Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Antarctic Blast 24th June 2013

What a week of freezing storms it has been. What is the world coming to? Fires, Tornadoes, floods and in New Zealand, storms. The only people happy at the moment are the ski field operators on both islandsand the kids who have the opportunity to make snowmen. But for the rest, forget it. At least as I sit in Auckland with a blanket over my knees in front of a heater, I am grateful I have such comfort. It breaks my heart to think of those poor people in Christchurch who are still waiting for the pathetic, idiotic powers that be as they camp in the bitter cold. Believe me, Chch quite often has temperatures several degrees lower than Auckland.

ON such mornings, I make sure I give the wee birds their crust, crumbled up of course. Though I figure that up here there would still be plenty of bugs and seeds to see them through till spring. Which reminds me, I must clean out the nest in my patio to make space for a new one in spring. I hope it will be a fantail this time. Though I love all birds, the fantails and wax eyes are my favourites.

Over the weekend, I have been rehearsing with the Manukau Symphony Orchestra for our concert on the night of the 29th at the Telstra Event Center in Manukau, Auckland, in case any of you readers are Aucklanders.
On the programme is Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with Peter Sledge as soloist, An American in Paris, Elgar's Cockayne Overture also known as The London Overture, Britten's Matinee Musical and finally the sweet Greensleeves, an eternal favourite.It is a very full house already, we've been told.

On the writing front, I have finished CHINESE ODYSSEY: THE MING ADMIRAL  which will be edited soon, and Chapter 14 of the sequel to MEMORIES IN THE BONE. This will be called CHINESE DIASPORA, A LIFE DIVIDED. Have also recorded up to 17 chapter for an audio book of MEMORIES IN THE BONE. which will be for the blind and elderly as well as libraries. Also last Tuesday, I spoke to a Chinese Immigrant Book Club at Glenfield Library. This is a wonderful way to encourage reading amongst new immigrants. It is the first book club I have come across where men outnumber women. Next week I shall be talking to the Parnell Library Book Club which is more upmarket, on July 4th, US Independance Day.
MEMORIES IN THE BONE is set in the Taiping Rebellion in China, in the same timeline as the US Civil War, but on a much greater scale with much worse results. The protagonist is smuggled out of Shanghai into the goldfields of Australia and finally comes to New Zealand, seeking peace, redemption while being dogged by the mysterious Scarface. It's a historical thriller. Ask for it in a library near you or get it at Amazon. It has been favourably reviewed in the US and given Editor's Choice by IUniverse, the publishers.

Now to continue with The Wedge. This is a short story made out of the final chapter of a novella which I hope to publish on Amazon soon.

        If he knew he was ill, he never showed it, either to Mother or me. She was too busy to notice his usual thinness turn into gauntness and I was too self- absorbed, to notice it either. I was in my second semester as a freshman when she summoned me home - to find him in a deep, drug induced sleep at Qilu Hospital. Tubes had been inserted into his nose, his breathing  noisy, laboured and raspy. An IV tube had been inserted into his right wrist. He was an awful pallor and looked close to death. My shock turned to anger. “Why wasn’t I told earlier?”
         “He didn’t want you to worry,” she said in soft sombre tones. “The doctors say he hasn’t much time left, so I called you. He doesn’t know you are here.” She tried to hold my hand. I shook hers away. “I’m sorry, Francesca. I didn’t know he was so ill, did you?”
           “No,” I replied, sick at heart. “I guess neither of us paid him much attention all these years.”
          The cancer was in the lungs. He had been a heavy smoker all his life, at least as far back as I could remember and now he was paying the price for that habit. He died three weeks later, barely regaining consciousness. I sat by his bed for long hours talking softly to him, the only intimation I got that he heard what I was saying was a flickering under his eyelids or the corner of his lips quivering slightly upwards. A surprising number of people came to his funeral, more Mother’s friends than his; that I could recognise.
           I agreed to stay on with Mother after the funeral but could not bear to be close to her somehow; even in death his presence came between us. I blamed her in part for his condition but mostly I blamed myself for not caring enough for him. Remorse spun its web over me. I could not help but replay our lives of the last fourteen years over and over again. My guilt, ferret-like, sought to torture the prey that was the uncaring, unloving daughter that I had become in the last few years. It caught me, shook me mercilessly till I could do nothing but cry for him and for our wasted years of hurt, loneliness and bewilderment.
           I hid my pain from Mother and spent my few days at home tidying up his study. I folded away his cot and not knowing what to do with his books merely dusted them and put them in order. I threw out the remaining bottles of Moutai Jiu and the drinking glasses along with them. His ghost haunted every corner of the room; his smell pervaded its tininess. “Leave his personal things,” Mother said as I began going through his meagre wardrobe, “I shall sort them out by and by.” I left them.
       On my final day I returned in the late evening to a dark house. Mother had said she would take me to her favourite restaurant as it was my last night with her; so, perplexed, I let myself in and turned on the lights. Not a sound came from anywhere in the house. Then I peeped into her bedroom. From the street light that came through the window, I saw Mother. It was a woman I had never been allowed to see before. She lay there, sprawled on the bed, an empty bottle of brandy on her dresser and a spilled snifter on the floor beside her. Around her was strewn the contents of a box: letters, photographs, little bits of memorabilia. As I moved closer it took one glance for me to see that they were the souvenirs of her past. After the initial shock I realised that at last I would find out the secret that had driven the wedge between us all!
           I took a torch from the kitchen and sat beside the bed going through the contents as fast as I could, for fear of waking her up. I picked up several old photographs, in most of them a foreign man held centre stage. He was tall and handsome, fair haired and blue eyed though with a distant air in his bearing. He looked cool, aloof, as if his thoughts were elsewhere. Their body language shouted at me - she was eager and playing up to him, smiling up at him, clinging to him but he was withdrawing from her, trying to stand apart. I saw in those old photographs an impossible and unlikely relationship. They were worlds apart in character and in culture. Then there was one letter, worn from too many readings, torn into shreds and then pasted back on another sheet of paper, folded in an envelope with Italian stamps, addressed to her in a neat precise hand,.  It was from him, the Italian, and it was non-committal and impersonal. She must have torn it up in anger and later had had a change of heart. I looked at the back of the envelope; there was his name and address. Francisco Petriolli. Francisco, Francesca! She had named me after him! Would Father have known that? Not before she went to Italy, maybe after. Then how did he feel about me after that? But would he have known at all? Would she have even mentioned him by name?
        There were other photographs: - of her and Father in their early days together. Again the body language revealed their relationship: - he was eager in his youthful rapture, gazing at her with happiness and pride through his horn rimmed glasses. She was cool and self-contained; her body slightly withdrawn from his arm around her shoulders, comely in her newly acquired Western dresses. Then letters! Letters from her to me sent from Italy! Opened and read by Father himself; they had to be, who else, but not to me! I read them and slowly my anger towards her dissipated as I felt in them her love and her emptiness. She had enclosed photographs of herself; alone and some with friends. She had sent postcards all addressed to me, telling me how she was missing me, how much she loved me. She had written of an old friend who had died in a big earthquake not too far from her in a place called Umbria. How sad she was, how she had mourned for him. Him! The Italian.
        I now looked at her as she lay in her brandy induced sleep, snoring slightly with her mouth open. Her skin was still beautiful, unlined, and her figure under her black woollen dress still held its youthful litheness. My mother, who, through chasing a dream of an impossible love, lost the true love and respect of a good and honourable man. I realised then how much she must have suffered all these years when she knew that in failing to get what she thought was a scintillating prize, she had lost the comfort of an enduring marriage; that she had driven a wedge between us all.
         I let her sleep on. We never had that dinner and the next morning I took the first train back to Shanghai.
The End


Monday, 10 June 2013


Hi everyone,
I wonder how many of you have heard of the Michael Hill Violin Competition? It is a bi-annual one that brings very talented young violinists from all over the world to New Zealand and draws judges of the greatest talent and integrity. And more importantly, it has put New Zealand on the map as a country known not just for its rugby but for finer aspects of culture so crucial for the survival of the human race.
The competition was started by one of our country's great philanthropists who had wanted to be a concert violinist in his younger days, but luckily for many, had to take on the profession of jeweller on which he made his fortune. I have met him, shaken his hand and congratulated and thanked him for this special gift and he proves to be most kind, generous in all ways and happy that the competition has raised the bar, especially amongst young New Zealanders.
So you can go to www. Michael Hill Violin Competition 2013 then archives and see the entire lot, from the heats in Queenstown to the semi-finals and finals in Auckland. Enjoy the music and marvel at the amazing talent. They say that playing a concerto uses 98% of one's brain. No wonder I can't do that. I am only a lowly second.
Now I am giving you the first few chapters in another short story. It's called THE WEDGE and perhaps it comes from my feelings of regret over my own father. Though set in China, the story is universal. I hope you enjoy it.

                                                        The Wedge

       My father died three years ago. He was sixty two.  He had cancer, but I suspect the real cause of death was a broken heart. He lost the will to live the day my mother went to Italy, intending to leave us, possibly forever, if things had worked out for her. That was many years ago.
 I barely remember that time. He told me she would be coming back after a few months and his love and care for me increased even more. I remember the love he showed me: a gentle, sad love he expressed with tears in his eyes and in the way he stroked my hair tenderly away from my face. I remember how he sat beside me watching me feed myself, a task he would sometimes take over when it proved too much for me. He would chuckle at my attempts to use chopsticks; watching fondly as I tried vainly to spear a piece of meat or tofu with them, or when I tried to use them, one in each hand, to slice an item that was too large to swallow whole. But underlying his chuckles was a deep well of sadness that I could detect. They were, you see, on his lips only; his eyes were dead in the wash of sorrow. Try as I might, I could not unite his eyes with his lips in a cohesive expression of joy.
He must have spent all his free time with me and I remember I was content and felt safe and warm with him. He did not smile much that I remember. I tried clowning to make him laugh but all I ever got was a wan, listless smile. I tried so hard. He never really laughed again after Mother left but he was always there for me and I loved him so much in my  dependent, childish way.
         When Mother returned, he withdrew into himself. He turned his study into a bedroom and slept there till the day he died. He refused her entry into his den, and even the home help was forbidden to clean it. I was the only one privileged enough to be allowed in and what I saw and smelled distressed me, even at that age. After forbidding Su Ah Yee entry to clean it, he did not do any himself. Over the years the dust gathered and lay thick over everything that had not been touched awhile. His dirty clothes were piled up in a corner mouldering till he got it into himself to put them into the wash tub for Su Ah Yee to attend to. When he ran out of glasses he would wash them himself or asked me to wash them for him. I was the only witness to his downward spiral into his personal oblivion. At first I would report what I saw to Mother who would shake her head, sadly silently. Eventually I gave up the reportage.
           Growing up I was aware of the tension in our house. In front of me their conversation was short and terse; of this and that happening around the campus, the city, the province, the country; a distant polite exchange of news between strangers whose one-time intimacy was now only a memory of pain. I never knew how they behaved behind my back, but in front of me, they were politely cool to each other. I seem to recall Mother making early overtures at normal conversation with Father, only to be rebuffed by a grunt, a rustling of newspapers, and a puffing of his pipe. Eventually she gave up and buried herself into her own work. I was the pivotal point of their relationship; the one each spent time with, although even this tenderness towards me felt strained. Each was building an invisible wall to hide behind, a wall that increased in height and depth as the years passed and I was kept out by both.
          My parents explained very little of anything to me. My daily needs were met but I felt bereft. It was as if each had decided to leave the ministering of my emotional needs to the apartments in neat lanes lined by mature sycamore trees, yet inwardly I lived in a world of torn loyalties and conflict. I was never sure to whom I could reach out, so I soon learnt to keep my hands to myself, physically and emotionally.other but forgot to inform the other of this. The result was that nobody administered to me. So there I was; outwardly a privileged girl from a university family living in the quiet staff
As I grew older, I became aware that Mother had suffered some form of trauma in Italy but she never explained what it was and each time I asked, she grew visibly upset. I soon learned not to broach the subject. Father was disinterested in that part of her life or he made a great effort of seeming to be. When she received her Doctorate in Music he offered an indifferent congratulatory nod before retiring to his study and his Moutai Jiu.

I will write soon. Nowadays, I am doing the finishing touches of my second historical novel called A CHINESE ODYSSEY:  THE MING ADMIRAL. It will be edited next month. Also I am recording my first  MEMORIES IN THE BONE as an audio book for the blind and elderly and trying to find time to write the sequel to MEMORIES IN THE BONE. So if I am a bit tardy with this blog. I beg forgiveness, but don't give up on me. And please, direct your friends to it when they want something to read on a rainy day.

By the way you can request MEMORIES IN THE BONE at your local libraries for a free read or if you want to spend a wee bit of money, it is on Amazon for $3.99 US Enjoy! Take care of yourself.