beautiful monsters: November 2003 Archives

November 30, 2003

Luo ye gui gen

“Falling leaves return to their roots.”

I’m not sure if this proverb means that once worn out, people return to where they came from, or if it means that the old falls down and becomes nourishment for the continuation of growth. Either way, I like the sentiment.

My folio for Writing the Landscape was called “Leaf Trace,” and leaves (as in an pieces of trees, pages of books, but also departures) recurred frequently throughout the pages. Although the class focussed on landscape writing, we took a very broad definition of “landscape.” Many of my poems were about the landscape seen through the lens of human emotions.

In the middle of two sections of poems I included a series of prose extracts from my Costa Rican piece. I couldn’t put the whole piece into my non-fiction folio, so I pulled out a few landscape orientated extracts to put in Leaf Trace. One of these extracts was the first half of this (probably slightly rewritten). No, it’s not about the landscape, but in my view it’s not less about the landscape than most of the pieces in my folio. It’s partly about the first time I ever visited a tropical jungle. Ok, so that doesn’t turn out to be the focus, but that’s part of the point. And, as with many of the poems in my folio, I tried to use the landscape in subtle ways to convey emotions that I may not have been able to express myself. The tangle of trees, the snuffling of animals, crying of birds…

Anyway, one of the assessors questioned whether the piece belonged appropriately in a landscape folio. It came as a shock, and overwhelmed the central purpose of the piece, the exploration of landscape.

But for me… that piece was an integral part of my folio. The whole body of work was about the way that the landscape is seen by someone who is experiencing grief, loss or trauma. Even the less explicit pieces;

I remember
the rain

dark smudges
of macrocarpa

mountain dissolving
into clouds

fat droplets
on the tips of branches

a deluge of white
petals on the lawn.

That’s one of the ghazals from the first section of my folio, and it’s about some of the things noticed during an incident of sexual abuse when I was a child.

When something painful has happened, it’s often the landscape that I will remember in later years. When I think of a little baby dying, I picture magnolias and jasmine. When I think of the incident in the jungle, I remember of the sound of the birds in the pre-dawn darkness. Wind, stones, falling leaves, all these things carry traces of sadness as well as beauty.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 09:01 PM

November 26, 2003

The time I had lunch with Sir Ian and we ran out of veggie burgers...

In July of 2000 a group of queer youth were invited to the house Sir Ian McKellen, AKA Gandalf. This is an extract from the journal I was keeping at the time (for a Women’s Studies paper).

Sir Ian has a wicked sense of humour which shone through as he described the morning he had just spent perched on a narrow ledge with a couple of hobbits, an elf, a dwarf, and a pony, while getting blasted with polystyrene balls which found their way into every possible orifice.

He also spoke to us very eloquently about queer issues in the UK, and about his experiences in movies such as Gods and Monsters. He soon introduced a sobering note – the gathering would have been illegal in Britain, where Section 28 forbids the use of materials or events that could be calculated to influence young people in favour of a homosexual lifestyle.

Sir Ian showed strong views about coming out; he believes that we should out celebrities and other public figures to raise queer visibility. In many ways I agree with this principal. I think that one of the most effective ways of fighting homophobia is to come out. It is hard for people to make homophobic comments when they know that their daughter is queer, their coworker is gay, or their neighbour is a lesbian. A lot of homophobic attitudes are based on myths and stereotypes. Often when someone meets an openly queer person, this challenges their ideas and assumptions. Also, openly queer people in the media, in schools, in communities, provide role models for young people who are just beginning to discover their own sexualities. This helps to break through the isolation that many young queer people face in our society.

But at the same time, I’m not keen on outing other people… the problems they may face as a result of being outed. Closer to home, I have friends who have been kicked out of home, or been abused physically and emotionally at school after coming out or being outed. How do I know that a politician or a movie star doesn’t have a homophobic mother, or other issues to deal with? I believe that we should make the choice to be out ourselves. We can encourage others to come out, and we can be as out as we can be in our own lives, but I don’t think we should make the choice to out other people.

It does make me angry however that some people let others fight for their freedom, and while they are happy to enjoy the benefits, they don’t even have the guts to be open about their own sexuality. It makes me angry when people are in a position of power and influence, but they don’t do anything to make it easier for others because of their own fear.

“Why shouldn’t we out them, those lying bastards… living their secret lies, attending their galas and pretentious shallow parties… We have confronted the closet, and have seen it’s evil, we are the strong who not only broke free but are smashing down the walls created of lies and repression. We are the ones who have opened our eyes and seen the ignorance and fear in our own ‘community,’ and we refuse to close our eyes to this hypocrisy.” (From Queer Nasty)

There was a discussion about the queer community in Aotearoa and in New Zealand. Sir Ian talked about how there didn’t seem to be many queer groups or events here. People say that there aren’t many specifically queer places in Wellington because most people are fairly open-minded and we don’t need specifically queer spaces. But this doesn’t make it easy for young people who are coming out and want to meet other queer people.

We talked about how there is no blatant discrimination to face (such as Section 28 in Britain), and because of this it is easy to get complacent. There is nothing to unite us, nothing that we are all against, that we can stand together and fight. There is not a lot of communication between queer groups in Aotearoa, and there is not a lot of action to change society. In a place like Wellington, it is just comfortable enough for many queer people. But there is still so much that needs to change. Queer youth are still at high risk for suicide and drug problems. People are still being abused for being queer. We are still underrepresented in the media, and discriminated against by the law. It is not safe enough to rest, not yet.

Meanwhile his make up artists had been busy in the kitchen. Unfortunately they got the maths wrong. Sir Ian himself is vegetarian, but, making no assumptions, the make up artists prepared both vegetarian and meat-based burgers.

Fact: In any gathering of queer youth (or environmentalists, anarchists or hippies) there will be a disproportionate number of vegetarians. The veggie burgers disappeared within seconds, and we stood around awkwardly, staring at the untouched platter piled high with meat burgers.

If you can make out any detail at all, the arrow points to me
Sir Ian is just to the left of me, in the back


If you’re in Wellington on Monday for The Return of the King premiere, look out for Tanemahuta and (I think) Merenia Gray; they’ll be the ones descending from the top of the Embassy (I’ll be the one having panic attacks because I hate crowds…)

Posted by Fionnaigh at 11:06 PM

kei te pau te hau...

I don’t seem to have the time or energy to devote to blogging at the moment. Just finished the homework for tonight, well, finished all I’m going to get done… And I have no energy to do anything else. Like, for example, the dishes. Or the floors. But then, I’m not the only one who has dirtied them. *Sigh.* Life feels a bit relentless! But it’s all good. Well mostly.


Random Plug

I’d like to take this opportunity to espouse the charms of “Flower of Nepal,” which has just opened in Newtown. Good food, good people, good principles. Good prices also. But no cake. We had to go across the road for that.


So… feedback, huh? The institute should give out advice, on their website or in the course handouts. “Dealing with criticism,” or something. Not that anyone has been unnecessarily or unfairly critical. In fact, one of my assessments was really useful, and very encouraging. I did find myself wanting a right of reply though. The assessor questioned my use of a few words… and that was good, because it made me realise that the meaning wouldn’t be clear to most readers. I love playing with words that have multiple meanings and that resonate on different levels, but often some of the meanings are obscure, and so lost on most people. So I need to be aware of that. But I still wanted to explain my thoughts to the assessor because, as Lizzie would put it, “I can’t bear to think that he is alive in the world and thinking ill of me.” Only not nearly so dramatic. It’s just, the assessor is someone I really like and respect, and I don’t want him thinking I used words inappropriately!

The other assessment… well, part of it really upset me. But I think I’m probably overreacting. I guess it pushed a lot of my buttons. I could be misinterpreting what was being said. Or, the assessor might have been to involved to objectively critic the writing, or… I don’t know. I think I need to let it sit for a while.


More Plugs

If you’re in Aotearoa, pick up the latest issue of JAAM, available from good bookstores, and featuring poetry, prose, reviews and interviews by various talented writers, including yours truly.

And if you're in this part of the country, make your way out to Paikakariki to catch Hinemoana Baker, Tyree Robertson and Charlotte Yates.

'In Concert, for Paekakariki', Friday 5 December,
One Eye Gallery, 1 Beach Road, Paekakariki
Starts 8pm Tickets $12 / $10 at the door, $10 pre-booked


On the night in question, Tyree Robertson and Hinemoana Baker made a very lucky decision to follow their gut instinct - literally.

'We'd taken nearly three hours to get from town to the Fisherman's Table Restaurant,' says Tyree, 'which normally only takes us half an hour. The radio stations still didn't really know the extent of things. I looked at Hinemoana and she looked at me and being the bonnie lasses we are, we opted for a fish dinner. We'd just got in the door when we heard the road was block in both directions. If we'd carried on driving we could have been right in the middle of it.'

It was the night of October 3 and like many others, the two were forced to spend a sleepless night at the restaurant cut off from their Raumati South home by the flooding that hit Paekakariki. They hitched a lift the next day on a four-wheel drive belonging to another stranded local.

'The extent of the damage was devastating to see. We only just made it with all the debris still over the road, and the water was still high. We're fortunate we were untouched where we live.'

Charlotte Yates was also on the road that night - on her way to an overnight stay in Waitarere Beach.

'We made a lucky choice too,' she says, 'which was to leave Wellington at 4 o'clock.'

The three all have close friends in Paekakariki who have suffered. They say they'd like to contribute something towards the re-building.

'A portion of every ticket sold will be given to those affected by the flooding,' says Hinemoana. 'Plus the local cafe are doing special dinner deals for the night. They'd only been open three weeks when the flood hit.'

All three singer-songwriters will give solo sets on the night. This is the first time the three have shared a gig, though they've all performed on similar circuits for many years.

Yates has just released her fourth album, 'plainsong', and has recently toured extensively with Mahinarangi Tocker. She's the brains behind the 'Baxter' CD, compiling James K Baxter's poetry set to music by 12 New Zealand recording artists. her second album, 'The Desire and the Contempt', won the Singer-Songwriter category at the 1997 Wellington Music Awards. She is a regular columnist for NZ Musician and NZ Books.

Baker has toured nationally for the last six years, and has shared stages with many well-known artists such as Hinewehi Mohi, Karen Hunter, Paul Ubana Jones, even Hayley Westenra. She is wel-known in literary circles as well as musical ones - she completed Bill Manhire's Masters in Creative Writing at Victoria university last year. She's a playwright and a fiction-writer as well as a songwriter and poet, and currently produces 'Waiata', a weekly showcase of Maori music, for National Radio.

Robertson - whose previous stage-name 'Henrietta Ford' perhaps evokes some of the blues-folk raunch she produces on stage - began as a busker on the streets of New Plymouth. A stint opening for Annie Crummer 10 years ago saw the start of a career that's seen her produce, engineer and set stages alight from Auckland to Otago. As well as recording her second album, she currently works as a schools mentor for the New Zealand Music Commission.

'What we went through having to stay out that night was nothing compared to the town. Our only regret,' says Baker, 'was that we didn't have the guitars in the car...'

Posted by Fionnaigh at 10:10 PM

November 25, 2003


And the spot prize for the 500th comment on Beautiful Monsters goes to Nath. (Typical!)

Nath, incidentally, has just been added to the links section – you’ll need to create a login to see the beautiful photographs, but believe me it is well worth it.

Got my first feedback today, on the landscape course. Still digesting. Will write more tomorrow, if I get up in time…

Posted by Fionnaigh at 09:45 PM

November 24, 2003

Where for art thou?

What’s the plural for thou? Thous fullas…?

Anyway. Where have all the commenters gone? I’m not just talking about on BM, because I’ve been posting so erratically I hardly deserve comments. But, looking at the Stonesoup homepage, where it shows the number of comments on the most recent post, there’s just one big fat zero after another. Except for History and Kitty Lifter, but those posts have been up since Oct 31 and Sep 18 respectively, so that hardly counts. Where are you? You’re all slackers!

Hey guess what? I passed my test. Wooooh! Only half the class passed, so I’m quite stoked that I was among them. And I’m learning soooo much, it’s so great. You know when you’ve just been to the gym, or gone for a long ride, and you’re exhausted but you feel really good, really healthy and strengthened and nourished? That’s how I feel right now, but with my mind as well as my body.

Oh, and have I mentioned how much I suck at poi? I had no idea it could be so hard…

I’ve got to go and work on some translation.
Nga mihi atu, nga mihi aroha
Na Fionnaigh.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 09:07 PM

November 23, 2003

Goodbyes are sad

Another little extract from Into the Fire" - the book I'm writing about living in Costa Rica.

Anita wanted to be a vet, but her love of animals only extended to those that were warm and fuzzy. She would often relate, with great revulsion, the story of the latest critter that had strayed into her room. There was a scorpion, “this big,” Anita said, holding her hands about 15cm apart. Her host mother calmly disposed of the creature, which wasn’t harmful to humans. One day an emerald coloured frog made the mistake of hopping across the room. Anita panicked, and emptied a can of fly spray over it. I was horrified, and mourned the loss of its tiny webbed feet, but perhaps she just hastened its departure from a world no longer habitable for amphibious life forms.

A couple of decades earlier, in the nearby cloud forests, hundreds of golden toads appeared once a year. During mating season the bright orange amphibians gathered in shallow pools, like bright gems scattered on the forest floor. Because they lived both on land and in water, the toads were sensitive to changes in both environments. Their permeable skin also made them vulnerable. Ten years before Anita poisoned a frog in her room, the last golden toad quietly slipped away. It is probable that drier weather patterns drove the golden toads to extinction. Like the canaries that were taken into mines to detect fatal fumes, the silence of the golden toad brought a sobering warning. Global warming had claimed its first casualty.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 07:14 AM

November 20, 2003


Despues de ta matau whakamatautau fuimos ki tetahi disco salsa y ya no puedo pensar en Maori. Cuando buscar un kupu Maori, encontrar te Espanol...

If you didn’t understand any of that, don’t worry. It’s just my exhausted brain. Kei te “confuzzled.” And no, I don’t know if I passed the test. It’s a close call. But I was on the winning team of a debate on “ko te orokohanga o te ao ko te Pahuu Nui" - that the world began with the Big Bang.

He aha te kupu Maori mo "cosmic radiation"??

Posted by Fionnaigh at 10:36 PM

November 19, 2003


Kei te ngenge ahau i te nui o taku mahi… Test tomorrow. Urgh! I’m so tired. Two to four hours a day is a lot of concentration when all the talking is done in a different language… Did I mention that this is usually a full year course, but we're doing it over eight weeks or something crazy? Assessments every week - this first week we've got a one hour test. Week two we have to do translation. Week three it's an essay and a speech... but just before that I have a noho marae with the reo class, and a wananga at Tapu Te Ranga marae with the kapa haka group... Five days of intensive immersion should put me in a good position for the assessments.

Usually our course is taught by Rewarewa (ko Ngaire tona ingoa Pakeha) but today our kaiako was Tipuna, her brother. He’s tall and skinny and completely mad. The overhead projector broke and he sent someone off to find one of the technicians. But while we were waiting, all the course materials were on OHTs, so he got the whole class humming the tune to “My bonnie lies over the ocean…” and singing certain vowel sounds when he pointed to different parts of the room, and swaying from side to side, and waving our arms in the air… so you can imagine how freaked out the technician looked when he arrived and saw us all carrying on like this. But as well as being a clown, Tipuna is also very kind. He spoke to me at the noho marae last year, and his words have continued to tautoko me throughout the year. Rewarewa is really onto it as well. She’s always giving us whakatauki. “He manga wai koia kia kore e whitikia,” she says. “It’s a big river indeed that can’t be crossed. Kaua e give up - don’t ever give up.” My tutor is Dennis Ngawhare Pounamu, who is a very cool dude indeedy, and he’s descended from Te Whiti-o-rongomai, which means I have a connection to him, in a weird, slightly painful kind of way.

So, yeah, I’m really enjoying the class, it’s such a good feeling to be growing in the reo again… but it’s also friggin hard, and exhausting, and… that Rewarewa, he “slave driver” ia.

Me moe au aakuanei…

Posted by Fionnaigh at 10:48 PM

November 17, 2003

Mountain to the sea

They say it gets easier. Life, I mean. I always thought they were saying there wouldn’t be so much hard stuff to deal with as I got older, but maybe they just meant that when stuff happens, it doesn’t hurt so deep. Sometimes I think I’ve built up so much scar tissue I can hardly feel a thing. I’m tired. It’s been a hard week. Sometimes I feel as though every week is a hard week. But life goes on. It always does. It's amazing...


I started summer school today. The teacher talked at us very rapidly in Maori for two hours. I only caught a few words, among them "Rumaki reo," which means immersion; we can't speak any English during the course. And “Whakamātautau,” which means test. This Thursday.

I had approximately three days of holiday, which I savoured every last moment of. Still, it wasn’t enough.

At Kapahaka class last week, my friend Hoturoa came up to me and said, “do you want to go skiing tomorrow,” to which I stammered, “uh-uh-ok?” I haven’t been skiing since I was sweet sixteen never been (er, ok, let’s not go there…) but I jumped at the opportunity. Fi + Mountains = Very Happy Fi.

His friend Nic had a bigger vehicle - more room for skis etc, so we went up in that. Have I ever mentioned the extreme phobia of dogs that I developed after one bit me when I was three years old, leaving tooth scars above and below my eye? Well, I had to get over my fears when I discovered that I was stuck a moving vehicle with Ngaru, an exuberant and affectionate black Labrador.


Because it was the last week of the season and the weather was slightly dubious, the only people on the mountain seemed to be the die-hards with season passes. I was, without a smidgen of doubt, the least competent person on the whole mountain, but luckily there weren’t many people and they were good at dodging around me as I ploughed through the snow with limbs splayed out in all directions. At one point, after I’d crashed out and was lying in the snow groaning, someone going over on the chair lift yelled out “don’t stay there long.” It took me a few minutes to realise that I was sprawled right underneath a jump. I got up pretty quickly after that.

As the day got clearer and brighter, my skiing ability deteriorated – once I could see how steep the slope was, I kept panicking and losing control. Hoturoa, on the other hand, was possibly one of the best skiers there… ok, so I’m no judge of the technicalities of skiing, but he was the most beautiful to watch. He moved with such grace, at times I thought he might glide straight into the air and never drift down.


In the late afternoon we headed down the road and bowled up to a lodge at the foot of the mountain. The place seemed quiet so we thought we’d have no trouble getting a room, but when someone came to the door it was only to tell us that the whole lodge had been booked out for extras working on Without a Paddle. No one was actually staying there, but they couldn’t take any other guests in case a whole lot of people from the movie suddenly showed up.

We found a room in a nearby lodge that had a spa pool outside. There were trees over hanging the pool, and as we lay back we were entertained by a kereru and a tui in the branches. Two guys were just leaving and offered us some beers (way to get drunk quickly – drink in a spa pool…)

Steamed pink and wrinkly, but warmed and relaxed, we headed into town for pizza. Unfortunately when we arrived we found out that the film company had just bought 50 pizzas and the restaurant was closing for the night. But the fish and chip shop up the road did a decent pizza too.

Ngaru was up and barking at 5am, much to the annoyance of the proprietor. We crawled out of bed to placate the dog and check out the weather; it was raining heavily so we got back into our sleeping bags and spent the morning reading and writing until the proprietor (still grumpy about the dog) kicked us out.

Then Hoturoa had the bright idea of going to the film set to see if they needed any extra extras. They were filming in Raetihi, where the locals (dressed up as hillbillies if they were Pākehā, or American Indians if they were Māori) were quite blasé about the whole thing. Apparently it’s their third movie in the past couple of years, and there will be a more in the near future. And after Lord of the Rings, Without a Paddle barely registered a flicker of excitement; except for the guys I was with, who got a buzz out of sneaking into the middle of the action. Ngaru soon became the star of the show. After about half an hour of watching Seth Green do his thing, and Ngaru sucking up to the crew members, I went back to the car and read my book, so I wasn’t included in the announcement that came over, “Would the two guys with the dog, once they’ve had a good look around, please leave…”

Thwarted from their goals of fame and fortune the boys trailed back to the car and we headed on our way… but not for long. We only made it as far as Waiouru before Nic decided he wanted to go to Auckland. Auckland? Yeah. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “But we need to get back to Wellington, I’ve got a launch at the institute tomorrow…” Hoturoa suggested we give Nic some space to make up his mind about what he wanted to do, so we took Ngaru for a walk. “I’ve got a lot of patience for Nic,” he told me. “He’s been so good to me in the past.” Meanwhile I was muttering, “Yeah, well he hasn’t been good to me. I’ve only just met him and already he’s dumping me at the side of the road.”

When we got back to the car, Nic was still agonising. “Oh shit, I should take you guys back,” he said, and we climbed into the car. I was relieved, but also felt a twinge of disappointment as the potential for adventure faded away. But then, after a few moments, Hoturoa and I realised something strange. “Nic, I think you really want to go to Auckland.” “Nah, nah, it’s cool.” “You’re going to Auckland,” “Nah, I’ll take you guys back.” “Nick, this is the road to Auckland. We don’t want to go there, can you let us out of the car?” “Shit! Is it? I had no idea…”

Very generously he agreed to keep our skis and some other gear in the car, so we didn’t have to carry them if we ended up walking home… and then he drove away. “I’ve never hitchhiked in my life before,” I confessed to Hoturoa, and as the grey sky churned overhead he reassured me with stories of long nights standing in the rain with only a plastic bag for shelter… But I must have brought us some first-timers luck, because within five minutes Hoturoa was chatting with a couple of people in the Army museum carpark, and beckoning me over. They were heading back from the mountain too; she was from Switzerland, he was from Sweden. “Hej, hur mÅr du?” I said. As we walked back to the cars, it became apparent there were two of them. Cars, I mean. “I’ll take this one,” said the Swedish guy, indicating me. “You ok?” Hoturoa mouthed at me. “Ok,” I shrugged back. I’d promised myself that if he proposed splitting up I was going to kick up a fuss. But this was a Swedish guy. It had to be an omen; my first hitchhiking experience had been blessed by the gods of good luck and uncanny coincidence.

I think Anders was a little disappointed when he realised that I’d used up the sum total of my Swedish vocabulary in the first five minutes of the journey. But then I found out he’d been to Costa Rica. “Slow down,” he pleaded as I bombarded him with questions. “I don’t understand.” He’d been to Arenal, the volcano that I could see from my bedroom window in San Carlos. I couldn’t believe it. In five years, he was only the third person I’d met who had been to Costa Rica, and the first who had been to Arenal.

We drove as far as Taihape, and stopped there to get some kai and check out the gumboot.


Anders decided to stay in Taihape and do some rafting, so I moved my gear into the car with Nadia (she was heading all the way to Wellington) and Hoturoa. He was planning to stop at Paraparaumu to go to his parents’ beach house, but when we got there he changed his mind. “I just want to get back to Wellington,” he said, and we drove straight through. But Nadia had to stop for a few minutes in Plimmerton, and the moment Hoturoa and I got out of the car and touched the sand and the salty air, we wanted to be on the beach. “We should have got out,” he said. “We could hitch back up the coast…” he dithered for a while, but decided to keep going towards Wellington. Nadia took us right up to his house, and we gathered our gear and climbed out. The sea was still calling us. We stood there silently, with the wind tearing through us, watching the shadows of clouds move over the water. Eventually I broke away and picked up my pack. I didn’t want to leave but I figured that the longer I left it, the harder it was going to be to drag myself home. But Hoturoa was still gazing at the sea. “I’m still thinking about going up the coast,” he told me.

We didn’t end up going to the beach house, but we did go to the beach. The engineered one in Oriental Bay. It was a beautiful evening; wild but beautiful. We stood with our arms around each other, knee deep in the waves, feeling the tug of the water, gritty sand under our soles, the thousand greys of the harbour, birds tumbling through the air above us, the clouds pierced by shards of copper and streaks of flaming crimson.

For some reason Saskia was nudging at my memory. She had been on my mind a lot, since I talked to Hoturoa’s sister after the opening night of Te Mana, and we started talking about loss and grieving, and whether the process should be selfish. Lately I’ve felt the need for selfish grief. At the time of her birth and death I didn’t have a chance to grieve. I was too busy looking after her brother, and trying to hold so many things together. I didn’t have the chance to grieve for me, for what I had lost. As we stood there in the sea I sung “Marama iti,” the waiata I wrote soon after Saskia died. The wind and the sea seemed to snatch away my voice and wash the grief from me.

The next day we launched Keeping Track; Voices on Matiu / Somes. It’s a collection of poems and photographs about the island in the middle of Wellington Harbour; everyone in our writing class contributed, and I did the design and layout.

keeping track.JPG

There were speeches from Bill Manhire, and Sally Airey from DOC, and a couple of us read our poems. Then we had the launch of another special publication; “Do me like a penguin; an anthology of penguin porn.” Luckily by this time there was no one from DOC around…

The next day a friend who’d just finished her degree invited me to Makara beach for the ceremonial burning of her notes. Richie brought along his flute, and Al was playing didgeridoo.


We stuffed bananas with chocolate Sante bars, and roasted them in the fire. The sky was incredible. No moon rose, there was just a faint smear of city lights behind the hills, and the stars. I saw two shooting stars as I lay back against a log, listening to the others singing. “Earth my body and water my blood, air my breath and fire my spirit…”

And that, my friends, is where I shall leave you, because I’m exhausted and the onslaught of kupu hou begins afresh at 10am tomorrow. Did I mention we have a test on Thursday? Yeah…

Posted by Fionnaigh at 03:50 PM

November 10, 2003


Yay for recipes, I think we should have regular recipe exchanges on Stonesoup.

This started off as a reply to a comment Suraya left on Cankerous Beet (which I still swear is a misspelling of Cantankerous Beet…)

The secret to great pancakes is not so much in the recipe as the equipment. The element plays a big role, but you don’t usually have much control over that. But the frying pan is crucial. My dad has a fantastic thick heavy cast-iron pan that makes perfect crepes. I used to try to use it, but it was so heavy that I couldn’t turn it fast enough to spread the mixture.

If you’re going for crepes style, this recipe (swiped off the internet, I don’t know where from) is good.

1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup water (you may need another 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup melted soy margarine (I just use light olive oil)
1 tablespoon brown sugar, or honey or maple syrup
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch salt

In a large mixing bowl, blend soy milk, water, 1/4 cup margarine, sugar, syrup, flour, and salt. Cover and chill the mixture for 2 hours. (I don’t always bother with the chilling though).
Lightly grease a 5 to 6 inch skillet with some soy margarine. Heat the skillet until hot. Pour approximately 3 tablespoons batter into the skillet. Swirl to make the batter cover the skillet's bottom. Cook until golden, flip and cook on opposite side.

If you’re going for thicker style pancakes, add some oatmeal to the recipe, a tsp of baking powder and a little extra soymilk, then throw in some blueberries.

Confession time: I often use a packet for pancakes - it's the only thing I ever make out of a packet. "Orgran" or something I think the brand is. Organic and wheat free and vegan - just add soy juice. I have no idea if you can get them in Malmö but I seem to remember there was one supermarket that had a good organic range. And they had oat milk and hazelnut milk… mmmmmm! Oooooh, and Anna’s gingerbread biscuits, pepparkakor, they're vegan. And they’re soooo yum, spicy melt in the mouth goodness. (I love the way on their website they have that quaint habbit, common among Swedes, of saying “funny” when they mean “fun.”)

Apparently gingerbread is supposed to make you feel happy, and it was prescribed to King Hans (ruler from 1497 – 1501) who was frequently in a bad mood. Well, it sure makes me happy. When I was a kid my mum had a fantastic gingerbread recipe that you had to refrigerate overnight. She’d make a big mixture to last for days, but my dad and I would always sneak into the fridge and scoop out spoonfuls. I still prefer gingerbread raw.

Refrigerator Biscuits

110g margarine
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C treacle
1 Tbsp vinegar
2.5 cups flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 scant tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves

Cream margarine & sugar, beat in treacle, vinegar. Stir in flour, spices & soda.
Chill overnight. If there’s any left the next day, roll out and make shapes with cookie cutters, then bake at 375 degrees for 5-6 minutes.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 08:50 AM

November 08, 2003

Scutum - the shield

An extract from Crux, the novel I have been working on. Disclaimer: this is a recent addition, and it's really only a first draft at this stage. Daz had a fight with his best friend, Marama, then went off to a party and...

The moment Daz woke up he wanted to burrow under his pillow and claw his way back into sleep. His stomach felt as though it was filled with wet sand, cold and gritty.

“Fuck,” he said quietly, and then turned and slammed his fist into the wall. “Fuck fuck fuck.”

The sound that he’d squeezed out of her had been so quiet, it almost slipped into the darkness without him noticing. At first he thought it was a moan of pleasure, and he’d pulled her closer to him. Then the sound came again, only this time it was more like a whimper. Suddenly her body felt cold next to his own, and he pulled away. The film of sweat on his skin cooled and he began to shiver.

“Lola?” She didn’t say anything, just lay there. “Lola,” he said, louder this time. “Talk to me.” He backed away from the couch, and felt for the light switch. Her body seemed smaller in the sudden effulgence.

“Look at me,” he pleaded, kneeling down beside her, but she stared straight past his shoulder. It would have been easier if she’d cried, but she said nothing, just stared at the wall.

“Fuck,” he said again, and pulled the pillow over his head. Perhaps it had been the alcohol. The punch. It had gone to his head. He felt sick. He didn’t know what to do, he needed someone to tell him what he should do. Marama, he needed to talk to Marama. Then he remembered the way her voice had turned cold, the way her eyes had changed. He’d felt as though he didn’t know her anymore. He was such a jerk, she probably hated him, and Lola hated him, and she’d probably told Jess so the whole school hated him. He groaned and ground his face into the mattress, and then had to pick away the fluff from his sheets that stuck to his tongue.

Maggie. Suddenly he wanted his sister. Wanted her to tease him, and boss him around, and then give him a hug, one of her “squishy hugs,” he used to call them when he was a kid. He crawled out of bed and found some clothes to pull on.

The walk to her flat took him half an hour. It was raining; soft feathery rain, almost a mist. It didn’t so much fall as drift to the ground. Only on the telephone wires, and at the ends of branches, the moisture gathered into fat droplets that plopped to the ground. Everything glistened, as though the world had just been licked clean. The beauty felt incongruous with his life, as though God was mocking him.

Shit. God. Some Christian he’d make.

Maggie lived in the third of a row of identical flats. There were no signs of life as he walked down the driveway. He wondered, for a moment, if it was too early to call, but Maggie was an early riser. He knocked on the door, and as he waited he began to wish he’d thought to bring a jacket. The light rain had slowly soaked through and now his clothes clung to his skin.

Maggie’s flatmate answered the door, dressed in blue stripped pyjamas and puppy dog slippers.

“Hi Daz, I think Maggie must be up in her room. I just got up.” She held the door open for him, and he slipped through and made his way down the hall. Her bedroom door was shut, so he knocked quietly.

“Just a moment.” There was a pause, then he heard her padding across the room, and the door opened.


He stared passed her into the room.

“Marama?” She was sitting on the bed, wearing a huge purple mohair jersey that mum had knitted for Maggie years ago. She was hugging her knees to her chest, and her eyes were fringed with red. Her face glistened, as though snails had left tracks over her cheeks. Her hair hung in shaggy strands that barely reached to her ears. “Your hair,” he said in bewilderment.

“This really isn’t a good time.” Maggie had taken his arm and was steering him out of the room. “We’ll talk soon,” she said as they reached the front door. He stood there for a moment, trying to think what to say, and she reached out to hug him. “It’ll be ok,” she said, ruffling his hair. “I’ll call you.”

In a daze he walked to the nearby park and sat on a hill overlooking the fields. A bunch of kids were kicking a rugby ball around. It hit the ground silently, then made a popping noise as it bounced back up.

“Light travels faster than sound,” he said aloud, and the knowledge was strangely comforting. The world was still behaving as it should. He noticed that the rain had stopped, but moisture from the grass was soaking through his jeans.

Maggie had answered the door in her dressing gown. That meant that Marama had gone round there early, even earlier than he had. Or that she’d been there all night.

Maggie’s jersey suited her. The green looked good against the pale brown of her skin. She looked comfortable in it. Cosy. He wondered if it was a cold morning, and rolled up his trouser legs to check for goosebumps. None, but there was a bruise on his shin that he didn’t remember acquiring. Somehow it struck him as funny, and he started to laugh. Under the jersey her legs had been bare.

She’d never had boyfriends. Well, she’d kissed Dave in Intermediate School, but that was a dare. He’d figured she was too busy for dating. Or that she secretly had a crush on him.

The rain started again, heavier this time, and the kids disappeared. Daz stood up, and spread his hands wide to catch the droplets.

“Today was brought to you by the letter F,” he said to the empty field. “Fuck, fuck FUCK!” His voice seemed to be swallowed up by the clouds.


He was lying on the grass at the edge of the field when the clouds lifted and the stars began to break out.

“Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight,” he chanted, suddenly remembering a book he’d had as a child. There was a little bear who desperately wanted a new lunchbox. All the other kids had colourful shiny lunchboxes with pictures of jungles and trains, but the little bear had a battered old gray one. So he wished on a star. Every night he stood in the back yard and whispered “Star light, star bright,” but his wish didn’t come true. One day his teacher found him crying over his lunchbox. When she found out what was wrong she explained to him that stars were very far away, and they might not have heard his message yet. So that night he went outside and shouted at the top of his voice, “I WISH I COULD HAVE A NEW LUNCHBOX!” His mother gave him a funny look when he came back inside. But the next day, he had a new lunchbox.

Daz laughed, and wished life was that simple. “Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”

There were two bright stars, just above Maggie’s flat. “If you draw a line perpendicular to the line of the pointers,” he said, remembering his father showing him. “Then you draw a line through the Southern Cross,” he couldn’t find it. Weren’t the pointers supposed to point to it? He looked in both directions they seemed to be pointing, and then he looked in every direction around them, but it wasn’t there. Perhaps it was below the horizon. Did the Southern Cross ever dip behind the horizon? Surely not, how would anyone work out where south was?

Toni was in the kitchen when he got home. “I’m making hot chocolate,” she said. “Want some?”


“Maggie stopped by. She said to tell you she was sorry about this morning. Wanna talk?”

“Not really.”

“Ok. Put on something warmer and come and keep me company while I drink this.”

His clothes were soaked and stuck to his skin, and as he peeled them off he started shivering uncontrollably. He ran the shower hot and let the water massage the goosebumps out of his arms and legs.

Toni was sitting on the back step when he reappeared, wrapped up in green; the big fluffy jersey that matched Maggie’s purple one.

“Mum, does the Southern Cross ever go below the horizon?”

“Not below our horizon it doesn’t.”

“I couldn’t find it.”

Toni scanned the sky for just a moment, then she pointed to the cluster of stars. He’d been looking in the wrong direction entirely.

“When I lived in the Philippines there were two constellations, Cassiopeia and the Southern Cross. They were like flip sides of a coin. When Cassiopeia rose above the horizon the Southern Cross dipped below, and when the Cross rose again Cassiopeia disappeared. You could never see them both at the same time. We can only ever see the Southern Cross here, but nearer the equator they chase each other on the edge of the sky.”

“Why can’t you ever see them both?”

“Actually I never really understood that,” she laughed. “Your father would know.” They were silent for a few moments, while Toni sipped her hot chocolate. Daz liked to wait until his was lukewarm. “Like counterparts,” Toni went on, and she sounded as though she was remembering something slightly painful. “Except for special circumstances.”


When she spoke again her voice was so soft he wasn’t sure she was speaking to him anymore. “Sometimes, in special circumstances, you can see Cassiopeia and the Southern Cross at the same time.”

Posted by Fionnaigh at 09:08 AM

November 06, 2003

Recipe for exhaustion (with a sense of accomplishment on the side)

3 writing workshops
15 weeks
23 exercises
11 reams of paper
29 ink cartridges
1 field trip
A few horny penguins
9 baking sessions
1 class publication (design and editing)
Countless sleepless nights
Spelling mistakes, last minute crises and tears – add to taste
3 folios, dreamed, typed, printed and bound
54,772 words.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 11:30 PM


I always seem to be working on New Years and Guy Fawkes, and I miss the big fireworks displays. So last night I thought, what the heck, and I went and sat on a hill to watch the show. Some friends had told me the park they were going to, but when I got there it was dark, and there were hundreds of people. I wandered around for ages, peering at shadowy faces. Then, just as I was about to give up, I heard my friend playing his flute, only a couple of metres from me.

It was a strange sense of unity. We could see the whole of Wellington stretching out, from Miramar to Brooklyn, from Northland to the Hutt, there were flashes of coloured light blossoming from backyards. Around us we could hear children squeal at the biggest bangs, and adults sigh as the most beautiful fireworks faded into the night. All over the country, hundreds of thousands of people were out, doing the same thing at the same time.

And in celebration of what? The fact that he failed to blow up parliament? Or that he was game to try?

Guy Fawkes; the only person to enter parliament with honest intentions.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 10:50 AM

November 03, 2003

4 ever

Just got back from the Rape Crisis fundraiser showing of Lilya 4 Ever. Cripes. Lukas Moodysson (who directed Fucking Åmål and Together before Lilya) says he set out to make a film about God's kindness. It was going to be a story about Jesus walking at the side of a young girl, but he found himself unable to write the part of Jesus. So instead we get; girl in a decaying former Soviet Union town who gets abandoned by her mother, emotionally abused by her aunt, sent to live in a filthy slum, betrayed by her friends, and then sold into prostitution. And the happy ending? Apparently in heaven you get cute fluffy wings.

The people I went to the movie with had to cover their eyes and ears during some of the prostitution (or rather, rape) scenes. Maybe cos I’ve been there, it didn’t have much impact on me. The saddest moments for me actually centred on Lilya’s young friend, Volodya. His desperate desire to get out, to go to the States. His love of everything American. Basketball, Nike… He throws rocks through hoops because he doesn’t have a ball.

I don’t think Lilya was as successful as Moodysson’s earlier films. It needed a bit of humour. No, I’m not belittling the subject matter. Even in the grimmest moments, there can be something to laugh about. And it makes the pain more powerful. The movie got a bit relentless at times; seeing 20 rapes isn’t necessarily 20 times more powerful than seeing one. And the Johns could’ve been a little bit less one-dimensional. In my experience they usually have some traces of humanity. Sheesh, the Malmö that Lilya finds herself in is completely unrecognisable from the Malmö I visited a couple of years ago. Perhaps I was staying over the other side of town.

And personally, I didn’t get the wings. I wanted there to be a glimmer of hope in the form of a moment of human kindness, not some sort of kitsch consolation prize. “Life was a bitch, sorry about that. Here, have some wings.”

Posted by Fionnaigh at 11:04 PM