Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Guest Blog: Country Winter -- For Real

Commentary by Country Bumpkin
There is snow on the mountains here on the North Island of New Zealand, and water lying on the land and on the verges of the roads. The first of these is normal for the time of year, but the second is not. It comes about because, according to news reports, we have had a third of our annual rainfall in the last 2 or 3 weeks.

It has been decidedly unfunny. The concentration of winter storms has been quite unusual, like so much of the weather since we moved here almost 4 years ago. I’ve previously told you about the misery of the month of June, and for a moment it looked as if July — normally the coldest time of year — would relent in compensation. In fact, the day the men came to install the heat pump we seriously wondered whether we had made a mistake in ordering this rapidly popularising piece of technology. But we hadn’t — the mucky weather duly arrived and for the first time were truly cosy and comfortable in our cold colonial house. As indeed we remain now that the frosty mornings are here, and as we learn to use the machinery.

Meantime the ground is drying out, as we know from earlier rain events it does quite rapidly, but there are places in the valley where drainage is much slower than it is in our suburb. In a milestone of sorts, this morning was the first in more than a month when I didn’t have to clean up in the carport after our highly inconvenienced cats. Perhaps, as the dawn arrives a little earlier each morning and the first tiny buds appear on the rose bushes, the end of all this ugliness is not far away. The people growing animals and crops will no doubt hope so, devoutly.

During the winter we often travel to Greytown on Sundays to concerts arranged by the Greytown Music Group. They have a knack for finding very fine New Zealand-based performers who play in the huge music room in the house of friends. There’s really nothing like hearing music live, is there, and these occasions bring us a lot of pleasure. Yesterday, we heard the Aroha String Quartet, of whom you might reasonably assume that they are Maori, or at least New Zealanders. Not so. The players are young Chinese immigrants with names like Haihong Liu and Beiyi Xue, all born and trained in the People’s Republic. I have to tell you, folks, they are world class! While their programme was solidly European, their encore was Chinese and the playing sublime.

How do people do that?

We come now to a recent Wednesday. The wife and I took a day out in Palmerston North, a university town about 100km northwest of here, and there made our regular visit to a bookseller who runs a top-class bookstore there. He stocks and displays a very good selection of war history and Holocaust books (his wife is half-Jewish, apparently), and the wife picked up the newest volume from the prolific Martin Gilbert, called “Kristallnacht.” She turned to the index, and there was a reference to my father and me. Gilbert had cited an email from me to Yad Vashem dealing with the help given my parents by the Counsellor at the British embassy in Berlin, Sir George Ogilvie-Forbes, in a discussion about help given by diplomats to the Jews of Germany at that time. This caused us much excitement, as you might reasonably expect. I still have original documents from those transactions, left behind by my father.

Naturally, we bought the book, which I straight away began reading. Written in Gilbert’s spare and unbending style, and deeply moving for it, I reached page 82, and blow me down! He tells there briefly the story of the fate of my father's aunt and her husband! Their son's descendants live in the US to this day, and they will read all this a second time now, but it’s pretty amazing you’d have to agree.

Equally naturally, I went out and bought yet another Lotto ticket. And a fat lot of good it did me.

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