The year has started brilliantly. Only two days in and it's been good news all the way. We have a big house: five bedrooms (six if you count the upstairs sunroom) and four living rooms (five if you count the downstairs sunroom) and we began the new year with every room occupied. People in every bed and trundle beds in every place they would fit. We borrowed a trestle table from the parish hall in order to seat everyone for big, shambling, lengthy, noisy meals for which most adults present had had a part in preparation. With people coming and going at different times we had three sessions sitting around the Christmas tree unwrapping stuff and being surprised at one another's thoughfulness.We didn't do much else. We watched a few videos (Anne of Green Gables, Prince Caspian, and, when the kids weren't around, Green Wing and The Office [the real one ie the British one, of course]). Some people went for a daily run or a trip to the gym. I went off to have my innards fried. There were, for some, excursions into town and for everyone, a trip to Sandfly Bay.
Sandfly Bay on the Otago Peninsula is approached down a 100 metre sand-dune - great on the way down. It is a very rugged place which not many people visit even though it is only a quarter of an hour from the city. Most days you will stroll along the beach amongst New Zealand Sea Lions -big, bad tempered, unpredictable animals that for security and olfactory reasons, it's best to stay a few metres shy of. On a lucky day you will see Hoiho - Yellow Eyed Penguins. This was a lucky day. Two of them popped out of the surf and dried their feathers only a few feet away from where we were sitting. These are rare birds. Us humans and our fellow travellers - rats, stoats, dogs and cats - had all but exterminated them, but with protection and good will they are making a new start. They are now on the way back from extinction. And here they were, little no nonsense creatures with muscley black and white bodies and endearing stripy faces, drying themselves on the beach before waddling up into the dunes to get on with the important business of ensuring the future of their species. It was good news to see them.
But better news was to see my son, Nick, who arrived on New Year's Day. On New Years eve he got engaged. There was a balcony overlooking The Sydney Harbour with helium balloons tied to the railing. There was a table with a lace tablecloth and a vase containing a dozen red roses. There was a beautiful ring which had left the jeweller's only an hour before. More importantly, there were tender words spoken. More important still there was someone who meant them, and someone who was overjoyed to hear them, and who had, in return, a few of her own to say.
Who knows what will happen? As I daily come to terms with the limitations of my own life, a whole new horizon opens for Nick and Charmayne. The family which existed before I was part of it goes on into the future and will keep on doing so. Life is rich and full of promise, which is a good thing to be remnded of at the start of a new year. The Chinese name years after animals and this year will be the Year of The Ox. Now I have nothing against such a worthy creature as the ox, but I wish they had included the Hoiho in their zodiacal cycle. Against all the odds, there is the Yellow Eyed Penguin: the very symbol of resilience and the triumph of life over threatened extinction. As it is for my son and his very beautiful fiancee; as it, so far, for me; I wish that this year will be for you, filled with promise and new life and hope. The year of the penguin.