New York, 1968: “Love, Daddy”

NY1968 NY1968_0001

My mother recently gave me some old cards and letters she’d kept, and among them was this wonderful postcard that my late father had sent me when I was a little girl, in 1968. Dad was in the New Zealand army, but we were living in England where he was doing some research at York University, and he had gone to New York on business. This might well be the first piece of mail I ever received addressed to me personally.

It is dated 24.6.68, and he writes:

Dear Caron,

My hotel is just along the road from this big building, and after lunch today, I am going to go right up to the top. I will take some movies, and you will be able to see them when I get home. Love, Daddy.

It reminded me of a much earlier letter I have, from another father to his young child. It is addressed to “My dear little man”, and it was written by my grandfather, Captain Freddy Eastgate, to his son, my father Harold Eastgate (later Captain as well). Dad was 5 when this letter was written to him by his dad, who was a career army man. Years after this letter was born, my grandfather would be away for seven years at the Korean War and with the army in Japan.


Hut 150
Trentham M. C.
Saturday 16-5-42
My Dear Little Man,
I thought you would be almost better by now. I sent you a small parcel last Sunday but it doesn’t seem to have arrived there yet. There is nothing in the camp much to buy or send to little boys. I hope you are getting better. Try and be a good boy and help Mummy as much as you can. I am going to try and get home to see you next week end. You try and get better by then aye.
Cheerio for now.
Lots & lots of love from
Daddy xxxxxx

I wonder now what was in the parcel and if Dad received it. Dad kept quite a few things from when he was young, so it’s possible whatever it was is still among his possessions, most of which my mother kept.

You’re never too old to dance

juke boxI went into a gift shop at my local plaza, and ahead of me was a very old lady on a walker. She was little and stooped, and didn’t appear to take much trouble about how she dressed. She was wearing an old cardigan and her hair was a little dishevelled.  She handed over some money, then turned to make her way slowly out of the shop. I noticed that her eyes were shining.

The assistant had to tell someone. “See that electronic juke box in the window, the one with all the flashing lights? She’s put it on layby and she’s only got two more payments to make. She’s saving money each week from her pension.”

Is she buying it for a grandchild or something?” I said.

“No—it’s for herself, she says.”

The juke box was $999, an enormous amount of money for a pensioner to pay, even by layby (paying it off in fortnightly instalments).

The old lady was, the assistant said, the most unlikely purchaser for such a thing, and not only because of the expense. “I think she’s suffering from dementia a bit—we couldn’t believe she’d actually see all the payments through.”

I took a picture of the juke box that day, the one at the top of this post.

A few weeks later, I visited the shop again. The juke box was still in the window. “Has she paid it off yet?” I asked.

“Not yet—one more payment. She asked us to put some music on it. I used a flash drive to download a whole lot of songs, which I’ll give to her and all she needs to do is plug it into the juke box,” the assistant continued. “She says she’d like all the old hits from the 1940s and 1950s.”

Another few weeks went by. I walked past the shop and noticed the juke box was gone. I had to know.

“She paid it off today and it’s being delivered to her flat,” the assistant said. “Now she wants more music.” She rolled her eyes.

I have an enduring vision of the old lady young again and accompanied by a handsome beau, playing her juke box and, in her mind, dancing the night away to  Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, and the Platters.

Rock on—you’re never too old to dance.

A White Sports Coat...And a Pink Carnation

A White Sports Coat…And a Pink Carnation

Cooking, Grandma Style

I was reminiscing with one of my cousins recently about stuff our grandparents cooked for us in New Zealand. He remembered Grandad Freddy toasting Vogel’s classic mixed-grain bread, then spreading it with butter and, sparsely, with Vegemite (I’m a Marmite girl myself). As far as I know, this delicious bread is no longer available in Australia, so is but a memory to me now.

Just like Grandma used to make.

Just like Grandma used to make. Photo courtesy of

We remembered what Grandad called “toad in the hole”, which was cutting a hole in a piece of bread, then frying it in a pan with an egg dropped into the centre. This was actually not the right name for it, as the real toad-in-the-hole is an English dish made of sausages and Yorkshire pudding batter.
Grandad would whistle while he was in the kitchen cooking. He always made breakfast, and when I lived with them for a year when I was 12 and 13, he also usually made my school lunch. He was a career army man, a Captain after fighting in the Korean War. When I lived with them, Grandad had retired from the army and was working as a clerk for the government department that was then known as Maori Affairs. I’m not sure what he did for them, as he never talked about his work.

Grandma Rita most often cooked the evening meal. I remember her cooking had much more salt, butter and cream in it than my parents’ cooking. She would mash a big pot of potatoes, adding an egg and some raw onion. I always liked mashed potatoes done this way, though my father, her son, did not. Grandma Rita also made tasty girdle scones, and cheese or currant scones baked in the oven. And rock cakes that were impossible to chew! Grandma also liked to make an apple crumble, or perhaps an apple pie with a fancy flower on top made of the leftover pastry pieces.

On the maternal side of my family, Nanna would make wonderful fluffy little pikelets, spread with jam. Also, she would carefully peel tomatoes so they were skinless—I still don’t like tomato skins—and put them on crackers spread with butter. She would sprinkle salt and pepper on them. These had to be eaten straight away, as she said, before the tomato made the crackers soggy.

Harking back to his family’s strong Scottish Highlands origins, my maternal grandfather, Grandad Mac, made porridge every morning, adding a pinch of salt, and believed it was the only suitable breakfast. He always got up very early —about 5am—and if he was staying with us, I would find my school shoes outside my bedroom door, gleaming with polish.

Before porridge was served, there was something better, something so simple but something I love to this day and sometimes still have as a treat: Grandad Mac would cut the crusts off a slice of fresh white bread, then spread it with butter. He would cut it into halves and bring it in to me with the first cup of tea of the day.  As a young person, I mostly drank coffee, but I liked the tea he made. Nowadays, I usually have tea, and my first morning cuppa always brings back memories of Grandad Mac.

When I was 19, I lived with my great-grandmother, my father’s grandma, for a year in Palmerston North while I attended Massey University. Great-Grandma Abbott always served dinner—she called it “tea”, as we did too when I was growing up—at 5pm. It was possible to have the plate kept in the warming drawer of the oven if you were late, but you were generally expected to sit and eat with the family at that time. She always told me off for not having sugar in my tea or coffee—“a girl needs a bit of sugar”—and for washing my hair too often—”I’ve never known a girl to wash her hair so much; it’s not healthy”. My reply? “Yes, Grandma”. One didn’t argue with her.

One afternoon I came home to find that tripe and onions in a white sauce were on the menu. I made some excuse and, to this day, still haven’t tried tripe, though I’m not a picky eater.

Great-grandma never got used to the electric stove. The old coal range on the farm had been far better to cook on, she said. She didn’t like the newfangled washing machine, either, even though she never had an automatic one, only one of those tubs with a wringer above it. Wooden boards in troughs of water had worked better, she said.

I asked her one day what had been her favourite time in her long life. She grinned and said she wished she were back on the farm in Waipukurau, Central Hawke’s Bay, “with all the boys” in the 1930s. She had had seven children, four boys and three girls, but one son had died in the Second World War and another of cancer, while her husband, my great-grandfather, the All Black Harold “Bunny” Abbott, had died about 10 years before I lived with her. She said she loved firing up the range on the farm, ready for the boys to come in from work for a big cooked breakfast at about 9am.

My great-grandmother in 1938 or early 1939 with "all the boys", including  my father as a toddler. Shortly after this, her son Harold (standing directly behind her), would be killed in World War II.

My great-grandmother in 1938 or early 1939 with “all the boys”, including my father as a toddler. Shortly after this, her son Harold (standing directly behind her), would be killed in World War II. My Grandma Rita is seated left, with Grandad Freddy standing behind her.

At Great-Grandma Abbott’s house, left-over meat from a roast was not put in the fridge, but in a meat safe in one of the cupboards. And soup would bubble away on the stove for days, added to from time to time with various leftovers. I can’t remember any of us getting food poisoning.

There was no pasta or rice to be had in my great-grandmother’s house, or even in my grandparents’ houses. I wonder what they’d make of our multi-cultural cuisine these days: one night we might have Thai-style food, the next Italian, Greek, Malaysian, Chinese, Fijian, Spanish, Colombian, or Japanese.

While my grandparents and great-grandparents cooked tried-and-true recipes handed down through generations, we are constantly trying new cuisines—it’s a very different approach to home cooking. Mind you, I still have my old favourites that I’ve been making for many years. But that’s a post for another day.

Weekly Writing Challenge: the great ebook versus pbook debate

Over at The Daily Post,  They’re having a debate about ebooks versus printed books. There’s been so much talk about how printed books are doomed, that there’s a danger this  could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Now, I am both a bibliophile and a bookworm. I have loved books for as long as I can remember. I also love new technology and, since 2008, have made a concerted effort to keep up with it. I love my Mac, iPhone, iPad and Kindle and I learn something new about them every day.

Well, I don’t learn so much about the Kindle, because there’s not much to learn: and that’s the way I like it. I have the old-style one with the keyboard, bought in 2010, from memory. My husband has a new one with a touch screen and virtual keyboard.
I have to say, I like mine better. The touch screen is annoying because you can suddenly touch the wrong thing and lose your page. The virtual keyboard is harder to use. Not that I use the keyboard much. My Kindle is for reading—not for games, emails, Facebook or surfing the net. Just reading.
That pretty much makes my Kindle just like a real book, only weighing less. When I first got it, I thought I would miss the physicality of a printed book. But that’s only a peripheral thing. Once I start reading, and lose myself in a book, the medium doesn’t matter; I forget about the medium entirely, unless it’s obtrusive or clunky.
If I turn my iPad to airplane mode, I can read comfortably on it. Ditto, even the iPhone—excellent for commuter trains when you can’t get a seat and have to stand.
HOWEVER—and it’s in upper case because it’s a big however—I still like printed books. The book, to my mind, is one of few things in the world that I call a perfect invention: that is, it’s not necessary to improve upon it.
The printed book is portable (more or less, depending), doesn’t need batteries, and is very durable.

As a young journalist, I wormed my way into a position of literary editor of the then-Sunday Star newspaper in Auckland. I interviewed Jeffrey—now Lord—Archer (a hilarious story for another time). I asked him to sign my copy of his latest paperback, First Among Equals, which he did.
Then my flatmate asked to borrow the book and took it away camping. When he brought it back, he apologised for its condition, explaining that he’d dropped it into a puddle. Because of the autograph, I still have that paperback 28 years later: it is a wreck, but it’s still readable, and none of the pages is even loose.

Archer, Crayon Files
Another reason the printed book is a perfect invention, is that it’s not seen as a security risk. You can read it anywhere, any time (unless it’s a banned book, of course). I love my Kindle for journeys, because it means I can travel lighter—and buy more books while I’m away. BUT, I still have to take a book for planes, for landing and taking off when electronic devices must be turned off.
Another perfect invention that has not been superseded by new technology is the transistor radio. This is because the batteries last forever, radios are comparatively cheap to buy, and you can listen all day and night for free. Despite all my expensive, high-tech devices, I still have a portable radio in my bathroom. It’s simple, cheap to run and it always works.
It seems that whenever a new medium becomes popular, lots of people think the old medium will disappear. While sometimes this is true: the telegram, for example, was largely trumped by more convenient and cheaper phone and email services. I was surprised though, in the course of researching this post, to discover that some countries still offer telegram services, although Australia’s closed in 2011. New Zealand closed its service in 1999 but reopened it in 2003 for business customers: apparently, it’s useful for debt collection services.

But there are a lot of old media that have not been superseded by the new.  My mother says that when she was young, everyone thought TV would spell the end of films and that all the cinemas would close down. This didn’t happen.

Similarly, live theatre didn’t die when film came along, video didn’t kill the radio, digital music didn’t kill vinyl. The latter is the most interesting of all. It was said that cassettes and the “indestructible” (ha ha, what a lie) CD would put paid to vinyl records. But now, the cassette is dead, CDs are on their way out, and vinyl is back in a huge way.

What happens is that the old medium changes to accommodate the new. So, for example, we no longer have news reels before movies at the cinema.

I believe that ereaders and printed books can continue to exist side by side.
How great for students to be able to get electronic text books, which are so much cheaper and easier to carry than the printed versions.
For myself, I prefer text books and academic texts in printed form. This is because I’m constantly looking up notes, indexes and other references, and often have seven or eight books on the floor beside my desk, all open at different pages. Even though I’ve got a huge screen on my Mac desktop, I can’t quite emulate the convenience of my books-on-the-floor method.

Aesthetics is another reason printed books will remain: the world is full of collectors, and showing someone your collection of ebooks isn’t quite the same as showing them your collection of 200 vintage books on Thailand, as I have.

So let’s agree to live and let live: ebooks and printed books side by side in glorious harmony.

What’s In a Name?

A few people have asked me to explain the title of my blog, The Crayon Files. It actually evolved from an apt nickname someone once gave me.
My first name, Caron, is a French surname (as in Leslie Caron, the dancer and star of Gigi, for whom I was named).

I’ve been writing constantly since I knew how. When I was a journalist, I always scribbled down my notes in shorthand. I worked for years in the 1990s at a tabloid TV magazine that had a big youth readership. During that time, I appeared in an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) series for children titled Writers and their World, or something similar.  I had thought it would be an innocuous little show screened during the day and forgotten. But the power of TV in those days was extraordinary. The series was shown during the day all right, but loads of children, their parents and teachers tuned in, and it was repeated for years. I was even recognised in the street! “Are you on TV?” a stranger asked me one day. “No,” I replied, truthfully I thought. “Well if you’re not, you’re a dead ringer for that girl on that show about writers,” he said. I had to then sheepishly admit that it was me after all. A local shopkeeper recognised me too.
Then the funniest part: I was then our magazine’s reporter for one of Australia’s highest rating shows, so the cast knew me well. So, one day, they were in the makeup room preparing for the day’s shooting. There was a TV in the room, which was tuned not to their own network but to the ABC.
Up pops Caron on the writers’ show episode. “Oh look,” said a cast member, one of the country’s best known actors and a writer himself now, “It’s Crayon”.
The name stuck, and quite a few colleagues called me Crayon for years—one still does.

Crayon-to-be: Caron at work at the magazine in 1990, about six years before the "Crayon" nickname came about.

Crayon-to-be: Caron at work at the magazine in 1990, about six years before the “Crayon” nickname came about.

I’ve also been nicknamed C.J., after my then initials, which morphed to Siege; and Biddle, by my parents when I was a baby, because I used to say “Biddle, biddle biddle” when I got frustrated.
Most people have had at least one nickname in their time—some stick and some don’t. If you’re Thai, you most likely use your nickname for all but the most formal of occasions.

I’d love to hear some of your nicknames and how they came about.

Travel Theme: Walls

In response to a theme suggested by Where’s my backpack?

I’m fascinated by walls. I like brick, stone, glass and wooden walls, and I especially like tiled walls. I like walls with wallpaper from the 1960s and 1970s, and from Victorian times. I like crumbling ancient temple walls and glittering Thai palace walls. I’ve taken lots of photos of walls, and I’ve begun to feature walls in my artwork inspired by these photos.

This one is of an ancient wall at the temple ruins of the old capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya (1350-1767). It’s a miniature, the size of a business card, and is part of a set of four I did of temple walls and windows in Thailand.


In November last year, I visited the Grand Palace in Bangkok for the first time in 11 years. This is a pastel painting I did depicting part of a tiled wall at a temple within the palace grounds.



The physicality of walls as man-made structures pervades most cultures—so much so, that when there are no walls, or when walls are knocked down or fall down, it is something to be remarked upon. Walls can keep enemies out, imprison those within, or conceal secrets. Walls are the key to privacy in the modern era, in which access to personal privacy has become paramount.

In pondering the significance of the wall across various cultures, I came up with these lists:

Geographical locations

Great Wall, China

Berlin Wall, Germany

City walls to keep out invaders, eg Chiang Mai, York

Wall St, US

Hadrian’s Wall, UK

Maginot Line, France

Western Wall (Wailing Wall), Israel

Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial, Canberra


Virtual Walls

Facebook wall

The Virtual Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Virtual Wall of Fame to celebrate Manny’s music shop in New York, the “original music superstore”, 1935-2009.

Remembering Our Fallen: The Virtual Wall of Remembrance for US service people in all conflicts

Woolworths Australia’s Virtual Walls for Christmas

US-Mexico virtual-wall border


English usage of the word “wall”

Interestingly, many languages differentiate between exterior walls and interior walls, but English does not.

“If these walls could talk…”

“The walls have ears”


Wall eye

Wall of fire

Wall of water

To drive someone up the wall

To hit the wall

Wall of sorrow

Wall of shame

Wall of fame

Wall of honour

To put up (psychological) walls

Wall-to-wall, as in carpet, but also TV coverage

Off the wall

To bang one’s head against the wall

To have one’s back to the wall

To take something (such as a business) to the wall

Climbing the walls

Hole-in-the-wall bar

Sea wall



Wall hanging