I find driving incredibly stimulating. And because I am about to go on a relatively long drive - up North, I guess 400 or 500 kilometres - I’m trying to sort out an audiobook. This is more important than you might think. You don’t want something so strong that it interferes with your freedom to think. By this I mean - roam in your own mind - get out of the rut. I had David Sedaris on cd - Naked -but I found him so funny and charming and pert that it’s an overwhelming experience.
Also - I’m trying to sink into a ninetenth century frame of mind and Sedaris - a generation younger than me - is so very contemporary in his voice. I couldn’t think. I had to turn him off.
I’ve got some other options. Rose Tremain’s The Darkness of Wallis Simpson. This is a collection of short stories. I’ve already listened to the title story - narrated by the fabulous Eleonor Bron. It’s a wonderful fiction - Wallis, ancient and faintly cretinous is in bed, bullied by the ghastly Maitre Blum to remember a certain man.... But Wallis’s problem is she can remember all the horrible - and ok - men in her life but can’t recall the man who gave up a throne and an empire for her...
I picked up Fraser’s Mary, Queen of Scots - thought a biography might be useful - hopefully not depressing in its brilliance. Nothing like being undermined by another writer’s total command of a field you feel you’re just creeping along, on your belly...barely upright and walking.
We’ll see...it might just have to be music...
I’ve written to Jinty, the highly spirited commandant of the Elms, to see if I can have a closer look at the way the Tauranga Mission Station there was built. I’d also like to look more closely at whatever remains of its original furniture. But there’s a resounding (to me) silence from this quarter. (See Wed 7 Oct ‘To Collect is to Gaze into the Future’ for some context.) Maybe she - and the other woman I sent an email to at the Elms - are on holiday. Like in Iceland.
I gathered when a friend of mine, Stephanie Johnson, visited the Elms to do her own research, they were highly offended by my blog. It’s a shame they can’t see that I was praising someone for saving what is a treasure. It’s obviously a very culturally sensitive area - who is praised, who saved what. I know this from being involved in saving an old picture palace and a small art deco town. You tend to get written out of the story over time. So I guess I understand. Not.
This Saturday is William Colenso’s birthday. Now I realise this makes me sound like some kind of loon. But I am actually baking a cake to take up north with me (‘upstairs’ as I inadvertently called it to Douglas, my partner.). The cake is allegedly the oldest cake recipe in New Zealand. It comes from the missionary battle-axe, Marianne Williams, mother to millions and staunch ally of her rather daunting husband.
The recipe is in Alexa Johnston’s brilliant first cook book on page 88. I have never baked anything with molasses in it. It sounds very House on the Prairie, which is a high recommendation to me, as this was a book which I loved above all others as a little cissy.
We’ll see how the cake goes. (It’s not a birthday cake so much as....well, a little celebration for setting off on another part of my journey....)
This journey isn’t to a place so much as inwards to a definition, a further sense of clarity.
As if to reward me for succumbing to slackerdom, I saw some great little vignettes today.
1/As I drove through Clive, which is right beside where Colenso’s mission station was, a waka was on the river. The people on it - it looked crowded - were practicing. The day was perfect - warm - the sea, which has up to now, been surly and grey, switched into that classic Hawke’s Bay ultra marine - as glittering as the Riviera.
I thought looking at the waka: so that’s what it was like. Impressive.
2/ By the mission station site, there were cows grazing. I was staggered. It is just a thin thin viel of earth - more like dust - leached with salt from the sea. And this dry dust sits on burningly hot pebbles.
I wondered if they’d wandered there by chance. It seemed surreal, a glimpse back into the time when William had cattle roaming freely round...and it was even more hopeless then. But we must have milk.
3/I ran into the supermarket to get some butter for the cake. The butter has to be room temperature - I’m not baking the cake till tomorrow. (I’d be interested if anyone else has made this cake.) But outside was a young man in striped shirt, collecting money. His booth had a single word on it WORLD VISION. As I came closer to him, worrying whether I’d be hassled for money - I was trying to work out which one ‘World Vision’ was - but he didn’t look up. He was too busy texting.
It seemed a perfect metaphor for the contemporary world.