The Winter of one’s Life

It’s now Thursday February 9, 2023. Kia ora!

Last night we watched Labyrinth of Lies, a 2014 movie on Te Whakaata Māori, about a trial in Stuttgart of Nazi perpetrators who had not been brought to trial at Nuremberg.  The prosecutor who seeks to bring perpetrators of the horrors at Auschwitz to trial, encounters heaps of discouragement; it’s a really hard job for him, to face up to the horrors, and realize that people around him complied in causing them. It was a very interesting film. This was about the leadup to the trial held in Stuttgart during the 1960’s.

I have been perusing my husband’s latest edition of The Economist. He likes to buy this magazine; I admit that I turn first to the obituary on the last page, and then flip backwards through the book reviews. I’ve caught up with several outstanding works this way: a biography of Mikhail Gorbachev, who died last year, and an outstanding book about Ukraine, called The Gates of Europe. The obituary in this magazine is that of Ronald Blythe, who died, aged 100, on 14 January. This story talks about Akenfield, the book he is most famous for, but I well remember another book, The View in Winter, published in 1979.  I was a crass young woman, then, in my twenties, but JD’s grandmother was so impressed by it that she gave me a copy to read. She had quite eclectic reading tastes: The Brendan Voyage, a biography of Golda Meir, a book about WW1 called Soldier from the War Returning, and so on. One book was about a cat, which didn’t impress me much. I lent The View in Winter to a friend, an older woman, and she didn’t like it much; but I did, I admired the writing, and the attitude; I had a great deal of respect for older people, imagining them to have greater wisdom. Now I realize that older people are very like younger people, in that there are all sorts, and you don’t necessarily get on with them all.  They all have various ailments, and best not get into a lengthy discussion of them.  Anyway, it’s nice to be reminded about Ronald Blythe.  He was a loner, possibly gay, and a Christian; someone looked up to and revered by others. I wonder if the London Review of Books (LRB) will do a feature on him?

It occurs to me to comment on retirement so-called “homes”. They all stress the number of activities one can take part in, and yet some of course do not have the kinds of trips one would enjoy. Furthermore, one needs a place where one can sit comfortably and privately in the sun, and drink coffee, do puzzles, and read, yet many so-called “homes” don’t advertise this. But the greatest disadvantage, I think, is there’s no knowing whether one will make friends there, or get on with others, quite apart from the state of the cleaning, cooking, or shopping, or how much it costs, or whether one can move out if one doesn’t like it there.  I suspect they can get rid of you, but you can’t leave without it costing a lot of money. The “apartments” are just like motel units, really; what do you do when you get sick of it? I remember JD’s grandmother lamenting that as she grew older (she died at 90 years of age, and was independent until a few weeks before her death), her friends kept dying. This is another kind of loneliness: as one becomes less able, one has fewer friends to rely on for company and shared memories.

I have reserved a copy of Akenfield at Wellington City Library, but oddly, they don’t have a copy yet!  I’m fourth in the queue for it. They don’t have a copy of The View in Winter! Perhaps I still have a copy, I should like to read it again.

The Economist has reviews of several other books that sound interesting: The Blazing World, by Jonathan Healey, a history of England during the turbulent 17th century of regicide, civil war and revolution; (isn’t it ironic that inter-country wars are called “civil wars”. when in fact they’re anything but civil); The World and All That it Holds, by Aleksander Hemon (sounds interesting), and another book by Kapka Kassabova, Bulgarian writer turned New Zealander, called Elixir. I read Border with great interest, although it got a bit mystical for me at times. Actually she’s now based in Scotland, which further adds to the perspective she brings to her writing. She’s also written From the Lake, which I have not read.

Actually I’ve looked and I have copies of both The View in Winter and Akenfield by Ronald Blythe, so I can reread them both. How nice it is to have lots of books. You never know what you may wish to read again, or lend to someone.

There’s also a review of No Miracles Needed, by Mark Jacobson, a thought-provoking book about climate change, and the world’s need to discontinue its reliance on oil.

I find all these reviews very interesting.

This issue of the Economist also has a short article about New Zealand’s new Prime Minister Hipkins, informally known as Chippy. It’s on page 23! Stories about New Zealand rarely make it to this august publication, and if they do, usually about a recent election outcome, they’re relegated to the back of the current issue. The Economist is prepared to be kind to Chippy, but there is some criticism of the very popular former Prime Minister Ardern; it seems very unfair to me that media treatment of women in positions of authority still seems very harsh compared with their treatment of men, who seem to have some kind of innate right to be there. It’s fascinating that new PM Chris Hipkins and National Party Leader Christopher Luxon are treated on a par. Labour is doing better in the polls than it was in recent months under Ardern; the latest poll is saying the Māori Party will be king maker (why not queen maker?) in the next election. I would pick that Labour would be a far more agreeable partner than National; despite Māori grievances, Labour are a far more sympathetic and true partner.

There is no singing this morning, so some people were to meet for coffee instead. I had hoped to join them, but JD had other ideas, and we went to Heretaunga instead. I have to admit it’s very pleasant out there. There seemed to be some event on, judging by the large amount of cars in the car park, but the place seemed deserted. We had lunch there, but there wasn’t much food left in the cabinet.

It’s now Friday February 10th.

Today our art group were to meet again; there was confusion, of course, with Access, but JD and I went to art instead. There were very few of us there, but it was lovely to see those who were, and talk about our trip to Australia.  I did a crayon drawing, trying to represent the contrast in the Barossa Valley between the green vines, the green trees, and the very dry countryside between trees, the road, and vines.  Afterwards we repaired to a local café for something to eat and drink.  We talked about paintings, of course, about our friend who died just before Christmas, and her funeral, about the painting we’d taken to my sister-in-law as a present, and how Covid 19 continues to disrupt our lives – it upset several of our Christmas plans. Nothing seems to be quite right anymore, especially with the hospitality industry. We shared some of our grievances with trying to get good accommodation, and good service. Some people go out of their way to be helpful;  others not at all.

It’s now Saturday February 11th.

It’s another fine day, but it’s cooler than it has been.  There are far fewer annoying mites in the kitchen!

We are due to go shopping again, and I hope we get some good avocadoes – the last one we shared was amazingly good.

In New Zealand, the northern part of the country, i.e. north of and including Tamaki Makaurau and the Coromandel Peninsula, are bracing for Cyclone Gabrielle, due perhaps on Sunday evening or Monday, expecting heavy rain and also strong winds. Other areas, such as the Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay, where Napier is expecting to hold its Art Deco festival, are looking warily at the weather forecast. People in the Auckland area are stocking up on sandbags and groceries. The emergency response seems to be far better organised this time than during the recent severe floods; Auckland’s State of Emergency has been extended.

Meanwhile, after the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and northern Syria, the death toll has risen to over 23,000, but survivors are still being pulled out of the rubble.

In the US people have been obsessed with President Biden’s State of the Union (SOTU) address. They do love their acronyms. Anyway, President Biden had a bit of fun with it, seeming to enjoy the heckling: Marjorie Taylor Greene (MTG) sported a fur coat, looking like a Russian oligarch’s wife, as one podcaster put it, and shouted “Liar!” throughout the speech. However Biden was unfazed and somehow got the Congress to agree that Medicare and Social Security would not be cut, as some Republicans had advocated, to solve the debt ceiling crisis. He was masterful, again demonstrating his prowess developed from years as a politician and then as President Obama’s Vice President. It was fun to watch, and it’s been fun to listen to the podcasts discussing it: Biden goes Dark Brandon, Biden gets Frisky, during the not-so boring SOTU. 

People, even his supporters, keep talking about Biden’s gaffes, and memory slips; I find that so frustrating. He’s a wonderful president. He has always tended to make gaffes. One commentator, a former republican, said Reagan and Biden were the best presidents in his lifetime. While that’s quite an admission from a former republican, I wouldn’t put Reagan in that list, although he was hugely popular – and he got dementia. I well remember Trump seeming very demented, and some British journalists being shocked at just how awful he was, and how the American media protected him. This was Trump seeming not to cope, not just saying terrible things, which he did, of course.  His current jape, accusing Governor Ron de Santis (Santos? Quipped one podcaster) of paedophilia, seems a bit rich when we consider Jeffrey Epstein was one of his friends. Actually I stand corrected. He accused him of grooming when he was a high school teacher.

Late this afternoon we went shopping at New World in Thorndon. It was very busy there, and JD parked some way away. Once we were in, though, it was lovely, and not too busy. We were able to buy a potato-topped pie, baked today, some salads, bread, frozen macaroni cheese )the best one!) and more raspberries, blueberries and avocadoes.

Tonight we watched Call the Midwife on television one. This time there were very few births; we got onto the somewhat dangerous territory of male health, and vasectomies;  and mental illness. It’s always interesting, and always uplifting. After that we watched more of War and Remembrance on Youtube. It’s a hard  watch, but very well done, with some much better actors in this series than in the first, the Winds of War.

I’ve been watching The Crown, Series 5, on Netflix.  Someone has to do it!  I like the wonderful Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret, but I can’t stand Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth. The guy playing Prince Philip looks old and a bit overweight, and the guy playing the then Prince Charles is very good looking, in my view. Some of the voices are better than the actors. Anyway, it’s a distraction, but I can see why people are frustrated by this series.

Meanwhile, Cyclone Gabrielle is barrelling down on New Zealand, and the Turkish-Syrian death toll is now over 28,000. There is come criticism of the emergency response, and the lax building standards. It is very cold in this part of the world.  One hopes that more people will be found alive, but it becomes less likely with each passing day.

That’s it for now. Slava Ukraini! Ngā mihi nui.

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