January 10, 2009


Here's the kokako we saw (in captivity) at Mt Bruce. I hope a story will follow shortly, but for now I just wanted to put this here so I could show Brooklynne that her wedding colours are North-Island kokako blue and grey.


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August 25, 2008

Eating greengages

When I started taking lamotrigine, it didnít just feel like some of the symptoms of bipolar were repressed. It felt like I was myself again for the first time in about 12 years. I canít describe how amazing it was to be given back my life like that.

It was like Iíd been drowning for all those years. I was constantly struggling against waves of utter despair and agonizing emotional pain. Finding the right medication was like being lifted back onto dry landÖ being able to walk, and breathe, and enjoy the sunshine again.

An unexpected side effect of getting my life back, is that it comes with all these memories.

When I was unwell I couldnít connect with the past or the future. I couldnít remember ever feeling better, or imagine things ever being different. And it was hard to have a sense of who I was. The intense despair was stronger than anything else. I felt like I was a terrible swirling darkness barely hidden under a human-shaped shell.

When I looked back on my childhood it was like remembering a movie Iíd seen a long time ago. I didnít remember actually being there. I could have told you a lot about my childhood because I had a lot of photographs, and because there were stories my parents kept telling. But it didnít feel like me, it was just some girl in a photograph.

The memories are not at all profound, they are just random moments of childhood. But it feels so good to remember.

At primary school we could order lunch before school, and one of us would go and pick all the lunches up in a plastic crate and bring them back to the classroom. I often had a sausage roll and a caramel dairy food. I liked peeling the layers of pastry off the sausage roll and eating them first.

My favourite colour was opalescent. I wanted to be a volcanologist when I grew up.

At FRI (where my parents worked) some of the corridors opened out into this round room with a wooden pillar in the middle, and a sort of bench around the pillar. The room was all glass and wood and lino, so sounds reverberated. It was great for singing in, and there was a section of the bench that you could lift up and then drop with an almighty crash.

I remember the soft mossy grass of our lawn, and the ponga edging which had hollows where dolls could hide. I had a swing set, and I would spin around, twisting the chains, and then let go and spin back, jerkily, in the opposite direction. And sometimes my fingers got pinched in the chains.

We had chooks, and sometimes when I gathered the eggs they were still warm. And once, briefly, we had a pet lamb. When I fed him he would tug so hard at the bottle he almost pulled it out of my hands.

I loved brussels sprouts, and rolls made with grated carrot and cheese wrapped up in a lettuce leaf. When I was sick my mum made me celery soup, and jelly made with freshly squeezed orange juice (it didnít taste like proper jelly, and it had pulpy bits in it). My dad made bread, and showed me how to poke the kneeded dough and see if it sprang back.

We had records of Bad Jelly the Witch, the Barrow Poets, and Peter and the Woolf. My parents helped me make a model volcano, and gave me a real microscope. I cut up bits of plants so I could look at the cells. They read me bedtime stories every night. My mum read me The World of Christopher Robin, and my dad read me The Hobbit.

In summer I could dance under the sprinkler to cool down.

We had a greengage tree in the garden. I remember eating the greengages Ė they were so green and sticky and so sweet.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 11:25 PM | Comments (7)

July 07, 2008

Sign Language

Two scenes keep nudging their way back into my mind.

The first came from the play The Black Watch (about soldiers who went on a tour of duty in Iraq). There was a scene when the mail from home was delivered. The men were scattered around the stage, each lost in that private moment, reading a message from someone they loved. And their hands began to move, silently miming the contents of the letter. The shape of a womanís pregnant belly, tears falling, a baby being rockedÖ In the middle of a play filled with action and drama it was incredibly powerful and moving.

The second was in a documentary about women working in Maquiladoras in Tijuana, Mexico. Maquiladoras are foreign-owned assembly plants where companies import machinery and materials duty free and export finished products around the world. For around US$6 a day women in these factories assemble parts for everything from televisions and batteries to pantyhose, IV tubes, and toys.

"We are just objects, objects of labour," one of the women said.

The film deeply shocked and upset me. Yes, I was already aware that people worked in these factories for such low wages, and in appalling conditions. But I hadnít comprehended the devastating impact on the whole community. Images of chemical waste from the factories rushing down the streets where children were playing, polluted streams, kids with sores and other health problems from the pollution, stories of children born with birth defects, brought home that the situation was more horrible than I had imagined.

Iím not sure if this was the last scene in the film, but it is certainly the image that was left in my mind: the women standing in a row outside near one of the factories, their hands miming the action they performed over and over on the assembly line.

Even though my head wanted to block out the words I was hearing, I couldnít help being moved by the silent language of hands.

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April 15, 2008

He apakura

As soon as the radio presenter said Mahinarangiís name I knew they were going to say that she had died, and I started crying. I canít remember ever feeling so upset about the death of someone I barely knew.

Her openness about her experience of mental illness had a profound effect on me when I was a teenager and just beginning to come to terms with my own illness. Her strength has continued to inspire me, and her songs have been a touchstone during some of my darkest moments.

Kai kiri te manawa, tangi atu te waiata aroha mo koe kua wheturangitia.


Posted by Fionnaigh at 11:00 PM | Comments (1)


Itís been a summer of swimming. In part because of the gloriously hot weather that lasted for an unusually long time by Wellington standards. In part because I injured my back in December. I have a prolapsed disk that is taking a long long time to un-prolapse or whatever it is meant to do.

At itís worst, just before Christmas, I was taking the maximum daily dose of tramadol, plus panadol, plus synflex for inflamation, and valium as a muscle relaxant... and I was still in agony. Mornings were the worst time. Every movement was incredibly painful. Coughing, sneezing or even yawning was excruciating. My girlfriend would pass me my pills and water, which I would try and drink lying sideways without lifting my head, dribbling water onto the pillow, and then lie there groaning until the pain eased enough to move a little. Then I would have to be helped out of bed and held up until I could straighten my legs and start walking with tiny steps, sobbing and moaning.

Once things started to settle down a little I was able to get to the pool, and swimming helped immensely, so I started swimming every day.

I keep telling people that Iíve hurt my back, but actually my back doesnít hurt. Because of the nerve that is pinched I have pain from my hip, down my leg, to my ankle. My back feels fine.

I couldnít sit at all for a while (or at least I couldnít bear the pain of sitting for more than a few moments). I started a new job (here) in February, and at that stage I could only sit for about 5 Ė 10 minutes at a time. The occupational therapist balanced my keyboard and monitor on a pile of filing boxes until a standing height desk could be arranged. And I stood at the back in all the meetings. At the end of my first week we had a planning day with the whole agency, and I really really wish I had gone up the front and explained to everyone at once why I was standing Ė because I think now I have explained it to the entire agency, one person at a time.

I can now manage to sit for about half an hour, 3 or 4 times a day. Not quite long enough to get through a movie yet!

Anyway, since I still canít ride a bike or go to the gym, I have taken to swimming in the ocean Ė and in lakes when Iím further north. It sure beats staring at the bottom of a swimming pool several times a week.

I have quite a phobia about deep water though Ė Iím not sure what Iím scared of exactly, but if I canít see the bottom I start to panic Ė sometimes I make it halfway to where Iím going and suddenly feel absolutely terrified and have to turn around and get back to shore as fast as I can. But, somehow, sometimes, I manage to keep going forwards.

Iíve swum through schools of fish at Oriental Bay, glided past jellyfish at Scorching Bay, negotiated tangles of weeds in lake Tarawera, dodged jet skis on Rotoma. Back in January I took part in the 750m Ocean Swim around the fountain in Oriental BayÖ and this Sunday I am heading up to Auckland for the King of the Bays 2.8km swim on the North Shore. Iíve swum about 2.5km in the harbour (round the lighthouse past Oriental Parade) and further in the pool, so I should manage ok.

I donít know how much of a passion this will remain after my back heals though. When Iím struggling back from the lighthouse and the waves are washing into my mouth every time I try to take a breath, sometimes I wish I was whizzing past the harbour on my bike, not bobbing around in it. On a calm day though, itís pretty magical. One night I went swimming in Oriental Bay at about 10pm, and it was so warm and so still, the water was like a mirror, and only my strokes sent ripples through the reflected lights of the city. I was too scared to swim out deeper in the dark though, so I stayed so close to shore that my fingers brushed the sandy bottom.

So if you were one of the people out enjoying the balmy evening, and wondered who that strange person was splashing backwards and forwards in the shallow water at night, well, that was me.

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November 23, 2007

Pea groats

I love the variety of food stores in Wellington... I love wandering around, asking what things are, taking some new things home to try. Today I went to a shop in Kilbirnie that has foods from Eastern Europe. The woman was so friendly and enthusiastic that I came away with pomegranate juice, spiced pickled eggplant, and a packet of pea groats.

Usually after I buy something I look for recipes on the net, but I canít find any for pea groats. Does anyone know what to do with pea them? The packet suggests:

To place a bag in a plenty of
the boiling added some salt water.
To cook on moderate fire of 25-30
minutes. To get a bag, having
picked up a plug for a loop
stipulated for this purpose. To allow
water to flow down. To open a bag,
having broken off it on a line of
notches. To lay out a product on a
dish and to add oil to taste.

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November 07, 2007


As I wistfully wandered around teashops, sniffing samples of teas that I canít afford, it suddenly occurred to me that I could make my own blends! Buying the ingredients from supermarkets or picking them from the garden must work out cheaper, right?

Here are my ideas (untested so far):

Nasturtium leaves and flowers, with rosehips, strawberries, and lemon peel.

(Fair Trade) black tea with horopito and orange peel.

Manuka leaves with lemon balm and mint.

Kawakawa with lemongrass, ginger and calendula (ok, so this one isnít actually my idea at all).

Rooibus tea with ginger, lemon peel and aniseed.

Manuka, kawakawa and fennel.

Other suggestions appreciated :)

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