Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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My Father’s Funeral

My father died on the 27th of July 2013. I wasn’t there.

My father’s funeral was held on the 30th of July 2013. I didn’t attend.

II had said my goodbyes to my father two weeks before. He was barely conscious and I doubt that he realised he was dying. If he did, he certainly put up a good fight. The last time I saw him, his breathing stopped often and each time itndid I was certain he had breathed his last. But then miraculously he would start breathingnagain. Even though we knew the end was near, it was also a happy time.

For the first time in many, many years, my father, mother, two brothers, sister and I were together in the same room. It may have been a hospital room but that didn’t matter. We sat around Dad’s bed and between singing old favourite songs to him, we reminisced about growing up under the watchful eye of our parents. Every now and then our father would wake up and be with us for a minute or two before drifting into unconsciousness again.

I spent three days with my father, but inevitably I needed to return home. No one expected him to hang on as long as he did, but in hindsight we should have realised that being the stubborn bugger he was, he wasn’t going to go without a fight. Even though I had said my goodbyes, I was sad that I wasn’t there with him at the end. He was ninety years and one month young.

On the day before the funeral I developed a migraine. By the following morning it was much worse. I was unable to string sentences together, and had difficulty in comprehending what my wife said. I was unable to walk without staggering, one side of my face had a droop, and my right arm had gone on strike. As best as I could I told my wife that I still wanted to attend the funeral even though it was an hour drive to the city where it was to be held.

When my son arrived to pick us up, I not yet dressed into my suit, so I struggled upstairs to change. Buttons are very difficult to do up when one set of fingers refuses to cooperate and the other set obeys reluctantly. Eventually I was dressed and struggled downstairs and waited in the dining room while the others made final preparations for the journey.

I have no idea how long I waited, but eventually I realised the house was very quiet. I went in search of the rest of the family but found no one. I then noticed my son’s  car was not in the driveway. I couldn’t understand why they had left without me.

I tried to phone my sister to tell her that I had been left behind but I wasn’t able to make a coherent sentence, andbhung up in frustration. Almost immediately the phone rang,  it was from my sister’s house. The personnon the other end told me not to worry about not being able to attend the funeral or being a pallbearer. I’m not sure if my insistence that I wanted to attend was understood and eventually the caller terminated the call. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my wife and son had already arrived at my sister’s place where everyone was congregating before the funeral. Over an hour had passed since I went to change.

Migraines can play havoc  with  one’s executive skills and it  did so that day. I decided that if I was going to attend the funeral, I would have to get there myself. I realise I was in no state to drive, so I  set out on foot. I was about three kilometres into the journey when it dawned on  me that it would take more than nine hours to get there and the funeral would be well and truly over by then. I turned around and headed home.

I don’t remember the walk back home or anything else until late in the day when my wife found me sprawled out on the bed still in my suit. It’s not often I get angry, in fact it’s extremely rare, but apparently I was furious after I was told I was left behind “for my own good”. To add insult to injury, I was informed that my condition was so distressing to observe that it would have upset those attending the funeral.

I didn’t attend my father’s funeral. I wanted to.

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Lest we Forget: Quaker Peace Statement

peacepoppy-smallLest we Forget – Statement from the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa New Zealand, Te Hāhi Tūhauwiri, May 2014

On the eve of commemorations of World War I, Quakers in Aotearoa New Zealand are concerned that history is not reinvented to glorify war.

We remember the loss of life, the destruction of the environment, the courage of soldiers, dissenters and conscientious objectors; we remember all those who still suffer the ongoing trauma of war.

We also note the increasing use of scarce resources for war. In Aotearoa New Zealand over ten million dollars a day is being spent to maintain our armed forces in a state of ‘combat readiness’ [Note].

We actively support alternative processes for resolving conflict and violence both within and between nations.

We reaffirm our words of 1987:

“We totally oppose all wars, all preparation for war, all use of weapons and coercion by force, and all military alliances; no end could ever justify such means.

We equally and actively oppose all that leads to violence among people and nations, and violence to other species and to our planet. This has been our testimony to the whole world for over three centuries.

The primary reason for this stand is our conviction that there is that of God in every one which makes each person too precious to damage or destroy.

Refusal to fight with weapons is not surrender. We are not passive when threatened by the greedy, the cruel, the tyrant, the unjust.

We may disagree with the views and actions of the politician or the soldier who opts for a military solution, but we still respect and cherish the person.

What we call for in this statement is a commitment to make the building of peace a priority and to make opposition to war absolute.

We challenge New Zealanders to stand up and be counted on what is no less than the affirmation of life and the destiny of humankind.”

(From Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa New Zealand, Statement on Peace, 1987)

The full text of the Yearly Meeting of Aotearoa New Zealand 1987 Statement on Peace is available at http://quaker.org.nz/ym-peace-statement

[Note] ‘Some comparative facts and figures from the 2014 Budget’, Peace Movement Aotearoa, 16 May 2014, http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/gdams.htm


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Fairy-tale fallout

Rudolf Steiner’s educational philosophy has come under scrutiny in a racism row at a New Zealand Steiner school.

The Steiner philosophy that on the surface appears to be a viable alternative to the state school system has a darker side. Steiner believed humanity progressed through reincarnation from primitive dark races through child-like Asian races to eventually reach the pinnacle of the Aryan race.

Parents and teachers are often unaware of the racist ideas that are part of the Steiner system. My daughter and son in law sent their children to a Steiner school until they discovered the racism built into the Steiner philosophy. They were part of a parent and teacher walkout at the school in 2012.

Racist philosophies have no place in the NZ education system and it is appalling that the government subsidises schools that hold them.

An article about the Steiner school that my grandchildren attended can be read at http://www.listener.co.nz/current-affairs/education/fairy-tale-fallout/


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What’s in a word?

Since I began posting comments online some five years ago, I have been careful in choosing what words to use. No, it’s not because I use words that are offensive — I’ve never had the urge to use them — it’s because I’m not sure how well I’d be understood if if wrote using my natural language.

Most of the forums and blogs I frequent are either international or American. This is inevitable considering the small size of NZ compared to the rest of the English speaking world. I do post on a few kiwi sites, where I can use language I’m comfortable with, and be reasonably sure I will be understood. However, on other sites I often agonise over what words and expressions to use. English varies from region to region, and while many variations are obvious, others are less so.

One advantage (or disadvantage, depending on your point of view) of coming from a small place such as NZ is that I am probably more aware of how my English differs from the dominant American variant than the typical American is about how his language differs from NZ English.

Now that I have started blogging, I want to be able to express myself in language I’m comfortable with, but if I want to increase readership, I need to use language that the readers are comfortable with. I’m not sure how successful I can be at achieving both objectives.

Many words can be used safely, even if not universally used. For example every English speaker understands railway and railroad even though they are likely to use just one of them. Similarly, while a speaker may use only petrol or gasoline he/she will understand both. If I used the word cattle-stop, you would more than likely guess that it refers to a stock grid or cattle-guard.

chocolate-fishOn the other hand, I’m not going to say that my best mate is a hooker for the All Blacks on a non-NZ forum. I’d say that my best friend plays for our national rugby team. Nor am I likely to say that you deserve a chocolate fish. And I wouldn’t attempt to write that my mate has hired a chippie to fix the bach on his section by the lake that was munted in the shake a fortnight ago.

I know when an American refers to a fanny, he’s referring to the part of the anatomy you sit on, and not what the word means in NZ. And if an American or British visitor asks where the bathroom is, I know he doesn’t really want to know where the bathroom is. He wants to know where the toilet is instead.

If an American wants to know where to find the elevator to the second floor, he actually wants to know where to find the lift to the first floor. If I mention biscuit, he’ll probably think of what I know as a scone, whereas I’m referring to what he calls a cookie. If he asks for jello, he really wants jelly, and if he asks for jelly, he really wants jam.

If an American child makes a spelling mistake, she will likely use an eraser or white-out to correct it. A kiwi kid will use a rubber or twink instead. Our ankle biters like candy-floss and lollies, whereas American children like cotton-candy and candy. Our children like soft drinks, but American children prefer soda or pop.

I know non NZers won’t know what I meant if I decided to join the business waka, or I said I feel a box of birds. I doubt that they would know what I meant if I said I avoided a certain bar because it was chocka. There are many expressions I would like to use, which may be universally understood, but because I’m not sure of that fact I avoid using them.

Would you know what to do if I ask you to boil the jug, mow the berm or rattle your dags? Do you know the difference between being pissed, being pissed aroundbeing pissed off and taking the piss, or the difference between pissing down and pissing up? If I mentioned that someone wasn’t only a bit of a dag, he was the whole sheep’s arse, what would you think of that person?

Do you know what I’m doing if I go tramping? Do you know the difference between bugger, bugger me, bugger off, bugger all, Well I’ll be buggered and I’m buggered?

If I posted a motoring blog, would you know what parts of a car a bonnet, boot, bumper, wing, accelerator and windscreen are? Would you know what I meant by a tar sealed road or a metal road? How about if I top up? You probably know what a roundabout is, but do you know what a give way or a zig-zag are? If I told you that a pavement isn’t for driving on, would you think I’m talking a load of cods wollop?

If I talk politics, would you understand what I mean when I refer to MMP, Rogernomics or waka jumping? How about the beehive or coat-tailing?

Is a unit a house, apartment, a farming property, an electric fence system, a stock carrier, an electric train, or a section of study?

Does crook mean angry, bad, broken, inadequate, empty, ill, used-up, thief, unproductive or weak? If I’m crook as a dog, what am I? If I put you crook, what have I done?

My problem is there are many words and expressions similar those above that I would use if they were correctly understood by most readers. I don’t want to cater just for a New Zealand readership, but I would like to be able to express myself freely without causing confusion.

If I haven’t confused you with strange expressions and you’re not a kiwi, then you deserve a chocolate fish. on the other hand, don’t spit the dummy if it all seems like nonsense. I’ll eventually suss it out, which will make it sweet as.

 


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What causes war?

While the reduction or removal of guns is not likely to see peace break out, it work certainly reduce significantly the harm caused by conflict.

Blog Blogger Bloggest

warThis is a question I’ve given plenty of thought to recently, in light of the centenary of World War I, the Syrian conflict and more recently the renewal of Israel-Palestine hostilities. I’ve been reading a lot of opinions on blogs and news sites.

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The day God spoke to me

This post is part two of a series on the development of my religious beliefs from childhood in the 1950s and 1960s to the present in the 2010s. In the first of the series, I wrote about my childhood belief that adults were privilege to knowledge that was hidden from children. They also made up stories which they wanted children to believe even though they knew the stories to be false.

This part of the story commences in 1957, shortly before I turned eight. My father was not religious. He was probably agnostic, but he may have been an atheist. Religion was a topic he avoided at all costs. However he had a dislike for organised religion.

My mother was not a practising Christian at the time — perhaps she could be described as a closet Christian. She encouraged me and my siblings to attend Sunday school in part to encourage me to interact socially as well as the more obvious objective to broaden our view of the society we lived in. There was no pressure to attend Sunday school, and I was the only child that continued to attend longer than six months.

My motive for continuing to attend was not because I believed the stories we were told, or that it was necessary to attend to be a good Christian. I was sure that the real truth about God was being hidden from me, and by continuing to attend I was convinced that I would discover it.

Children’s books with illustrated bible stories were accessible at home, school and Sunday school. God was usually depicted as a wise old man with a long white beard and wearing flowing white robes. He was usually carrying a staff, and was often shown as standing on a cloud-like surface (heaven sitting on the clouds?). Strangely, while I was sure the truth about God was being kept from me, I never questioned his appearance and accepted he looked and behaved like the kind and gentle being depicted in the illustrated biblical stories. Keep this in mind as I describe a turning point in my religious journey.

At that time, my school provided one hour of religious studies each week. In truth, it was more like Christian indoctrination by whichever church happened to take your class each week. The woman who took my class had beliefs that would approach those of a modern fundamentalist church. During one lesson she decided to illustrate the power of God by telling a story, which I have paraphrased as follows:

One Sunday, a Christian wife persuaded her nonbeliever husband to accompany her to church. After service was finished, the minister stood by the exit, as was his practice, to enter into dialogue with any member of the congregation who might wish to do so. The wife decided to take a moment to thank the minister for the informative sermon which was about the infinite power and mercy that God possesses. The minister, being the kind man he was, tried to encourage the husband to join the conversation. The husband stated that he saw no evidence that God possessed any power at all, and in fact he didn’t exist. However, if he did exist, he was clearly an evil god as he allowed so much suffering in the world. The wife was shocked at the husband’s blasphemy and warned him that he risked God’s ire for his foul words. The husband retorted that there was no God, and there was nothing short of God striking him dead that would convince him that God existed. At that moment the husband fell down dead. This, children, is proof that God exists and has the power to do anything he desires. So remember what he could do to you if you make God angry.

I was appalled by the story. The God depicted in the story was nothing like the loving God I knew from the stories I had heard and read. Was this the real God that adults had kept from children? Was he someone who we should be terrified of? Was he not the gentle loving Father we had been lead to believe?

I can remember sitting at my desk in shock and disbelief. It was almost like the foundation of my belief in the goodness of creation had been swept away. To this day, I can recall clearly crying out silently “You wouldn’t do that, would you God?”

Being a seven year old, going on eight, with an unquestioning belief in the existence of God, what happened next should not be a surprise. Today I can explain it away as a neurobiological reaction to a traumatic event, which was influenced by social conditioning. However, what I experienced had a profound effect on my trust in adults and a realisation that God was able to be comprehended in multiple ways. What happened is just as vivid now as it was then, almost fifty years ago. It neither proves the existence or nonexistence of God. It does illustrate that the mind is capable of strange and wonderful interpretations of reality.

My plea to God to affirm his goodness was answered by what I can only describe as the sounds of a heavenly choir rising in glorious harmony as a brilliant light grew before my eyes. The light transformed into bright clouds through which a clearly wise and gentle man with white beard and robes stepped. The face was kindly but tinged with sadness. This was clearly God, and the sadness was due to my doubting his goodness and that our religious instructor has so misrepresented him. He answered my question by asking one of his own, which was “What do you believe?” It was immediately clear to me that God could never contemplate harming anyone as told by our instructor. With that realisation, the vision quickly faded,and I was back in the reality of the classroom.

Now before anyone calls the men in white coats to come and take me away, I am describing what I experienced at the time. It was how a child’s mind was able to make sense of a confusing and traumatic event using his knowledge and experienced wisdom in his relatively short life. To this day it is still my most vivid memory, even though I no longer believe God exists in that form. That experience was the start of a long journey that is yet to be completed.

The next post in this series will reveal how others reacted to my telling them that God spoke to me, and my response to those reactions.


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Remembering the Rainbow Warrior and the fallout

Rainbow WarriorIt is twenty nine years ago today that the French sank the Rainbow Warrior. The event was a trigger for me and many of my compatriots to reevaluate how we viewed NZ’s relationship with our so-called allies. For those who are unfamiliar with the Rainbow Warrior Affair, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.

I felt NZ had been betrayed twice. Firstly by France. That a supposedly friendly nation could condemn the sinking as an act of terrorism — when it was in reality guilty of the act itself — was quite appalling. The second betrayal was the refusal of our allies to condemn the sinking once it was discovered that France was the guilty party. Both the U.S. and U.K. made it quite clear that they were not not interested in the sinking, and it was a matter to be resolved between NZ and France.

Even after NZ jailed two of the DGSE agents and NZ was being crippled by France’s blockade of our produce to Europe — mainly the U.K. — neither of our major allies were prepared to comment. To rub salt into the wound, the U.K. bought produce from France without so much as a murmer. A great way to discover who your friends aren’t.

NZ has always had an antinuclear stance but the reaction of our so-called allies shifted our attitude even further against Nuclear weapons. When the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act was passed in 1987, it was supported by 92% of the population.

In the wake of the Rainbow Warrior sinking, the U.S. made the mistake of testing NZ’s antinuclear stance by requesting access to our ports for the USS Buchanan. The ship was capable of launching nuclear depth bombs, and it would have been political suicide for the government to have accepted the visit. How could Reagan have misread NZ’s attitude so soon after the sinking? His reaction to the refusal was certainly not the way to retain a friend.

So how did the the Reagan administration react? They scrapped the ANZUS treaty. We could live with that. Judging by the support NZ received over the Rainbow Warrior affair, it would be a mistake to expect the treaty to be honoured. What was insulting was that NZ envoys were denied access to the U.S. administration. While so-called enemies such as the USSR and China could access the U.S. administration, NZ could not. There were elements of the administration that wanted to punish NZ with trade sanctions: “How dare a little country stand up against us”. Is it any wonder that anti American sentiment rose many fold?

It has taken the U.S. twenty five years to get over their perceived insult by NZ. We are finally allowed to participate in multinational military exercises, and can take part in trade negotiations with the U.S. The American right still want to have trade liberalisation tied to the scrapping of our antinuclear legislation, but it seems that the Obama administration accepts that is not going to happen.

Will NZ and America ever return to the close relationship that existed before 1984? Somehow I doubt it. The fallout from the Rainbow Warrior Affair has seen a profound Change in how NZers see our place in the world. Is it for the better? I’m not sure. Only time will tell.

 


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A week in the life of … (part 1)

As he passed through the bedroom doorway, his right shoulder collided painfully with the door-frame, followed immediately by the little toe on his right foot doing the same. While he is accustomed to abusing his shoulder in this manner, the same can’t be said for the toe. If he was into swearing, this would have been an opportune time to do some. The toe is positively yelling at him to say something – anything – loud and inappropriate. As usual, he can’t think of a single expletive in the heat of the moment, but he manages to expel air between clenched teeth, making a satisfying groaning sound, quite appropriate for the situation he thought.

The throbbing toe, while painful, distracts him from the the little man in his head bashing the inside of his left temple with a sledgehammer. As he descends the stairs, the throbbing in his toe subsides, and the thumping pain in his head returns with vengeance. He wishes that the toe would complain for a little longer – “a change is as good as a rest” he recalls. He feels sorry for the little man with the sledgehammer. The man has been swinging it non-stop for two days, so he’s probably quite tired by now.

At the foot of the stairs, he turns and goes into the kitchen carefully keeping as far to the left as possible. No sense in colliding with another door-frame. His wife isn’t there as he expected. He goes to the window and looks down to the carport below. No car. She must have left early. Did she say good-bye to him this morning? He can’t recall. He turns to look at the clock on the wall. No clock. He looks away and then back to where the clock should be. Slowly it fades into view. First the sliver grey frame, then the white face followed soon after by the numbers. Finally the hands appear. Eight o’clock.

Coffee time. He goes to the cup rack his daughter made at school many years ago. A beautiful wood-stained object with three crossarms capable of holding six large coffee mugs. He waits for a cup to fade into view. His first attempt at grabbing a cup fails as his hand passes straight through it. He closes one eye and has another attempt. Success. He picks up the stainless steel coffee plunger. By its weight there is at least two cups of coffee remaining. He pours out a cup, then wipes up the copious amount of liquid spilt onto the bench-top.

He searches for the sugar bowl. He knows it should be on the island counter-top and starts scanning for it. On the third scan he locates it, almost directly in front of him. He tips two teaspoonfuls of sugar into the coffee cup, not noticing that he spilt most of the second onto the counter. He makes his way to the microwave, and places the cup inside. He goes back to to gather a dishcloth to wipe the spilt coffee from the turntable. Closing the door, he presses “Warm+” and then the “Start” button.

He waits while the microwave’s infra-red sensor monitors the rising temperature of his drink. He becomes aware of a dampness in his right sock. Had he spilt something and stepped in it? He looked down at the floor. Red streaks. Where did they come from? Plum jam? Beetroot? He doesn’t recall seeing either today? It looks like … blood!

To be continued.


Contrary to popular opinion, migraines are not just a bad headache. They can affect a sufferer in many different ways. This story is an attempt to describe a week in the life of a chronic migraineur. The migraineur in the story is not exceptional. His symptoms, while not common, are not as extreme as experienced by many others. He has auras and other visual disturbances, loses fine motor control, and experiences cognitive and executive failure during attacks.

Between attacks he has been described as of above average intelligence, open minded and having a dry sense of humour. During attacks he has been seen by others as being drunk or under the influence of drugs, having a stroke, or suffering from dementia.

The story is being told because too many people have little or no tolerance of those who are “different”. The aim is not to gain sympathy. It’s not wanted or needed. The aim is to give a little insight into the life of just one person who is just a little different from the norm. If it paves the way for a few to become more accepting of others, then it will have served its purpose.

The person portrayed in the story is real and and the events described will be those that happened to him over a single week. I will endeavour to be as accurate as I can, but as some events cannot be recalled fully, some “filling of the gaps” may be required. For this, I hope I am forgiven.

In case you are wondering how I am able to tell this story in detail, it’s because it comes from personal experience. The week is just one out of the fifty two I lived this last year.


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whistling for a cuppa

I was sitting quietly beside my wife while she was watching House Rules on TV. I was catching up with the news on my tablet when I heard a kettle start to whistle. Normally I wouldn’t notice the whistle, but for some reason this one did. I looked up and sure enough there was a kettle whistling away on the television screen.

I was puzzled why that particular boiling kettle should have drawn my attention. The kettle scene was part of a TV commercial which had no voiceover. Just a series of vignettes, finishing with a simple text message. So,why was my attention drawn to that kettle? It puzzled me, and I had the feeling that there was something odd with the commercial – something felt out of place.

People who know me will recognise that once my mind grabs hold of a thought, it won’t let go until it feels satisfied. And it wasn’t being satisfied. What was it that made that scene of a whistling kettle that bothered me?

And then it dawned on me. What was a whistling kettle doing in a NZ scene? I haven’t seen one in years. In fact, the last one I recall belonged of my grandmother back in the 1960s. In the winter months it sat on the coal range, replacing the standard electric jug that was used over summer.

I can understand why a whistling kettle was used. Just like the silhouette of a steam locomotive is used on road signs warning of a railway crossing, the kettle is an easily recognised icon.

But do whistling kettles still exist outside TV land? I checked several home appliance stores but could find none. An online search found two shops that had one model each. One shop stocked an electric whistling kettle, the other a whistling kettle that required a gas or electric hob to heat it.

Compared to the hundreds of models of non whistling kettles available, it seems that the whistling variety are about as rare as hen’s teeth. So why are they so common in ads and TV shows?

Most shows broadcast here are foreign (mostly American and British), so perhaps that might be a clue. I searched major U.S. home appliance shops and was totally surprised by the results. In four major retailers, eight of the ten top selling kettles were whistling kettles. What’s more, six required heating over gas or an electric element. It’s not like they don’t have automatic cordless models that are the norm here, they just don’t seem to be very popular by comparison.

Perhaps the cost of electricity and gas is cheaper than in NZ? Consumer tests show that an externally heated kettle takes about twice as long to heat as an electric one and uses more energy. I’m sure there’s a perfectly rational explanation why Americans prefer a whistling kettle over an automatic one, but I just can’t think of one.

I notice that the word “kettle” has almost totally replaced the word “jug” when referring to devices for heating water. In the past, “jug” referred to an upright vessel, whereas “kettle” referred to one with a broad base such as those that were externally heated, or were electric models with a similar profile. I’m not sure why the change has occurred, but it may be due to the demise of local manufacturers. For decades I’ve been heating water for my coffee in an electric jug, and the standard expression we’ve used has been to “boil the jug”. Seems like I need to get use to hearing the expression ” put the kettle on” instead.

In the context of an externally heated kettle, that makes sense as it is put on a source of heat. But the expression doesn’t make sense when where the appliance is not put onto anything – it’s simply switched on. Another expression hungover from another era.

So long as the the change in name to kettle isn’t accompanied by a whistle, I’ll manage.