Archive for February, 2010

No surprise to me!

Friday, February 19th, 2010


Earlier this week I bought some attractive new apples from the Waiheke Organic Food shop, and I discovered just how wonderful they were when I tasted them. Anyone who knows me or reads my blog on a regular basis will already understand how much I love good apples, and these are sensational. They look, I think, a bit like English Discovery apples because they have the same translucent skins, but the flesh doesn’t have the stain of pink that runs through Discoveries. (The skin also reminds me of the New Zealand Cox’s Orange Pippins that I used to eat when I was growing up; as I remember they also had pretty streaks of colour. You can almost never find Cox’s apples in New Zealand any more, I think they’re all exported. And anyway it’s way too early for them now.)

You can see for yourselves from the photo how lovely these new apples are to look at. What you can’t do, sadly – unless you’re here – is taste them. They have such a fresh and lively flavour, crisp and sharp and clean. To me, it’s the flavour of summer.

They are, I’m told in the shop, called Coromandel Surprise, and they come from the Coromandel Peninsula (which is just across the water from Waiheke). I’ve never heard of them and I tried to look up that name on the internet but I can’t find it there – there’s another NZ apple called Monty’s Surprise but that ripens at the end of the apple season, and this one’s an early developer. So maybe it’s a kind of sport – a one-off tree, or a small group of trees, that some organic grower on Coromandel has found and treasured.

It’s really no surprise that an apple from Coromandel is as delicious as this, because Coromandel itself is so beautiful. I’ve been back twice to the shop and bought almost all the stock, and I’m taking some to lunch with friends tomorrow. What a delight simple food pleasures can be.

This is what I want

Friday, February 12th, 2010


This photo is not only one of the pics on my intro blog page –
so this is a good moment to say what it’s doing there – and the view it shows is also what I am looking at right now as I type this post. It’s the bay below the cottage I have rented for the second year running on Waiheke Island, out in the Hauraki Gulf, off Auckland, New Zealand.

I don’t know what it is about moving water but for me the connection, the unwavering pull of its attraction, runs very deep. Earlier this week I went off the island for the day (hair cut, lunch with friends, a visit to the cemetery) and when I got back on the ferry I stood in the stern for most of the journey to watch the spray from the super-cat engine surge and leap behind us in great powerful swathes of water. And suddenly lines from an old song came unbidden to my mind, and I had to laugh because they were so inappropriate in one way and so utterly right in another.

“This is what I want
This is what I long for…”

And in case you don’t know, that’s Emile De Becque, in ‘South Pacific’, starting to sing about his love for Nellie Forbush – which you could argue has nothing to do with the ferry to Waiheke but clearly my heart and memory thought otherwise.

I know that anyone who gets something they long for, even if they have it for only a short time, is astonishingly fortunate. And I do long for this place – for Waiheke Island specifically but for New Zealand in general, too – for days as clear as mountain water, for walking in the hills every morning and swimming in the bay every evening, for birds calling and cicadas buzzing. I suspect that this yearning is connected to memories of lives unlived and of roads not taken when I grew up here so it’s at least partly coloured by (largely inaccurate) bouts of nostalgia – but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. So whatever the cause, I am presently celebrating my present extraordinary good fortune and if a little voice starts telling me to be careful what I wish for, I plan to ignore it.

Collecting the future

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010


At the end of last year a lovely woman from Seattle – a friend of my American sister – came to tea with me in London, and brought me my very own crystal ball. It says so, as you can see from the photo.

I’ve never been much of a collector of things. I don’t mean that I lead an admirably minimalist life because, alas, I do not; I mean that although I’ve faffed around from time to time, thinking that I might collect pottery cats, or Victorian samplers with rhyming religious verses on them, or even silver apostle spoons (don’t ask, that one didn’t go anywhere) I have never followed through on any of them for long. I still have a few little cats and one beautiful sampler but the apostle spoons are long gone.

An old friend of ours used to have the most astounding range of collections imaginable. He had salt & pepper sets, he had Niagara Falls snow globes, he had obscure medical equipment – the list would be too long. If I saw something I thought he’d like (the Tropical Trash Dept in Fastbuck Freddy’s shop in Key West was always a treasure trove of kitsch) I’d phone and ask if he needed it, ‘need’ being an elastic concept in this context. I’d say something like, “Larry! I just saw a salt and pepper set with an utterly vulgar cat and dog on it, might you like that?” and there’d be a pause, and then he’d say “Is the cat wearing plaid overalls and simpering?” It was. “And does the dog look really gross and does it wear a cap?” It did. “Got that one,” Larry would say, before adding, “and what’s more, I love it dearly.” Go figure.

Anyway. I’ve never consciously saved or collected globes but to my surprise I see I now have three (do three make a collection?). There’s my new crystal ball, there’s a heavy globe maybe made of glass and covered in gold leaf that someone once airmailed me at mortgage-level cost from the other side of the world, and there’s a pretty papier maché apple, probably given to me because I like apples so much. So perhaps this is indeed the start of a new collection, I could add a snow globe, for which I have a none-too-secret affection. Or maybe a small world map globe? And in the meantime I thank Joanne for her kind generosity, and continue to peer into my crystal ball from time to time, to see what’s cooking in my future.

The Author Hotline

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I’ve just joined a new web resource called THE AUTHOR HOTLINE, which is a new website that will be launching to UK schools on 4th March, World Book Day. It’s intended to be a nifty children-friendly resource that schools will be able to use whenever they want, and it’s also a welcome new way for authors, illustrators and poets to publicize their work.
Anthony Lishak – the writer whose good idea this is – has had a great response from children’s writers and illustrators and so far there are about 200 profiles in place. The site
has teamed up with World Book Day (which will feature the site on their website) and they’ll jointly organize a quiz/competition to all schools from 4th – 31st March, which will run on the site.

I was delighted to be asked to join and I really enjoyed answering the questions that are posed as part of the authors’ profiles. Do have a look at the site – I’d love you to check out my profile, or just browse around from the home page. This is a very encouraging new development for us all, and I’m very happy to support it.