Monday, 26 September 2011

When The Cat is Away




I wear a leather pouch around my waist. It contains hundreds of white stretchy-ties and black plastic clips with which to tie down the kiwifruit canes to the wires. I love my pouch because it makes me look like a real anti-stiletto woman, tough and practical and rural.  One who knows how to fix tractors,  weld bits of metal together or shoot a rabid dog. Believe it or not I cannot actually do any of those things and Neville seems reluctant to let me practise the latter skill on his Dalmations. What is his problem?

Today started out smoothly enough with me looking anti-stiletto and all. I sauntered around the shed awaiting instructions and, can you imagine how thrilled I was when my esteemed boss said he had to go into town and I was in sole-charge of his entire horticultural operation.

Well, once again I have resorted to a wee bit of paraphrasing because of my intense need to feel important.
What Neville actually said was, "You misbehave, Bernadette, and I replace you with a Punjabi. Understand?"
I do understand him very clearly when he eyeballs me in that tone of voice so I smiled submissively. Cossack would faint if he saw me smile like that.

Once out under the vines I worked hard but just before lunch I felt an overwhelming urge to sing like Sister Maria. It was incredible how my version just tumbled out.


High on a hill was Neville the devil
Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo
Waving his pitchfork, lookin' so evil
Lay ee odl lay ee odle-oo





When the cat is away, the mice wil pla-ay
Lay ee odl ley odl lay hee hoo
Mousie might give herself a big payrise
Ley ee odl lay hee hoo!!!




I yodelled at the top of my voice, pranced and danced but flew back to work like a nun when I thought I heard voices behind the shelter-belt.


I was surprised to see Neville in the Smoko room when I went for my lunch break. "Back so soon!", I said quite unnecessarily because it was quite obvious that he was.


My esteemed boss just stared into his stained coffee-cup in silence. I offered him a ginger-nut but I was ignored, so I just prattled on about stuff in general.


When he finally raised his head to glance in my direction I saw that Neville had new teeth.


"Oh, they're beautiful!", I exclaimed, and ate his gingernut.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Apple Trees and an Empty Nest

I felt some sad twinges of the heart when our daughter, Kristen, age 22,  flew off today at lunchtime to a new chapter in her life. This is how it should be of course, and she's done it several times before, but I feel closer to her these days, now that she has discarded adolescent surliness and encountered enough turmoil of the heart to make her kinder, more sensible but still zany in the right dose.

She has gone to Wellington to start her very first proper job since completing her Business degree and, while Cossack and I are happy for her,  I will miss her like crazy on the orchard where she's been working with me since leaving university.   Thanks to her company I survived a couple of terrible jobs Neville got us to do when he obviously forgot that women are too lovely and delicate for such things. Like slaves, we spent three days pitch-forking shelter-belt tree-trimmings into the middle of the rows so that they could be mulched. Our elbows nearly wrenched out of their sockets and our hands blistered and our eye-balls blood-shot themselves and then popped out with the exertion of it all.

Neville laughed out loud at our grouching and griping and I tell you, angels must have been protecting his buttocks from those very same pitch-forks he was silly enough to entrust us with. Of course we completed the job with his superbly masculine help and I have never been so thankful for Smoko with a strong plunger coffee and Neville's admission that Kristen and I were indeed superb and incredible. Well, I feel compelled to paraphrase his actual words because as I recall it, all he said was,  "You did ok, tomorrow we prune the apple trees".

Pruning the apple-trees was even worse because I am scared of heights. When obliged to perch precariously on the top rung of a big red ladder and attempt to reach stupidly high stuck-up-in-the-ozone-layer- bits- of- tree, I am prone to failure of heart, lungs and liver too. Kristen was a bit braver and more reckless as she leaned over toward the middle of each tree from the opposite side to me and lopped angrily at those evil spikey branches. When our eyes occasionally met we exchanged conspiratorial winks and wickedly snapped our loppers in the direction of Neville who was pruning up the next tree, as deliriously happy as we were miserable.

Truth be told, and it must be, Neville is very good to us and I could never ever stab at his buttocks, even accidentally. No, indeed I couldn't, for our boss cannot do much about the plain fact that some jobs in life are unpleasant but must be done. He is the first to be kind when a situation requires kindness and is incredibly generous. For hours each week Kristen and I got paid our usual wages to pick oranges, then wash and grade them, all so that Neville could put crates of them into his vehicle every Sunday and deliver them to various churches so that people could stuff them gratefully into plastic bags and take them home for free.

Most of the jobs I do at the orchard are good for my current state of affairs and I get more of that longed-for fresh air than I know what to do with. It whizzes all around me as we zap on the quad-bike to whichever kiwifruit  block we happen to be working in. Three crazy dalmations dash delightedly alongside us and back again, even faster, for each Smoko.

I like our Smoko-room with its tannin-stained mugs and women's magazines lying around that we glance at if desperate for gossip about Kate Middleton or a woman who didn't know she was pregnant until she gave birth or a a teenage male who confesses to wearing  his aunty's cocktail dresses when she's at work.

There is nothing better than a good coffee and a rock-hard ginger-nut  when you know you have worked hard enough to deserve it. Laughter feels funnier and chit-chat flows as easy as the sap from the cut vines.
You go home at 5pm tired but satisfied that you tied those canes up nicely and managed a few more bays than yesterday and can now go home to a hot shower and meal which will be wolfed down in about three gulps.

Yeah, I miss Kristen already and wonder if she and her brother, Ben, are in some Wellington pub watching the New Zealand vs France rugby game on a big screen. Or has she succumbed to sleep? And would she mind very much if Cossack and I rent out her room to a Punjabi orchard worker?

Good night.

Tone the Clock Forward Please

The only thing that has delayed my writing for years now has been not knowing what tone to adopt. Should it be cynical or sunshiney  because in my real inner-self those two co-exist fairly harmoniously except for when they don't. What is a reader to make of me? Do I strive for an intellectual or slightly ditsy tone? Confident or insecure? Wise or floundering? Am I Page-Fright suffering from Bernadette or Bernadette suffering from Page-Fright? And why all this ridiculous over-analysis anyway?

Procrastination has always poked me in the side with little taunts so isn't it time to knock him on the head with my oar and start rowing down my own little Creek Of  Consciousness, which trickles thoughts like Winnie-the-Pooh sticks rather than rushes them like logs down a hasty stream?

By the way, Daylight-Saving starts tonight. In the name of efficiency I have already put all our clocks forward by the recommended one hour. I changed the microwave clock at 5.04 pm  to 6.04 pm but this premature tampering with time confused Cossack no end when he went to watch TV. Why was the news not on? He sat there looking at the screen like a betrayed man until it clicked in his head what I'd done. He groaned just like he does when I put the jam away before he's put it on his toast or make the bed while he's still in it.

I enjoy the challenge of making our bed while Cossack is still in it. He teaches Night- School on Tuesdays and Thursdays and therefore feels entitled to sleep in a few minutes longer on Wednesdays and Fridays. So, on those mornings, as stealthily as I possibly can, I pull up the sheets and blankets, straighten and tuck them with all my strength across his slumbering form until he is in a very tight squeeze indeed. He continues to lay there in bed for a while like a mummified corpse until he tries vainly to wriggle an arm or leg. He can't of course and that can be quite funny. When his alarm-radio starts blaring Cossack is considerate enough to emerge from his straight-jacket very carefully so that the bed is ready to creep into that night with just the right distance between the sheets.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

In Which Loppers Hack at my Mid-Life Crisis



Armed with a make-belief sense of menopausal power and a large pair of loppers I have been pruning kiwifruit vines over the last couple of months and, with each cane that I flung to the ground, came the intense satisfaction that comes from seeing order emerge out of chaos. Neatness from a tangle. Sweetness from a wrangle. Each particularly difficult hunk of wood that I lopped and then had the pleasure of kicking into the middle of the row for mulching came to symbolize my last boss whose  sarcastic words and withering glances caused me to quit a job I really liked. 

I departed that cafe job there and then before my ego could be minced any more  like flour, eggs and spinach in a pasta machine and then boiled of course. So, with head held high and any would-be-runaway-emotions tightly corseted to my chest I calmly but fearfully walked out.

My grin started out in the car-park and got as wide as  a banana while I contemplated my freedom.  I have a life to live. Things to do. Sensational moments to stumble upon. 

It wasn’t until I got home that I doubted that very much. "So much for your  magnificent bravado today, Bernadette!", I sighed to myself. "You have cast yourself upon the rubble heap of unemployment.  You are a middle-aged, impulsive and incredibly stupid woman".  I was about to thump my forehead several times in succession against a very hard wall when the phone rang. 


Thank God for our orchardist friend who said, "See you at 8 am, Bern, and not a minute later". He didn't ask. He instructed. He had obviously heard about my self-inflicted predicament and felt either sympathy or intense amusement.


And so I turned up next day at 7.46am looking like a scarecrow in clothes so old that even the Op Shop where they came from once upon a time would never consider taking back.

I threw my peanut butter-sandwiches and banana into the Smoko Room and thus began the new chapter of manual labour mentioned above.  And if it has proved to be a little harsh on my scrawny body, it has also been a little bit good for my soul that thirsted like crazy for a breath of fresh air.