By Sara Dinnen

Apologies to that most wonderful New Zealand writer, Janet Frame, for (mostly) filching the title of one of her trio of autobiographies but there couldn’t be a more appropriate heading on this occasion.

On a mild day in May in the Far North of New Zealand the country is in Lockdown Level 4.  Stay at home, stay safe, is the official dictum and most people adhere to it.  It means not socialising except on the phone or Facebook or Zoom even if sometimes there really is a pressing emotional need to do more than that.

In the Bay of Islands in a thoroughly pleasant home overlooking the languid Long Bay sits a woman who describes herself as a Fabric Artist and Citizen’s Advice Volunteer (in that order) and she is busy creating.  It’s what she does constantly in the various guises that word entails; making things from fabric and various bits of what she calls ‘scrap’, painting walls in her home, digging in the garden, cooking up a storm and even making pear chutney.  The range of her originality, her imagination, her ability, is considerable and eclectic.

Her given name is Lorraine but others know her by different nomenclatures. The man she’s married to calls her Elle, for instance, and at least one friend refers to her as Lolly.  In any event, here she is at home in Lockdown Level 4 and she has started the process to craft an angel.  She has the kind of end vision for this (and most things) the rest of us can only imagine and it’s why she’s an artist when so many of us are not.

She picks stuff up from stuff she’s collected over the years and puts these things together in a form that soon becomes identifiable.  She has created a doll to begin with, something like a rag doll but with bits added. Lolly would explain it much more lucidly at this stage but for the sake of the story, she hasn’t been asked to.

She wasn’t sure how to manage the hair but in the end she uses lamb’s wool and the colour is remarkably like her own fair hair but please don’t think her own crowning glory looks like lamb’s wool because it simply doesn’t. It’s the colour we’re talking about here and Lolly doesn’t need to have it enhanced which probably annoys the hell out of women who spend hundreds of dollars trying to achieve the same look and not quite achieving the naturalness of hers.  But we digress.

Lolly then creates wings for this doll because she (and most dolls are she) is destined to become an angel without having to go through the laborious Catholic process of having her good deeds endorsed by the Pope and subsequently decreed as such if, indeed, that’s what happens.  If you’re Bahai, there are five ways you can apparently become an angel until you are….’blessed beings who have severed all ties with this nether world…released from the chains of self and the desires of the flesh, and anchored their hearts to the heavenly realms of the Lord….’

Lolly’s angel will become something like that when she’s handed over to the intended recipient, no fleshly desires, released if not by herself then by Lolly and she will anchor in the heart of the receiver.   But first, like every woman, she must have a handbag and into this bag must go the important things in life like a little cat and a yoga mat, in miniature form of course.

The little cat, by the way, was called Roy by the recipient’s six-year-old grand-daughter, do not ask why because who would know? Next to be put in the shoulder bag are the anchoring symbols of life like a champagne cork, a little peggy key ring and some shells from the beach that Lolly is overlooking.

As a woman, this soon-to-be-angel must have laced up walking boots. They, like everything else about her, are created by hand, bespoke, crafted, shaped.  Finally, comes the dress and a necklace. She may be newly created but now, magically, she has rapidly matured into a sparkling young woman (after much prodding and poking and planning) and is preparing to face the material world, much like the stuff she is indeed made of.

Lolly loads her carefully into the car for the drive to an outer suburb of a small but perfectly formed resort town in the Bay of Islands.  And there, in all her glory, this doll-like creation is handed over to a woman who needs her as a friend, a guide, a companion and yes, a guardian angel.

The woman who receives her is overcome with the symbolism of what this doll represents, made with creative flair by loving hands and as a token of friendship. She can’t hug and kiss the Fabric Artist, much as she would love to, because in Lock Down Level 4 none of that can happen.  

Instead, she places this angelic figurine carefully on a bookcase in the entrance so anyone coming into the house in the future will receive that grace, that love, that protection. She will sit next to a mannequin doll bought in Salerno, northern Italy, several years ago and cherished ever since.

The woman whose house this angel doll now resides believes strongly in baptism.  Thus, the angel doll is duly christened by means of a wave over her head with stalk of  rosemary sprinkled with a small portion of water, together with a few priest-like incantations. These were vaguely recalled when this woman had her house blessed by a real priest several years ago and now adopted in style, if not substance, as a one size fits all protocol.  

The angel is named Madam Poupée because she looks French with her jaunty red hat and beautifully crafted lace-up boots and because the woman’s grandchildren (one of whom is French) call the recipient Poppy so that’s close enough if anyone should ask – which is highly unlikely.

Thank you Madam Poupée. As a rag doll and a supposedly inanimate yet angelic creation you speak absolute and wonderful volumes and will continue to do so for many long years to come.

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