Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A daily dose of 'Vitamin Sea'

By Virginia Winder

The sea could well be my lifesaver.

We love watching surfers in action.
Last year I nearly lost my life to depression, but I stayed. For 8 months out of 12, I struggled on as if I was trudging through mud wearing a concrete suit.

I lost days. Many days, to bed, to sleep, to hours lying in the gloom cuddling the dog or writing grim poems. I had stints in the mental health ward, in crisis respite and at the healing haven that is the Taranaki Retreat.

I held on. Because of love and family, support from mental health staff, because of hope, the deep knowing of my purpose as a storyteller, and because I believed, like every wild storm, “this too shall pass”.
Fitzroy on a stormy evening. 

Even after I wrote a story about how to save your life, which was published far and wide, I fell again. Slipped into a dark cave, a hell in my own head, brain defaulting to perish mode.

It wasn’t enough to hold on. I wanted to thrive, not just survive. 

So, on March 11 this year, we turned to the sea.

You see, in 2009, my husband Warren, son Nelson and I, swam in the sea every single day.

It was the New Year’s resolution of a 12-year-old boy that led to a miraculous discovery – I had no bouts of depression that year. We stopped in March 2010, because I couldn’t shake off a sinus infection, which led to passage-clearing surgery.

A decade on, there’s a raft of research coming out about the benefits of cold-water swimming, and, while the Tasman Sea has yet to turn freezing cold, it will. But already our daily dips in the surf are keeping gloomy days away.

A rainbow at Back Beach. 
“Our” and “we” means Warren and me. We are dedicated to getting our every-day dose of “vitamin sea”, which we also refer to as the “saline solution”.

The idea is head to the beach each day, and dive under at least three waves, feel the worries of the world wash away and soak in the glory of nature.

In less than two months, we have basked in sunsets, swum with shags, stepped on slippery fish, been drenched by rain before plunging into surging surf, gazed at rainbows, waded into stormy seas and watched in awe at the dexterity of Taranaki’s many surfers, who have long known about the healing powers of Tangaroa.

Mostly, we swim at Back Beach, but sometimes head to Fitzroy at high tide, so we can walk our dog, Luna.
A Taranaki traffic jam.

During our travels, we have been held up by cows on Beach Rd, Omata, watched a just-dusted Mt Taranaki turn pink at dusk, and been mesmerised by a murmuration of starlings as they pulse and soar at the end of the day over the Sugar Loaf Islands below Paritutu.

We love following a golden path into the sea at sunset and often turn to each other and say: “Look at this place we live in.”

On Star Wars Day, May the 4th (be with you), we invited anybody to join us at 11am on the sand below the bottom carpark at Back Beach. Six women came along on a day when the surf was even and strong and the day was calm.

On May the 4th the surf was even and strong. 
They all loved it.

Each woman came for different reasons – to support me, to improve their own mental health, to find out about this crazy idea of a daily dip and to be together with others.

Afterwards, all six said they would join us again for a monthly swim.

They felt elated following their Saturday morning dip in cool(ish) water.

“(It was) cold, refreshing and great to be immersed in nature,” says Dee Doherty, who felt greatly energised afterwards.

“I love swimming in our cool, clean powerful ocean and feel so invigorated, physically and mentally, afterwards,” says Bridget Fleming, who is a regular sea and river swimmer.
Cloud spires reflected in black sand at Back Beach.

“I went through so many emotions – fear, excitement, being exhilarated, feeling togetherness, relaxation,” Olena Williams says. “After the excitement was gone I felt very tired and had a nap.”

“Today was magic,” Michelle Bent says. “The sea was refreshingly cool, the waves just the right size. Diving under the first wave, you have to steel yourself for it, but once you’ve done it you feel completely alive. Being with a group enhanced the experience for me.”

Afterwards, she felt alive, strong and young.

Laurel Davis enjoyed “the rush of water, light, sound, being right there tumbled in a wave”. Hours later, she was still feeling “bloody fantastic”.

Luna caught in the path of the setting sun.
Sue Kelly has also started to swim in the sea daily, when possible, to keep the blues at bay. “I feel the physical sensation of the power of the waves exhilarating. Also, the size of the waves creates a degree of fear that I find mentally challenging. So, when I combat those fears it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction and achievement.

“Physically, I felt my skin tingle and (I was) exhilarated especially as we were in for 20 minutes.”

Sue and I stayed in the longest. I also felt uplifted, but also peaceful and bloody cold. It took me hours to warm up properly, so I don’t plan to stay in that long next time. Three waves are OK by me and, in winter, even that will be tough.

But there is no out. I will be in every day because my life depends on it.

So, like a life buoy, I’m clinging to the wise words of one of my greatest fictional heroes, Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Taste terror to know you're alive

This weta bit like fire, but I'm rapt with Gene Martin's art. 
By Virginia Winder

I am Wetawoman, hear me roar.
But more than 20 years ago, my catch cry was closer to “see a weta, hear me roar”.
For the first 30-something years of my life, I was terrified of the world’s largest insects.
When I saw one of these giant, armoured, serrated critters I would freak, heart pounding, pulse racing and adrenalin flooding. I was a “get it off, get it off,” howler.
Art changed that for me.
One day in about 1997, I found a dead weta in our art room, and gently placed it on my work table. Then I drew it, immersed myself in its intricacies and noted its bronze shell, long delicate feelers, its jagged limbs and marvellous mandibles.
I transformed this drawing into a stencil for printing on shirts with the words “weta dreams” and one of my male workmates wore it with pride and a grin at the play on words.
The first weta stamp
Next came the stamp, which I carved out of rubber, glued on to a wooden block and still use to print patterns on paper.
I was so in love with these armoured critters that by the time it came to choose my first-ever email address in the late 1990s, it seemed natural to have wetawoman@, which still works today. I’m also Wetawoman on Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.
Not only was I absolutely enamoured by the bronze-brown beauties, but I also discovered my fear had completely disappeared.
Paper printed with my carved designs.
By the early 2000s, I could hold a weta, cradle it in my hands like a delicate bird and talk to it with soothing words without a trace of fear.
I believe creatures know whether we’re frightened, have violent intent or are welcoming and comfortable around them. Animals can smell fear. The weta I held, or those who have climbed up my legs, weren’t spooked and neither was I.
Yes, weta can hurt. They have a bite, which allegedly feels like being nipped by a crab, something that’s happened to my feet umpteen times over the years while standing in the sea. Those pincers give you a fright, but not enough to leave the water.
These critters are all over the house. 
In 2002, my sister and I joined forces to make an entry for the Taranaki Fashion Art Awards. We made a wild creation called Pacific Angel Meets the Wetawoman. My sister wove a curvaceous dress from flax. I dyed fabric to look like the sea and printed it with bronze weta. This flowed out beneath the flax work.
The costume comes to life. 
A brown op-shop dress beneath the flax was covered with bronze-sprayed magnolia leaves, and I made a helmet out of plaster of Paris, sprouting flax flowers, again all sprayed bronze. We used phoenix palm fronds as wings and adorned the wings and a choker necklace with large pieces of paua shell to add Pacific sparkle. 
Made over two days and nights – we went down to the wire – we won the ethnic section of awards.
Over the years, I have accumulated weta ornaments. A gorgeous one by Taranaki artist Laurel Davis graces our bedroom wall, a wire weta perches on the wall in our entrance way, and I have a collection of life-like plastic creatures that sit in places all over the house – in the artroom, below my screen monitor and on our bed end.
Yesterday, a friend gave me a glorious weta paperweight her mother wasn’t fond of. It’s now on my PC motherboard.
Weta sculpture by Laurel Davis. 
But on Thursday my Wetawoman status became more permanent when Gene Martin at Brothers Ink in New Plymouth tattooed a glorious critter on to my right shoulder.
He also etched me with three green ginkgo leaves, representing “the bearers of hope”. That’s another whole story. That tattoo stung mildly.
Next, he added a dahlia flower and leaves to my first tattoo, “This too shall pass;” turning those life-saving words into a stem. Dahlias have been my favourite flowers since I began my “flower of the day” obsession nearly six years ago. The chosen picture was one I took of a dahlia in our own garden. The flower bloody hurt.
A wire weta in our entranceway. 
By the time he got to the weta, the pain had amped up like an annoying neighbour’s stereo at 4am, except I wasn’t facing noise, I was feeling fire.
Gene urged me to breathe through it and I found myself in child-birth mode, diving under waves of pain and clinging on to the black sand below, until the contraction, or in this case the burn of skin-inking, washed over me.
Then it was over; the transformation complete. I am Wetawoman hear me roar.
A paperweight gifted to me by a friend. 
Facing fears, like holding giant insects, jumping out of a plane as a friend just has (to adrenalin-rushing joy), performing your own poems before a large audience (I did that last year at Womad in the Poetry Slam and to my amazement came second) are good for the soul. They make us feel alive. 
Last week, my husband Warren and I saw Nick Cave in Conversation at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington.
The Australian musician alternated between answering questions from the audience and singing while playing a black grand piano. It was a bit like the tattoos (yet to come) – a mixture of pain (too many questions began as long I-focused sycophantic preambles) and the pleasure of seeing or this case hearing what he had to say.
Cave did answer questions, but some he ignored, others he promised to come back to but mostly didn’t. His answers were fascinating and profound, funny and inspiring. But he talked about fear and that touched me: “Doing this is to invite the terror back in; to stand in front of you is terrifying.”
Nick Cave says he's not a genius, he's just put in the work. 
It got me thinking about the things I want to do but am terrified about attempting or doing.
I didn’t have to look too far – the answer is fiction writing and, yes, performing poetry in front of a bunch of people I don’t know. I shake on stage, which is damn annoying.
But there’s the thrill of getting up there and sharing words that have been wrenched from the heart, from the soul, from somewhere so deep I don’t have a clue where they come from.
After last year’s effort, I vowed never to do it again. But, like the pain of childbirth – and tattoos – the agony fades until you are left with a beautiful baby or an indelible artwork with a story behind it.
To be a writer you have to write. 
So, I’ve chosen to enter the Womad Poetry Slam again, but don’t know if I’ll be chosen for the final seven. We’ll see.
But the BIG decision I’ve made is to focus purely on writing this year – many feature stories, some news, a pile of poetry and to finish the novel I started about three years ago.
Here, Taranaki’s own Elizabeth Smither and David Hill, plus Nick Cave have the answer – you must be disciplined and do the work.
There’s nothing glamorous about their lifestyles because it’s all about hard graft.
“I turn up to the place I work every morning, the same as any other office worker,” Cave told the Wellington audience.
While he does need to have a flash of inspiration to write a novel, his lyrics come from sitting down and writing; by doing the work, just like our Taranaki word stars.
Time to roar - and write!
So, don’t expect to see me hanging out in cafes quite as often – unless I’m working. I’ll be home, fingers on the keyboard taming the terror of finally facing fiction.
And yes, I will find the art box that’s been turned off and hidden somewhere in a far-flung universe, and with the nerve and verve of a superhero, I’ll fly it home, switch it back on and start creating in my art room again.
Because I know this for certain: Tackling knuckle-white terror shifts something inside, makes you stronger, opens your mind to new ways of being and thinking.
I am Wetawoman hear me roar! 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Try a little kindness....

By Virginia Winder
I’ve gone on about kindness, thrown it around like confetti, at an old-fashioned wedding.
But what does it actually look like? Especially when it comes to mental despair.
I say to those people uncomfortable in the face of depression, anxiety and panic attacks, of bipolar ups and downs, relax, we’re not going to infect you.
There is no superbug of mental illness although depression is proving to be prevalent and tough to beat.
Please treat us the same as someone with a physical illness. Offer to visit and don’t be offended if we say no, but we certainly want to be asked.
If we turn down your invitation to an outing with lots of people, it’s not about you. It’s that social anxiety critter, one that often accompanies a full-blown depressive episode, apt to rear its ugly head during the festive season.
If you know someone’s in the throes of the lows, write a nice text, send flowers or chocolates, post a card and no, we don’t expect or want you to counsel us, but a kind listening ear is a gift. Please keep us in mind because we can’t escape ours.
I’m going to be truthful - the past year has been a mixture of heaven and hell.
Heaven was three weeks in Kerala, India.
Hell has been inside my head, with a touch of back pain thrown in for variety.
But the pain from a prolapsed mid-disc is entirely different to mental agony.
A back injury can be captured on an MRI, it can be defined, solutions found and a healing timeframe offered.
The Taranaki Base Hospital team are nearly as good looking.
You’re of so much interest to the orthopaedic surgical team, there is usually a Grey’s Anatomy learning moment at the foot of your bed each morning.
Throughout the day, you’re asked to score your pain out of 10. If you’re teetering on the upper limit or less you are given strong pain relief.
Yet depression is undefinable. There is no way to find its cause - physiological or psychological? Or both.
Research is linking depression to gut health and also inflammation.
I’m not expected to find answers for my prolapsed disc, although I do always google to get a mental picture of what’s happening.
But on the mental health front, I feel I should’ve earned a doctorate by now.
The mental health practitioners who care for me, do their best and are exceptional.
But it was me who had to do the research between menopause and bipolar. The stats are alarming because they show that depressive episodes double for menopausal women living with a diagnosis of bipolar.
Yay! A definitive moment.
Yes, that’s a distressing answer, but at least it explains why, in the past few years, my mood has spiralled down and down.
But I want to be well, in control and living a full life, one where I don’t end up in hospital, crisis respite or need to seek space to breathe at the Taranaki Retreat.
I’ve decided 2019 will be a year of healing, learning, giving and gratitude.
Did you know that doing a kind act for someone else is the quickest way to receive a boost of the feel-good hormone oxytocin?
Weirdly, I have a rule, taught to me by my mother, never to tell people if I’ve done something kind. It’s not about accolades, it’s about the act.
And we’re back to kindness.
Please reach out with warmth to those who are suffering, particularly those living with mental despair, often hidden.
And there are those of us who live with ongoing episodes of depression that we work so damn hard to avoid, but still they come again and again. That’s despite using mindfulness tools, brain-based therapy, self-compassion, CBT, DBT and ACT - oh the acronyms I know, the books I’ve read, the magazine articles I’ve consumed, the research papers I’ve mulled over.
The inflammation and gut-health theories are under scrutiny in our household right now, so you will be offered easily digestible information on these topics soon.
In the meantime, never presume that those of us living in the lows aren’t doing our best to carry on like nothing’s wrong or using every tool possible to get well.
If someone you know is dogged by depression, reach out or be receptive.
You never know when a lovely message may be a turning point for someone feeling hopeless.
None of us knows who is hurting, or having a day gone from bad to worthless, so be kind to everyone.
You’ll get an oxytocin hit and add colour to someone’s grey day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tattooed by You

By Virginia Winder
This tattoo, inspired by a Dr Who quote, isn't etched on me yet.... 

When photographer Peter Peryer died, I felt like one of the constants in my life was gone. I saw him nearly every week at Ozone or about town. He had touched my heart a dozen years ago and stayed there. But he's one of a thousand people - probably way more - now part of my inner landscape. Men, women, dead, alive... you're all there. This poem entered my head at Peter's funeral, but poured out this evening.

Tattooed by You

I’ve fallen in love with dead men
Celebrated women of guts and grace
Absorbed the lives of the living
For more than three decades
I’ve stood in your shoes
Slipped into your souls
Looked through your eyes
And seen the world your way
I’ve let you all in, barriers down
Soaked in the essence of you
And you and you and you
Until I’m forever changed
By every single person
I’ve pinned down in shorthand
Arranged with coloured felt pens
And then poured out
Through racing fingers
On to a white screen
Calibri font, size 11
Printed in Times New Roman
Well mostly.
I’ve slept with others
Yes – this much is true
Those recorded over the phone
Have been taken to bed
One earplug retelling your tale
In the dark of the night
The dog snuggled by my feet
Gentle snoring at my back
Then you’ve been released
At first light
By a woman in a red dressing gown
Who has hung on your every word
Delighted at each anecdote
Felt every pang of pain
And so, your tales
Are now part of me
Still yours, always
But every single story
Is written inside my mind
I’m tattooed forever
With the shape of your lives.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Manifesto of Peter Peryer

In 2006, I spent an afternoon with photographer Peter Peryer and wrote this feature for the long-defunct Nakid magazine. As a tribute to a man who always made a point of saying "hi Virginia" as we brushed shoulders in Ozone, here is that story. Yes, it's out of date, but it's a snapshot of a moment and a colourful zoomed-in life. 

Photographer Peter Peryer has clear views on his vision for the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. VIRGINIA WINDER finds herself writing his manifesto.

Peter Peryer is pacing.
His brown leather shoes creak on the matai floor of his New Plymouth home as he walks and talks.
The photographer is a lecturer on the move to an audience of one.
“I’m talking aloud while I’m thinking, but also trying to give you something of a manifesto,” he chuckles.
When Peryer sits at his dining table, he writes on a big desk-pad placed vertically and a little tilted. A diamond between us.
One slowly filling with Peryer gems, bullet points, comments passed, ideas to be explored.
“I’m quite iconoclastic,” he says.
The cherished beliefs he’s most apt to attack are those of the contemporary art world.
And yet, this is the world he walks in.
Some of his photographs are in the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery latest show, Viewfinder.
This exhibition showcases many artists whose works are part of the gallery’s collection.
He also has works at Pataka museum and gallery in Porirua as part of the Contemporary New Zealand Photographers exhibition. 
The show has an accompanying book celebrating 20 of this country’s greatest photographers, including Marti Friedlander, Anne Noble, and Laurence Aberhart.
There are also Peryer photos now showing in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.
In 1985 he received the Fulbright scholarship to travel to the United States and has been included in the Sydney Biennale twice. Peryer was awarded a Laureate Award in 2000 by the New Zealand Foundation for the Arts and is also is an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM).
Patrons of boutique bar Powderoom will also know his photographs because they have been part of the interior design on and off for the past few years.
They include Isabella, the realistic model baby; Lake, with a yellow and blue slide; Wrestlers, two torsos and arms entwined.
Calla lily petals
And he’s had a drive-by exhibition in the empty Regent building on the corner of Devon West and King streets, where Verge Gallery now resides.
Peryer moved from Auckland to New Plymouth five years ago. At the time he was working with former director Greg Burke on the solo show, The Left Hand Raised.
“I came down for three months… but if you are interested in the arts, because of the Govett-Brewster, this is a good provincial city to be in – that’s a fact.
“There’s art traffic,” he says, prompting images of papier mache cars parading along Devon St.
“Particularly the artists.”
Ans Westra, Lee Bul and Michael Smither wave from the garish vehicles.
Puke Ariki’s library is another plus. Peryer and his personal assistant Paula Frost visit about three times a week, pausing for coffee at the Daily News CafĂ©.
Frost is an elegant woman who holds herself like a ballet dancer, while Peryer appears to be a serious man of strong physique and mind, who often looks at life through thick, dark-framed reading glasses.
“I’m not bad for 64,” he says.
In person, he is actually a man full of humour, with an ability to laugh at himself and the world.
“I’m quite jolly aren’t I?”
And later. “Peryer, it rhymes with merrier,” he says a glass of Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc in one hand.
“Peter and Paula” also has a ring about it. He and Frost are obviously a couple.
“She’s got a light about her,” Peryer says.
But their relationship is opposite to the traditional.
“We work together and live in different houses.”
His home is a weather-board, painted the palest blue, and perched on the brim of a gully that looks over towards Frankley Rd.
“This is the age of post-provincialism – no, I didn’t make that phrase up. This is the age of the Internet. I probably couldn’t be living in New Plymouth if it wasn’t for the Internet.”
Peryer has a strong historical connection with Taranaki.
“In the late ‘30s, before I was born, my parents ran the Breakwater Hotel,” he says.
His father, Milton Archibald Peryer, also had a photographic leaning and took many pictures of the port. There are now copies held in Puke Ariki.
“On my mother’s side, I’m from some of those old Coast families – Power, Lawn, Brophy, Fleming,” he says.
His mother was Louisa Florence Brewer, whose mother was a Coaster.
“I do like the way I have got relations here.”
Yet he’s not certain if this is the place he belongs. “I don’t know where my home is really. But I’m not anxious to move on.”
Passionfruit flower
Born on All Souls Day at Auckland in 1941, Peryer was raised mostly in rural Northland. He was a strict Catholic, but is no longer a Christian, although religious objects do appear among his works.
A former teacher – he’s working at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels – says he doesn’t work in series.
In fact, Peryer reckons if he were to take photography at secondary school his approach would be unacceptable.
“I would fail,” he says.
“I was 33 when I started photographing.”
He is self-taught and feels sad for others who feel as if they have to go to art school or do a course to have the confidence to follow their dreams.
“I want to try and give people hope… technically photography has got easier. Courses should be concentrating on the art, meanwhile, courses get longer.
“The craft is simple now,” he says.
Peryer is, of course, talking about the disappearance of darkrooms due to digital cameras. He got his first in 2000 and is now on to his fifth because of the rapid evolution of technology.
One discarded camera has been dissected by the photographer and laid out on a tray, like a miniature city, for close examination by the science-minded man.
In fact, that’s where his photography began.
“I got very interested in science when I was at secondary school and I did some science subjects at university and one of the skills I picked up at university was how to use a microscope.”
Peryer has a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Masters in Education, and “quite a bit of a science degree”.
“That was my problem – I couldn’t find out what I liked most,” he says.
“I think I’m most interested in biology. And that is reflected in a lot of my subject matter.”
Looking through his online archives, it’s clear what he means.
Peryer often focuses on single specimens, like a yellow rubber frog hand puppet, a monarch butterfly captured in profile and in black and white, a feather, a cape gooseberry, a caterpillar, a cloud and even Mt Taranaki. They are clear, uncluttered pictures.
A cape gooseberry
“I edit it down to the best statement…”
He’s even tougher on what he allows to be shown. “Some years I might pass only two to three.”
Isn’t he harsh on himself?
“If I was Colin McCahon you wouldn’t say that,” he says.
His latest photo is of a Peryer-grown tomato on a carved wooden foot from Bali, which is actually an incense holder. It’s called The Holy Tomato.
This was inspired by his studies of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali.
The previous work was taken in August. It’s a collection of colourful shapes made from sponge and laid in an oval.
It’s called Matisse and hangs on the wall behind Peryer, like a thought bubble.
One that describes the man’s wildly whirring brain
“There are four to five months between that photograph (the Matisse) and that photograph (the jolly tomato) and nothing in between but a lot of reading,” he says.
On the table beside him is a book titled What’s Wrong With Contemporary Art? by Australian art critic Peter Timms.
“It rarely leaves my knee, because he’s one of the few people… such courage,” he whispers the last words in awe.
“It gives me courage too.”
So what’s wrong with the Govett-Brewster?
Peryer doesn’t like the question and explains he would rather be upbeat about the gallery. It could be a case of not biting the hand that feeds him.
But he can’t help himself.
“They are on track – that doesn’t mean to say it’s a perfect model.”
Monarch butterfly
“It’s known nationally, internationally as a place where there are ideas thrown around; where there’s discourse.”
Then he mutters to himself, “I’m probably being a little over-generous.”
He pauses, his head up and turned like the lion statue he caught on film at Copenhagen, Sweden, in 1997.
“There is room for improvement.”
Here come the bullet points.
  • Get a website that works.
  • Get their collection online.
“If they are going to pay all that money for a Lee Bul shouldn’t it be online?”
Peryer pauses. “What they show…”
He looks out the window towards Frankley Rd.
“…the gallery has to be very careful that it’s not developing a house style. It’s a particular take.”
That’s why he thinks Greg Burke stayed two years too long. Five years is enough for a director, but Burke was in New Plymouth for seven years before taking the helm of Toronto’s Power Plant art gallery in August last year.
“Greg Burke is getting married,” he says.
Apparently he is engaged to manga video artist Hye Rim Lee from Korea, who has shown works at the Govett-Brewster.
“It’s a fact,” Peryer says.
Then he’s back on his gallery improvements.
·         Don’t collect works.
“It’s expensive, the costs are ongoing. Sooner or later if you collect work, you are going to need a bigger building.”
He misses the irony of his comments, considering his latest works on show at the gallery hail from its own collection.
·         Invest in bringing artists to Taranaki.
“I would rather have seen the gallery put money into resources for visiting artists,” he says. “In my travels I meet many artists who would love to come to New Plymouth.”
And he’s back on art traffic and the sharing of ideas.
“We don’t make it very easy for artists to come and stay in New Plymouth for a week, or a month, or a year.”
When he arrived in the city, he suggested to Burke that instead of adding to the collection, the gallery could invest in an apartment for artists in residence. But with the rising costs of housing, he wondered if that opportunity had now passed.
Peryer does think the former director did a good job during reign at the Govett-Brewster.
“He brought a lot to us and we have to be very careful who the next incumbent is.”
Could be it be Peryer himself?
“No, no, no! I couldn’t stand all the meetings. Saving up the minutes and throwing away the hours – it would drive me demented.”
He also has fears about the impact of the proposed World Centre for Len Lye.
“I’m completely behind there being a Len Lye centre here,” he says.
But he would prefer it was completely independent of the Govett-Brewster.
"Already it will have affected who has applied for the new director’s job; the new position,” he says.
Peryer is pacing again, his shoes squeaking on the turn beside a table topped with metal Leggo sculptures of the Eifel Tower and the Empire State Building.
He has his hands in the pockets of his black jeans, and he talks like a businessman dictating a letter to a secretary.
“New paragraph,” he orders, to giggles from the shorthand scribe.
 “Anyone who applied may have considered that in the all likelihood they might have to be a project manager.
“It’s a fact – why do you think they are taking so long getting a new director. The World Centre for Len Lye is such a massive project and such an ongoing one that it could easily distract the Govett-Brewster from its true mission, which up until now has been right on course.”
He paces into the kitchen, pours himself another wine, and turns back for his dramatic delivery.
“I fear that it is a Trojan horse
Ludicrously, visions of artists dressed in armour from Troy in 1193 BC and wielding blades of flashing metal from the Len Lye collection appear unbidden in the scribe’s mind.
“I think this is a big danger. I really do think it could bring the Govett-Brewster down.”
This definitely is the manifesto of Peter Peryer.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A community's manifestation of love

By Virginia Winder
Sitting on a bed in the Lodge at the Taranaki Retreat, I caress a handmade quilt and fossick through a complimentary container of toiletries.
These are not little things. Someone made the beautiful quilts that adorn the beds and brighten the lounges, someone donated money for the hair and body products.
In fact, everything in the Retreat has been given by somebody or bought from donations. Everything.
There’s a chapel for quiet time, meditation
Maunga Taranaki watches over he Taranaki Retreat.
or time sharing your heart with a volunteer support worker.
There’s the exercise and art “cave”, bristling with machines for training on and filled with art supplies.
Outside the Lodge are tables and seats, a low-slung hammock and an area for children’s play equipment. There’s even an attractive covered area for smokers, which shows huge respect for those in need of tobacco. Instead of being treated like pariahs they are given dignity at the Retreat.
This is also a lovely place to observe the world and the maunga beyond, framed by shaggy macrocarpa trees.
A couple of goats amble along through the middle of the Retreat grounds, but anybody spooked by the idea of these caprine animals can rest assured they are enclosed. Halo, a moose-sized goat (a wee exaggeration perhaps) is gentle and loves to be fed a handful of grass and scratched behind his blunted horns. The other, whose name escapes me, is less likely to stick around for rubs.
On wanders around the grounds, smiling at the flowers, I marvelled at the idea of each step and every path being formed by donated materials and made with kindness and generosity. I meandered up and down these steps and sat on seats looking up at the sky through unfurling ponga fronds. In one spot I sat enjoying the rush-tinkle of a stream and ducks agitating each other. There are chickens too.
There are peaceful places to rest in nature.
We, the guests, stay in The Lodge, a warm and welcoming place where there’s a full database of movies and TV series, a record player beside an old vinyl collection, and a kitchen full of food for us to enjoy. There are two lounges with comfortable couches.
At 6pm each night, we assemble at the main house, where Suzy and Jamie Allen live with their family.
At restaurant chef speed, Suzy makes dinner for us four guests, an American couple on the Work Away programme and a Retreat assistant, who is a gentle soul with a spring in her step – she literally leaps gates.
The lovingly prepared main course is always followed by dessert, often delectable tarts, cakes and slices provided by Taranaki cafes. I was blown away at their generosity.
The Taranaki Retreat is the truest, most powerful manifestation of a community’s love I’ve ever seen.
It doesn’t stop with what I’ve described – there’s a whole flock of people constantly giving their time to help others.
There’s a wonderful woman who offers her life coaching skills and that helped remind me of all the good in my life. Each of us was paired with a personal support worker and mine was a delightful woman, who listened deeply and also laughed loudly with me.
Another colourful woman filled the Lodge with her peaceful personality and the sweet smells of home baking, with each guest’s needs catered for.
Outside, another volunteer gardened in gumboots, shorts and gusto.
One day we had meditation with Jamie, who used music as a focus and showed us a way to let go of heavy burdens.
Another day, a man with musical flair and a poet’s soul, took an art session.
A woman with magical fingers offered massages and the guests raved at her body-soothing abilities.
Every fortnight another woman takes Pilates or yoga, I’m not certain which, but I think you can see that the generosity of spirit is overwhelming. There will be more people I don’t even know about.
The Retreat was hugely healing for me, for two main reasons – writing and talking.
Every day, the joyful gate leaper had the daunting task of reading my daily blog, a personal ramble of epic proportions that flowed from my fingers most nights.
Volunteers have planted bright flowers. 

There is a computer set up for those of us who wanted to pour our hearts out through a keyboard and those wanting to pen their feelings are provided with pens and journals.
I started off the week thinking that I wasn’t worthy of being at the Retreat, and I admit I was a bit cranky at first. But everything I had been thinking and feeling for months, maybe years, came pouring out and I found a great sense of healing from those words.
While I had access to a computer, the only thing I could use it for was writing the blog. There’s practically no cell coverage and limited wifi at the Hurford Rd property. I literally went into withdrawal but did manage to keep up with important emails. Whew!
Finally, I have to pay tribute to a man, who to me is one of the purest, most giving human beings I’ve ever met. He glows with love.
Jamie Allen is the only person who’s ever got me thinking about the idea of a creator, of a loving force. Not because he preached at me – the Retreat is a safe place for all people, whether they have a faith or none.
But because I sought an appointment with Jamie to talk about a whole bunch of stuff, but specifically, at my behest, spirituality. That conversation is ours, so I won’t share it.
But I will say that great healing came for me.
It’s almost miraculous that a place like this exists. But it does because of Jamie and Suzy, who had a vision and the people came – the volunteers and the donators to provide free time out for guests in need of tender loving care at a time of mental distress, exhaustion, heartbreak or loss.
We have a space to breathe.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Full house of mayhem and mirth

By Virginia Winder

Who knew such a full house would be on the cards.
These days our cup runneth over with animals, Boomerang children and now builders. But not water.
The bathroom is getting a makeover and my job today has been to keep tabs on our new dog, our daughter’s kitten and our two older cats.
The water main was turned off for eight hours, the old toilet is out by the letterbox and the jug was empty. Damn it.
I spent the day pretending I was rehearsing for a natural disaster.
On that front, we’d fail big time. We have no water stored in plastic containers, no first aid kit and the camping lantern needs to be recharged. I know where the candles are, but not the matches. At least the dog’s bowls are filled to the brim. This lack of emergency planning will be rectified once our water is back on and the bathroom is back together.
In the meantime, there was a genuine emergency - I couldn't have coffee.
The loo has also been a major problem. I had to go wild. There’s a private spot in the garden I’ve claimed for inelegant relief, but I nearly got caught.
“Virginia, are you there? Are you decent?”
A journalist mate of mine came to visit, but thankfully the builder told him I was in the garden having a pee. I don't normally discuss my toiletry habits (OK, peeing in the garden is not a habit) but me and the handyman discussed loo logistics and decided out back was best.
Also tried visiting the neighbour, but he wasn’t home. Although desperate, I refrained from watering his backyard.
I can’t stay away for too long because I have to keep the youngest animals safe.
The kitten, who is hated by Izzy, our grey and white cat (oh the dynamics) loves to race out the front door. This is scary because beyond the front fence is a main road that has claimed a couple of our beloved feline friends.  
Luna in a restrained moment
And then there’s the dog. She’s new to us and hasn’t quite learnt the house rules.
She is a one-year-old white mongrel who is part naughtiness and part gazelle. She is a leaper and a chewer.  
In our absence or when she thinks we’re not looking, she springs on to the kitchen bench, boing, like her legs are springs, and grabs things. So far she’s taken a chilli (not chewed, which may have put here off further stolen spoils), apples, the pot scrubber, a packet of pig’s ears, and a steel cloth.
She’s chewed one remote control (still usable), been caught with another in her mouth, and stolen my Yoda slippers, her dog brush, Warren’s jandals and a variety of sports shoes.
But she is adorable.
Our son Nelson decided our home didn’t feel right without a dog so he went to the SPCA and fell in love.
We have named her Luna, after Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter. She is moon-like with short white hair and crater-like spots of black.
She is a delight. Naughty but nice, affectionate, pretty good with the cats, although our black and white boy, Scoop, has attacked her twice and so Luna is terrified of him.
Izzy smooches with her – she has a thing for dogs – and Draco the kitten and Luna tumble about like lion cubs, supervised of course. 
And then there are the Boomerangs.
Clementine and Nelson – with his girlfriend – have moved home to save up to go overseas. Both have achieved tertiary success, a degree for one and a diploma for the other, so have the world before them.
In the meantime, they are our housemates.
Our children’s favourite game is called “Mock Mum”. Luckily, my self-esteem is solid otherwise their “loving” teasing would bring me down. It doesn’t. We laugh a lot and that’s good for the soul.
Who could resist these boots?
One grown-up child has decided my online shopping needs to stop, although I know some much worse than me. I do admit I may have a wild boot thing going on. 
The other adult child teases me mercilessly about my divided attention, questionable memory and lost words. Sometimes, ordinary words just don’t come out.
“Pass me that hair thing,” I say to my bemused husband.
“You mean your hairbrush?”
I am at times woolly headed and that’s not just my hair when it’s humid.
“It’s my stage in life,” I say, slightly defensively.
I’ve even researched it (OK looked it up on Google) and there are definite links between memory loss and perimenopause. Apparently it won’t last – neither will said child if the derision continues.
So, life with the Boomerangs is interesting, challenging and best of all, loads of fun.
We had a house meeting in the beginning, assigned rooms for people to look after, and talked about things we found annoying that needed to be addressed.
Clementine with Draco and Luna
No 1 was hanging up towels in the bathroom because one Boomerang somehow missed that simple life lesson. However, this child now has an accomplice. After cursing at find damp towels crumpled on the floor, I discovered I was too quick to point the finger.
Draco, who would obviously be in Slytherin house, is an acrobat. His specialty is the towel act. While sitting on the loo other day, he treated me to his death-defying act of leaping on a towel, climbing up to the rail and then swinging precariously to bring the whole thing down on top of him. It was a dazzling display of kitten dexterity and I would have applauded except I was busy with the loo paper. A roll, which, sigh, was perforated with kitten claw marks.
This was a different roll than the one he pushed into the hallway the other day for him and the dog to battle over. It was only just salvageable.
So today I have been confined to the kitchen craving coffee, dog and kitten alternating between tumbling around the floor and lying asleep in the sun, while banging, whirring, clanging and cracking sounds emanated from the freshly gutted bathroom. 
Tomorrow there will be coffee  the jug will be full  and, alas, more necessary trips behind the orange tree.
At least that’s sure to herald another surprise visitor to our extremely full but happy house.