Jim Cooke is an 80 year-old Aucklander who spent the majority of his working life in the insurance business mainly in Asia. Later he became involved in the forestry sector for fifteen years. Jim has written a series of travelogues and often gives talks about his overseas experiences. Now he wants to expand the writing into a memoir that will include his childhood growing up in Christchurch in the 1940s, his first trip to England at the age of seventeen and the 35 years he spent working outside NZ. He takes a strong interest in the education of his eight grandchildren and is keen to pass on stories about a time that is very different from today.
Waking at 6.45am I was pleased to see that the rain had ceased overnight. After shaking the drops off the clothes-lines, I helped my wife, Moyra, put out the washing. We always argue over the order. This seems to relate to which items need ironing and which do not. Needless to say she wins!
Whilst doing this we talk to a workman over the fence. He is wearing a yellow work safe jacket and an orange hard hat. He is putting in foundations for the neighbour’s new house, preparing for the concrete delivery, so is also happy with the good weather. We wish him good luck with the pour.
After a quick breakfast we take Moyra’s Peugeot to the garage across town. Fortunately traffic is light due mainly to school holidays. The car has been giving gear-box trouble. This sounds expensive and I am not convinced it can be satisfactorily repaired, but then I am something of a cynic, so let’s await the result. I hope the outcome is good for Moyra’s sake as she loves her EKU 888.
We then drive to the University of Auckland, Epsom campus to enjoy a coffee at the Quad café before starting another life writing session. I have brought along Christina Lamb’s book Farewell Kabul. Christina is a distinguished journalist and I am staggered at her ability as a woman to access all the key decision makers, both on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and as well in Washington and London. I am disheartened by her conclusion that this war has left Afghanistan one of the poorest nations on earth, the Taliban undefeated and nuclear armed Pakistan perhaps the most dangerous place on earth.
Born in London, England, Sara came to live in New Zealand in May 1996, after many years spent in South Asia. Taking Deborah’s Life Writing course is her first foray into creative writing.
I was twirling and swirling, through the petals of painted roses rushing, falling, dancing and flying around my nimble body. The aromatic grass felt cool and soft under my toes, and at the same time, spiky and textural. My sense of the petals wrapping me as softly as clouds, made me feel safe. In this fantasy world, I was lost in the most wonderful way, amongst the colourful images and sensory surrounds of my home in the Gloucestershire countryside.
Roaming the extensive garden creating make believe miniature worlds was my escape from the austerity of a strict, controlling adult world. I secretly created fantastical imaginary theatres where the birds and insects metamorphosed into exotic forms of themselves: sparrows became parrots, worms were snakes, and insects the stars. The foliage and flowers became a stage and props. A big, green, shiny leaf for the stage and assorted flowers the props. I knew this garden intimately. I knew where the hedgehog lived. I knew where the cat found the skinks. I knew where the forget-me-nots would put themselves. This world of my imagination was all-absorbing.
I think I was lucky to have my creativity fostered by my precious Nana, my father’s mother. Her gift of the white linen circular skirt with the wild billowing, random flowers in crimson allowed me to go deeper and express myself more extravagantly and with abandon.
That skirt transformed me, it was the prettiest ever.
Sue Mercer lives in Auckland. She is currently writing a history of the women in her family.
When I was fifteen, I was banned from my English teacher’s home. Her name was Von. A peroxide blonde, with bright blue eyeliner and seagull eyes.
She lived in a house very different from mine. Not from the outside. It was just a small brick box in Te Atatu, no bigger than ours. But inside: no housework done there. The stove-top encrusted with burnt food. Sometimes us kids would clean it for her. She was our idol. Our drama teacher. She knew everything about literature, the world. Art.
That year we were doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was Hermia. And every weekend we would gather at Von’s place to read lines and practise, Titania, Oberon and me. All of us listening to Joni Mitchell, drinking red wine and being grown up.
I don’t remember exactly what I did to get banned, except that it involved a lot of alcohol. Vodka maybe. There were boys and dark streets. A red telephone box glows in my memory and at some stage I broke a chair.
I can remember the next morning though. Staying over at Titania’s.
“Von says you can’t come over anymore”.
I was heartbroken. Shamed. Only I had failed the grown up test. There was no reconciliation.
Years later I married Oberon.
Nicola grew up on a dairy farm in the far north in the late 1940s and trained as a Maths-Science teacher before taking off on an OE lasting twenty years. During this time she worked in medical research at Oxford University, at Oslo University and at the WHO laboratories in Hampstead, London managing the department known as ‘Hormones and Blood Products’. She returned to New Zealand with her Danish husband in 1989 where she began her third life.
‘No, you cannot have your own horse,’ Father said ‘They eat as much as four cows’, and with that ultimatum I had to be content to hijack any horses that came within my horizon.
Each month the herd tester arrived, in a horse-drawn buggy, to test the butterfat content of our cows’ milk. His horse was a wily, old gentleman, and although he permitted me to get on his back, he would deliberately walk close to the fence rubbing my legs against the wire that was barbed.
‘No I won’t go any faster,’ he seemed to imply. ‘The best I can manage is a trot.’ So very uncomfortable to the novice.
The herd tester stayed overnight, only, and when he had gathered his results and delivered them to father, with a wave he was off to the next farm.
I never did persuade my father to buy me a horse.
It was around this time, in the school holidays, that I began cooking for my father, when my mother and little sister visited the city. He never participated in the kitchen when mother was home. It was her domain, but he saw me as a blank page to be quietly moulded and directed to produce the food he liked.
He showed me how to pierce a clump of beef and insert it with garlic for a pot roast which I still do to this day, adding my own twist: some wine, thyme, oregano, black peppers and a bay leaf.
Rosemary lives in the far north-west of Auckland surrounded by a beautiful garden, animals and a fine community of friends and family. She is interested in writing about her personal life experiences and also in recording the oral histories of people she has encountered over the past sixty years.
I seem to remember more of my sister’s stormy teenage passage than my own. My memories of my years at secondary school aren’t so much about friends and relationships but the activities I engaged in and the decisions made about school subjects, which club to belong to and which sporting activities. For my special study options I chose Economics and more daringly ‘Learning to Fly,’ Japanese and Comparative Religions. After school I would ride home along the cliff tops, to our Edwardian villa in Devonport for a rushed afternoon tea of milk, bread and honey. Then I would grab my ballet shoes and music books and ride on to the ballet class or piano lesson. It was a well organized, structured life.
The things I remember most fondly though are walking the dog on the beach at the right tide and watching Dad’s boat take shape slowly in the shed he’d built from second-hand timber, behind the house. I was the first to sleep in this yacht as it sat up in its cradle ready for the launch some days later. A Hartley 24, it was modified by my Dad to include an enlarged cockpit for family cruising, a rashly considered petrol inboard motor to be improved years later and an Australian name ‘Tirranna,’ to acknowledge Mum’s place of birth.
My Dad’s boat-building may have been tiresome to my mother who allowed him to progress his ambitious project while she managed the family, cared for her mother and found a quiet friendship in the ‘Young Wives’ of our Church. We never really knew if she felt restricted only that she had originally wanted to be a journalist.
The day I answered the phone to be told my grandmother had died and that I was to tell my mother is etched on my memory. They were returning from a late night closing at our shop in Hurstmere Road and I glimpsed them through the stippled glass of the front door standing, quietly, for a moment. With great effort I greeted them with a composed expression on my face. ‘I’ve had a phone call from the rest home. It’s about Nana…’
Cherie currently works in healthcare management and is a mother of two and grandmother of three small girls. From the late 1980s until 2001 she lived in North America and abroad working in the field of leadership and personal development training. Now she wants to capture those stories and share her adventures with her children and grandchildren.
The door to my memories of childhood opens on the house we moved into when I was eighteen months old. It was newly built in the Hamilton subdivision of Claudelands.
It was my whole universe and I can distinctly remember the pink and grey bathroom tiled flooring and the only mirror in the house above the bathroom basin that I would gaze into looking at this strange creature gawking back. When my mother washed my hair in the basin, I would watch the patterns on her skirt jiggle as she scrubbed. Her mood would determine how fast the skirt moved.
Outside was a wonderland with a beautiful rose garden in the front, my own garden by the garage where I grew Christmas lilies, and the vast vegetable garden and fruit orchard behind the house that offered countless hours of industry along with the happiness of playing on bikes, trikes and in paddling pools. Beautiful plants and trees: dahlias, daisies, hydrangeas, geraniums, irises, the ornamental ‘black’ cherry tree with a dark maroon-red leaf, the kowhai and lancewood and there were ‘blackboy’ and ‘golden queen’ peach, apple, nectarine and quince trees in the orchard at the back. The names come to mind so easily because I can hear my mother speaking as she so enthusiastically plans and plots where things are to grow. To me this seemed like a living paradise.
Many years later, after a long stretch of time and a period living overseas, I returned to Claudelands and saw a small house on a quarter acre section, the gardens completely gone. It looked so bereft of love and interest. But what was not lost is what I absorbed about structure, balance and beauty. My early influences have helped me define my own style and approach to the way I live my life today.
Maryan finds that creativity is the best approach to life, from cooking the dinner, through bringing up her grand daughter to crafting learning sessions in her role as an adult educator. Creativity with words has been on the back burner but now she is seizing the day.
When I was ten my teachers decided that there was too much silliness and tomfoolery going on in the playground. Fighting or flirting, I’m not sure which. To introduce some decorum or at least to keep an eye on us, I suppose, they decided that we were to play softball at lunchtime. Girls against the boys.
Everyday I rushed home for lunch. Lunchtime began at twelve o’clock and the play bell rang at twenty past. How I got through dinner with meat, potatoes and veggies as well as pudding, then scooted back to play softball is a mystery to me now. I’d throw my bike into the shed and run to the outfield where my friend Lyndsay was already positioned for fielding. Slowly we’d gravitate towards each other, keeping our distance from the others, so we could chatter about her pony, Pixie, not really keeping an eye on the ball.
There was a day when, absorbed in this chatter, I heard the other girls screaming,
“Maryan, Maryan, the ball, THE BALL, CATCH THE BALL!”
I looked up and saw a softball sailing through the sky. Without a thought I put my cupped hands above my head and home it came.
For the merest nanosecond no-one moved, then girls, teachers and Lyndsay burst out laughing. I had caught it. I was astonished, dumbfounded, amazed and ecstatic.
No-one, least of all the batsman had expected it. He was furious.
Moyra Cooke at 77 has led a peripatetic life born in Singapore and living in South Africa, Australia, Scotland, Sarawak, India, Malaysia, England, Argentina and Hong Kong, much of it with husband Jim, before finding a refuge in New Zealand where she is proud to call herself a Kiwi through choice not chance. A permanent student and recent history graduate, her three sons and eight grandchildren now add to her learning and pleasure in life.
“In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
My father had a hand like cast iron.
My mother only had to say ‘wait until your father comes home’ for Carole, my younger sister, and I to be models of good behaviour. We were never quite sure whether Dad’s repeated axiom that ‘every child should start each day with a spanking to keep them on the straight and narrow,’ was said in jest but we did not want to test the theory.
One holiday though, in the hills of Malaya, away from the steamy heat of Singapore, we pushed the boundaries too far. My cousin, Lorna, a fount of good ideas, had joined us and we three girls, seven and eight year olds, were enjoying the freedom and the relaxation of some of the rules which holidays bring. We all had white rubber balls, and together devised many games, involving catching, rolling, throwing and bouncing. Having been rolled and bounced through mud and gravel, they soon lost their shine and pristine whiteness. The joy, then, when we discovered a pile of white stuff to plaster them with to restore them to their former brightness. What we did not know was that this was lime left by builders and, as we bounced and rolled our balls up the polished wooden corridor of our rented house, the lime lifted the varnish.
What made Dad’s inevitable spanking more painful was the injustice of our punishment while Lorna, the instigator, came off scot-free.
David is 25 years old, a perfectionist, egotistical and vain. The summer life writing course has indulged his love of writing and awoken his brain from holiday mode. David is an avid gamer, a ’you tuber,’ and he also has two blogs running. David lives with cerebral palsy although he prefers to describe himself as ‘high maintenance.'
At thirteen, I was an ordinary teenager. Puberty was kicking in. Along with it, came a myriad of emotions: anger, frustration, sadness. These three emotions controlled my decisions, some of them good, some bad while the anger and frustration reverberated through all my years of high school and seeped into my early adulthood. I was so angry at the world and frustrated that I couldn't do typical teenage stuff like sleepovers and having makeup sex after the prom.
And there was the sexual aspect of puberty. The funniest thing that arrived with the onset of puberty was that every time I saw what I considered to be a cute girl I would get a ‘stiffie.’ Once my dad caught me reading something for my nourishment down there. I received a spanking and have not seen my box of Playboy magazines again. I think my dad burned the box.
I was a normal, heterosexual teenager.
Sarah lives in Auckland and enjoys the clarity and creativity of memoir writing along with the opportunity it offers to embrace life’s journey and reflect.
My writing space is in the living room of my small apartment in Parnell. My desk overlooks the Waitemata harbour and I love the calming blue of the sea. My flat is on the ground floor and directly in front there is a car park where neighbours chat before zooming out. My apartment has reflective windows and a sliding door running across the front so the neighbours cannot see me, but I can see and hear them. When I am writing I like to listen to lounge and jazz music to block out the surrounding sounds I find it soothing too.
On my wall, to the left of my desk, I have hung an ingenious contraption made with two planks of wood, one at the top and one at the bottom to which seven pieces of rope are attached. Onto these strings I peg items of interest to trigger memories and provide inspiration for my writing: photos, old negatives, magazine articles, even a dead knitted mouse.
On the right hand wall I have hung a black and white photographic print titled ‘Hallucination’ by Hag. The print evokes an eerie sense of déjà vu. It features the interior of a living room — there is a painting hanging over a mantelpiece— which merges with a view of the countryside. Sloping hills lead to a lake. When I look at the photo I feel it encouraging me to be more adventurous in my approach to life.
My living room is a bit of a clutter. There are boxes of photos in the process of being scanned and these are piled up on a long table, jogging me to write and to re-examine my past.
Please submit your story via the Contact page and it will receive a gentle edit from Deborah.