it’s a snow day!

Freezing sunshineIt feels like snowboarding this morning. It’s in the light that just precedes the sunrise, barely a few breaths before the sun lifts just a few millimetres, lighting doorways and windows, shining golden light onto freezing cobwebs and filling the house with slanting yellow rays and long black shadows. It’s in the mist that rises from my breath, the cold that pricks at my cheeks and finds exposed skin beneath the folds of my thick dressing gown.

It feels as though we are packing the car, laughing and joking with sleepy excitement, the lift and scrape of boards, one on top of the other. I can almost hear the rustle of boarding pants, the high, soft scraping of thigh against thigh as the synthetic material yields. My mind constructs the itch of a beanie against my forehead, tucking long strands of hair close by my face, lips almost touching a soft scarf wound round my neck. An imaginary checklist runs through my mind; gloves, helmet, sounds, jacket, lift pass. The affectionately named ‘coffee shaft’ would be filled with something warm and comforting, maybe homemade pumpkin soup for a cheap midday meal, or tea to sip as the car winds beneath us on the icy roads, finding the well-worn path to the mountain.

I can hear the throaty lift and dip of magpies calling, the drone of a fert plane a few paddocks over. A thin layer of frost adorns the roof of my car and the sky is a cold, clear blue, just miles and miles of empty space. Within an hour or so the ice would be just a thin crust, easily broken with a snowboard or sliced with skis. Within a few hours the sun would begin to get too hot, the same relentless blue sky heating with the midday rays. Clothing would begin to be discarded. A hoodie would perhaps be left in a pile of snow near a chairlift, beanies pulled off and stuffed into oversized jacket pockets. Sweat would trickle down our backs and the snow would start to melt, flinging up at us and leaving tracks of icy cold fire down smiling cheeks.

My pulse begins to quicken at the thought, a grin spreading across my features. I check the time, wondering if we can make it for first tracks. Then I remember that it’s only March, and the snow is yet to come. The mountains at the moment are bare; cold, brown rock faces, still waiting for the white stuff to fall. All I can do now is wait for the weather to cool. Wait, and begin the countdown to buy my season pass.

cookies

The cookies are done. They sit in piping hot rounds, reeking of cinnamon and butter and loving mixing. The crisp of the baking paper, the rustle of the heat as it cools and crackles through the mixture, settling back into the searing black tray, causing the edges of the biscuits to curl upwards as though to escape from the blistering heat. Is there anything more loving than baking? A pain-staking, wondrous activity, precise measuring and slapdash rolling, peeking through hot oven doors and wiping of floured hands on a starchy apron. Sometimes all you need to pull you out of a bad day is that flow, the gorgeous concentration that goes into lining a cake tin, the closed eyed, somewhat hedonistic act of rolling cookie dough with your fingers, or reaching for a fistful of flour and feeling cool white dust all the way up to your wrist.

black noise

Her hands brushed in a soft rhythm against the warm curves of the plate. She closed her eyes, listening to the soft clink of the crockery, the light lap of the water on her forearms and the scrape of the cutlery against the bottom of the sink.

Everything was quiet, this afternoon.

The sun entered the room lazily as a cloud passed, like a sleep-wrinkled dog nosing around the door, tired eyes gazing. The rays lit upon the open books on the table, the old paper turning yellow in the golden light. Prisms of light danced on the wall, reflected from the water’s soapy surface. She could hear the drone of a lawn mower a few paddocks over, hear the quiet laugh of the TV in the second room, muted but for a few decibels.

Everything warm, calm and low.

Her eyes were irresistibly drawn again and she lifted them, almost reluctantly, to gaze straight out of the window, at the forest beyond the back garden. The dark tree trunks faded into blackness, and a chill emanated from their depths. She never knew whether the chill she felt was real or imagined, fact, or sparked by the many fairy-tales she read to the girls.

But she knew that the forest swallowed all sound. The hum of the bees and cicadas dropped when she went too close to the foot of the trees. Familiar, quotidian sounds were wiped out by a huge silence, something bigger, a blanket of white noise.

Black noise.

Shivering, she lowered her eyes to the dishes once more, and felt her awareness slip back into the room, to the warm bubbles alighting on her wrists, the spreading warmth from the water beneath her hands.

She tried not to look at the forest.

our house

My childhood home still seems such a huge part of my life. It has already shaped so many of my memories and I think in some small way it will stay with me forever, endless and omnipresent. We lived in the same house my whole life, a big red one on a hill, just like a storybook. So many births and breaths and parties and tears, all seen by these four unseeing walls.

Come with me if you like, I’ll show you around.

HomeSee here? These are the old couches that we pushed back together, four little girls, Vanya, Gemma, Grace and I, and played a game called hey-boomfa, which involved launching ourselves across the room and into each other, padded by eight or nine cushions.

This carpet is where we danced maniacally to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album, or mum’s Jesus Christ Superstar CD. We set up a stage, just here under the stairs, and charged mum and dad fifty cents each to endure our terrible stage shows. We strung a swing up around that beam once too, and sang loudly to our Lion King CD as we took turns swinging, kicking our feet higher and higher into the air.

And over here, this is where Santa crept in each Christmas, sliding down the floo and emerging from the fireplace, to where the cookies and milk sat waiting for him, above five limp stockings, ready to be full and crackling with secrets and wrapping paper the next morning. And just here, this is where Grace and I lay mesmerised one night, staring up at the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, having crept back down the stairs well after bedtime.

Handmade Christmas stockings - Vanya's and mineThrough here is where we had to hide while the Easter Bunny was in the garden, peeking through gaps in the curtains and fizzing with excitement, waiting for a glimpse of a big white rabbit with a basket, hiding fat chocolate eggs in amongst the dewy garden.

This is the house in which I reread countless Harry Potters, lying upstairs in a sun-strewn bedroom, a half empty pack of chocolate Girl Guides at my side. Where I read aloud to Grace on the bunk above me most nights, only to find out that she had fallen asleep several painstaking chapters earlier.

And out here, this is the garden where Witchy-Poo chased us. She always arrived in a heightened mess of confusion, Witchy-Poo, with nobody quite sure where she would appear from. Then suddenly one of us would spot her, all in black, creeping around the side of the wooden fence across the lawn. And then the chase would begin, children screeching with terror and delight around the garden, running as fast as we could. Witchy-Poo’s visits always coincided uncannily with our Aunty Rhonda’s, and it was some years before I figured it out.

Foxgloves and fencesOver there, that’s the driveway that we walked everyday from the bus, shivering and hunched when it rained, and strolling happily when the sun shone, picking tart apples from our trees to eat along the way. We caught blue butterflies with mum’s sieve in the bright garden, and trapped birds in lunchboxes rigged with a string-tied chopstick. See that huge gum tree? That’s the tree that Gemma fell from when she was just little, climbing higher and higher and falling, flailing through the branches, landing flat on her back and screaming for mum.

From the haybarnGracey and I sat on top of that old concrete water tank when we took our first drag of a badly rolled cigarette, coughing and spluttering as the harsh smoke tore down our throats, and exclaiming incredulously at each other afterwards. Down the hill there, you can see from over here, that’s the kiwifruit orchard that we pruned, pollinated and picked, year after year, season after season. And lining the driveway is the olive grove that we spent one whole holiday planting, dad hammering in each post with the rammer, his shoulders heaving and sweat running down his face.

Our viewInside are the stairs that Grace used to climb each night with her glass of water and ice, the tingle of the ice against the glass becoming synonymous with her footsteps, and bedtime. And at the bottom of the stairs, in this room here, this is where mum and dad sat us down to tell us that they loved us, and that they were separating. Through there is the kitchen where dad and I tried fruitlessly to learn to cook, and ate pork chops and bacon each night, and cried while we did the dishes.

And through here, this was Alex’s room, always shrouded in warm yellow light from the pulled curtains, and full of the milky, apple-sweet smell of a sleeping baby. This is the bath where Grace and I tried to shave our legs as children, pushing the razor the wrong way and jumping guiltily when mum caught us.

There’s the pool that we spent every day of summer in, and where we jumped in at midnight on each New Years Eve. I found out when I was 23 that ‘midnight’ was actually only 10pm, and that everyone present at the party would do a fake countdown just so the children would finally go to bed. It’s the pool that dad broke his nose in playing ‘sharky’, smashed clean into the wall whilst trying to catch our slippery legs.

And out there are the paddocks where I learnt to drive, hiccupping along in an old Subaru named Betty and feeling as though I owned the world.

This house has been part of the family for as long as I’ve been alive, almost a living, breathing thing, the eighth member, now the twelfth member.

Buffet tables and photosNow when I visit, the floors are bare and hardwood, a huge buffet table sits astride the lounge and historical family photos line the walls, with shearing handpieces and dried hydrangeas in tasteful vases. It is strange, to come here now and open doors and cupboards, finding only stacked chairs and the musty smell of uninhabited rooms.

It’s almost as though I expect to find a seven year old Grace in the linen cupboard, asleep behind a pile of towels in a long forgotten game of hide and seek. She always seemed to win, somehow.

Three Generations - That's us kids on the right!

Hardwood floors and historyShearing Exhibition - Historical poster for Garba's shearing Bowen Technique

fighters

My pa always said you know when you become a man. That you feel it in your blood, like life goes quiet for a minute, or two. For me, it was the day I got my ear drum bust. I was behind the bike sheds, watching as Davie’s head came up, blood dripping from his left nostril. The day was hot and we were both breathing hard into the warm air. Droplets of his blood landed in the dust at our feet, red turning quickly to rust.

I swung with my right again and it connected, I felt the sickening, exhilarating thud of knuckles against flesh. But he came at me again as though it was nothing, feinting a left and following with a right hook. This time I wasn’t so lucky. I was too slow for him. The blow hit me on the side of my left ear like a train. I heard thunder, clapping across my head like a ruthless wave, cleaving it in two. It sat me down hard on the dirt, amongst the debris of cigarette butts and old newsletters. I shook my head to clear it, like an old elephant trying to shake the flies off. Davie towered over me, a smirk stretching his features, ballooning his cheeks like the cartoon characters in the books we both loved. His hand was outstretched, but I hesitated for a second before I took it. There was that familiar light in his eyes, the exhilarated, wicked glint that always comes with the fight, before for the initiated, after for the amateurs. He waited, and suddenly I realised that the sound of the birds above was strangely muffled, as though someone had turned the sound down, casually twiddled with the volume dial for the world. The squawks of the older kids out on the field came as though from miles away. I closed my eyes for a moment, listening. Then I grinned and grasped his hand, landing lightly on my feet once more. We took our stances again, and the surrounding circle of boys shuffled closer.

Later that day we ate our sandwiches together, side by side, as always. I watched Davie out of the corner of my eye, his pale skin dappled by the sunlight poking curious fingers through the trees. I knew that it would never be the same after this. We were fighters now.

something black

The sun shone ruthlessly as though Blackbirds once more ruled the sky. Their cries were echoes, nothing more than remnants across the cool stone below. But still the Woodpeople waited. Small Woodchildren hid behind their mothers, clasping winding tails in their soft furred hands. Large brown eyes gleamed as they searched the sky, their faces upturned, waiting. And then it came.

A loud cry of to the east heralded the Blackbirds, and then, within an instant, everything was black. Everything was a dark seething mess, black upon black, with hundreds of jewel bright black eyes and piercing orange beaks, stabbing, squawking. Blackbirds were upon everything, their babble like laughter.

fashion?

I am having a terrible time finding a new top. All I want is a glitzy looking evening top, one of those with that ever-mentionable day-to-night versatility, so I could just throw it on over tight jeans and boots and look suddenly glamorous and wildly elegant, and not like I’ve been sitting a desk for eight hours, as I indeed have. Easy, right?

When I was eighteen these were all the rage. Everyone wore jeans and boots and a nice top. Only muppets wore dresses to town! Muppets who had been dressed by their mothers! We were far too casual for dresses, too cool to try so hard, and primarily, too cold. But sadly, the times have changed, now being some seven years later. How I yearn sometimes for the mid naughties and their jean-ridden winter nights.

Now, when I enter a store looking simply for a flattering, fitting black singlet with the right amount of perfectly designed draping that clings in the right places and casually skips over the wrong places, I find myself besieged by flirty, tiny dresses. All manner of sequined dresses, cutesy pastel dresses, cut-out-so-that-the-diamond-of-skin-below-your-breasts-is-visible dresses!

‘It’s freezing!’ I want to wail at the racks. ‘I don’t want to wear a fecking dress! My knees will be cold!’

So I was driven online. Now I know that they rant and rave about how terrible it is that people shop online, that the average Jane Bloggs shopkeeper just can’t compete, that she can’t keep up with all of her rent and overheads and the old man she employs out the back to hand sew on all of the buttons. I know this. I know it’s better to shop locally and not to support ‘the man’.

But it’s so much easier! And free shipping! To New Zealand! A few years ago this was unheard of! Or only available with orders over $1,567 US dollars or suchlike. And there are categories, listed simply down the side! Which means that I don’t accidentally end up in the men’s section, holding a hot pink T-shirt and wondering if it would fit me, and that it looks far too big to be a small. There are no burdened sales racks, creaking under the weight of years and years of stashed clothes, the hangers so tightly stacked that to pull out one surely means that five others will come crashing down with it, and you’ll have to pick them all up, bobbing up and down awkwardly and apologising repeatedly to the shop assistant who is watching you contemptuously from behind the counter.

No trudging through hoards of last years gold hotpants in XS that an over-exuberant manager ordered in a fit of Kylie-nostalgia. No fourteen year old sales assistants calling you ‘bub’ and swinging open the curtains to eye your half dressed figure beadily before proclaiming loudly, ‘That’s too small. I’ll get the next size up, if we have it…’ and swishing off, leaving the curtain open so that a skinny cluster of heavily eye-lined teenage girls are treated to a lasting look of your greying polka dot underwear.

So yes. I went online.

I went to boohoo.com, selected Tops, and prepared to be wowed by the dazzling array of perfect, flattering, edgy singlets and flowing evening tops. But, horror! Even worse! Crop tops! Acres and acres of midriff on display! And huge, oversized jerseys, like David Bain’s except with pandas and flowers on them, and cute phrases like Love, and No Photos Please. When did we all turn into eight year olds again?

I filtered my search and gratefully selected Evening Tops, hoping to end the madness. But again! When did it become okay to wear a leotard, even if they’re calling it a body-suit? Is this how acrobatic dancing is becoming these days? That you need your top to be attached to your undies? Why on earth would you need that? Unwanted visions of frenzied dance floors scenes fill my head at this thought.

Or what’s this, a see-though black lace number with a bra beneath? Well, don’t mind if I do… I may star as an extra in a remake of The Matrix one day, you never know! Another one just looks like a run of the mill black polo neck. Warm, decent, sturdy. The type I used to wear to school, except that mine was a hideous yellow and was still in possession of it’s bottom half, so that my stomach wasn’t naked below the bra – like this model’s is.

And these are the bestsellers! I am utterly lost, and I feel about eighty years old, peering at the screen in pompous disbelief. Everything is either skin-tight and completely revealing, or shapeless and unflattering, the type that only the truly thin and fabulous can pull off.

Maybe I should just buy a dress and some tights…