Day Twenty-nine


Little Jan

The morning is fine and invites me into the garden to finish off some tasks from yesterday. I pot a few succulents and tidy up a little more. I cut big handfuls of mint and lemon balm and dry it in the microwave in batches to make a calming tea, good when I wake in the night sometimes.

It seems to be quieter than usual today. I notice I've heard very few raised voices over these weeks, not even from the many children who live nearby. Not that it's an area for a lot of conflict. Once the gang people moved out from next door and the landlord put the two flats in the hands of property managers, it's been a very calm place to live. I'm intrigued that the children have been so relaxed and seemingly content. Three duos of toddlers live in my street. I see them on walks or riding their trikes with a parent in tow. Down the hill in front of me there's a family of two little girls, then three boys and up the road is a family of six, all quiet and busy. There's been a lot of talk about how hard this is for children and I know my grandsons are missing their friends, but it's also good for the children to have their parents around more. I'm sure for most that's very settling. I remember feeling astonished that the eldest grandson, then less than 18 months old, could travel to the UK with his parents and be very content on long haul flights - but then his favourite thing was to have a parent on either side ready to attend to his chat or entertain him. He's since done it many times and still copes well.

In the afternoon the sky clouds over. I grab an umbrella and set off for my walk before it rains. I enjoy the murky sea, the grey sky and the pattern of clouds, but it also lowers my mood. I think how in te reo Māori the word for an overcast day – pōuri – is the same as for sad. My little knowledge of the language has shown me how interesting it is in the way it uses onomatopoeia and metaphor to give layers of meaning. You catch a little of that by the way the birds are named for their sounds but there's much more.

At home I settle back into my book, Helen Garner's Monkey Grip, set in the 1970s. The theme is addiction – the main character's attachment to a junkie, his relentless return to drugs, hers to him. The drug use and its destructive effects are told in a matter-of-fact way that is nonetheless horrifying, but the lifestyle is familiar to me from people I knew in Christchurch who lived communally and in open relationships, trying to eliminate the monogamy they disparaged while suffering all the loss and jealousy such behaviour creates. I notice how often she refers to mending - a shirt, a dress, a sheet - and also to mending relationships by walking over to visit the other woman, the rejected lover, maintaining a huge dysfunctional friendship group. It's a novel but also social history and true to Garner's own experience. In a recent essay she writes about the joys of being an involved grandparent and hints at mending fences with her daughter. I'm glad it turned out well!

I end the day with a touch more nostalgia as I get out an old photo book to find a childhood photo to post on Facebook as requested by my cousin and sisters. The book itself is special. Mum and Dad made up one for each of us as a Christmas present one year. They must have spent hours sorting through old negatives and printing them in their darkroom. Such a gift!