Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Cliff Whiting

This post is a little different from my usual fare. It’s a documentary on the life of a specific person who was a peripheral influence in my youth. It’s more as a handy point of reference for myself than something I desire to share with the world. In particular it reminds me of the mana (personal and collective strength, pride, identity and humility) that is present in so many people that have been an inspiration to me over the years. Having said that, it does illustrate how aspects of Māori culture, and particularly Māori art are finding their way into mainstream life in Aotearoa New Zealand, and some of my readers may find it informative.

For a while, Cliff Whiting and my father were work colleagues. They shared adjacent offices, and while my father travelled the region teaching school teachers how to teach phys ed (sports, folk dancing, use of playground equipment, safety etc), Cliff taught teachers how to teach art.

The documentary below provides me with some of his background that I was unaware of and brings me up to date with what Cliff has been up to since my father’s retirement in the 1970s. The video is recorded in Te Reo (the Māori language) so I recommend turning on English language Closed Captions if you choose to watch. Some words have not been translated as they are well understood by all Kiwis, but are unlikely to be understood by others. I’ve included those of significance below the video


Iwi: extended kinship group, tribe, nation, people, nationality,
Kahawai: schooling coastal fish (Arripis trutta)
Kōrero: speech, narrative, story, news
Kōwhaiwhai: painted scroll ornamentation – commonly used on meeting house rafters
Kūmara: Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)
Marae: the area in front of a meeting house where formal greetings and discussions are held; informally, it includes the complex of buildings around the marae
Māui: a mythical demi-god who, among his many other deeds, captured the sun in a net in order to slow it’s travel across the sky.
Nīkau: a NZ palm (Rhopalostylis sapida)
Pākehā: Non-Māori
Pōnga: silver tree fern – especially its tree-like trunk
Tāne, Tāne-mahuta; mythical guardian of the forest, a child of Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the earth mother), who separated them from their tight embrace to allow light into the world.
Te Reo: the (Māori) language
Waka huia: treasure box, also the name of a TV documentary series on Māori Television
Weka: several species of flightless birds endemic to NZ(Gallirallus australis greyiGallirallus australis australis) with a reputation for stealing objects, especially if they are shiny (cutlery, jewelry etc)
Whakapapa: genealogy, lineage, descent
Whānāu: extended family, family group




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Musical Monday (2021/10/04)

I intend to publish a music themed blog post on Mondays, hence the title. I doubt that it will be every Monday – I want it to be a pleasure, not a chore. We’ll see what eventuates. Here is the first Musical Monday post.

Parihaka

Tomorrow, the 5th of November marks the 140th anniversary of the invasion of Parihaka by government troops, armed constabulary and militia volunteers. It’s a shameful blot on our history and shouldn’t be forgotten. It still seems that many, perhaps most, Kiwis are unaware of the event . Is Aotearoa New Zealand the only nation where the teaching of its history is considered optional?

That a community founded on Christian pacifist ideals should be destroyed because it was an impediment to the goals of European settlers and the government of the day speaks volumes to the attitude of most settlers at that time. Parihaka was a large town (for that era in NZ), thriving, modern (the first town in NZ with street lighting, the second with pumped water reticulation), very open, the centre for a large, mainly Māori, community. And that seems to be it’s major “problem”. It wasn’t “for the settlers, by the settlers, of the settlers, and to hell with the Māori”.

I learnt of Parihaka’s history as a child in the mid to late 1950s. I guess I was seven or eight at the time, perhap nine. My sources were from my school teacher, a Pākehā with a keen history of New Zealand, and An elderly Māori Woman who lived on the section (property) behind ours. She would have been well into her nineties, perhaps older, and had lived through the Taranaki Land Wars – another shameful blot on our history that preceded the incident at Parihaka, and many ways a precursor of what was to come.

Wikipedia provides a reasonably accurate although impersonal story of Parihaka, but fails to capture the “essence” of the story as I heard it, especially from our neighbour. After some sixty-five years, my memory of the details I learnt at that time are incomplete at best, but I do remember what I felt. It’s often claimed that autistic people are unable to be empathetic, but I can assure you that they way I heard the story told, it was as though I had personally lived in Parihaka in the months and years before and after the the destruction of that community.

WordPress, in its “wisdom” will not allow me to embed and publish my preferred version music video of Parihaka. I can embed it in draft mode but not publish it. It’s a 1989 music video performed by the writer/composer, Tim Finn, accompanied by The Herbs. You can view it here:

https://www.nzonscreen.com/embed/dd4667b3c374d53f

I’ve also embedded a Youtube video clip below the lyrics for the benefit of those who prefer to remain on this WordPress page. There seems to be a few minor changes in the lyrics, including the dropping of the name of one of the Parihaka leaders, Tohu, pepper has become salt, and dreamed has become watched, but the essential message remains the same.

Lyrics to Parihaka

My friend, My friend, I hate to see you suffer,
Events conspire to bring us to our knees,
My friend, my friend, you've taken this the wrong way,
Rise up, defend yourself, never give in,
Look to the sky, the spirit of Te Whiti,
The endless tide is murmuring his name.
Tohu, Te Whiti will never be defeated,
And even at the darkest hour,
Their presence will remain.
I'll sing to you the song of Parihaka.

Te Whiti he used the language of the spirit,
Then stood accused, the madman and his dream,
They saw the train go roaring through the tunnel,
They heard the voice travel on the magic wire,
But they loved the silence of the river,
They dreamed the dog pissed on the cannon's wheel.
Tohu, Te Whiti they'll never be defeated,
Not even at the darkest hour,
Their presence will remain.
I'll sing for you the song of Parihaka.

One day you'll know the truth,
They can't pull out the roots,
Come and take me home,
To weep for my lost brother.

They gather still, the clouds of Taranaki,
His children's children wearing the white plume,
So take me for the sins of these sad islands,
The wave still breaks on the rock of Rouhotu.
And when you taste the pepper that's on your pudding,
And when you taste the sugar in your soup,
Tohu, Te Whiti, they'll never be defeated,
Even at the darkest hour,
Their presence will remain,
I'll sing for you the song of Parihaka,
Come to Parihaka,
Weep for my lost brother,
The spirit of nonviolence,
Has come to fill the silence,
Come to Parihaka.
Parihaka – Tim Finn with The Herbs

It’s kind of ironic that we Kiwis commemorate Guy Fawkes Day as enthusiastically as the English, perhaps more so, but most of us fail to realise that we have something more significant to remember on that date – the courage of all those at Parihaka who in the face of hatred and violence stood firm to their principles of peace and love. Even now, more than a hundred years later, we are yet to truly understand that might doesn’t mean right. It’s too important to forget. Parihaka is a powerful reminder.


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Footsteps On My Mind

I’m not a person who feels down if things don’t go as intended. Melancholy is doesn’t seem to be part of my DNA. About the only time I feel “out of sorts” is during a prolonged migraine episodes when it feels like my “get up and go” has “got up and gone”.

Although I don’t consider I have reached my “twilight” years, I’m definitely in my “late afternoon” years. Despite being a chronic migraine sufferer, and living for sixty years not knowing I was autistic, but feeling like I was a square peg being forced through a round hole I view my life as being a wonderful experience. I can’t imagine an alternative life being any better.

Mostly, I recall the good things that have happened in my life, and whether or not it’s good to do so, I tend to sweep memories of negative experiences under the carpet. One reason for this state of affairs is due to having alexithymia, often referred to as “emotional blindness”. I suck at reading the emotions of others, but I’m even worse at reading my own. I know happiness and contentment are pleasurable experiences and I know deep sadness is is not. Most others I’m oblivious to, and it’s only since discovering I am autistic have I learnt to recognise some emotions by carefully thinking about the physical manifestations that frequently accompany emotions.

If it feels like my blood is about to bool it means I’m angry (or wearing to many clothes or in the early stage of another migraine). If I feel a churning motion in my stomach, it means I’m nervous (or some food has disagreed with me or Im hungry or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack). If my face feels hot, it means I’m embarrassed (or I need to remove a layer of clothing or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack). If I find my hands or jaw is clenched then I’m most likely very stressed out (or I could be in a state of rising anger or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack). If people ask me to repeat something I’ve said then it might be because I feel down and am talking too quietly (or I’m in the early stage of another migraine attack and I’m slurring my speech, or we could be in a noisy environment). And so the list goes on.

Learning to recognise emotions this way is quite confusing. For example, If I feel my eyes start to water (and there’s no irritant present) does it mean I’m happy, or sad, or both or something else? If I feel a lump in my throat is this really nostalgia tinged with sadness? What else can it mean? And is it something else if I experience both the lump and the water? I really have no idea.

Over recent weeks I’ve been having moments where I recall my thoughts from my teen years many decades ago when I was beginning to understand that I was in some way different from everyone else and very different from my peers. I don’t recall having any feelings one way or the other as it dawned on me that everyone had a group of friends and I had none; that others seemed to revel in loud and noisy events where everyone talked very loudly, but I was unable to make out a single word and I’d be physically ill within five minutes of arriving; That I had no clue about the topics fellow teenagers were talking about and none of them seemed interested in why the Ab class locomotive was so ubiquitous in NZ or the nature of black holes or what technology driverless cars might employ in the future.

While I was very comfortable in my own company, I realised that having conversations with myself was not very profitable. I don’t recall feeling sad or angry or disappointed about my situation. I simply accepted that that was the way it was. But now when I look back at those moments when I began to realise that I was in some way very different from everyone else and would never fit into their world, I do feel a discomfort somewhere just below my diaphram. I’m not able to distinguish between mild indigestion and hunger, and I rarely have either sensation, but this sensation is something like that. If I’m sitting or lying I have to get up and do something, but I have no idea what or why.

I’m guessing the flashbacks and the uneasy feeling are associated but how and why? I’m confident I understand my teen self better now than I did back then. So are the sensations due to a reliving of emotions of the past that I wasn’t aware of at the time, or are they new emotions created out of hindsight and in the full knowledge of what was to come. Either way, what does this sensation represent? Regret? nostalgia? Sadness? Disappointment? Loss? Something else? I’m assuming it’s negative because it’s unpleasant.

I doubt very much that it’s happiness due to knowing how my life has turned out. For the most part I think I’ve been blessed: a best friend companion and lover for almost 50 years; two wonderful children and three amazing grandkids. What more could I desire? While there’s always a possibility that the discomfort and the flashbacks are unrelated and purely coincidental, I don’t think so. And that’s because after hearing a particular song this morning, the hunger or indigestion was much stronger and still lingers.

Popular songs have always been about the hopes and disappointments of romance, but scattered among them are a few that deal with the hopes, dreams and disappointments of every aspect of life. I find song lyrics fascinating because it is often very difficult to know what a song is really about. The song I heard this morning was one of my favourites at round the time I left school or perhaps shortly after and was about the time I realised that I was not a typical teenager by any stretch of the imagination and never would be.

As I listened to the track, I suddenly felt the discomfort rise as these words were sung:

People all around, they never seem to notice me
Maybe because my mind's behind a cloud that no-one sees the wood for trees
What's wrong with me?

Did those words speak to me then but I didn’t realise it, or are those words speaking to me now reminding me how much my life would have been different if I was not autistic? I don’t know. What I am sure of is that I’m unlikely to get a good night’s sleep thinking about it. Bugger emotions! (Is that frustration, irritation, anger, regret or something else?) They’re so confusing. It’s at moments like these that I wish I hadn’t had any mindfulness training, and I’d remain blissfully unaware of the connection between emotions and bodily sensations.

For anyone interested in hearing the source of my discomfort, here it is. I was into psychedelic music at that time which is why I might have found this piece attractive Perhaps all I’m feeling is nothing more than nostalgia for a music era that no longer exists. Oh I give up!.

Music Convention – Footsteps On My Mind


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My kind of food

Growing up, I was not particularly fond of seafood. Although I tolerated the taste of most fish, my ability to catch fish bones in my throat brought me much fame in the whānau, and considerable discomfort to myself. It didn’t matter how careful my mother was in de-boning fish, I was sure to discover a bone by choking on it. Typically no one else could find any bones for want of trying.

Paua3I didn’t enjoy shellfish at all with the one exception. And that was paua. For those unfamiliar with the word, pāua are members of the abalone family endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand, commonly found just below the low tide mark around most of the country. Blackfoot, the most common species has a black body and the shell has a beautiful peacock-like iridescence. With friends of my parents regularly diving for these delicacies, they found their way to our table frequently.

My father was a keen surf-caster, and most weekends when the weather was good, the entire family would squeeze into the car for a short trip along the coast to one of Dad’s many fishing spots. While Dad looked after two, three or four fishing rods, Mum would keep an eye on us kids while we dammed streams, explored caves and rock pools, and risked life and limb climbing cliffs.

It would be a very exceptional day if Dad didn’t catch enough fish to provide a meal or two for six people with a little left over to give to friends. From what  I remember, Dad always prepared the fish, but both he and Mum took turns at cooking it.

In those days, the selection of food in NZ was very limited. Most vegetables came from home gardens as it did in our case. Roasts of mutton and hogget were by far the cheapest form of protein, with beef and lamb some distance behind. Smaller cuts such as steaks and chops were too expensive to have more than once a month, and pork and chicken were so expensive, that we had them only on special occasions such as Christmas. Fish, if purchased was also expensive. So free protein fresh from the sea was really appreciated by all the family except for myself. The fish I most enjoyed came in cans and never contained bones to choke on; Tuna, salmon, herrings and mackerel.

When we were children, meal times a were special time where food, experiences, thought and opinions were shared. They will always be fondly remembered by me. However, the only food I really loathed was one of my parents’ favourites – mashed carrots and parsnips. I still feel ill when I recall its taste and texture. Disgusting!

My wife’s background was very different. For her family, sea food was the primary source of protein and in such a wide variety of forms, that it still makes my head spin. When she first arrived in NZ she longed for the variety of food found in Japanese supermarkets. She had no idea how to cook roasts – Japanese homes don’t have ovens – and the smell of sheep meat cooking made her physically ill. Most of the food and ingredients she was familiar with were unknown here.

Over the four and a half decades since her arrival, New Zealand has undergone a food revolution and our choice of fruit, vegetables and proteins has increased many times over. Our choice of foods will never match the likes of Japan or Europe or (I assume) North America as we are a relatively small country physically with a tiny population, and a very, very long way from other markets. But it’s a marked improvement over the days of my childhood.

Since those log ago days, the relative prices of many foods have changed drastically. Chicken, once very expensive, is now the cheapest form of protein, while beef and lamb (why is all sheep meat now identified as lamb?) is the most expensive. Pork and fish lie somewhere in between. Which finally brings me around to point of this post.

My wife has educated my pallet to truly enjoy a wide variety of food styles, but what I realised recently is how drastically my protein of choice has changed. Where once I preferred red meat, today I much prefer red or pink fish. To be specific, tuna or NZ farmed salmon in the form of sashimi. Salmon is around half the price of good steak, and tuna is somewhere in between. If, fifty years ago someone told me that one day I would enjoy eating raw fish, I would have laughed at such a ridiculous  statement. How wrong I would have been!

Long gone are the days of “meat and three veg”. Here are some recent examples typical meals lovingly prepared by my wife.

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Last meal

I’ve just had my last meal – well until Tuesday evening anyway.

On that day I am due for a colonoscopy, so from this evening I can not consume any food apart from some liquids until after the procedure is completed. I’ve been on a restricted diet for a few days which has limited my diet to rice, products made with white flour, egg, potatoes, fish and chicken. Absolutely no red meat, fruit, vegetables or nuts. Kind of takes the fun out of eating.

Hospitals are stress producing. I seem to end up there once or twice every year. I dislike hospitals due the noise, bright lights, constant activity and the lack a fresh cool breeze. Not the best place for someone hypersensitive to external stimuli. If I don’t have a migraine when I enter hospital, you can guarantee I’ll have have one by the time I leave.

The colonoscopy is causing some emotional stress. Not because of what the results might be, but the thought of what happens during the procedure itself has brought back a very unpleasant memory from way back last century – 1963 to be precise.

As a thirteen year old going on fourteen, I was somewhat of a loner. I had only one school friend, who also did not mix socially with our peers. I didn’t much like contact sports and couldn’t throw a ball as well as the girls, let alone any of the boys. Up until I was eleven, I often spent time talking with the girls at school, but once puberty kicked in, I found it even more difficult socialising with the girls than I did with the boys.

Somewhere about that time, rumours started to spread about my sexuality. I was mostly unaware of this, but it seems there was some controversy amongst my peers as to whether I was a “queer” or a “queen”. I suppose my social awkwardness was the catalyst behind the rumours. At that time Aspergers Syndrome wasn’t recognised and people like me were simply considered antisocial, unsocial, or just odd.

On a somewhat cold autumn day, I was invited to join a game of bullrush. Being invited to join in games was a rare event for me, so even though it is quite physical, I was happy to take part. I had no idea who the boy was, but I guess he was at least two years older than I was.

The game was to take place on a rugby field on the far side of the school grounds, so I followed a group of some twenty or thirty boys to our destination. It never occurred to me that most of the boys were considerably older than I was. The game started, and as was usual. I was never called to make the solo run. What was odd in hindsight that I was never caught during the bullrushes, and eventually I was the only player not “in”.

An unwritten rule of the game was that the more people who were “in” the higher the requirement for being caught. Early in the game, being tagged was all that was necessary, but as the game neared the end, it was necessary to have the runner pinned to the ground.

So, my name was called and I started to make my run, knowing full well that there was no way I could make the 25 yard dash through a group of boys large enough to form two rugby teams. But I was determined not to make it easy for them. Instead of being tackled as I expected, the others were gabbing at my clothes, at first I didn’t realise their intent, but after my jersey was pulled off and they started pulling on my school shorts, I began to realise they might have other plans for me.

I won’t go into full details as to what happened next, suffice to say that I was eventually stripped naked, my lips and cheeks smeared with lipstick. The same lipstick was then used to write sexually derogatory slogans on my chest, and then on my back while I was anally penetrated by several objects.

I don’t know how long the assault lasted, but eventually the school bell rang indicating classes were about to recommence, and I found myself alone and naked. I don’t recall where or how I found my clothes, but I remember creeping into the adjacent reserve of native bush and attempting to remove the lipstick from my face using grass and my underwear. I stayed hidden in the reserve until after school ended and finally when it was almost empty, I found the courage to make my way to the bicycle racks to collect my bike and make my way home.

I never told anyone about the incident. I was too embarrassed and wouldn’t have been able to face the scrutiny that would have occurred if I reported it. I wouldn’t have been able to identify any of my assailants as my facial recognition skills were almost non-existent. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was finally able to talk to a counsellor about the assault, and even then I left out the most humiliating parts.

It’s an event that I have mostly been able to suppress the memory of, but the forthcoming colonoscopy has brought it flooding back. Quite irrational I know. A few medical staff in a hospital facility is so very different from a pack of savage youths at the back of a school field. But as the same same piece of anatomy is involved in both, the two are becoming interwoven in my mind as the day of the examination approaches.


For those who don’t know the game of bullrush:

How to play:

One person is “in” and stands in the middle of the field and calls out a name.
The person named has to try to run to the other side of the field without getting tackled.
If they get tackled they are in and another person’s name is called.
If they get to the other side they yell “Bullrush”, and everyone runs.
The game continues until everyone is in.
The last person “in” is the winner.


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The Aftermath

This post is part three of a series on the development of my religious beliefs from childhood in the 1950s and 1960s to the present day.The previous posts are Part 1: Worship and other secrets, and Part 2: The day God spoke to me. This post describes what happened in the days following the episode described in part 2.

I was so moved at what I had experienced, that I was bursting to tell someone – anyone. So I did. Perhaps I was somewhat naive, but I certainly did not expect the derision I received from my peers. Being surrounded by twenty or so school kids pointing and taunting and falling about laughing is not the most pleasant experience. Finally one class mate quietly took me to one side and she explained that there are some things that are better kept to oneself, and this was one of them. I think Janet was the only child that understood that I didn’t process social interactions in the way other kids did. It was from her that I learnt that it’s often necessary to select very carefully which battles are worth fighting and which battles are better to walk away from. For that I am very grateful. She had wisdom well beyond her seven years.

I decided my mother would be be more understanding. When I told her that God had spoken to me, her response of “That’s nice dear”, while turning back to continue with preparing dinner, I understood that it was a conversation she didn’t want to participate in – much like when one of my siblings tried to engage her in conversations with his imaginary friend. At that time my mother was the only person I was moderately successful at reading social cues from voice tone, body language and by what was not said.

Surely my Sunday school teacher would understand, so I resolved to tell her about on the next Sunday. However, a classmate got in first and blurted out that I claimed that God had spoken to me. The Sunday school teacher looked at me very sternly. What had I done wrong this time?
Teacher: Have you been telling lies about God speaking to you?
I most certainly was not telling lies.
Me: No
Teacher [peering over the top of her glasses and looking even more stern]: Barry, have you been telling people that God spoke to you?
I found that question more difficult to answer. My first inclination was to answer “No” again. I had told the story five days ago, but not since. Her use of “Have you been telling” meant that I was continuing to tell the story, which was not the case, so a negative response would be appropriate. Experience had taught me people don’t always mean exactly what they say. Perhaps she really meant “Did you tell“, in which case “Yes” would have been appropriate. I pondered my options for a moment, then decided the best option was not to answer the question, but to make a simple statement of fact that should avoid confusion.
Me [with hesitation]: I haven’t told anyone since Tuesday.

Apparently I goofed… again. I realise now that my delay in answering and the words I chose was tantamount to an admission that I had lied the previous Tuesday. I then received a lecture as to why lying was a sin, and lying about God was an even greater sin.  Finally came the message that it was necessary for me to confess my sin if God was to forgive me. This I refused to do.

Let’s just say it went downhill from there. I never went back to Sunday school again.

What did I learn from the experience?

  • Personal experiences shouldn’t be shared with others
  • I’m going to be misunderstood irrespective of how carefully I choose my words
  • Delay in responding to a question equals lying in the eyes of adults
  • Sunday school teachers don’t know much, and what they do know is wrong
  • Be very, very careful who you identify as friends
  • The God I know and the God in the Bible are not one and the same
  • Mothers don’t always know when you are telling the truth

The Sunday school teachers had made it very clear that anything and everything about God could be discovered in the Bible, and in fact it was the only source of knowledge about God. Curious, I started a secretive reading of the Bible stating from Genesis. More about this in the part  of this series.


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What ever happened to my future?

I remember as a child being fascinated by predictions of what life would be like in decades to come. In the ninety fifties, predictions didn’t include the Internet or mobile communications. Nor were microwave ovens, responsive cruise control, or personal computers. Some ideas have not been realised. I can recall seeing illustrations of high tech cities with high speed personal transport such as flying cars or vehicles that could attach themselves to trains of similar vehicles to improve traffic density, efficiency and safety.

The sixties were similar except that large scale computers were predicted to be commonplace, along with supersonic air and rail transport. One concept that was being considered was the prospect of mankind having more leisure time than he knew what to do with and this is what I want to touch on in this post..

The thirty five hour week was predicted to be just years away and a four day week was thought to be only a decade or so away. We were being encouraged to find interests that would keep us occupied during the long weekends and at the end of a shortened working day. I can remember in the late sixties and early seventies there were concerns that unless we learnt how to occupy our leisure time,the boredom might lead to social unrest.

It was envisioned that full employment would continue as working hours would reduce as productivity increased. Flexible working hours and job sharing were expected to become the norm. The gap between rich and poor had been decreasing for decades and there was no reason to think it wouldn’t continue to do so.

So what happened to that future? Where did it go? I’m not sure entirely. Some of it disappeared in the oil crises in the last decades of the twentieth century and some went with the financial collapse that followed.

A lot more has gone into the pockets of the owners of capital. The wealth that we were told would trickle down to the masses is trickling up the the wealthy few. In fact it seems to be more of a torrent than a trickle. The forty hour working week, which was protected by legislation is now only a memory belonging to those of us over fifty. Poverty was the result of life-style choices, now twenty percent of school children come from households that are below the poverty line.

I grew up in a very egalitarian society, where professionals and unskilled labourers lived side by side. I played with children whose parents were lawyers, bankers, doctors, teachers, business owners, freezing workers, tradesmen and shop assistants. How many children have that opportunity today? Now we have whole suburbs where families are on or below the poverty line, and at the other end of the spectrum we see walled communities sprouting up where BMWs, Lexuses and Ferraris outnumber children.

Single income families were the norm. It was very unusual for both parents to work. Latchkey children were virtually unheard of. Today we see the rise of the working poor, where both parents hold down more than one job, and are still unable to send their children of to school on an adequate breakfast or with something to eat for lunch.

University was a place of higher learning where students were encouraged to discover for the sake of discovery. Today they are little more than factories churning out industry specific qualifications — something that was once the role of polytechnics. Any research still undertaken is for short term industry specific goals. What has happened to pure research and even long term research greater than two years?

Continuing adult education was available to all, either free or at nominal cost in every community. Everything from home economics to glass blowing to second language learning motor vehicle maintenance, and everything in between was available and we were encouraged to take advantage of them to ensure that we would be able make best of the free time we had then and the even greater free time we expected soon. All now gone because they were “not justifiable as they didn’t improve productivity”. How about being socially justifiable? Apparently social well being now takes second place to national wealth, which is being held by a decreasing percentage of the population.

Was the lifestyle we were heading towards in the mid twentieth century just an aberration on the road to pure capitalism or is it something that is still worth striving for?


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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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94 and going strong

Today I made a special effort to ignore an looming migraine. My youngest brother picked me up at midday and we drove to Whanganui, about fifty minutes away. There we met two lovely ladies, and the four of us went out to lunch at a popular café situated in a garden centre. Over the next two hours we ate, drank several cups of flat white, reminisced about days from the 1950s through to the present, and even about the future.

Some of us had slow cooked lamb shanks, and others had beef and Guinness pie. Both delightful, filling and warming on a winter’s day. The café was cosy, but very noisy. For a Sunday it was very busy and the noise was just short of torture for an aspie with a migraine. Nevertheless I was very glad to be there.

It was around 3:30 pm when we left the café and returned to the home the two lovely ladies share. There we sat around a wood fire and our conversation ranged from almost forgotten memories to family and friends to politics to philosophy. More coffee – instant, not flat whites – until the sun had disappeared below the horizon. There was a little man inside my skull hitting the back of my left eye with a sledge hammer. The chat was gentle, warm and loving, and at times was able to push the thumping into the background. I’m glad I was there.

Then it was a fifty minute drive back home, through the deepening darkness. If you’ve ever traveled by car with a migraine, you’ll know how unpleasant that can be. My stomach was threatening to return the beef and Guinness back up the route it had taken several hours earlier in the café, but fortunately there was a reflex that just managed to keep the pie down. Finally I was home, much to my relief. But I was glad I made the journey.

It was a very special day for a special event. One that I’ve taken part in many times before. There won’t be many more, but I hope today’s won’t be the last. I recognise that I am very fortunate to have had as many as I have. I am grateful to have been able to be part of this special day belonging to one of the lovely ladies I spent the afternoon with.

Who were the special ladies? One was my sister. The other was an even more special lady who has had a huge influence on my life. She has shared a home with my sister for several years, and she was the reason we traveled to Whanganui.

She is my mother.

It was her birthday today.

She was born on the 29th of June, 1920.

Welcome to the start of your ninety-fifth year Mum.


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Worship and other secrets

I was going to write about my frustration of getting very little done over the past few weeks due to almost constant migraines and the resulting “brain fog”, but my thoughts have been hijacked.

The shortest day of the year has just passed, so it can only be upwards from here on, as the days get longer (unless you’re in the northern hemisphere, in which case, you’ve just had your longest day, and you’re now on a downward slope toward slope towards winter). It’s a lovely sunny day (but very cold), blue sky, and the wind turbines are glowing brightly on the horizon. The camellias and rhododendrons are coming into flower, and the silver green magnolia buds are swelling. There’s a grey warbler singing it’s heart out nearby, and outside my window there’s two pair of fantails performing their aerial dance as they chase insects too small for the human eye to see.

Altogether, the day is so pleasant that the frustrations of the past fortnight have all but disappeared. what remains doesn’t warrant a blog post. There’s also the fact that a post over on Mindful Digressions diverted my thoughts in another direction.

I’m often reminded that only the brave or foolish blog about sex, politics or religion. I’m not particularly brave, and I don’t believe I’m foolish, although there are some who may think otherwise (regarding me being a fool). Never the less, I’m going to attempt to flesh out my religious beliefs over a series of postings. The intention is not to sway the views of readers, but to help me clarify what I really believe. Doing so on a public forum will likely encourage me to be think more carefully than I might otherwise, and the postings might elicit a few comments that will assist my thought processes.

With the introduction out of the way, it’s time to proceed.

When I was a small boy

As any young child does, I enjoyed listening to stories without discriminating between reality and imagination. It made no difference. My mother read stories to us every night and I was an avid listener of the children’s hour on the radio every evening. I was also an avid reader and absorbed stories about historical events, scientific discoveries, myths, legends, fables and fairy stories with equal enthusiasm.

I’m not sure what age I was when I began to recognise the difference between fact and fiction. Certainly by the time I was seven, I knew that stories such as Alice in wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels and Peter Pan were entirely fictional, as were fairies, the Easter rabbit, dragons and talking animals. In the case of Santa Claus, I had already concluded that reindeer can’t fly, and it would be a physical impossibility for one man to visit every home in one night nor was there a sack big enough to contain at least one gift for every child. This meant the the entire Santa story was a fantasy. Had I considered, the possibility the the jolly man might have been able to distort the space time continuum in order to deliver his gifts, then I might have believed in the story a little longer. But such concepts were beyond the reach of this seven year old boy.

Living in a nominally Christian society, biblically based children’s stories were ubiquitous. I had absorbed these just as readily as any other story. By the time I had decided Santa wasn’t real, I already understood that the creation stories in the Bible were similar in nature to other creation stories I was familiar with, such as those those from Maori and Greek mythology. I didn’t know what the symbolism of the stories was meant to be, and I didn’t know how to ask adults the appropriate question. My peers weren’t of any help, as they insisted that the biblical stories were true while the others were “just stories”, but were unable to justify their logic.

I was convinced that adults had a reason for making up myths to tell children, and that I didn’t understand because I was “too young”. I was sure I would learn the symbolism when I was older. I held the same notion about many of the bible stories, but I never questioned the existence of God or Jesus. I believed the adults knew the bible stories weren’t true but I was expected to believe them because I was a child. As I was convinced that I wasn’t meant to know the stories weren’t factual, I didn’t dare to approach adults about it.

On Sundays I attended Sunday School. We sat with the adults in Church for the first fifteen minutes of their service before filing out to Sunday School proper. In my mind, religion was a bit like sex. I understood the basics of procreation, but it was very evident that there was a lot more to sex than what I was permitted to know. In a similar vein, my child’s mind had concluded that there was a lot about God I wasn’t meant to know or understand. I accepted this as a burden I had to carry by myself as children shouldn’t know there was more to religion than we learnt at Sunday School, so it would be wrong of me to destroy the illusion. I was sure all would be revealed when the time was right. I reasoned that adults didn’t attend church just to pretend there was a God for the sake of their children, therefore there must be secrets about God in much the same way as there was about sex. That was enough “evidence” to cause me not to doubt the existence of God.

If you are still reading, you’ve possibly come to the conclusion that I had I had a somewhat unusual view of the relationship between adults and children. On that score you would be right. I was sure there was an adult conspiracy to keep the some truths from children, and that it involved creating elaborate stories (lies?) to keep even the existence of the real truth from us. I was also sure that there was a good reason for this deception and when the time was appropriate I would be let in on the secret. Because I believed I shouldn’t have had the knowledge that there were secrets, there was no one that I could turn to for answers. I was desperately curious, but knew I just needed to bide my time.

All that would change drastically before I turned eight, and that will be the subject of the next post in this series.