And here we are! Colder, but not too cold (20 degrees C instead of 31!) , and anyway it is nice to have a fire some nights. Summer is meant to have come, a little late but is predicted to be hot and dry, so may as well make the most of the still comfortable nights. No fan above the bed here in our off-grid, don’t use the hairdryer paradise.
Before we left Oz we had a week in the Hunter Valley and discovered that the beautiful wine there was no better than ours cellared in our rat-free shed for a few years before drinking, for about a third of the price.
Our sea is blue, crystal clear and at the moment unusually calm. The beach has acquired about two metres more clean white sand for its entire length, and the rocks I usually have to negotiate between the main beach and the sheltered beach to the south (Jenni's Bay!) are no longer there. This tells us that over winter there have been lots of strong westerly offshore winds, sending the top layer of water out to sea and bringing the deep water and sand on to the beach (according to the oracle). This makes it even more beautiful—although harder to run on in all that soft sand—but of course it will change again when the easterlies blow, presumably. That is one of the joys—a beach that is never the same. The tropical beaches by our place in Far North Queensland mostly never change: ye old palm trees, a wide strip of white sand, and an opaque sea that sometimes looks blue but mostly looks brownish. A rough boat ride way out to the reef is required to find clear water (admittedly, once there, you are snorkelling over one of the seven natural wonders of the world).
Then there was Joan Baez on our road home; we missed her by one day in Cairns, by one day in Christchurch, but caught her in Auckland. Stunning, fabulous, riveting, and 74. Her voice may not have the high range of the 20-year-old I idolized, but that didn’t matter a jot. She stood without fanfare on a black stage with a black backdrop, in her jeans and red sneakers (and a top, but I can’t recall what it was!) and played the guitar better than ever with her long brown fingers glowing with silver rings, sang all those songs we love and a few more—including “From Galway to Graceland” about a woman who gave up everything to travel to Elvis’s grave—often all by herself, sometimes with another young woman, sometimes with a drummer and a musician who selected from a circle of instruments, all of which he played superbly. She sang in Maori and melted all our hearts. Such a blissful relief after all those overkill X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent shows (the latter won this year by a performing dog).
To be with her sweetheart,
Oh she left everything
From Galway to Graceland to be with the king
Our first social occasion on the Barrier was the Labour Day market, where everyone knows everyone and we got more hugs than we've had since we returned last October. I said to one friend who is both the doctor and the preacher here, a very funny man who always gives much better than he gets: "And is God still important to you?" and he answered, with a twinkle, "Absolutely. I can see him everywhere I look". And although I am a dedicated atheist (or agnostic), I could see what he meant. An entire island population getting stocked up on their tomato and capsicum and basil and lettuce and pumpkin plants for their summer gardens. All grown organically and lovingly by a youngish (by our standards) couple who also deliver their eggs and strawberries and veges to our letterbox every Saturday until our own garden is producing. Less than one year ago one half of this couple was on kidney dialysis three times a week (the only person on this side of the world to administer his own dialysis at home, via a generator, between tending their extensive gardens). His partner's gift of a kidney failed years ago and last December he received a new kidney and is now radiating health.
Today, outside my study window no more than three metres from my computer are dark red flax flowers with Kaka and Tui and buzzy bees on them, whistling and singing and humming and supping nectar. And every imaginable green of the different trees, the grass, the swamp, the hill rising at the end of the paddock below the house, the cream sprays of the cabbage tree throwing its heavy fragrance through my window, and the pohutukawa with its new pale leaves thinking about bursting into red blossom for Christmas.
And on the couch is a box of books, my ARCs (Advanced Review Copies) of “A Drop In The Ocean” which arrived the same day as we did. Very beautiful! Even John smiles when he looks at them. Until now I think he thought it was one of my little fantasies. My publicist in the US has 75 to my 10, so that is 85 people who won’t buy the final book! Hopefully some of them will say nice things about it in places that matter.
Home sweet home.
One of the loveliest things about publishing with She Writes Press is all the Shes I have got to know. It is a very supportive community of women writers, and I have become addicted to their books. Here is a review of a particularly delicious one. You can buy it from all good bookshops in the US, and online everywhere.
Things Unsaid by Diana Y Paul
This wry portrait of a dysfunctional family is beautifully written and funny as well as poignant. It is one of a very few novels I have ever read where the central issue is what to do with the oldies, especially if they made your life hell as a kid (and are continuing to do so) and you don’t much like them. Indeed Bob and Aida Whitman, the almost unbelievably selfish elderly parents of this family, are amongst the most unpleasant people readers will feel glad they have never met! In spite of this, Aida is such a character that she is a delight to read. Bob—well it’s a pity he didn’t die much earlier in the book. There is not a cell in his chauvinistic body that is likeable. Their three adult children are all variously damaged by their upbringing and the “things unsaid” throughout their lives. The eldest daughter, Jules, at the expense of her amazingly generous husband and daughter, feels reluctantly obliged to bail out not only her patronizing parents, who continue to lavishly spend money they don’t have with a total lack of insight into their changed circumstances, but she also constantly comes to the rescue of her younger sister, who seems to be stuck in her teenage psych. Andrew, the only son, is of course permitted to remain removed from having to deal with his parents in any practical (or emotional) way, although he remains their favourite. Then there are the grandchildren, mostly thankfully so far able to avoid the family dysfunction, although Jules’s daughter, Zoe comes close to disaster… It sounds like a story that would depress, but no, it is a rollicking good read, with characters that leap off the page, and the moments of poignancy are always anchored with a touch of humour and plenty of chuckles.
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