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Christchurch 15/03/2018

18/03/2019. After the Christchurch Mosque Massacres of the Innocents.


I was young when I first read East of Eden by John Steinbeck but his words changed my life: more than a Presbyterian upbringing with weekly Sunday School attendances, more than being brought up by an academically expectant (read desperate) mother or an alcoholic father and more than all the other books I ever read. I read a lot. But this story based on the myth of Cain and Abel and which explores evil in all its forms, temptations, responsibilities, and outcomes affected me the most. It doesn’t mean I am perfect, it just means I know what I am doing.
The Bible (and by extension the Koran with a different but similar interpretation) tells the story of two brothers both seeking to gain favour from their father. One gives his best, the other not quite so much and the parent notices (don’t we though?). Sibling rivalry erupts into murder and denial. The father adjudicates, leaving the living brother in an eternal state of damnation and by extension anyone who tries to put him out of his misery, the dead brother in grace. Rough interpretation, but good enough.
In East of Eden, Lee, the father’s Chinese servant and the only person to bring up the brothers with love, looks at the old Hebrew texts to determine why the murder (aka evil aka ignorance) takes place and how judgement is made. Lee, comes up with the word ‘timshel’, a word as old as our world.
“But the Hebrew word timshel—’Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ That makes a man great and that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” (East Of Eden, John Steinbeck).
If there is a God, and at times of massacres of innocents as we have recently experienced in Christchurch, then he (she) gave us choice. We know that. But do we always understand the burden of this word, this concept? Not only on those that do wrong, often many times, but also on us as to how we then choose to deal with those who have done wrong.
The Koran tells us: Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely’
The Talmud: Therefore, humans were created singly, to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul [of Israel], Scripture accounts it as if he had destroyed a full world; and whoever saves one soul of Israel, Scripture accounts it as if she had saved a full world.

There were people in the two Christchurch mosques who saved a full world.

There was one man who destroyed a full world.

By choice.

The stalking thrush.

This is a follow-up born of wonder… more than a blog post.

The plums are starting to ripen and the cat still basks in the heat under the tree. Every morning I check for colour and ripeness and yesterday seeing a few pecked and discarded plums on the ground I started to harvest. I have laid them out on the kitchen bench in the sunshine, hoping the green bits will go away. Jam? Sauce? I haven’t decided.

Every time I’m in the garden, my thrush appears. Without fail. He (could be she) bobs along the top of the wall. He flies low from the wall to the peach tree and looks at me from behind the leaves. He sits near the strawberry plants as they flower for the second time this season and he watches as I pour Louie his cat biscuits into a little bowl beside the tomato plants.

In winter, I feed Louie, the cat, in the garage, the door open just enough at the bottom to let him in but low enough to protect him from the wind and rain. Many is the time, I’ve come out early in the morning to go to work and opened the door only to have a bird fly out. A bird which has been eating the cat biscuits. A thrush bird.

In the garden, my thrush (yes mine) appears with such regularity, I have started talking to her/him. He/she listens and watches. Louie ignores both of us. Louie and my thrush clearly have an arrangement.

This evening it’s hot. Sweltering hot. I am sitting on the sofa, the dogs, asleep at my feet, all the doors and windows open and the fan going full blast behind me. I am eating my salad. The news is on TV. I am taking no notice because its only talking about hot it is and that’s not news.

My thrush hops into view. He/she proceeds to come into the living room. Past the big sofa, past the fire place, hopping and looking sideways at me from the carpet. At the sound of my voice, saying Hello to my thrush, the dogs wake and rush the bird who flies off out the open door and across the lawn to the wall. My thrush sits and looks back.

It seems this thrush likes arrangements. First the cat. Now me. I am assuming it won’t take long for the dogs to become similarly enamoured.

They will have no choice.

The Thrush. The Cat. The Damson Plum Tree.

I moved house three and half years ago. Upped sticks and moved over the hill from Wellington to the rural charms and heat of the Wairarapa. Child-free and time rich (apart from work) I haven’t regretted the move for a moment.

One of the selling points of my new house, (to me anyway) was the area of wild land, unused except as a tip for old clotheslines and lumps of concrete, lying between a large macrocarpa hedge and a wall at the back of the garden. My Wellington homes had been perched on windy hillsides of clay soil, any plants I attempted to grow inevitably in shade for a good part of the day. This area provided shelter, space, sunshine and soil- the perfect place for an edible garden.

The Wairarapa usually has sun and heat aplenty. Not this year. Cloud covered days interspersed with rain have made the farmers as happy as the proverbial pigs in manure. Paddocks usually flattened by now to a crispy brown stubble are this year awash with green grass, tall and luxuriant enough to allow two cuts of hay. Round bales complacently dot the landscapes, the animals assured of feed for the next year.

All good for my edible garden then. Well, Yes and No.

Lettuces- tick. Cucumbers-tick. Strawberries- tick. Tomatoes- tick. Basil- tick. Courgettes- tick. Beans not so good this year. I will plant a different variety next year. Peaches- recovering from leaf curl but the crop should be okay. And that brings me to the plums.

Damson plums. Damsons are an ancient variety of drupaceous (great word isn’t it?) plums. The Romans brought them to Britain – ancient! Sweet and tart- they make great jams and sauces. Which is why I planted my tree. You can’t beat a good spicy plum sauce with everything.

My tree has been in for three years and already has lots of fruit.  

Ha Ha to the old gardeners rhyme:

“He who plants plums 
Plants for his sons. 
He who plants damsons 
Plants for his grandsons.”

What a good gardener am I. I thought.

Last year- year 2- the crop was smaller. The sun was hotter and the fruit seemingly ripened over-night. By the time I got back from work at the end of day, they were all gone. Birds can strip a tree in less than a day. And not many birds either. They wait. They check. They wait. And then when the sugar levels are just as they like them, they swoop, beaks at the ready and a year’s work is gone. Disappeared. No sauces, no jams. Nothing.

This year, it’s going to be different. I thought. Me and my armoury against the birds. I have hung CDs from the branches- their silver surfaces reflecting light unpredictably are supposed to act as a deterrent. They don’t.

I have put a mirror underneath so the birds supposedly on guard against perceived movement from below don’t feel safe enough to eat the fruit. Useless. I have draped a net over some of the branches covering the fruit and all that has done is to catch the unripe fruit the birds have tested and found wanting. And I have a cat. A cat who sleeps under the daisy bush right beside the plum tree. Not just any cat. A hunter. Rabbits- tick. Rats- tick. A lethal death machine of a cat. The birds don’t stand a chance I thought.

When I say birds, I mean one thrush. A fat brown speckled big brown eyed thrush to be exact. A thrush who has staked out the garden and been there for every daylight hour of the past week. First to arrive in the morning and last to leave at night. Its big brown eyes fixed on my damson plums. Watching. Waiting.

Every morning I check the plums, ready to haul them off the tree and into the kitchen as soon as they show the first signs of ripeness.

They weren’t ready this morning. Their colour is changing, to be sure. Purple is gradually replacing the green. They aren’t quite as hard as they were yesterday. Any day now. Just a burst of sustained heat and sunshine and they will be ready. The heat from Australia is on its way. Soon I think. Soon.

I reached down to give the cat an ear tickle and he lay there in the warm earth and meowed in response. I looked over him to see, nestled onto a wooden sleeper, the thrush, its speckled breast plumped out against the warm wood.

Two feet off the ground, three feet from the cat, the thrush looked comfortable. Content.

The cat yawned.

No need to move just because I’m here I said.

And they didn’t.

The Ambivalent Capitalist

I recently heard an Independent Bookseller describe herself as an ‘ambivalent capitalist”. She was addressing a group of everyday authors – none of us stars in the literary firmament. We are just people who write stuff which people will hopefully enjoy reading.

Since the advent of e-books, life has changed for aspiring authors. No more brown envelopes of thick manuscripts sent off in the hope of, at the very least, a kind word six months later from agents and publishers. And no rejection slips with which to wall-paper the loo. Now we can do it ourselves. Publish – not wall-papering. We can write and let the market decide if a book is worth buying- online.

It’s tougher to get new books, hard copies of books onto the shelves of actual bookshops that have overheads and staff to pay. Often the reading public has no idea a book even exists because without the marketing departments in publishing companies, why would they? Word of mouth is great but even in the age of social media – slow. There is, SO MUCH CHOICE and tempus fugits… fastus. Fastus than the next postus.

The gatekeeper to the hardcopy market is the Independent Bookseller. These are the brave, ‘ambivalent capitalists’ who put their shelf space on the line for aspiring authors without the benefit of a publisher’s comforting presence. They are the ones who invest their resources in the hope that a book will succeed for the sake of …well books. Literature if you must. Art if you absolutely have to go there.

The ambivalent capitalists take a punt on unknown authors because they love books more than money – a punt that the chain stores never take.

This week a friend bought ‘Hot Flush’ in Wellington having tracked it down to the home of the ‘ambivalent capitalist’.  Tauranga does not stock Hot Flush. (Yet).  (Call me). Thank you friend. Thank you Ambivalent Capitalist.

Please support an Independent Bookseller near you…oh and buy Hot Flush- it’s a good read. People say so. But if it doesn’t take your fancy, buy a different book. The shelves are full of them.

Over the Age of Aquarius

What do Burt Reynolds*, Benjamin Braddock*, Patrick Dempsey*, Maurice Goudeket*, Ashton Kutcher* and Emmanual Macron* all have in common?

The answer is obvious, isn’t it?

Good Taste.

It’s all very well that the magazines, fashion houses and leisure industries are suddenly discovering the menopausal model, but where were they 10 years ago when the demographics were less financially encouraging?

Markets in the developed world no longer exclusively celebrate the cult of youth, relegating women over 35 to a support role in a back office or (gasp) kitchen.

It is those who were present at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and are now the standard bearers of the Age of the Menopause who have the largest discretionary spending power in history.

That long beautiful hair, gleaming and streaming in the swinging sixties has become the short grey (more likely blonde) crop of the mountain-biking, safari-hopping, marathon running, well-travelled, politically aware, cultured, better educated, gourmet shoppers of the 21st century.

Kids gone (sort of). Partners in tow or out to pasture, jobs done and dusted, 50, 60 and 70-year-old women are taking on the world and looking damn good while they’re at it. Menopause is a word that can now be said out loud. In company. With both sexes present and not euphemized in hushed tones to ‘the change’.

The ravages of compulsory pregnancy were never a burden we had to bear in exchange for sex. Uteri are where they are supposed to be and not dragging on the ground – our poor mothers and grandmothers! Better diets, advances in medical care, anti-smoking environments and better access to exercise and open spaces in most cities mean we can get out there and look after ourselves.

And all this with money to spare. Those aged 45 to 69 own the most stuff; money, houses, toys, stamp collections whatever. We have the power! And so the markets are finally catching on.

Enter the grey-haired models sporting interesting glasses and push up bras. Enter the wrinkly hands- the only part of the body steadfastly resistant to the earnest endeavours of the plastic surgeons – modelling expensive rings. Enter the movies telling tales of late love and later heartbreak. Enter the large sized smartphones with readable font sizes. Enter music festivals and rock concerts with defibrillators close at hand.

Twentieth-century female baby-boomers used to liberation are hitting the 21st century with a plan to do more, be more, see more and live more than any generation of women before us. Women over 45 are not going quietly into old age. Hell. Old age doesn’t start for another 30 years. And that’s only if we agree.

Older women have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. Finally, we are getting the media oxygen for this to be celebrated and not ridiculed. The invisibility cloak of the middle-aged woman has been tossed into the whumping willow.

We shall not be overlooked.

Any more. At all. Not ever.

*Burt Reynolds: 20 years younger than Dinah Shore.

*Benjamin Braddock: 30 years younger than Mrs Robinson

*Patrick Dempsey: 27 years younger than first wife Rochelle Parker

*Maurice Goudeket 16 years younger than Colette.

*Ashton Kutcher 16 years younger than Demi Moore

*Emmanuel Macron 25 years younger than Brigitte Trogneux.

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