Kemp by Tim Chamberlain
Tim Chamberlain is an organic farmer on a property called Hart’s Creek Farm in Canterbury where he grows a range of crops and livestock for the local and export markets.
Kemp was a twelve month-old heading dog I bought for $500 when working at Nokamai Station in Southland. Almost all black with a fleck of white on his chest and a white sock, he had prick ears and a slight ringtail. I have heard it said you only have one truly outstanding dog in your life. I do not know if that is true or not.
Heading dogs can be fickle and the one I have at the moment I consider a psychopath. Kemp wasn’t overly friendly and didn’t require patting. He was clean, tidy and got on with the job.
One time we were working at Elephant Hill in South Canterbury. It was early afternoon and hot. The yards were full with three hundred lambs being mustered for redrafting. Robert, my employer yelled ‘Gate.’ Followed by a stream of expletives. By the time I unclipped Kemp’s neck chain the lambs had escaped - through the creek, under the willows, past the house and into the pond paddock which was open to the run blocks.
‘Robert, let Kemp sort them out while we carry on here,’ I suggested.
Robert hadn’t finished swearing but had little choice. It was thirty minutes exactly when I saw the first of the lambs moving through the creek, under the willows back towards the yards. I felt a surge of pride. That evening we checked the pond paddock. Kemp had recovered the lot.
Robert’s only comment, ‘That’s a $2000 dog. Let me know if you want to sell him.’
I was away over the weekend at a wedding in Dunedin and arrived back at the farm just on dark. I laid the chopped dogmeat portions on the white plywood dog box, on the tray of my light yellow Holden Ute and drove up to the kennels. Something was wrong. I ran crying with disbelief to the still shape of Kemp covered in dust, and dead. His chain was wound round on itself in a twisted ball. I struggled to release him.
‘It’s too late for a post mortem,’ pronounced the vet looking away. ‘Was he an epileptic?’
‘I don’t know,’ I muttered. ‘He had a fit once when I was working in Gisborne.’ If only I had put Kemp in a dog motel for the weekend.
Kemp was the second really good dog I had lost and I felt sorry for myself and dismayed that I had failed to detect the signs of epilepsy. There is no greater prize for a shepherd than a good dog. No greater thrill than seeing dogs doing magic. No greater sadness in losing them.
February 22nd by Francie Craig
Francie Craig is a Stage 3 English literature student at Canterbury University and a boarding house manager at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch. As well as writing she loves to mosaic in her spare time.
Do you know that painting? The one with the clocks melting like lava in a lamp? Well it was like that. Everything, the trees, the houses, the grass, the brick wall started to melt around me. And then my knees began to sway. 'Oh God this is it. This is an eight. This is the alpine fault. Right the best plan is to get to the middle of the road away from falling buildings.' I look over my shoulder. No cars. I move towards the road but I’m drunk in my movements. I’m like a newborn deer with knocky, knobbly knees. I feel my legs buckling. I crouch on the curb and watch the square wall become a sphere; globing towards me. Earthquake.
I stand up. The ground is still for now. I’d better find my cell phone. Mum and Dad will be worried. I run into Winchester House and there is a paler version of my colleague standing in the doorway.
“Shit what was that?”
“I don’t know.”
I open my bedroom door. There is dirt everywhere. My pot plants are smashed. My heaters are dangling from the ceiling. I can’t find my phone. I feel bad in here. This room makes me panic. My colleague tries to call my phone but it is not connecting. I look at her.
“Shit, shit, shit. Let’s get out of here.”
We go down to the day school. Girls are crying. I search for my girls and I hug them and tell them that this is the one time it is okay to swear at school. If they had heard me a moment ago I would have been on ‘duties’ for a week. This makes them laugh through the tears, well some of them anyway.
I run down to the end of the school to check on the other boarding house manager and her family. Her babies, thank goodness, are in the car.
“How much more can we take? People won’t be able to do this anymore,” she says. I hug her.
“It’s okay,” I say. But I don’t know then that for some people it is not.
When I was Small by Susan Schuler
Susan Schuler is originally from Germany. She has lived in Aotearoa for almost twenty years. She writes poetry and paints abstract paintings. She has recently chosen to focus on memoir writing, to remember some of her childhood in Europe.
When I was small I honestly thought that liquorice was made from pig’s blood. I believed a lot of what my father told me and remember thinking that pig’s blood tasted pretty good and how did they add all those colours to Liquorice Allsorts.
Mum still lived with us then and the smell of home baking would fill our rented house up on the hill. She was making plum tart, our favourite treat. We had harvested the pipped purple fruit ourselves.
My younger sister Valerie and I happily spent most of our active days outdoors exploring the French countryside surrounding our small village with neighbourhood friends - whose parents didn’t object or didn’t know they were playing with “les boschs” (a derogative French term for Germans.) We would return home only for food, supplies or to sleep.
I was aware and in awe of the strength and agility of my small body. I could run like the wind, climb trees like a monkey, swing from branches and fall without really getting hurt. Recently when I told my eight year-old son, Ethan about my climbing, he looked at me and kindly said, “So you were a tomboy mum.” Yes, I guess I was. I loved making huts and would equip them with my favourite toys; naked Barbie dolls and pink My Little Ponies proudly exhibiting their new punk haircuts and missing limbs.
I have a photo of me at eight years old, standing on our concrete driveway half of which was still hidden under a thick blanket of snow. I am wearing my faded pink jacket, a woollen hand knitted hat and matching gloves. My hands are holding the wooden snow shovel and I am grinning from ear to ear.
When I was small, every day promised adventures. As an adult I see the world differently. Some of the magic is gone.
My Writing Space by Lydia Smith
Lydia Smith was in a writing group that lasted many years and in 2011 joined a new group following the Life Writing summer school with Deborah Shepard. She loves the process of writing together and then editing later in her writing space.
My writing space is in desperate need of de-cluttering –an awful word for a challenging task. The room in the villa has a desk beneath a double hung window that brings in the outside. I like the view out to a garden of rampant salmon pink geranium and a camellia tree, both gifts from old friends. Above and beyond is the neighbour’s deck which is busy with chat in the summer. There is plenty to distract but the direct light makes this a great spot to work and write. If only the desk wasn’t piled high with books and mail, my diary, address books, pens and ‘to do’ folders. A pretty shoebox sits on one corner full of pencils and other homeless items I never look at. It has become my non-writing space while I find myself sitting at the, usually, clutter free dining table for daily mailing and avoid the other writing I really want to do.
I yearn for a clean and clear and orderly space but obviously I haven’t wanted this enough to keep order and throw out, file and sort. My ‘busyness’ must be challenged. I need to create a completely clear surface that will entice me to sit down willingly. I’m sure a tidy desk is the sign of good organisation not an empty mind.
There are some pluses for my writing space besides the light. I do have a hard but comfortable chair with back support for my long and rickety spine and nice pens to write with. My favourite, a gold Waterman, was a gift from House and Garden for writing a letter to their magazine. The computer sits in the corner of the room and is easily accessible from the wooden desk. It’s an ideal set up. I just need to clear the desk and sort out how to manage my writing relationship with pen and paper, desk and computer. With my thoughts in order I will be off…
- For more stories on writers' reading spaces, read the 'My Writing Space' section.
When I was Small by Ngawini Hall
Muv, Stepmuv and Grandma, Ngawini Hall is a creative multi-tasker, rarely daunted by life's challenges, who weaves through her life and artistry the many colourful strands of her European and Maori ancestry.
The world seemed a much brighter, happier place when I was small. Home seemed always full of joy, love and laughter. When my Dad came home from work, we would line up at the back door for hugs and kisses, Mother first. This always met with giggles from us kids. Their smooches were real smackeroos with “Mo-mo-mo-mo-mo-mo” as lips met, until one or other of us would demand our turn.
Mother had very organised systems in place, as did most women of her day; Monday was wash day, 'Top sheet to the bottom, bottom sheet to the wash.' We had a copper in the corner of the wash-house to begin with, but it soon moved to the backyard, its place taken by a wonderful new wringer washing machine. Mother would wash all the whites first, then soak them in Reckitt’s ‘Blue’ to make them extra white before hanging them out to flap in the wind. A soft rubber hose for filling the machine also had another role - Mother used it to punish us when we were naughty. Sounds brutal, but it was utterly ineffectual as it was far too soft to hurt, and I think she well knew that. Its effect was to make us realise she was annoyed and that was always enough.
My favourite day was baking day, when we three little people would gather round the kitchen table and watch as fabulous rock cakes, sugar buns, date scones, sour milk loaves were created and we’d claim turns to lick the bowl. Warm smells, fine particles of flour caught floating in the streams of sunlight, Mother conducting eggbeaters and bowls, trays of food in and out of the oven like some fabulous orchestra. Magic.
A Place Re-Visited by Susan McLeod
Susan McLeod, married 43 years to one man who continues to coach her to go that extra lamp post. Three adult children, eight grandchildren.
Hinge Bay, Huia 1957 – 1969. We were the baby boomer generation. Summer, autumn, winter, spring, every weekend the natural boulder beach and sandy terrace opened itself up gracefully to a new generation to explore and enjoy.
It all started with a deal. My father, on the hunt for a new venture, had eyed a small piece of land between two other baches on a beach at Hinge Bay owned by Farmer Colin Hinge. In those days you didn’t need building permits or consents and before very long Colin the Farmer was hammering together our bach. In a very short time, there she stood, like a ‘woman’ dressed in turquoise with her shoulders back and chest held proud.
The kitchen, the hub of the house, you couldn’t swing a cat in, but out of it came unforgettable food; pan fried piper caught moments before in the net that was cast out almost from the front door, paua fritters, mussels steamed open on a slice of corrugated iron perched over a fire on the beach, doused in vinegar then sandwiched between bread, hot date scones dripping in butter. And Mum’s fried chicken, we’ve never been able to replicate it to this day.
As kids we hung out in a gang swarming over the beach and bush. We water-skied from one tide to the next. Dad always the driver, never seemed to tire of towing us round and round the bay. When the tide receded, leaving only mudflats and a strip of sand to play on, out came the cricket bats. We had some very good swingers and when that cricket ball flew out and over into the mud flats, the batsman just took off and retrieved it, mud up to the thighs and armpits, laughing all the way back to the pitch. If the weather was foul, we took off high into the Waitakeres in searchof the Maori caves and crystal streams to cool our sweaty bodies.
In the cool of the evenings, you would often find Mum and Dad , sitting on deck chairs under the Pohutukawa tree listening to piano music playing from the tape cassette player. The coloured fairy lights they had threaded through the branches reflected in the still waters that lapped gently on the shore only feet away.
In 2011, my husband and I took one of our daughters and her three children to view the site where our turquoise bach once stood. On the beach we looked up towards the lush native bush that grew unencumbered down to the sea wall. No words were spoken but I felt a special memory was being passed on to the next generation. Our days at Huia were re-visited, another link in the chain of history.
Verna Cook-Jackson, married with two adult sons and two adult step sons. No girls. A definite void in her life. An older athlete, personal fitness coach, frustrated tour guide and a past sports magazine writer. Doing the writing course to reinvigorate her enthusiasm to write her husband’s life story.
We hugged each other and cried. Not an out loud sobbing cry, just our two naked bodies lying together, hugging and quietly shaking from our private and personal tears. We were together, we were one. Not in the physical being but in the depths of our emotional love for one another.
We never set the scene for this moment, we never saw it coming. Had we known that we would end up clinging to each other in such a desperate embrace of togetherness or intimacy we would have avoided it. We would have stayed up later into the night and watched yet another inane television programme about forensic science and crime, or the world's best survivor or some improbable, unrealistic, medical tear jerker story.
But we didn't. We had pulled the bed sheets over our bodies, reached out for one another and, for the first time in a long while tenderly loved one another. Then lay there, clinging to each other and crying.
There were no words. It didn't need words. It did not need things to be said. At that moment in time we did not know whether we would ever be able to hold each other in this way again.
He had been given a life sentence. The surgeons had told him, "You have twelve weeks to live."
We were in week fourteen.
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