30 August 2009

District 9

I rarely go to movies. I suppose in the last 40 years I may have seen 20 movies.

Today I saw District 9.

I saw trailers for this some weeks or months ago and was, really fascinated. The South African accents interested me as a linguist, it is true, but I could see in the basic idea of the movie elements of a powerful modern parable. I thought I would get my son Eddie to go to see it - I can't recall any time I have had the patience to sit through any movie except with someone I have some relationship with.

So I asked Eddie, and then thought that my close friend from work Marko Blagojevic might go as well. In the event I went with Susan, with Marko and his wife Rachel, with Eddie, and with Varoon, another friend from work. Marko did an unforgettable barbecue lunch for us at his house and we then went to see the movie.

Sue and I got home a couple of hours ago. I am still stunned.

The movie is a powerful story of conversion and of the Cross. You may already have seen it. You (whoever you are who read this) may not wish to see it - it is very violent. It is gut-wrenching. It is not a usual movie. It is not to be forgotten. It is well worthwhile seeing, nonetheless.

Do not, however, take your children!

29 August 2009

Through the kitchen...

...and out the back door.

Stopping, of course, for a bite to eat. There is not much for me to say about the kitchen, really. The time I spent there was devoted to eating, washing dishes (when made to), and mixing syrup.

Mixing syrup was - what? - the last two or three years I was at home? My father had a vending machine business and you probably don't want to know the gory details of what happens inside a soft-drink machine (the kind that dispenses little cups, with syrup and soda water that comes down into them, not the kind that dispenses bottles or cans. I have never seen the cup+syrup+water sort in New Zealand, actually). Some other time.

Dishes, by the way, are worth a comment. Since there were three of us children, there were three jobs: washing, drying, and putting away. I suspect washing was always the most distasteful, but can't recall very clearly.

But the kitchen leads to the back hall (toilet down the end of the little hall. We had two bathrooms upstairs and a toilet downstairs), and the back hall to the back porch, the laundry (off to the side), and the back yard.

We had a camphor tree in the back yard, which I thought was really cool. This tree:

is, according to Wikipedia, more than 1,000 years old - but then it is in Japan and everyone knows that makes it special :-) Ours was surely not 1,000 years old (unless some early Indians brought it from Asia, where it is native), but it was pretty cool. The gum from it smelt camphorish, and it was just generally a neat thing to have.

We also had two monstrous Pampas Grass plants - the same genus as New Zealand toetoe - and I hated them.

We had many chickens around the place. Chickens?! My mother was nuts on birds. We had chickens, bantam chickens, , ducks, geese, and probably other poultry that I have forgotten.

But we had chickens. And we had a nice big chicken house. And some of the hens actually laid their eggs in the chicken house.

And sometimes they laid them in tunnels they had made into the Pampas Grass.

The leaves of Pampas Grass are like tiny hacksaws. Run your finger along the edge of the leaf in one direction - from base to end - and they are smooth enough. Draw your finger in the opposite direction - and then find some tissue or something to stanch the blood.

It never seems to have occurred to me at the time to wonder why I was the one asked to crawl into those tunnels to get eggs out that had been laid. Perhaps I was not the only one. Peter may have done it. I was asked to do so, anyway, and I always did it - but was not happy at it. I put long-sleeved shirts on. I got cut anyhow. When I would find a nest, unless the hen was not there, I also generally got pecked. But I did get the eggs.

We had a fountain in the backyard that left its mark on me. I wonder whether the builder of the house - was it Mr Higginbotham, who sold it to us, or someone before him? - had rather romantic Mediterranean ideas. The crops - olives, oranges, and almonds - were, after all, quite Mediterranean. There were those classical columns at the front (albeit wooden rather than marble). And there was this fountain affair. It was a circular mortared stone pond with a central mini-tower which had a pipe in the middle of it. I don't recall there ever being any water in it.

I used to like holding on to the central tower, and walk around the edge, leaning into it. One day I slipped. I suppose the muscle in the place where my thigh hit the edge of the fountain was fairly deeply torn, and subsequently repaired with scar tissue. I still have the indentation, more than 50 years later.

I think I recall my father's telling me that Mr Higginbotham's wife was Tahitian - met during the Second World War, I suppose. Whether because of this or not, we had a swimming pool!

22 August 2009

Busy, busy, busy

OK, I didn't do anything last week-end, and ... basically, I'm not going to do anything this week-end! Tonight is our Beethoven concert. Last week-end was rehearsals. Tonight is the concert (and our conductor, Eugene Albulescu, said, regarding the horn duet in the trio section of the symphony, that "horn players would generally have two root canals without anaesthetic than be presented with it") - so I must practise.

And tomorrow, Sunday the 23rd of August, we are going to go see Eddie and Eveline. And Monday I am on leave - to try and catch up a bit on lost work.

But I was sufficiently moved by this reference to one of Newman's sermons that I offer it here for you to look at. It warns us against talking the talk ... as though that were a substitute for walking the walk:

Unreal Words

09 August 2009

The TV Room

We had a television!

Peter tells me - in his comment - that we had a television in Bakersfield; I do not remember it. But I remember the television in Oroville. My Dad built it!

Again, memory may be unreliable, but I recall its being in a man-height wooden frame, with a full picture tube (I think early tvs tended to have a small tube, maybe 12 inches diagonally) - 21-inch? Bigger?

The 'works' - all vacuum valves, of course - were in a chassis under the tube, and, for all I know, exposed lethal voltages.

It was black and white, of course. Did the United States - our part of it, anyhow - have colour televsion in the 1950s? I don't know, and rather doubt it, but we certainly had not.

The television was in - naturally - the tv room, to the left of the dining room. It had a painted concrete floor, I think. When we were watching tv, we were often set to doing kitchen tasks for my mother. I remember things like shelling peas, and churning butter. we had a little - what? - one-US-gallon? - glass butter churn with a handle to turn the paddles. Of course we were not allowed to eat the butter! We ate margarine - cheaper! Butter was for my mother to sell to the neighbours.

I actually can recall only one tv programme that I watched regularly, and loved: The Mickey Mouse Club. I watched it with great fervour, because I was in love with Annette Funicello (who, I have just discovered from that web page, was born exactly one month later than I - now doesn't that tell you something? - yes, other than the fact that she will soon be 67 as well, which is almost inconceivable). Ah, love!

All of which does make me think back to electromagnetic sources of entertainment in Bakersfield. We may have had a television; we certainly had a radio, and Peter and I had one in our shared bedroom. We were allowed to listen to a number of programmes - and perhaps some of the ones listed below were ones that we listened to without being allowed - at least, Susan tells me that she would never have been let listen to the spookier ones. I remember, especially, in no particular order:

And above all - the highlight of the week, lying in bed on Saturday mornings:

Of course some of these, and other radio programmes, ended up on television as well, and Susan remembers some of them from that medium. I remember, with pleasure, Gunsmoke on tv. But in truth, television never played a large part in my life. I enjoyed the radio when I was a small boy - but even then, I was far more of a books man than a radio listener or movie watcher. Other than a few television programmes in my 'teen years - and especially Annette, of course - I didn't watch much tv then - and almost none later, until my own children came along - precious little even at that time.

From the television room - still on the front of the house - you go into the (I now know) quite large kitchen - and then outdoors!

02 August 2009

Oroville house3

Peter has mentioned a basement, and I had, in fact, forgotten it. Perhaps it had some sort of workshop in it - but what it certainly housed was the heater.

The house had central heating. The heater was some sort of oil burner - burned diesel oil, I think. I remember my poor father trying to get us to keep the thermostat at a very reasonable 20 degrees (68F) - and we - or at least I - constantly turning it up to max (85F, or half a degree below 30C). Did I ever take seriously or even comprehend talk about expense? I doubt it. I certainly have no memory of any traces of a twinge of conscience (neither about that nor about much else, I'm afraid).

I suppose the warm air outlets went upstairs, but possibly not. There were some downstairs that I used to love to stand in front of on cold days. Maybe the system was set up so that warm air would flow upstairs.

But at the foot of the stairs was a big grill, whose function I neither knew nor questioned. I know now what it was. It was the air intake.

I appear to have engaged in sleep-walking. One morning there was very pungent, unpleasant odour coming out of the warm air outlets. It was ascertained - how, I don't know - that I had walked in my sleep, down the stairs, and emptied my bladder into the air intake - straight, I imagine, onto the burner of the heater.

Regarding that, of course, I feel even now no guilt - can one be held to account for actions taken during sleep? But I must not have been very popular with the rest of the family for a while.

To the left of the entryway is the dining room. The table in my memory is very large, but I suppose it was quite normal in size. We were six at dinner (including Jeremiah). The table, sideboard, and chairs were all some kind of set - elaborately-carved dark wood. I wish I could say that our dinners were pleasant affairs. Well, I suppose they were for me. It never occurred to me to inhibit gross or offensive behaviour at table - or even that my behaviour could have been offensive. But dinner times must have been a trial for my mother and father and for Jeremiah.

And then ... the TV room!

01 August 2009

106 Victoria Street

Although I have been writing (for my children's - principally, I think, my sons' - sake) about my childhood and youth - what I have named with the grandiose title of 'Memoirs' - life is now. And now involves very actively the house we live in.

As I said some time back - late last year or early this year, I think - there is a possibility of our moving to Patumahoe, to keep an eye on the house next to the 'Rural Retreat' (as those who are planning it call it). If this happens - still quite uncertain, I should say - it will take place probably early in 2010. In that case we will either rent out our existing house, or sell it.

As my children can testify, it is - or at least has been - scarcely in rentable or salable condition. We moved in in September, 1984. The house itself was probably built in the late 1920s, variously modified since then, and prettied up a little bit (very little) before we bought it. At that time the carpets were pretty old, I think; the wallpaper new (some of it); the paintwork mostly not very new. Since then, until early 2009, Sue and I have done the minimum necessary. We have had it painted (the outside) once in those almost-25 years (and that was probably ten years ago); had new iron on the roof (the old had really had it); fixed one thing and another: not much.

So this year we borrowed some money from our friendly local branch of the Bank of New Zealand (they really are very good people, and know us well), and made a plan.

That plan could be summarised in one word: Susan.

Susan has done all the work so far, and will certainly be doing all that remains. Well, to be completely accurate, the work has been done by Susan and friends - principally Gail. Gail has been pretty amazing. She has been doing house renovations for years as a sort of paid hobby. She loves doing it and is a wonderful worker. And because of her experience, she knows what to do, where to get needed materials, what not to touch, and so forth.

Susan and Gail picked out wallpaper - and bought it at half price. Gail and Susan have so far wallpapered the dining room and hallway along the back bedrooms (there are two in the back of the house and one in the front); removed the wallpaper in the rearmost bedroom - the one I had been using, so I have been banished to the 'sleepout' room that has served as bedroom for each of our children at different times.

Oh, well, not only Gail! Elise, my very close friend at work, got her cousin's husband Paul to sell us a houseful of carpet for NZ$1,000. We will get it put down for another $2,000. The numbers might, perhaps, sound high to an American, I wouldn't know, but it is very cheap for here.

There is much more to be done. The three bedrooms and the living room must be papered. The linoleum in the kitchen, laundry, and toilet needs to be redone. We are getting insulation in the attic and perhaps under the floor - the NZ government has just started a programme offering up to $1,300 (or one third, whichever is less) towards insulation, so we will do that. If we can somehow manage it, we will get some kind of dry heating.

And Susan has got a mixing tap for the kitchen sink! That has been a marvel. All our sinks have separate hot and cold.

Sue is now falling so much in love with her tarted-up house that she won't want to leave, if it turns out that we are to do so :-)

Don't know about the outside - paint and such like. If I had the money I would tear out all the gib (what I am told Americans call 'drywall board' - one of those brand names that, like 'kleenex' in the States, or 'biro' in New Zealand, have come to be generic), put all new wiring in - we will probably be burned to death one night by our ancient fabric-insulated wiring - and in-wall insulation, new plumbing, the lot. I haven't and what sells, or rents, houses is, I suppose, the carpeting and wallpaper, not the underlying fabric. So we do what we can, and what will pay off. But it is a bit like eating peanuts: the more you do, the more you want.