A Handy topic


I have very mixed feelings about my hands. If I were to look at them objectively, they are certainly not beautiful. In fact, judging by the poetry, paintings and literature of the past, my hands are a good indication that I come from good solid peasant stock. Much as I’d like to believe I was from a long line of needle-working ladies, spending their days in a turret room embroidering or sipping tea, I just know my ancestor was down in the dairy milking the cows or planting potatoes.

A lady’s hands look like this:

HandPainting    HandPainting2.jpg

A peasant’s hands look like this:


To top it all off, I am a big lass, and you might think I could wear those gaudy rings but alas, I can NEVER get any in my size. If I had ever married, I’m sure I would have had a ring or two sized to fit and probably loved them. The thing is – I’m so used to using my hands for so much, that I can’t imagine how to do all the things I do with annoying metal bands around the fingers. I can’t even bear to have long fingernails and worry about breaking a painted nail. How can anyone type with any passion with nails like that?

And then, of course, there are the age spots. Mine seem to be coming in early. I have a strong memory of my beloved Mum’s hands – bent over with arthritis, spotted with many, many discolorations, but always busy and so constantly working on things she loved or things for people she loved. Playing her mandolin, cooking endless meals, sewing, knitting, reading, playing Scrabble. My own hands – sadly – are showing signs of going the same way. The joints are getting painful and swelling, the spots are getting darker, and this is on top of being large ‘capable’ hands anyway.


BUT – and here’s where I’m going with this. I LOVE all that my hands have enabled me to do. They’re not beautiful or decorated or photo worthy, but they have taken images in my head and made pictures with them: Books, diaries, blogs, oil and water paintings, illustrations, cartoons, memes. They are the primary way I express myself. They are how I have made my living, both as a graphic designer and now in my many and varied guises.

I rarely remember to use hand cream, I often forget my gloves, I try to hide them from photographs, but for all my meanness towards them, they have served me well.

So, this is a small but necessary tribute to the appendages at the ends of my arms, even now touch-typing the words of this blog. I hope they give a warm and firm handshake when I meet people, and I hope they continue to be a vehicle for all the ways I want to express myself.


God bless all the peasant women down my line, who pulled up potatoes, peeled vegetables, chopped wood, did laundry, mended clothes and endured chilblains. I would rather have my strong, capable, ugly hands than the weak slim white ones of a true lady.

On the strength of that, I might just go and give them a rest and a dab of cream.


Living life with passion

This post is a little reminder to myself – as much as anything – to ‘seize the day’. I remember various moments in my life when something was said or revealed that brought forth a resounding YES inside me; something that I might never have been able to put into so many words.


One of those moments was the movie ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ with Robin Williams. When he, as an English teacher, inspired his students to ‘seize the day’ and they grasped what he meant and everything changed, I was transfixed. Yes, lots of other things happened in that movie and a terrible sadness at the end, but it did not change the central truth he had espoused.


Now don’t get me wrong: I do NOT open my eyes upon waking and spring out of bed full of the joie de vivre. But I do wake up most days feeling positive and running possibilities through my head for what to do, dependent upon weather and inclination.

My list of possibilities runs like this:

Coffee and catch up with friends

Cycling on my electric bike with or without friends

Trying my hand at baking

Going for a walk somewhere, or just for exercise locally

Hanging out at the local library


Watching a movie either at the cinema or online

Picking up a manuscript I’ve started and writing some more of the story (for a novel)

Doing an Outlander meme just for fun and putting it up online

Planning a future trip somewhere

Meeting with my house church and singing and sharing

Doing a painting or illustration

Breakfast at Bach

There is another list I have, which is along the lines of things I need to do, but which I have no passion for – things like dusting (way down), taking my car for a warrant of fitness, housework, going through my clothes and dispensing with the unwanted ones. And here’s a small truth I have discovered over the years: If I get even one of the things on this latter list done now and then, my favourite things can be approached with more freedom and lightness of heart.

I feel sure I am talking to the converted here. Many people know what it is to have a passion about what they do, and the things they get excited about can be astounding to me. I work as an administrator for people doing PhDs in Computer and Mathematical Sciences. I have held a thick thesis in my hands full of gobbledegook and symbols, and look up at the earnest and shining face of the student who has devoted the last few years to compiling this tome, and recognise someone who is as passionate as I. . . for something I cannot begin to understand.

Or I meet someone for whom my second list of undesirable tasks is what gets their heart racing, and wonder how I could be so different. So it’s much LESS about WHAT you do, as about actually recognising what you love doing, and finding new and deeper ways of getting involved with whatever that is. And there will always be other people who share your specific interest.

I always loved painting – oils mainly – but over the last few years, my living space has so reduced that I can no longer find room to set up a canvas and leave it for days. What it forced me to do – once I got over my feeling of frustration – was to allow my creative energies to flow into words instead of pictures, and I discovered that I really did love to write. I paint the same pictures in my mind, but as a flowing story, and then describe it, and recently I actually finished a novel I started as an experiment. After some editing and changes, I sent it off and to my utter astonishment, had it accepted by a publisher.

Now, of course, I am hooked. My book comes out in October – no, I’m not revealing its name just yet – and I am still amazed and thrilled that my imagination conjured up a story that a publisher wanted.

Anyway, if you’d asked me ten years ago what I would be doing today, I couldn’t have guessed. It has so much to do with following trails and meeting people and traveling, and opening doors and dealing with sudden changes of circumstance. And amongst it all: maintaining a passion for living and trying out new things. Going on adventures you were too afraid to do on your own when you were younger. Looking after the people you are close to, and being kinder. Watching your negative attitudes and words and consciously turning from them. I have so many people who have inspired me in these latter statements, the list is longer than I could name. . . these are the people to watch.

Okay, ramble over.


Rollercoaster ride

I’ve been back just over a week now, and fully adjusted. That means I’ve gone from this:


to this:


From places that are so dry that the ground is hard and baked:


to a place where every crack and cranny seems green-tinged with mould and moisture. The grass is sodden, the roads seem never to lose their wetness, and the trees drip over my head as I walk to work. Winter in Auckland.

I’m trying to keep up the exercise, although it is SO EASY to huddle indoors and stay dry. But I’ve just come back from a cycle between showers feeling refreshed and energised again.

It’s amazing that my body has coped with the utter difference in the seasons, and the opposite timeframe, so that I am once again sleeping when I was walking the dry streets of Provence only recently. And I’ve started a new job, which means working at one of these:


At least my new desk allows me to stand now and then. And if I shut my eyes I can still smell the dry air and imagine myself beside the pool in St Remy, Provence.


I can even here the cicadas – can you?

Just an observation about British vs USA actresses. . .

Now please, don’t be offended. I have no intention of denigrating the talents of any of these actors, but it is an interesting thing to me how different the perceptions and expectations of older women actors in both countries come across.

I’ve just come back from seeing an excellent documentary/movie which felt just like taking tea with the gorgeous women we know and love in so many British dramas and films; all of them Dames: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins. Here’s the pic of them:

Tea With Dames

Three of them are 83, and Joan is 88. At no time do I remember seeing them play parts that were not entertaining and rich in character – often quirky characters but always absolutely riveting on screen. Note that they have grey hair, wrinkles, and no botox or plastic surgery apparent. Just some wonderful CHARACTERFUL faces.

In the prelude to seeing this film, the shorts were shown of this one from the USA that is coming: Bookclub. Four very fine actresses are in this as well, although it was marred for me for two reasons: 1) the silly premise – it just feels flippant and lightweight and revolves around four older women (all totally made up and glamorous in every shot!) and their love lives. 2) to some degree or other they were trying to look 30 years younger than they truly are. Oh, they were playing older women, but not as I know older women – these were women who relied heavily on looks and plastic surgery. Here they are:


If the goal is to try and look as young as you can, then they succeed. I go to movies or watch series on tv for much more than that. This is not a movie I’m interested in seeing AT ALL!! Admittedly, their ages range from Diane Keaton (72) through to Jane Fonda (83), so they’re a tad younger over all than the British women above, but what a different journey and experience they have had in their ongoing careers beyond their 40s.

Any of the movies or series I have seen the ladies in the top picture in, have been compelling viewing for me, and very much about women who are comfortable with who they are right now: Witty, funny, sarcastic, charming, and all of their vast experience is written upon their faces. I want to be like that in ten and twenty years myself.

The ladies in the lower pic have worked very hard to maintain their careers – I’ve never seen them play anything but attractive, funny women trying to bumble along in life with as much panache as they can. No other types or roles are apparently available to them any more.

My rave is over. My point is made. Be who you are and be glad, and grow old gracefully. Please.

Home again

We arrived into a dark and foggy morning here in Auckland and 5c temperatures. Lovely to be back and especially on a day that gradually put on its best dress for us: sunny, blue, no wind.

Naturally, I went to bed.

The homeward journey was greatly improved (for me) by an upgrade to business class for the first 12 hour leg of journey. I made full use of the lounge at Heathrow:

And wiled away a few hours there while Helen roamed the terminal and sat in departure lounge. Business class meant the unheard of delight of being able to lie down in some comfort- and I managed to sleep for much of this leg.

At LA we actually had to change planes which meant not only did we have to go through the interminable immigration process (we were transit passengers!) but we had to retrieve our bags and put them on another Air New Zealand flight. I won’t complain though – the man ahead of us at the check-in desk was none other than Sheriff Longmire from the excellent series on Netflix- i missed greeting him, sadly.

After another less comfortable 12 hours we arrived home early this morning. I’m pretty spaced out and feel like I’m walking in a daze. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Last full day in Ireland and a trip into the country

I’m starting with the last bit which was the best: meeting this gregarious and voluble butcher – Isaac Lett by name.

More on that later.

We set off on the Graylines coach for a day’s jaunt around Wicklow and Glendalough. Some 30 years ago my friend Cathy and I had stayed in a hostel nearby and I remember the stone tower clearly.

It was a full bus and the driver a chatty Englishman called Richie. He kept up a lively monologue and in betweentimes played Irish ballads. Helen and I have decided we don’t like ballads.

We wound up to Enniskerry through narrow winding roads, overhung by trees and hugging the hedgerows.

It looked a bit like Scotland at times.

At one point we were shown a trickle of water that would prove to be the start of the mighty river Liffey:

Then stopped to view the ‘Guiness Lake’ – a wonderful dark peaty lake in green surrounds.

As the sun lifted the mists away it was lovely to see.

On we rumbled from the highest town in Ireland down towards Glendalough – where an ancient monkish city is now a tourist attraction complete with visitor’s centre and carpark. (Unlike 30 yrs ago).

We wandered from the ruins to a boardwalk that circles the lake. Very pretty – and busy with walks – all around here.

I returned and paid to view the exhibits inside.

We pushed on down to Avoca – and stopped at Tinnahinch for a late pub lunch – ham steak and pineapple for me, cottage pie for Helen.

On the way back to the bus a butcher came out of his shop to chat – very funny and friendly. Who would have guessed he’d been a bikie in the past! He even knew and revered the notorious Hell’s Angels in NZ. He insisted on the photos and forgave us for flooding the UK market with NZ lamb. Although he’d never stock it himself of course.

What a great trip!

Nearly the end of the adventure – second-to-last day in Dublin

Yesterday was Sunday in the middle of the long weekend here, so the place is throbbing with people. We set off by DART – the local train – to the coast at Howth. On board with us were families all bound for what we thought was the beach. You can tell the Dubliners here – they’re the ones in sleeveless summer dresses or skimpy tops.

Anyhoo, at Howth we disembarked to find most people went straight off to one of many seafood restaurants. By the time we reached the end of the pier only a scattering of others joined us.

We walked back and went on around to a tiny low-tide beach where a few children shivered in knee-deep water as their parents watched from further back.

I think we missed a much nicer beach over a set of stairs on other side of train tracks.

That evening we were entertained soundly at the Brazen Head – the oldest pub in Dublin.

What we were after was traditional music so were a tad disappointed it was not. Tonight we’re heading out to find it.

This morning we have walked miles! To St Stephens Green after coffee at Bewley’s:

St Stephens Green is a great patch of lush park in the heart of city:

Then off to find U2’s old pub. We went by tram

And saw a hilarious yellow viking boat bus complete with horned tourists on the way.

No pub left out by Windmill Lane but some great dights.

Home to rest and now out to find music!


Short post to say we did a bit of traveling today and finally ended up at this cosy b&b in Dublin – arriving at 7pm. Before we could say Jack O’Shannesay our gregarious landlady swept us off in her car, along with two German guests, dropping us in the heart of the city. This could account for our slightly stunned looks.

Anyhoo, we’ve stumbled around Temple Bar area through seething masses of partying and excited ‘young’ people (I never thought I’d be different myself) and finally ended up having dinner at a contemporary deli cum food hall.

We realised we were finally eating when the French were – at what to our body clocks was 9.15pm. Then after failing to secure a bus we’ve taxied home, had a great cup of hot tea, and at 11.15pm (French time) are in our respective beds.

Tomorrow is another day.

31 May Glanum and our last full day 1 June spent searching for lavender

Yesterday we stayed in St Remy and drove up to the extensive and amazing ruins of the ancient Hellenistic and Roman city of Glanum. I have never felt such a sense of walking in the ancients’ footsteps as I did following the Via Appia up here.

It is all so very THERE still – from columns to drains to homes with little steps.

Afterward we purchased items from the Italian deli and ate them under overcast skies at our hotel patio.

In the evening we had cocktails and dinner at a different restaurant – my beef tartare in burger very good.

Today was the first gloriously blue day in a week and we set off hoping to find the lavender in bloom surrounding the Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque. Of course it was not, but it was a beautiful sight nevertheless.

We followed our noses up the hills and to our utter delight found a town we’d not heard about that ticked all the boxes: Venasque! A hilltop fortified walled town with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.

Even better, we found balcony seats at a delightful cafe where we had great coffee and lunch.

I even had to try lavender ice cream (delish) to make up for missing the real flowers earlier.

We ambled through town loving the whole experience.

On our way out and through surrounding fields I turned to the side and lo and behold LAVENDER! A miracle!

We felt very much as if it was OUR day!

We are back relaxing and preparing to pack after a refreshing swim in the pool. Glad we are leaving on such an up note. What a wonderful time we’ve had in Provence!

Wednesday was a trip to Cassis and my first glimpse of the Mediterranean

To market to market to buy a fine horse! Markets everywhere – we left St Remy which had their weekly market in full swing, to travel 2 hours south west to the coastal town of Cassis. The motorways were fast but a bit knuckle-clenching, and we discovered the toll booths and spent some panicked moments interpreting instructions in french. After a wrong turn that delayed us 30 mins we were finally gliding downhill into another lively market at Cassis.

Thunder sounded overhead and the rain poured down and we made our way in to a nearby restaurant for lunch.

Afterwards, in clearing skies, we lined up and boarded a boat for a two-hour trip out to view the Calanques. Sooo worth doing!

By this time the sun was beating down on us and we applied sun lotion and glasses and spent the next two-hours in awe of the limestone cliffs listening to an unintelligible commentary which was full of interesting facts, I’m sure.

Lots of caves, coves and deep emerald or indigo water.

We made it back to port just as the skies became overcast and after some shopping headed up the steep slope out, Helen driving. At one point a campervan coming down swung right over into our lane and had Helen’s reflexes not been quick we’d have been hit. As it was we drew shakily out of the verge where we’d been forced and on up the hill.

This is where the boat went – ignore the road line – you can see Marseille around the corner.

We got food from supermarket and relaxed at the hotel after a very exciting day.