Saturday, 14 November 2009

Little Michael

I bought a car a couple of weeks ago, which made me feel terribly grown up. I took it for a test drive with the dealer and had to make knowledgable conversation about revs and miles per gallon (except he called it kilometres per litre, which was a totally different figure, but I nodded sagely nonetheless as though I knew what he meant).

I kept the car overnight and drove it along some winding back roads with hills and single lane bridges. I thought this might help me experiment with the acceleration, the suspension, and the torque (thanks Top Gear). It's a manual so I get to change gears when I choose, not when the engine feels like it, and the brakes are solid and secure without being either too spongy or sensitive.

It's got a good stereo and the CD player works. I tuned to Radio New Zealand National and popped in a Minuit album. When I turn the music and voices off the car is quiet -there are no rattles and knocks or other noises to pretend to ignore. It fits nicely in my garage. It's not white or silver and it's not a Subaru Legacy (these were definite no-nos on my anti-wish list).

So I took it down the lake, where I experimented with some Top Gear style photography - these are the results. I realise I still have a long way to go, but I think we can agree that it looks pretty damn stylish on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, can we not?

As we all know, every car needs a name, so I've called this little beauty Michael. It's small and perfectly formed with great acceleration and a tight turning circle, but it's the wrong red. Am I still grown up?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

You Don't Bring Me Flowers...

Him Outdoors doesn’t buy me flowers. I complain about this but it makes no difference. He thinks they’re frivolous and he simply can’t see the point in them. He says ‘If I suddenly bought you flowers, you’d think that something was wrong.’ I wonder how many men use that lame excuse – trust me; we wouldn’t. I love flowers and I like to have them in the house, so I buy my own.

But he buys me other presents – usually what he considers to be practical gifts. He bought me some new headphones because I have to transcribe recorded interviews and the headphones I had pressed too hard against my ears and made them hurt. He bought me a polariser for my camera because he knows I love the vivid colours of Central Otago and am always trying to capture them in photographs.

He buys me beer and wine (also frivolous I know, but he can see the point in that), particularly beverages with names relating to things and places I like. He buys me winter cycling gloves because he knows how much I hate being cold. Once he bought me the boxed set of the Clash singles on vinyl – no special occasion; he just knows they’re one of my favourite ever bands.

He doesn’t really ‘do’ birthdays, anniversaries or what he calls commercial holidays – we’ll go out for a meal and a drink on each other’s birthday, but there are generally no gifts involved. The gifts are thoughtful little touches, and they come throughout the year, when he thinks of them. He’s not the sort of person to buy something and save it for three months until the official celebration is at hand – he would only have lost it or forgotten where he put it by then.

I remember the first Christmas present he ever bought me; it was a blender. We didn’t spend Christmas Day together and I unwrapped it in front of my family. My mother cast a dubious glance at it – to her it was as offensive as an iron or a hoover. ‘He bought you a what?’ But I was a student and living off home-made potato and leek soup. I really needed a blender and he knew it would save me time and effort, rather than having to mash and mix all the vegetables by hand. It was incredibly touching and the sign that I had found a kind and thoughtful man.

So I don’t mind if I have to buy my own flowers. It’s a small price to pay.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

Today is Armistice Day. Lest we forget. In all the football matches I have watched over the previous days, the minute’s silence has been impeccably observed by home and away fans alike. It is an opportunity to remember and give thanks to all the men and women of past and current wars who have given their lives to defend our shores and our freedom. Whatever your thoughts on war, you cannot but honour those who have died or suffered injuries on your behalf.

Once the whistle blows, the rivalries are intense; passions are ignited and tempers flare. My dad says he remembers watching games at Highbury as a young lad where 60,000 men stood shoulder to shoulder and there was no animosity – they’d seen enough of fighting. The war claimed the lives of nine Arsenal first team players, the most of any top flight club. Children were passed carefully over the heads of the crowd down to the front where they could get a better view of the match. No doubt they were collected by their parents later.

This is one of the reasons it disgusts me when media advertising refers to sport as war and tries to drum up jingoistic comparisons with battle. It’s a whole different ball-game. The day is not really marked in New Zealand – they commemorate Anzac Day instead. However, the poppies blooming on the breasts of the BBC newsreaders and the English football managers, and many of the crowd are the reminders on this distant shore, brought to us by the media, so they perhaps they are on the same side after all.

When I was about 12 and a member of the Red Cross, I participated in a march down the high street to commemorate the war heroes. As we stood in frozen silence at the cenotaph, I fainted (I have since learned to wiggle my toes which keeps the circulation flowing while feigned immobility). I felt shamed – they gave their lives for me and I couldn’t even stand still for a minute!

There was a Penguin book club at the time where you could send off 50p for the latest titles. I took my 50p to school and dropped it in the collection box. When mum asked me where my book was and I told her I had bought a poppy instead she was bemused – ‘But you could have got both for that money!’ I burst into tears and sobbed, ‘But that was all I had to sacrifice.’ There was nothing mum could say to that, but I can still feel the fierce love in the hug she gave me.