Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Worksheet #3

I have been remiss.

I was not Santa Claus. Someone else was.

December: when trees become pōhutukawa.

I still forget to wear a hat outside.

Prevention is not better than The Cure, as far as albums are concerned.

Past-time is a funny phrase when you think about it.

I began a story about a man named Loof, discovered he was an arborist, and put the story on hold.

December: when free-time becomes shopping-time.

In November I was someone else.

I have been remiss.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Too Soon For Santa?

M. is in the Social Club at her work, and has been roped into organising the Christmas Party for the employees' children this weekend. Last night I was asked if I could be Santa Claus.

I like kids well enough. But I'm not ready to be Santa Claus. I'm too young. I don't even have kids of my own. It'd take a lot of artificial beefing up to reach the generally accepted Santa girth, and even then, I'd fool only the youngest and most gullible of children. Which is, I think, the problem.

I can take the beard-tugging and name-calling of seven-year-olds who know most "Santas" are fake yet still believe the Jolly Old St. Nick delivers their presents on Christmas Eve.

[Aside: I wonder if kids around that age Google: "Does Santa Exist?" What would they learn… Thankfully WikiAnswers replies: "Of course he does". Faith in internet: restored!]

But I don't want to take advantage of the default belief little kids have in what adults tell them.

I found this reasoning hard to explain, but then today I read David Foster Wallace's 'All That' in this week's New Yorker. It doesn't say, but I assume this is an excerpt from the forthcoming, posthumous novel, The Pale King.

Here’s an excerpt of the excerpt:

The “magic” was that, unbeknown to me, as I happily pulled the cement mixer behind me, the mixer’s main cylinder or drum—the thing that, in a real cement mixer, mixes the cement; I do not know the actual word for it—rotated, went around and around on its horizontal axis, just as the drum on a real cement mixer does. It did this, my mother said, only when the mixer was being pulled by me and only, she stressed, when I wasn’t looking. She insisted on this part, and my father later backed her up: the magic was not just that the drum of a solid wood object without batteries rotated but that it did so only when unobserved, stopping whenever observed. If, while pulling, I turned to look, my parents sombrely maintained, the drum magically ceased its rotation. How was this? I never, even for a moment, doubted what they’d told me. This is why it is that adults and even parents can, unwittingly, be cruel: they cannot imagine doubt’s complete absence. They have forgotten.

Returning to the problem of being Santa, I asked why no one else could do it. The problem, it seems, is that all the other males (either employees or husbands) have kids who'll be in attendance. They can't be Santa because it will either a) screw with their kids minds (Daddy is also Santa?) or b) ruin the event for them (that's not Santa, it's just Daddy with a fake beard). I would add a third reason: c) they mightn't recognise their father, which seems like a terrible kind of deceit, like those dreams where you start off on a car journey with your father then suddenly it’s your brother, aged six, driving as one would expect a six year old who cannot see about the steering wheel to drive…

I remember going to a Christmas party where my grandfather was Santa Claus. I was of an age where I no longer believed in Father Christmas; the party, in fact, was for the children of international students, if I'm remembering correctly, and I was only there to witness my grandfather "play" Santa. Many of the children there would have never celebrated Christmas before, coming from non-Christian countries and backgrounds -- their attendance at this party was more a concession to experiencing life in New Zealand, the same way NZ tourists experience the Day of the Dead or wade into the Ganges during Kumbh Mela without jumping the religious fence.

He wasn't slim, my grandfather, but he may still have needed a pillow stuffed down the front of his suit, and he certainly needed a fake beard. But he was a grandfatherly age and had, it seemed to me as a child, a booming voice and a suitably “Santa” chuckle.

It was strange to watch these children who had no doubt seen Santa in Coke advertisements and shop windows, suddenly come face to face, and butt to knee, with a living breathing man in red and white suit. He was transformed; I realised, perhaps for the first time, he was not just my grandfather -- he could be other things to other people.

What did these children from Malaysia and Hong Kong and Tanzania think of my Grandfather? Did they believe it was really Santa Claus? I don't know. But I'd hate to think I'm ready to compete with that moment at the age of 26 with a bunch of kids who come to the same Christmas party every year and probably sit on Santa's knee at Queensgate Shopping Centre and wave to him in the Christmas Parade… And I’d hate to compete with my memory of my grandfather playing Santa with a clear conscience.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

On Pickled Houses, or My Weekend in Auckland


Frank Sargeson's fibrolite cottage on Esmonde Road, Takapuna.  The only clue this building is significant from the footpath is the large green sign (slyly out-of-shot left in my photo).

I'm always in two minds about visiting the houses (turned-museums) of dead writers. [I wonder sometimes about bigger cities, known to attract writers, like Paris and New York... whether in five hundred years there'll be any inner city real estate left or it will all be writer's museums.]  On the one hand it feels like one of those superficial tourist activities that require a cold shower and a colonic afterwards.  Rather than preserving a writer's environment, museums tend to pickle: they turn the everyday grotesque. What's the queue for?  Oh, Kafka's toilet.

On the other hand, it's human nature to be curious about the lives of writers. The most popular questions from the audience at book festivals are always the 'How do you write?' ones (Do you write in the morning or the evening? Do you type or write long hand? Pen or pencil? 1B4 or 1B5?).  Even for writers who know the tedium of a writing life, it's inspiring to see the seat, the desk, the light fixture, which helped create some lasting fiction.

So I don't visit these sorts of places often, but then again, Frank's place was not my first.

The most recent, in fact, was Pablo Neruda's house, La Sebastiana, in Valparaiso, Chile.  You can read about it here.  Basically, you couldn't get two more different places if you tried.  I mean, Neruda named his houses (!)  and three of them have been turned into museums.  Frank Sargeson's bach on the other hand feels make-do, provisional.  But it also feels lived in.

On the kitchen bench there's two and three-quarter bottles of Frank's favourite drop, inexplicably no longer in production.

Three black berets hang from pegs in the hall.  The hair brush by the single bed is still clogged with hair.  Frank's coat and gardening implements are poised by the door.

A newer radio sits on top of a homemade one, the names of Auckland AM stations written in pencil on the spectrum.

Everything is not quite as it was before Sargeson died in 1982.  There's a medal pinned to the wall which he gave away to a niece (and the family returned after his death as no one seemed to want it *sniff*).  Photos of writers hanging out in the house post '82 are pinned to the wall, along with old rates notices and a takeaway menu dated 1979.

But it smells like it should. It smells of books, old books, well-leafed and sun-faded books. It's old and dark and ramshackle.  It's Frank's place. And it's wonderful.

Bonus Info:
The NZ Book Council's Frank Sargeson Page
A travel piece about the cottage by Judith Doyle
Mary McCallum on visiting Frank's place with her son

Friday, December 4, 2009

Since June / Jarvis Cocker

1. Since June

Last night was the launch of Louise Wallace's debut collection of poetry, Since June, at Unity Books here in Wellington.

The book was launched* by Jenny Bornholdt, who was also Wallace's MA supervisor in 2008 (Louise won the Biggs Poetry Prize for the year's best poetry manuscript and was quickly snapped up by VUP).

A lot of time was spent discussing the picture of a tea cup and a tiny man on the front cover.

Louise wore a pink dress to match the type on the cover. Her speech concluded with a reading of 'The Poi Girls', which is a stunner of a poem.

I read the collection today in my lunch break. I'm a sucker for short poems and there's some great ones in the first half of the collection. If you pick up a copy in your local bookstore and only have time for four lines, read ‘Katikati, 2009’ on page 27.  You will suddenly find time for another poem.

I'm not really in a position to offer any further comments on the collection after one reading. I didn't even pick up whether "Since June" is referenced in the text at all.

Update: I just read this nice wee article from the Gisborne Herald which explains that Wallace started writing poems after her grandmother, June, passed away, hence "Since June."


*I am never sure about this term, when really it's just another speech sandwiched by the publisher's and the writer's - - when I think of "a launcher" I think of rocket launchers, then I think of obscure royals smashing a jeroboam of champers against the hull of a ship… the least the person "launching" a book could do is ceremoniously run a stanley knife down the first box of books…

2. Jarvis Cocker

After the launch I made the short walk from Unity Books to the Town Hall to see Jarvis Cocker's first concert in Wellington in ten years (he was with Pulp back then of course).

I like many Pulp songs, but never really got in to them as an album band. The last two Jarvis Cocker albums have been more rocky and angular than his Pulp days, though just as wry lyrically (and just as mixed in terms of quality).

Live it was pretty much everything I expected. The set kicked off with 'Angela', a song I hated the first time I heard it (a live rendition on BBC2's The Culture Show), but becomes more tolerable with every listen. 'Further Complications' followed, just as it does on the 2009 album of the same name, and was one of the highlights. The rest of the set was mixed ('Fat Children', and 'I Never Said I Was Deep' being the other musical highs) though Jarvis's inter-song banter kept everyone engaged.

During the encore he informed us that the 3rd of December was Ozzy Osbourne's birthday, and the band launched into Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' (the only song I admit to being quite good at in Singstar). I love live covers. It takes a bit to put aside the ego and not worry that the crowd may be more into someone else's stuff than your own (which sorta happened). It's something no one would have expected, and few will get to experience live… I filmed a bit to prove it happened. Forgive the sound, my digital camera was made for so many decibels.

Another Update: Turns out Jarvis has covered 'Paranoid' quite a few times before. Mostly in 2007. I double checked, and it really was Ozzy's birthday. Phew.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Writers Can Learn From Young (Wannabe) Rock Stars

[via Perpetual Folly]

Over at The Review Review, Dan Chaon has some advice to young writers: "if you want to be rock stars, you have to read."

Occasionally, I have students who want to be rock stars... Without fail, these kids know everything there is to know about new music. They are listening all the time—they can discourse on Bob Dylan as easily as they can talk about the new e.p. from a new band from Little Rock, Arkansas, or wherever, and they have a whole hard drive full of demos from obscure artists that they have downloaded from the internet.

I wish that my students who want to be fiction writers were similarly engaged.
Chaon rallies against the "lame-o people who want to be published in journals even though they don’t read the magazines that they want to be published in."

I'd add a few more reasons why writers and readers should support their literary magazines. For one, lit mags give writers a chance to showcase their small (in terms of length) triumphs without having to worry about amassing a book’s worth of triumphs and convincing a publisher to pony up with the money to get it out there.

For readers, a good lit mag is a chance to find new-to-you writers and spot new-to-the-scene writers who may go on to make waves.

There’s also something to be learnt from individual pieces. Just because Joe Poet never got it together long enough to publish his own collection, doesn’t mean ‘Upland Road, November 1994’ can’t be the greatest poem ever written in your opinion (just as rock star wannabes are wont to proclaim b-sides by CBGB scenesters as the greatest song of all time); or Jenny Prose’s story written in the second person plural won’t open your eyes to a new way of approaching a story.

The number and variety of literary magazines in New Zealand is less than in the States, but per head of population we probably do quite well. In print there are the stalwarts like Landfall, Sport, JAAM and Takahe, and new comers like Hue & Cry and Enamel. Some Australian publications like Etchings encourage NZ contributors. There are enough opportunities out there to get published without being swamped with reading material. Us writers should all subscribe to as many lit mags as we can.

I wonder how a subscription to Landfall would go down as a secret santa present?

Where to Gumshoe?

September's theme was Reading The Count of Monte Cristo. October was Owen Marshall Month. Now I've just finished writing a 100 word story every day of November and I have no ideas for a December theme -- it just seems like an impossible month to do anything.

So for now I'm taking a theme holiday (as opposed to a themed holiday… couldn't think of anything worse).

Permit me, then, to reflect back upon November.

Of the 30 stories I told, some were harder to nut out than others. And some characters just didn’t work:

The boy who found the dinosaur bone
The plagiarist (shelved when the Witi Ihimaera thing broke)
The daredevil
The unborn baby (much harder to pull off than the newborn baby)
The boy who smells like fireworks (or garlic)
The veteren
The hair dresser
The greenskeeper

Some, I couldn't tell their story in 100 words. Others struggled to warrant 100 words.

In addition to the 30 townspeople that made the cut, 23 other Marumaruvians are mentioned, some by name (like Neil Southgate), others by their relationships (the vet's husband, the postie's grandfather). I wouldn't want to write any more than 30 stories like this about a small town - things would either start to get too incestuous, or the town would seem too big.

The question for today is: now what? Is '30 Ways of Looking at Marumaru South' actually a 3000 word short story? Is it a chapbook of prose poems or a picture book for adults? Is it just a month long experiment posted on a blog and its main purpose is to appear on search result pages when people google "starting a crematorium", "takeaways on Beach Road", or "The Sporanos".

[If you google the three phrases above, I'm currently the 2nd result, the 1st, and somewhere down the list of 27,500 results respectively.]

I'll leave it a while and decide what to do with it, if anything, in the new year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

30 Ways of Looking At Marumaru South -- The Whole Shebang In One Easy To Link To Post

I've cleaned up a few lines (one story was inexplicably published with only 98 words!), toyed with different orders, then gone back to the original order. I'd be keen to hear what your favourites are (and if I've made any other boo-boos) -- leave a comment.

Latecomers: Welcome. Here's some background.

And now...

30 Ways of Looking at Marumaru South


The Good Samaritan gave a kidney to Neil Southgate. Neil was no relation, he wasn’t even a work colleague, just a person in need within the community. It made the front page of the local paper; a framed version of the story graced rooms in both men’s houses.

One good kidney each was plenty. Neil even ran the Boston Marathon and brought a t-shirt back for the Good Samaritan. He’d show people the t-shirt and say, ‘Part of me ran that marathon.’

But when his prodigal son returned, flat-broke and jaundiced, things between the Good Samaritan and Neil Southgate soured.


The racist likes small town living. She couldn't stand to live in Auckland, the traffic is one thing, but… don't get her started.

Whenever anyone cuts her off in Marumaru, she blames the market gardener.

The Albanian who drives the tow-truck once overheard her saying he smelt of sawdust.

'I am European, too,' he said.

'Yes, but you must have a touch of gypsy in you.'

There's something spiteful in her unrolled r's when saying Marumaru; it sounds as if her mouth is full, like she's storing something for later. But just listen to her order the arrabiata from Pino’s.


The matchmaker has three weddings to her credit and (so far) two children that would not exist without her. When she set Holly Mitchell up with one-armed Colin Faeroe, she joked, 'You don't need to name your first born after me, but god parent would be nice.'

Holly fell hopelessly in love with Colin, but he had fallen for the matchmaker.

'I'd give my other arm to be with you,' he professed one night, soaking wet on her doorstep.

'Then you'd be no good to anyone,' the matchmaker replied. ‘Think of Holly,’ she said, but was herself thinking of statistics.


The bird watcher called his daughter Tui, knowing many would think first of beer when they heard her name. Her hair came in thick and black; sometimes he’d catch a greenish glint out of the corner of his eye, much to his delight.

After Tui drowned, it felt as if he was looking at the world through the wrong end of his binoculars, everything so small and trivial. Even watching the butcher's wife undress lost its appeal.

He hasn’t noticed the mōhua nesting in his backyard, or seen the shining cuckoo slip in and lay its egg.

He needs time.


The dieter has an insatiable appetite for fads, but maintaining one’s dignity and keeping apace with the latest trends are rarely complimentary. She gave the forager diet a week before driving to Timaru for a Big Mac.

Her daughter's old room is now filled with various kitchen implements — slow cookers, juicers, stick blenders, dehydrators — which don't fit the current craze; the wardrobe stuffed with pastels and fluoros, knits and rayon, sari, kimono, lava lava, pedal pushers and pashminas.

(One advantage of a yo-yoing waistline is the constant need for new clothes.)

Her husband never tires of trying out new wives.


The librarian loves books and all that, but she loves the planet too. It made perfect sense to use those last few pages in every book, the ones publishers insist on leaving blank, to compose her own stories.

Sustainable creativity she called it. And golly, didn't the air outside the library feel more oxygen-rich after a day saving trees/writing stories!

Her story about a matchmaker, a hopeless romantic and an amputee helped make Owls Do Cry the most lent book in Marumaru South. She couldn’t understand when someone ripped her pages from the book; she’d changed the names and everything.


The dylesxic's all tmie favroite tevelision porgarm is The Sporanos. (He habrours his own mobtser fnataseis, but his job at the 4-sqarue affrods littel lerevage oevr the loacls).

Depsite his shrot stautre, he was a telatned baksetabll palyer in hgih shcool, and eevn trailled for the Nueggts (Otgao, not Devner). Evreyone in Maruramu sitll calls him Nueggt (jsut one more osbatcle to beconmig a maifa knigpin).

Soemmties he imagnies the vegatebels he stcaks are a corwd of on-lokores. Soemmties he taeks a box of cearel hotsage; soemmties a roettn cabbgae is the winnnig bakset. ‘Nueggt’ they chnat; ‘Nueggt’ they scraem.


The accountant is pudgy, slow-footed, balding formlessly... but his voice belongs on radio. It's alarming at first, to hear this booming yet personable voice coming from such an unassuming form.

When he visits the bank the other tellers can't help but listen in. He does well on the PTA. But most have decided this is one of nature's jokes: to waste such a voice on someone with little worth saying.

His two sons would disagree. To hear him singing in the shower or calling them home fills them with pride. But they are boys, and keep their Rigoletto to themselves.


The girl forever sunburnt knows it isn't true, but she believes it all the same: to make a lighthouse, you cut off a unicorn's horn (it's okay, they regenerate like lizard's tails) and plant it in the earth.

Marumaru's lighthouse no longer sends its beam, but a man lives there. She watches him sometimes: her standing in the open, peeling shoulders shimmering in the breeze; him fussing around in the glazed capsule.

Her mother is always smattering her with sunscreen, plugging on brimmed hats. She says the sun can give you cancer. It's another kind of magic to the girl.


The tapu lifter found his calling when Jill Tunnecliffe died on the road to Waimate. A ceremony was held at the offending bend; a tohunga recited karakia and everyone left a little less burdened.

He started reading books, speaking to elders.

When vandals burnt down the technology prefab, he offered to lift the tapu from the site.
When the fugitive took Casey Illot hostage with a pair of secateurs, he cleansed the rose gardens.

Now, if you sit on a desk or bring food into the council chambers, he'll be there: the waka tūroro at the bottom of the cliff.


The market gardener just learnt that the video game Pong was based on table tennis. Ping Pong. It seems so obvious now. He writes 'pong' on a post-it note and places it in the trousers he wears to the Oamaru markets. Conversation is as important as produce at those things.

He once went on a date with a girl who didn't like tomatoes. Not even in a pasta sauce. Finicky eaters, he decided, are not cut out for parenthood.

He’s working on his own line of gourmet babyfood. He will mention this girl to customers.

The recipe is a work-in-progress.


The oversleeper missed her sister's wedding, three job interviews and, just once, her own birthday party.

She slept through the ‘98 earthquake and the time a sheep-truck overturned outside her house (she awoke later to find her lawn half-chewed, the road strewn with lambs less lucky).

She's tried all manner of alarm clocks, physical prompts, hypnosis, drugs (illicit and prescribed)... but her body refuses to comply.

Everyone tells her the solution is obvious: get a man. That would just solve everything! Instead, she wakes when her body relents, sits at her bay window sipping tea and waits for the postie.


The fugitive still lives (lurks may be a better term) in the vicinity. He thinks about it now —the escape from the unlocked paddy wagon, the game of cat 'n mouse with the cops, that final stand-off in the rose gardens… It's amazing what you can squeeze into 48 hours.

Now he sits in his fern-roofed bivvy, waiting for washing day.

Clotheslines are wonderful things, everything clean and bright, hung out for his perusal. Dressing up like folks is about the only entertainment he's got. If he could just nab a pair of heels, maybe some lippy... that’d be sweet.


The house painter spent his twenties in New York, then said goodbye to all that as Didion did.

He travelled, saw every continent except Antarctica, returned (too late) to nurse his mother.

He enjoys working outdoors, the different smells of paint as it settles, the challenge of constructing a scaffold by himself: the Egyptian feat of it.

The lighthouse was tricky. So high and rounded. As he worked the owner would look down from the glassy pinnacle, never smiling, never frowning, just interested.

Perhaps it was starring so long at its white surface, but these days he dreams of ice.


The vet is pregnant and it's freaking her out. She's seen too many breached births and deformities to sleep easy at night.

It's started to wriggle inside her. There was an old lady who swallowed a fly… spider… bird… She can’t wait to have something the size of a cat inside her.

Her husband's supportive. He rubs anti stretch mark gel onto her belly at night. Sometimes he sticks his face to her distended abdomen and talks to the thing.

She thinks of Kim Parata's cat and its eleven kittens. Blind as moles, bald as fingers. The wriggling gets worse.


The smoker is the last of his kind in Marumaru. He's got no one to talk to outside the pub, no one to spark him up when his lighter’s on the fritz.

He gets dirty looks at the 4-Square when he asks for his pack of B&H, but there’s nowhere else to buy them.

People have stopped coming to his house. They can smell the smoke.

‘It never used to be a problem.’

‘Yeah, well…’

He thinks often of his ex-wife up in Christchurch. The fags they shared. Her mulish laugh and stringy hair. Sometimes he forgets to hate her.


The newest arrival comes from Wellington.  He had a nice job in the government until one day he went to a meeting too early. He thought it was at three, not three-thirty. It wasn’t worth going back to his building; he was offered tea and a place to sit.

People bustled passed with brightly coloured folders. Some of them would be in the meeting, but they did not recognise him. Or did they? Embarrassment arrived like applause, sputtering and formless then immense and deafening.

At the meeting, he could hear nothing, say nothing.

He’s in Marumaru South now. Starting over.


The karaoke queen has only been on television once, when It's in the Bag came to town. (It's long enough ago that she can fool herself into believing it was Selwyn Toogood she bantered with, rather than Nick Tansley.)

She tried out in Dunedin for the second season of New Zealand Idol, but only Frankie Stevens said nice things to her.

Now she lives for every second Wednesday. She sings all sorts: 'Suspicious Minds', ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, ‘How Bizarre’. Sometimes she does requests.

She is not allowed to win the bar tab anymore. That’s recognition enough for her.


The cropduster, so the story goes, spent seven years in prison for killing his brother-in-law.
The truth is he never had a sister, let alone a brother-in-law. The crude tattoos on his hands were done at the back of metalwork class, not at Paparua. He's never even had a parking ticket.

But people see him skimming metres above the earth, pulling up swiftly, pirouetting and locking in for another pass, and they think: there's someone who doesn't value human life.

When he looks down from his cockpit and sees tiny figures walking in straight lines, he thinks the same thing.


The volunteer fireperson really feels the cold. Even in summer you'll see her wearing a scarf and hooded sweatshirt.

She loves the heavy, chemical feel of her fire-fighting getup, loves wading into a burning building with a sweaty brow.

Her boyfriend is a share-milker; she met him at a call out. He'd placed one of the Murdochs’ hay bales in an oil drum and dowsed it in petrol. The fire was contained, but the Murdochs wanted to press charges.

‘I was just trying to keep warm,’ he explained.

Now he’s talking about starting a crematorium. The thought makes her shiver.


The butcher is allergic to almost everything (meat’s the obvious exception). He wears special socks, gloves and underclothes to combat the nefarious surfaces of his profession, but still needs one of the boys to make the sausages.

He was a late bloomer in terms of allergies; first it was pollen in the spring of his fourteenth year, then synthetic rubber at an age-grade rugby tournament…

Lately he’s noticed watching television gives him a rash. He can’t explain it, but he’s used to sloughing off parts of life he’d otherwise thought essential.

Only his allergy to religion seems to be abating.


The postie lights up the world, she really does. Everyone expected her to move on to bigger things, bigger places, after high school, but she stayed to deliver the mail.

She visits her grandfather every day (he subscribes to many magazines, but is no longer embarrassed by them); if time allows she’ll dust his bookshelves or put on a casserole.

Her beauty grows with every passing week. She’s very good at recommending books and is a sought-after babysitter.

She has no deep dark secret, no tragic flaw. The world is better with her in it. No wrong shall befall her.


The Sunday driver's car is in the shop. Restless, he tells his wife he’s going for a walk; she prefers to stay and do another load of washing.

He cannot roam as far on foot: not for him today the lashed tussock hills and mortar-coloured beaches; only the main street of Marumaru.

It is strange to pass so slowly through what has been little more than wallpaper.

He stands before one of the two abandoned department stores. His father spoke often of the great window displays. The plate-glass is now plywood, though he imagines the mannequins are still behind, waiting.


The potter is preparing for her third Christmas parade. She inherited her father’s Santa suit and it seemed only right she took his role as well. He had his own white beard; she bought hers off the internet.

The older kids know Marumaru's Santa is a girl, but they mind less than you'd think. Last year Joel Murdoch tried to cop a feel.

The suit fits more snugly this time around. She feels embarrassed but also closer to her old man.

When it’s over she’ll go back to her pottery, back to her own skin. She hopes Christmas never comes.


The restaurateur is known as Pino, though that was the previous owner’s name. He's not Italian, just on the hairy side.

When he bought Pino's, there were still two other sit-down restaurants in town; now there's only the takeaways on Beach Road.

He's successfully used the Heimlich twice on customers, but hasn't had anyone choke since he switched to pitted olives. In his darker moments he wonders if it’s not the olives, if it’s a numbers thing. Every year there’s fewer people in town, less money, less to celebrate.

He's not sure if he holds a monopoly or a millstone.


The tin bum doesn't win everything — that would be impossible. But she takes home more than her fair share of spot prizes and meat-packs.

Last week, hers was the only egg that didn't fall off during the annual egg-and-spoon race from the old lighthouse to the fire station.

‘Perhaps she practiced,’ suggested the postie.

The matchmaker just snicked.

The tin bum's good about it, though. She always puts on a barbeque and invites everyone to share her meat-pack. When she sent in three Twisties barcodes and won a family holiday, she gave it to someone with a husband and kids.


The newborn baby is a girl, though this doesn't mean a lot to her yet. She has the vet's wild, darting eyes. To her father she has the look of a tiny Russian spy.

The faces of her parents have yet to settle and become fixed; everything is born anew each day, each hour. She likes to be taken places, shown off. She is fascinated by the colours of passing cars, the sound of coffee machines and arguments.

She’ll probably grow tired of Marumaru, move away and make jokes about her background.

But for now she's a bundle of wonder.


The beneficiary wonders what happened to all the jobs. In days gone by he might’ve been a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman (damn internet) or a gum-digger up north (damn synthetic resins).

He’s in the prime of his life — more arms than Colin Faeroe, more kidneys that Neil Southgate — sitting idle.

What he wants to do is drive an ice cream van, but he doesn’t have the capital. And what about the role of ice cream in childhood obesity? And if a kid goes missing, who’s the prime suspect?

He fills his days with worries no one had in days gone by.


The school teacher was in the car when Jill Tunnecliffe died. While in hospital, her class made her get-well-soon cards: plenty of smiling suns, rainbows and the inevitable unicorn.

She's got as well as she will get, but still keeps the cards arranged on her dresser at home.

At school, the kids ask to touch her walking stick, offer to carry her handbag. They do not address the accident itself, warned by their parents or naturally wary.

She feels there’s something she should say. Some lesson to impart before the holidays.

She is not ready for summer. It arrives regardless.


The man in the lighthouse leads a monastic existence but does not believe. He does not appear to age as others do. Few have heard him speak.

His presence in Marumaru cannot be easily explained, and no one wishes it to be.

He rarely looks back towards the town, prefers to weigh the fortunes of the dappled sea and shifting clouds, imagine the Chathams and soon enough the wastes of Patagonia. Every thought is a kind of remembering.

There are fewer shipwrecks these days, other ways to light the world and find one's way. But eventually we are all lost.