot of Follower Comments, many people email or tell me in person how much they enjoy aspects of Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden.  Words; memories; but especially the fabrics, and artefacts from the past.  So to close this posting and to complement the youthful exuberance of my mother; the dashing non-comformity of my father from about 1959.  I can remember him wearing his cravats during my early childhood years - and always a beard.

February 2, 2011

Old and New

I bought a new book today: a book I have wanted since it was first published in 2005. And when Andy, a school technology teacher, gave me a  Christmas gift voucher, it seemed apt to spend it on a book celebrating handcraft.  Unearthing so many fabric treasures recently, has rekindled my interest in needlecrafts and re-use of old materials - sides-to-middled sheets, curtain-trousers, flanelette-sheet bloomers - but my mother didn't seem to be much of a decorative crafts needlewoman.  On Christmas Day I brought out one of the very few embroidered items I had found in her neglected hoard, and was delighted at her response to it. Wistful. Reflective. "I was twelve when I did that at school," she said of the tea cloth which my new book rests on.  They didn't call it Technology then: her class was simply Embroidery. 

Thrift to Fantasy by Rosemary McCleod
Home Textile Crafts of the 1930s-1950s

Published by Harper Collins