So young then

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I enjoy music, but mostly it is like a movie soundtrack — fitted around the essentially visual and verbal story of my life.

Occasionally though, I guess the genre slips, and the normally low-budget indy film I think I’m making out of life briefly becomes a musical.

Troy, by Sinead O’Connor, is the song that plays over a very specific scene where the heroine starts out quietly contemplating the complexities of her life, before making a momentous decision (which she will have reneged on by the time she gets home).

My dear friend Sarah at Art Expedition is hosting 30 Days, 30 Songs for the month of June. You can see her latest post here.

NZ Music Month: for today

Self-portrait taken in 1985. Image: Su Leslie

“If you had told me this time last year that I would feel like I do now, I wouldn’t have believed you.” Old-school selfie. Taken with Franka Solida 1. Image: Su Leslie, 1985

 

NZMM2016_jpg1985: six of us in a Grey Lynn flat. It’s in a block of four, and most of us have boy/girlfriends who stay over, so at any one time there can be up to thirty people resident. We’re mostly students, or in first jobs after university. Our flats face into a communal courtyard, so our existence is a very sociable one. There are parties most weekends, and we hang out together a lot.

My room is decorated with some seriously garish wallpaper, but that’s ok because I only really spend time there when it is dark. Except when I’m playing with the camera my dad has given me.

Musically it’s a great flat to be in. People with different tastes all sharing a single turntable.

One of the things we listen to is Netherworld Dancing ToysFor Today.

Love is in the air … sending up more memory-dust

Aged image of child and man jousting on inflatable "gladiator" rig. Paihia, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslile, 2010

Summer gladiators; the boy-child and Big T joust at Paihia, NZ 2010. Image: Su Leslie, 2010.

Another blast from the past unearthed in The Great Clean-up.

Finding this shot of my boys having fun on the jousting pole in Paihia sent up clouds of memory-dust; the heat of that day, a game of uphill mini-golf, sticky ice-cream hands, and a soundtrack that comes straight from SingStar (which the three of us seemed to play a lot back in the day).

I could probably have chosen any song from that playlist, but John Paul Young‘s Love is in the Air also reminds me of Baz Luhrmann’s wonderful film Strictly Ballroom, so I love it even more for that reason.

It was also the song that tended to deliver me the highest SingStar score. Just sayin’.

 

Daily Post Photo Challenge: vivid

Sometimes the simplest things evoke the most vivid memories. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015

Sometimes the simplest things evoke the most vivid memories. Photo: Su Leslie, 2015

Vivid is a quality I associate as much with memory as image. Perhaps vivid images invoke stronger, clearer memories.

Looking at the photo of my son’s half-eaten sandwich, I am transported to a railway carriage in Munich. It’s mid morning, cold but sunny, and we’re headed for Schloss NeuschwansteinUnsure if there will be food available on the train, we’ve been to the station Rischart for sandwiches and coffee. I can still taste the crisp bread and salty, cheesy filling, and feel the sense of joyful anticipation. Visiting Schloss Neuschwanstein was the Big T’s number one chosen activity for this holiday and we all wanted the day to be fun. It was.

It perhaps says a lot about me that some of my most vivid memories are invoked by pictures of food. The last of the season’s grapefruit from our tree were eaten while sitting on the back steps, juice trickling down my hands.

The last grapefruit from our tree. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

The last grapefruit from our tree. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

 When the Big T came home with a bumper catch of fish, we spent the day scaling, fileting, smoking, making stock, and finally enjoying delicious sashimi of raw snapper with homemade sushi.

Sashimi, made with snapper caught in the Waitemata Harbour by the Big T. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

Sashimi, made with snapper caught by the Big T. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

And like most parents, images of my child trigger strong, vivid memories.

The boy-child, aged 8, playing atop Ivinghoe Beacon, England. Photo: Su Leslie, 2006.

The boy-child, aged 8, playing atop Ivinghoe Beacon, England. Photo: Su Leslie, 2006.

A young boy, arms outstretched to catch a soft toy being thrown by an unseen hand. The vivid, acid greens of his clothing almost blend into the summer landscape behind him. This photo was taken on a family trip to England in 2006. We had spent a week around London and were finally heading north; a slow trip punctuated by stops in places the Big T and I had lived 10 years earlier. A lunch-time picnic by the canal in Berkhamsted was followed by a drive through Ashridge Forest and –inevitably given our love for elevated vistas — a walk on Ivinghoe Beacon. My memories of this day are still vivid, helped by images such as this which remind me of my exuberant, joy-filled son and his capacity to take pleasure in everything life has to offer.

This post was written for the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: vivid.

 

 

A community of place and time

An ordinary suburban street;  infused with memory. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

An ordinary suburban street; infused with memory. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

I’ve lived in my house for 14 years, one month and three weeks. That’s the longest I’ve ever lived in any one place – over three times longer in fact.

When I was a child my family moved frequently; by age sixteen I had lived in eight houses in three towns in two countries. My son has lived in three houses in two countries – two of them between birth and age two. He’s sixteen now.

This neighbourhood is a living map of my son’s life. Even the office in which I sit to write this was his bedroom for the first few years. We chose this house – over any of the other 40 or so that we viewed – because it had an enclosed back yard, visible from the kitchen window, where a small boy could play in his sandpit, ride his trike or use the mini-workbench and tools he so loved. The large flat front lawn has been perfect for impromptu games of soccer and rugby with the other children in our neighbourhood.

The boy-child in our backyard. He loved his workbench and tools. Photo: Su Leslie 2001.

The boy-child in our backyard. He loved his workbench and tools. Photo: Su Leslie 2001.

Because this is a family neighbourhood. The local primary school has educated several generations of locals, there are parks, nature reserves and a thriving PlayCentre community. When we moved in, the first generation of children had grown into teenagers and we endured a few noisy parties before those families began moving out, to be replaced with others in the same stage of the family life-cycle stage as us. Next door, across the road, in the cul de sac opposite – over the years the neighbourhood has filled with children around our son’s age. As I write this, I’m watching a man help his child learn to ride their first bicycle in exactly the place we took the boy-child when he got his first bike.

How many children have learned to ride a bike on this quiet street? Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

How many children have learned to ride a bike on this quiet street? Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

We live in a cul de sac; at the end of which are a couple of walkways. One leads to the main road, shops and bus stop – the other to another set of cul de sac. This is a village on a tiny peninsula on the edge of a city. Although I can’t see it because of trees and houses, a branch of the upper Waitemata Harbour lies about 500 metres from my house.

A few hundred metres from my house, the upper reaches of the Waitemata Harbour. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

A few hundred metres from my house, the upper reaches of the Waitemata Harbour. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

Over the years many of the houses in the houses in this street have been bought and sold, and almost all have been extensively renovated – including ours. It’s difficult to remember now, walking to the local store, what places looked like before the extension, re-clad, re-paint or front fence. It’s easier to remember the slow dawdle to pre-school with an inquisitive two-year old in stripey trousers and a little back-pack. I can still feel the ghost of a tiny, soft hand in mine and the echo of a little voice asking questions that always seemed to come out of nowhere and often had me stumped. “When granddad bought his tractor, how did he get it home Mummy?” “What colour are tastebuds?”

Later, when the boy-child went to the local primary school, we took a different route; past the War Memorial Park (which doubled as a soccer training ground). Every day he would walk along the top of the fence and I still instinctively want to reach out and grasp a small hand at the places where the fence rails are wobbly.

Early morning on the usually quiet road by our local park. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013

Early morning on the usually quiet road by our local park. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013

These days his urge to balance on a fence-top has been replaced by one to skateboard down the – usually quiet – road. I preferred the old days.

Our village has changed so much in 14 years. The petrol station has gone- demolished along with the old local store to be replaced by a parade of shops and other businesses. The store itself is larger, brighter and has a better layout, but I miss the old days when it seemed as though – come the end of the school day – half the village would cram itself into that tiny, dark Aladdin’s cave to buy the kids an ice-cream and catch up with the neighbours, the soccer mums and that woman from the PTA whose name I could never remember. Playdates were organised, lunches arranged and babysitting arrangements made in the tiny aisle between cat food and toilet cleaner.

In our early days here, I often seemed to find myself half way through cooking dinner when I’d realise I’d run out of something. I’d phone the local shop, and somehow they always had one tin of coconut cream or one bottle of rice vinegar  – or whatever it was I needed. I’d arrive a few minutes later to find it waiting for me on the counter.

The local store had served the community for generations. Now demolished and replaced with something bigger and brighter — but still the village hub. Photo: Michelle Keller.

This year, we have begun to seriously talk of selling the house and leaving the neighbourhood. The boy-child attends school in the city and – despite a brand new skatepark opening in the village – his time is largely spent elsewhere. He will finish school at the end of this year and a new phase of his life will begin.

Houses are being bought and sold again and the neighbours we have been closest to have all moved on. Once again the street is full of strollers, tricycles and kids starting primary school. Ours hasn’t quite turned into the noisy party house, but I can’t help feeling we aren’t far off.

So it is time to go; to seek new parks and pavements and to imprint new memories on new everyday places.

This is the little boy who moved here all those years ago. He's grown a bit and changed a bit, but still has the twinkle in his eye and a lust for life. It will soon be a life lived elsewhere. Photo: Su Leslie 2001

This is the little boy who moved here all those years ago. He’s grown a bit and changed a bit, but still has the twinkle in his eye and a lust for life. It will soon be a life lived elsewhere. Photo: Su Leslie 2001

The Daily Post Writing Challenge asked us to look at our neighbourhood with new eyes and for me that has involved re-living so much of my son’s childhood. I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy that.

“if a window does not enhance the experience of seeing, it should never be built”

“Any architect worthy of the name always designs a window so the reality will be more clearly seen. If a window does not enhance the experience of seeing, it should never be built. The skill of the architect is the ability to make people see more clearly. The skill of the poet or artist is also the ability to make people see more clearly. Art makes truth both visible and accessible. Art lifts us up so we may touch reality.

Tony Watkin’s Thinking it through (2012)

 

Thinking it Through is a collection of columns architect and designer Tony Watkins wrote in the 1980’s and 1990’s. So far, I’ve only read a few of them and I think it will be slow going. Not in a bad way – it’s just that every few lines I come across an idea that makes me go “yeah, I have to write that down.”

If I was the kind of person who writes in their books, this one would be covered in scrawled margin notes already.

What I liked about this line wasn’t just the very simple, no-nonsense point about form and function, but that it brought to mind an extraordinarily strong memory visual memory. A memory quite literally of a window that should never have been built – or at least built in a different position.

In the late 1970’s,  I lived next door to a family who had an “architect-designed home.” Actually, since I’d grown up living in State houses, it could be said that I had also lived in “architect-designed homes.” But since mine were rented from the Government and the design was pretty standard across thousands of houses, the people next door were a bit special since they were amongst the relatively few families in New Zealand who had commissioned an architect to design a house specifically for them.

The reason Tony Watkins’ article made me think about the house next door was that its kitchen faced ours. The houses, although quite close together, were separated by a rather lovely garden of native trees and shrubs. Because of the proximity, I spent a lot of time seeing the “lady of the house” doing the dishes. Actually, what I saw were her torso and hands. That’s because the kitchen window in her “architect-designed house” was set so low that only quite small children could have seen out of it while they were standing at the sink.

So for several years I watched headless bodies doing dishes, getting glasses of water, filling the kettle, etc and all the time those headless bodies were looking at the wall above the window instead of their beautiful garden.

I’ve often wondered why the house was built with such a window. Was it a mis-calculation by the builder, or was it actually a design feature – deliberately put there by the architect. Surely if the builder had made a mistake, it would have been rectified. I guess I’ll never know, since lacking the facility to make eye-contact with the neigbours, I didn’t really get to know them.

I’m slowly working my way through Thinking it Through. I’m enjoying the intelligent, insightful text and Haruhiko Sameshima‘s gorgeous photographs; frequently reaching for my notebook to jot things down, and slowly developing my architectural world-view.

Beyond the kitchen wallI believe that in essence, design is being human made manifest in hard materials. Design should exhibit the same characteristics we want in humans; compassion, fairness, love, beauty, humour. Buildings should be friends – or at least fond acquaintances.

I’ve used to wonder what was on the wall above my neighbour’s kitchen window. A picture of a garden perhaps?