In the olden days

We were  a family of 6 kids, not catholic just careless. I don’t think birth control wasn’t that effective back then and we all had our place and in the pecking order. I was the youngest and the skite. I embarrassed my quiet sisters by doing handstands at the bus stop and I don’t think I have ever stopped. It wasn’t that we didn’t know about the men in rain coats in the park, more that we just had to deal with them. Parents were back in the shadows of our lives and we did pretty much what we liked. There was no bawling back to an adult, the lord of the flies method was centre stage. I learned to swim because my brothers ditched me at the shallow end of the pool while they went off to dive bomb. I fell in love with libraries because books were magically free and there was nothing like My Friend Flicka for getting away from it all. I trained myself to simply not hear the outside world when reading. No-one thought it dangerous to walk to town through the town belt to the library with my sisters but there were ghosts and ghoulies and scary men who would steal you away and kill you out there. It wasn’t that we were innocent, not at all. I remember finding an entire carton of condoms and although I didn’t know what they were, there was enough sibling sniggering to know it had something just beyond my ken that I needed to know about.

There is a great poem on the course I’m doing whose title is “I Was a Nasty Child”. Maybe I was particularly nasty but I think we all had a knowingness about the way the world worked. I picked on the adopted kid, befriended a girl in my class because her mother worked at Cadburys and they always had chocolates around the house. I never let her wear the best cowgirl outfit. I had to do well in arithmetic in school as the desks were moved around according to your results and  Gary with the crepey skin and asthma always sat in D group.

I don’t really buy the notion of childhood innocence. What about you?


The idea of having your own room was laughable. I shared with my two sisters, my brothers shared their room and my parents had the tiny backroom that was so small their wardrobe was in the hall.  Naturally there was only one bathroom. I could get all “young people today…” as I find their sense of entitlement offensive. They expect to have it all, the house, the car, the travel and all without actually saving for it. They expect to get promotion without experience or hard work …all except my boy of course!!

Mine was a Janet Frame kind of childhood. If you have read her wonderful short story, The Reservoir you will know what I mean. It’s a grey old rainy day and we are both feeling a bit poorly so thanks to our kind friend who brought us consoling and yummy leek soup.

The sense of companionship and community was powerful back then though and knowing your neighbours has been scientifically proven to make you happier. I am always scheming for my eco village so if you want to join in let me know! I don’t mean a hippy dippy village but a neighbourhood of friends who look out for each other. I’m far too selfish to share anything.

Quotes I love from Janet Frame:

They think I’m going to be a schoolteacher but I’m going to be a poet.

(Childhood diary entry, quoted in To The Is-Land)

I like to see life with its teeth out.

(Letter to John Money, 6 May 1947)

I have discovered that my freedom is within me, and nothing can destroy it.

(Letter to John Money, 3 October 1948, on being committed to Seacliff Hospital)

Life is hell but at least there are prizes. Or so one thought.

(From the short story ‘Prizes’ in The Reservoir: Stories and Sketches)

The general opinion in New Zealand then was that natural teeth were best removed anyway, it was a kind of colonial squandering, like the needless uprooting of forests.

I know someone who had her teeth out for her twenty first!!

(An Angel at My Table)

‘For your own good’ is a persuasive argument that will eventually make a man agree to his own destruction.

(Faces in the Water)

There is no past, present or future. Using tenses to divide time is like making chalk marks on water.

(Faces in the Water)

The Southern Cross cuts through my heart instead of through the sky.

(Towards Another Summer, written 1963, published 2007)

A writer must stand on the rock of her self and her judgment or be swept away by the tide or sink in the quaking earth: there must be an inviolate place where the choices and decisions, however imperfect, are the writer’s own, where the decision must be as individual and solitary as birth or death.

(The Envoy from Mirror City)

I really love emailing, it’s like writing a poem in the sky.

(From an email to Elizabeth Alley)

Dying is an adventure, and I’ve always enjoyed adventures.

(Janet Frame to palliative care doctor, quoted in Sunday Star-Times interview with Anthony Hubbard, December 2003)

Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land: it is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination.

(The Envoy from Mirror City)

Write to me with your thoughts so I don’t feel so alone in the universe. FG


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