Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars

In the hunt for Iolanthe Green, Anna Treadway takes you through a simpler time in many ways, with a notable absence of all the technology and urgency that dominates our existence today. This is what I found quite charming about the book – stepping into a time where you seemed to survive on tea and toast, your entire wardrobe could fit in one bag, you walked to get from A to B and you felt wicked if you stayed on the bus beyond the stop that you had paid up to.

I definitely had preconceptions before reading Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars – as we all do when we read the blurb on a book. I was expecting a really gripping mystery that would take me behind the scenes of the theatre district – so that I could literally peek behind the curtain of a world that I’ve never seen. This didn’t quite transpire, but I wasn’t disappointed because instead I was taken on a tour of 1960s Soho. But even this was secondary to witnessing some of the less pleasant aspects of life and relationships in this time.

Miranda Emmerson does a great job of highlighting the multitude of social issues that reigned during the mid 1960s. The story winds its way through racism, social hierarchy, police brutality, unplanned pregnancies – a time with some very big restrictions on personal freedom as abortions and gay relationships would both still be illegal for a couple of years. My overactive sense of fairness left me continuing to hope that the characters Anna and Aloysius would stand up and rebel against their treatment and segregation – and in small ways they did – but ultimately they were somewhat resigned to their place in the world. Ahh the frustration!!

Now this kind of book isn’t normally my cup of tea as I prefer to escape from the ugliness of our world when I read – or at least know the characters will have a win somewhere in the mix; but I still found it quietly entertaining and feeling very grateful for the rights that I was born in to!

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Miss Treadway and the field of stars
by Miranda Emmerson
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008170578

Spontaneous!

CoverAs touted on the cover of Spontaneous, this is “A novel about growing up… and blowing up” – and it didn’t disappoint.  I love a good YA read and this one caught my attention from the outset as I pondered the outrageous thought of teenagers spontaneously blowing up in front of their classmates.

Initially I felt a bit like I was peeking into a world that wasn’t my own. It was something akin to looking at my daughter’s Facebook or Twitter account and reading things I either didn’t know – or didn’t want to know – about her life. So I take my hat off to Aaron Starmer for realistically getting inside a teenage girl’s head. I might also add that at this point I am fervently hoping that my 15 going on 16 year old daughter’s life bears little resemblance to Mara’s. Hey! – I can live in my happy naïve little world – it’s fun here!

Thankfully this feeling didn’t last and I was pulled in by my need to know ‘why’. Now I won’t say that why kids were blowing up was answered to my satisfaction as the ‘why’ became more of a side story to the ‘how we live with this and don’t let it define us’ one.

Spontaneous takes the reader on a quite personal journey with Mara Carlyle as her classmates start blowing up randomly and her life changes as they all become the centre of much speculation and trepidation from the community and country at large. But what happens when this anomaly doesn’t differentiate between friend or enemy? And how do you stay sane when you don’t know who is going to be next or if you will have to suffer the horror of witnessing yet another classmate spontaneously exploding? This is the challenge that Mara and her graduating class have to work through while trying to hang on to even the smallest amount of normality to keep them grounded.

Now despite the obvious serious aspect of Spontaneous, it is written in quite a light-hearted way. My favourite bit of levity would have to be the ‘hang in there, we’re with you’ pep talk from the President of the United States – I’m still chuckling just thinking about it, so watch out for this one!

I did end up quite enjoying this book but I also think that any teenager will find it infinitely more relateable than I did. There’s plenty of swearing, raging hormones and a distinct lack of need for adult supervision. A teenager’s dream come true, really.

Spontaneous
by Aaron Starmer
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460753149

Remembering Richard Pearse 1877 to 1953

My name is Richard William Pearse and today it will be 63 years since my death. You know me because I was one of the first people in the world to fly a powered aircraft. Some of you even believe that my flight preceded that of the Wright Brothers and you would be right, it did by several months.

Richard Pearse 80 cent stamp
Richard Pearse stamp, 1990. Image used by permission of New Zealand Post.

But many years ago I conceded quite publicly that by my own rigorous standards I hadn’t achieved controlled and sustained flight. It was quite a ride though when I did achieve take off and stayed in the air for over a hundred metres before ‘landing’ atop the large gorse hedge that bordered my property in Waitohi. My collarbone and I fared about as well as my plane did when I hit the hedge and we were both the worse for wear afterwards.

So while I could obviously get my plane in the air I needed to set about solving the problem of aerial navigation. Despite my work, this is where my well funded counterparts in the Northern Hemisphere had the advantage until finally as I wrote in the Evening Star on 10th May 1915;

…as aerial navigation was already an accomplished fact, I decided to give up the struggle, as it was useless to continue against men who had factories at their backs.

But other events would also define my life. In 1910 I became very ill with typhoid and spent three months in bed and a further six months convalescing. It was with particular significance that only a couple of years later Wilbur Wright died from the same illness. I moved to Milton, Otago not long afterwards to farm sheep and took my designs and aircraft with me but the landscape was unsuitable for trial flights. I put my efforts into inventing farm machinery instead.

Richard Pearse Patent Drawing1906
Richard Pearse’s Fantastic Flying Machine, drawing from Richard Pearse’s patent, July 1906 [patent number #21476], Archives New Zealand (CC BY-SA 2.0)
In 1917 I was conscripted into the army and was placed with the Otago Infantry Regiment. I am 40 years old and despite enjoying walking the hills around my home and playing golf and tennis; I am unprepared for the toll army training will take on me. It soon became apparent that the typhoid had left its mark and I was eventually found to be physically unfit for further military service and discharged. I was home by the end of 1918.

By 1921 wool prices were plummeting so I decided it was time to sell up and I relocated to Christchurch. Here I eventually purchased three houses, two of which I rented out and lived off the proceeds so that I could continue my work. I dreamed of a plane in every home, but this was not to be. As time passed and my work continued to reside in relative obscurity; I became unwell and lived out my years at Sunnyside Hospital. I died here on 29th July, 1953.

But in a strange twist of fate my work lives on and is celebrated today. The recognition that eluded me in my lifetime has been heaped upon me in death. My utility plane and my years of research were discovered at my Christchurch home and a dump in Waitohi with thanks largely to my champion George Bolt. A replica of my plane was constructed in the mid 1970s, it toured the country and is now on display at Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology. They even tested it in a wind tunnel to see if it would fly. Unsurprisingly, it did.

Richard Pearse's Aeroplane No. 1 replica, MOTAT, Auckland, New Zealand, 5 April 2010 photo by Phillip Capper
Richard Pearse’s Aeroplane No. 1 replica, MOTAT, Auckland, New Zealand, 5 April 2010 photo by Phillip Capper (CC BY 2.0)

More information on Richard Pearse

Christchurch’s first Mayor – William ‘Cabbage’ Wilson

On the 10th June 2016 it will be 148 years since eight councillors unanimously elected the first Mayor of Christchurch. There have been 46 Christchurch mayors, but William ‘Cabbage’ Wilson was our first.

Photograph of a painting of William Barbour Wilson, first Mayor of Christchurch. Ref: PAColl-D-0542. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22726768
Photograph of a painting of William Barbour Wilson, first Mayor of Christchurch. Ref: PAColl-D-0542. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22726768

‘Oh dear’, I hear you say; what an unfortunate nickname to be saddled with. I couldn’t agree more. Now before your imagination takes flight…  the nickname was earned because of a hat made of cabbage tree leaves that he wore. It also served to differentiate him from two other prominent Christchurch William Wilsons – ‘Nabob’ and ‘Parson’.

But I digress. William Wilson had far more to be remembered for than just an unusual nickname, hats made of leaves and what was apparently a fabulous combover. He was a very prominent nurseryman and landowner in the central city as well as being quite active in the community and local politics;  which led to him being elected as Christchurch’s first Mayor.

However the higher you rise the further you have to fall. And this is what happened in spectacular style to William Wilson. It all began with his fraud conviction from the sneaky use of land that he was trustee for.  Hot on the heels of this scandal, his wife came forward to seek protection from his abuse as she feared for her life. Apparently he didn’t feel that he was in enough hot water so he tried to break into her house for which he was arrested.  His fall from grace was complete.

However, in an odd twist he did manage to get re-elected to council 10 years after his stint as Mayor and this caused an uproar among 5 of the sitting councillors who resigned in protest. Well, that won’t make you popular among your peers, will it? Big news at the time and thankfully he managed to perform his duties without further scandal; but his time in the world of politics was drawing to a close.

He did manage to claw back some respectability though for his ability to grow prize worthy vegetables of substantial size. Try to imagine a cauliflower that was over 3 feet in circumference and weighed 11 pounds! That’s nearly 5 kg of cauliflower – pass me the cheese sauce!

So with such a legacy to be remembered for, its little wonder that we don’t exactly celebrate the man and his achievements. Maybe it’s also a great shame that his bad behaviour has so overshadowed the good work that he achieved in his lifetime. Fortunately, we do still have daily reminders of what he did contribute to our city – even if we are unaware of it. Next time you are driving down Wilson’s Road past AMI Stadium spare a thought for our first Mayor as the street you are driving on was named for him. When you next admire the lovely old trees that grace the centre islands of Fitzgerald or Bealey Avenues or maybe the trees on the banks of the Avon River, don’t forget that William Wilson was Subcommittee Chairman for the landscaping of these areas. Finally, something beautiful and lasting to be remembered for.

More about William Wilson

Now that your interest is piqued about Christchurch mayors, see what some of them got up to in their lives:

Social media 1860s style – The logbooks of Joseph Munnings

You might have heard of people who keep a diary of their daily lives, recording their thoughts and special occasions. Some of us still do, and have little interest in using social media to share our most intimate thoughts and what we had for dinner with friends, workmates, friends of a friends, and that random stranger who you talked to once and ‘friended’.

I’m fairly certain that when Joseph Munnings wrote an account of his daily life he couldn’t foresee that it would be available for public scrutiny 150 years later – or that it would be of interest to anyone else. But it is. We are very fortunate to have the digitised copies of his ‘Log Books’ that date from May 1862 to November 1866 available for us to have a sneak peek into his world.

Diary, May 1862 to May 1864, Joseph Munnings. ANZC Archives. CCL-Arch971-01-002
Diary, May 1862 to May 1864, Joseph Munnings. ANZC Archives. CCL-Arch971-01-002

Joseph’s Log Books served to answer some questions that I didn’t know that I had. Like how did people of the time spend Christmas and New Years? Strangely he didn’t mention that he liked one particular gift over another and there were no plans to return unwanted pressies on Boxing Day! Maybe it was because he had to work – his shop was open six days a week and he was busy on Sunday teaching Sunday School before he went to evening services. He did however mention that he spent Christmas day with the Harringtons and some time at the Lunatic Asylum and there was preaching involved – his words not mine! Okay so that poses more questions than it answers.

I particularly enjoyed his account of the post-Christmas 1865 Bazaar that he both worked at and patronised in a paddock at Governors Bay. There was casual mention of his soon-to-be-betrothed being in attendance and a marquee was erected to house the food, refreshments and Christmas tree. Some 400 people were brought out to the event via Cobb and Co. coach or cart as well as numerous trips from Lyttelton by the steamer Betsy Douglas. They ate well – fowls, ducks, pigeon pie, ham, beef, mutton, lamb and spiced beef. Well, that kept all the carnivores happy but they also had salads, cucumbers, cakes, fruits of all kinds – and it was all washed down with ginger beer, lemonade, tea or coffee. “Sixpence if you please” for your cup of tea. Sounds divine – I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Amusements were provided, balloons sent up, quoits were played and “kissing in the ring – a favourite with the young”. No doubt!

My romantic side has read between the lines on this occasion and decided that as his ‘beloved’ was also in attendance. I think it’s possible he proposed marriage to her as he was asking for her father’s consent to marry her by the 4th of January 1866. Next question: A Saturday wedding in spring with a honeymoon to Kaikoura or Akaroa? Time to put aside such romantic notions … how about a midweek ceremony in late July instead – and they were by all accounts still entertaining guests past midnight. Well, at least there was the honeymoon to look forward to … except Joseph was back working in his shop by Friday. However, I think we can rest assured that there was romance between them because his wife featured quite regularly in his log and they had 11 children over the years.

Maybe this is where we get the impression that they lived a simpler life back then. Joseph was simply grateful to have made it to the year’s conclusion and then wondered if he would see the new year through to its end. A noble aspiration methinks.

You can read more about Joseph in the The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District] available on NZETC.

Joseph Munnings
Joseph Munnings The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District], NZETC
So, if you’re like me and would prefer to read about historical life events rather than how someone else had a better weekend than you, then make sure you have a look at:

For those of us that like pictures because it makes it brings it alive on a different level – Geoffrey W. Rice has some amazing books to take a look at.