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 (2021/11/22) Damn The Dam

The song was originally written and sung by John Hanlon for a two minute advertisement by New Zealand Fibreglass to promote home insulation. It was part of a wide campaign in the early 1970s lobbying to make home insulation mandatory, and of course the company would benefit by having its home insulation products installed in every new home. It was possibly a brave move by the company, as two minute commercials were extremely rare at that time (still are) and only 10 seconds of the advertisement actually promoted their insulation product, glass fibre Pink® Batts®.

Electricity demands were rising rapidly at that time and the nation had historically built hydro power stations to meet the growing energy needs of the country. Dams, while a renewable resource, destroy much of the local natural environment by flooding vast areas of land. We were running out of rivers that were considered socially acceptable to dam, and insulation of homes was seen as a means of slowing down the ever increasing growth in electricity demand.

The advertising jingle proved so popular that it was released as a single and rose to #5 in the New Zealand hit parade in 1973. Hanlon made a condition of its release that all the profits from the song be donated to environmental causes. The song was then adopted by opponents of the Lake Manapouri hydro power scheme.

Today it’s remembered by most Baby Boomers, of which I am one, as a protest song – younger generations are probably unaware of it’s existence, and for those who are aware, it;s just another NZ folk song. Few remember that it started life as an advertising jingle for home insulation.

It’s odd, looking back to those days, that we young adults were very much into protests. It’s not just a 21st century phenomena that many today’s youth believe it is. We were just as idealistic as they are. In fact I venture that today’s youth is rather tame when compared to the youth of my generation. Among the causes we campaigned against were the Vietnam war and wars in general, gender inequality, nuclear weapons and testing, and in this country nuclear energy, Apartheid and sporting contacts with South Africa, destruction of the environment, whaling, to name just a few. Meanwhile in America and Britain, demonstrations against racial inequality frequently turned into highly destructive riots.

We were a generation with very high ideals, but somewhere along the way, we have been distracted by the needs of providing for self and family. As a generation, I feel were were, and possibly still are, more liberal and slightly more left leaning than the more recent generations. Perhaps it’s a false perception, but I feel that today the world is becoming more conservative, less tolerant than the sixties and seventies, has made definite a lerch to the right, and partisanship is very much more pronounced.

Back to the song Damn The Dam, written and sung by John Hanlon

Damn The Dam, Music and lyrics by John Hanlon, sung by John Hanlon, 1973

Leaf falls to kiss the image of a mountain,
the early morning mist has ceased to play.
Birds dancing lightly on the branches by a fountain
of a waterfall which dazzles with its spray

Tall and strong and aged, contented and serene,
a kauri tree surveys his grand domain,
and for miles and miles around him, a sea of rolling green.
Tomorrow all this beauty won't remain.

Damn the dam cried the fantail,
as he flew into, as he flew into the sky.
To give power to the people
all this beauty has to die.

Rain falls from above and splashes on the ground,
goes running down the mountain to the sea.
And leaping over pebbles makes such a joyful sound,
such as Mother Nature's meant to be.

I have grave reflection, reflection of a grave.
Trees that once lived green now dead and brown.
The homes of tiny animals and little birds as well,
for the sake of man's progression have been drowned.

Damn the dam cried the fantail,
as he flew into, as he flew into the sky.
To give power to the people
all this beauty has to die.

Damn the dam cried the fantail,
as he flew into, as he flew into the sky,

Damn the dam cried the fantail,
as he flew into, as he flew into the sky.
To give power to the people
all this beauty has to die...


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Musical Monday (2021/11/08) – One tree Hill

This song is very personal to me. It was written in honour of a young man I new well – Greg Carroll. We worked together as engineers for a large multinational I.T. company. We were part of a small provincial branch with four staff members located in the city of Whanganui. Greg was a very personable young man and was held in high regard by our customers – more perhaps for his genuineness, honesty and likeable personality than for his engineering skills.

I stayed with the company for a total of thirty-five years, but Greg moved on after a year, perhaps two, when he became the sound engineer for a local rock band. That may not seem long to get to know someone well, but our job required a considerable amount of driving and often Greg would accompany me as I drove between the small, widely scattered towns that made up our branch territory. A typical day might consist of up to four hours on the road, and a return trip to Turangi, our farthest outpost took six hours. You can cover a wide spectrum of topics over that period of time.

I’m not a good conversationalist, but somehow Greg, my junior by about 11 years, had the ability to make everyone at ease, including me. I honestly can no longer recall what we talked about on the road and the occasional overnight stay in a motel or hotel several hours from home, but I do remember that outside of my immediate family there was no-one I felt more comfortable being with. Unfortunately Greg died in a motorcycle crash in Dublin in 1986.

There are several Youtube video clips of U2 performing One Tree Hill, mostly from live performances in various locations around the world, but the one I have chosen here is a video cobbled together by TVNZ for their weekly music show Ready to Roll. One Tree Hill has been released as a single in Aotearoa and quickly rose to the number one spot on the NZ hit parade. This is the version I remember seeing in 1988.

There being no official music video, TVNZ brought together clips of previous U2 visits to Aotearoa, segments of the tangihanga (funeral) at the Kai-iwi Marae near Whanganui, and images of One Tree Hill and Greg. It also includes images of the Whanganui River and the rugged hill country inland from the city of Whanganui. The journey inland to the nearest township of Raetihi took approximately eighty minutes in ideal conditions. For much of its length, the road winds along the valley wall of the Upokongaro Stream, a contributory of the Whanganui River, rising 760 m (2500 ft) in 87 Km (54 miles).

This was a road I traversed at least one a week, often with Greg’s company. If you do the maths, you’ll notice that the average speed for the journey was 65 km/h (40 mph) and that was a good run without stops or hazards such as slips (common in wet weather) or flocks of sheep being moved to fresh pastures (common all year round) or semi-feral sheep that had escaped the confines of farms and were of the opinion that they were the masters of the road. Other vehicles were few and far between so the opportunities to opine world affairs or share dreams and aspiration were plentiful. We did.

One Tree Hill – U2 (captured from TVNZ’s RTR in 1988)

"One Tree Hill" – U2

We turn away to face the cold, enduring chill
As the day begs the night for mercy love
The sun so bright it leaves no shadows
Only scars carved into stone
On the face of earth
The moon is up and over One Tree Hill
We see the sun go down in your eyes

You run like river, on like a sea
You run like a river runs to the sea

And in the world a heart of darkness
A fire zone
Where poets speak their heart
Then bleed for it
Jara sang, his song a weapon
In the hands of love
You know his blood still cries
From the ground

It runs like a river runs to the sea
It runs like a river to the sea

I don't believe in painted roses
Or bleeding hearts
While bullets rape the night of the merciful
I'll see you again
When the stars fall from the sky
And the moon has turned red
Over One Tree Hill

We run like a river
Run to the sea
We run like a river to the sea
And when it's raining
Raining hard
That's when the rain will
Break my heart

Raining...raining in the heart
Raining in your heart
Raining...raining to your heart
Raining, raining...raining
Raining to your heart
Raining...raining in your heart
Raining in your heart..
To the sea

Oh great ocean
Oh great sea
Run to the ocean
Run to the sea


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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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Seeing is believing

Like everyone else on this planet (perhaps with the exception of the previous POTUS) I am not perfect, nor was I born that way. Today I want to focus on some imperfections I was born with. I’m using “imperfections” here in two different ways.

  • Those traits and characteristics that society deems as flaws disabilities, unacceptable or a nuisance to deal with
  • Those traits and characteristics that one feels about oneself that are flaws, disabilities, unacceptable or a nuisance to deal with.

Often times, what one perceives as an imperfection may not be deemed so by society, and of course the opposite is true – what society deems as an imperfection may not be deemed so by oneself.

In my own case an obvious example is autism. Almost certainly, no one in any profession would have considered I was autistic until perhaps the 1990s and the condition became better understood. I wasn’t diagnosed as such until 2010. My family had always been very accepting of my “quirkiness”, but the rest of society wasn’t. I was cajoled, teased, bullied, reprimanded, punished and violently assaulted for being “different”.

I perceive the world differently at many levels compared to non-autistic people, and I may post more on how growing up as an undiagnosed autistic affected my life at another time, but today I want to concentrate on the imperfections of my eyesight and vision, and how those have been perceived by myself and others.

I was born with both myopia and astigmatism although neither myself, family, friends or school teachers realised it. It was finally my music teacher who realised I was unable to read music notation in advance of where I was playing that lead to my first “real” eye examination when I was 12 years old.

Sure, for the previous seven years, I had passed the usual eye test at school where one reads an eye chart at a prescribed distance.

Tests were carried out on the entire class by putting all the students in a line and then taking the student at the front of line through the test. Not being particularly assertive, I usually found myself near the back end of the line. Alternatively, we sat at out desks and were called up in alphabetical order by family name. Either way I was always in the last quartile of the class to be tested.

I don’t recall how far through the chart we were required to go, but I think it was only as far as the line for 20/20 vision. I always passed the test with flying colours. I could rattle off the letters as fast as the best of the class.

The problem was that I couldn’t read the chart apart from the very top letter, and even that was very marginal. So how could I pass every time? By the time it was my turn to read the chart, twenty or more children had already read it in my presence. First with one eye and then with the other. I had heard the chart called out 40 or more times at varying speeds. More than enough repetitions for me to have memorised it.

I don’t recall whether the memorisation was intentional or not, but I do recall that the class consensus was that “failing” wasn’t a desirable outcome, just like failing any other test wasn’t. So everyone including myself did our best to get a “good” pass. I felt good when the adult conducting the test would say something like “Very good, well done Barry”. It was praise I seldom received from anyone other than my parents.

If I had understood how bad my eyesight was, what I was missing and how corrective lenses could change my perception of the world around me, I would have had no qualms about failing the test. Such is life. It took a rather crabby and domineering music teacher to recognise my disability.

Strange as it may seem now, I had no idea that my eyesight was so poor. In fact I had the perception that it was rather good, and I wasn’t the only one. This came about because whenever we travelled along the highways I was able to recognise roadside hoardings/billboards well before either the driver or my fellow passengers. In hindsight, the explanation is simple. I had learnt to recognise all the signs not by the wording or images but by the combination and pattern of colours, which in those long forgotten days (the 1950s) tended to be consistently the same year on year.

As a humorous aside, it wasn’t until after I had my first set of glasses that I discovered that the name of one of the most ubiquitous signs at that time had been been assigned an “alternative” name by the family – an in joke I didn’t discover until I could read the wording myself: Cough Cough and Hammer was actually Gough Gough and Hamer.

I recall the sudden panic, almost terror that I experienced the first time I walked out of the optometrist’s shop wearing my new glasses. As the shop door was closing behind me and I looked ahead, I suddenly and simultaneously took a step backwards into the door and ducked. It literally felt like the world was being thrown at my face. The clarity of the detail of the shop fronts on the opposite of the road felt like they were a mere 6 inches (the NZ switch to metric measurements was still decades away) in front of my face.

It was perhaps the most disorienting experience of my life at that time. I was frozen to the spot. I don’t know how long I stood in that doorway ducking pedestrians and cars that seemed to be inches away, but were in fact yards away.

It seems rather odd now that it never occurred to me that the very obvious solution to my situation was to remove my glasses. An optometrist employee recognised my dilemma and pulled me back inside the shop and removed the glasses. After some quick instructions not to put on my glasses until I was in a small room that I was familiar with and to work up to bigger spaces from there, I was sent on my way.

As much as I wish my new glasses improved my life, they didn’t.

A characteristic of many people on the autism spectrum is the inability to subconsciously filter information arriving via the senses. For example in a crowded room where several conversations are taking place, most people are able to ignore conversations they are not participating in. Other conversations will only reach their conscious awareness when there’s a noticeable change such as in volume, pitch or body language – for example when an argument starts.

Most people have the ability to ignore conversation threads they are not participating in. I can’t. A simple analogy might be the example of being in a group conversation when all participants start addressing you all at the same time, at the same volume but all on different topics. I think the resultant confusion will cause most people to put their hands up and demand that the participants speak one at a time. That’s the situation I face all the time. ALL.THE.TIME!

It turns out that my ability to filter out visual stimuli as that same as my ability to filter out aural stimuli. I can’t. I found the bombardment of new visual information overwhelming and exhausting. Previously trees were largely blurry blobs of green. I could distinguish individual leave only at relatively close distances, so perhaps no more than a hundred or so leaves at any one time. Suddenly I was seeing thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of leaves all at once – every one a slightly different size, shape and colour, and all moving independently in the breeze. I didn’t know how to process all this new information.

Suddenly telephone poles and power poles had distinguishable cross arms, insulators of various colours but seemingly on no particular order or pattern. I could see the wires and the patterns they wove overhead. I could actually make out birds sitting on the wires or on rooftops, and even identify the species – something I had previously only been able to do from the pages of a book.

And speaking of books, whereas previously there was only a small area around the word I was reading where the shape of individual words could be distinguished easily (I recognise words by their shape as much as I do by the letters within them), suddenly every letter on the page became individually identifiable, every one of them yelling in unison “Read me NOW!”

Wallpaper patterns now continued right around the room instead of being discernible only in near proximity. On large buildings, all the individual windows could be seen. What’s more they formed regular patterns, and any break to that pattern became a distraction I couldn’t avoid being aware of. The same with pathways. Joins formed patterns that extended into the distance and any spot where the pattern was disturbed jumped out at me. I couldn’t help but notice it.

Never before in my life had been in a situation where I could distinguish the facial features of more than five or six people at one time. Now I could see all the features of everyone in the classroom ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Just too much information to handle. It didn’t help me with facial recognition, but it did allow me to apply the rules I used for identifying individuals at greater distances than previously. Crowds became a confusing collection of

Tiled roofs became a collection of thousands of individual tiles, many of which had individual characteristics I couldn’t help noticing. I could see the corrugations on corrugated iron roofs, and the rows of nails holding them down. Disturbances in the rows (a nail missing, irregularly spaced or out of alignment) shouted out “Look at me!”

Sixty years on and and the same distractions still occur. What I have learnt is how to consciously push them into the background. Over the years I have got better at doing it and it probably takes less effort to do so. There are still times, especially leading up to and during a migraine where I find all the visual information overwhelming. It’s nice to be able to remove my glasses and move into a visually gentler and less harshly chaotic world where I’m not assaulted by detail.

While I mostly appreciate the details I seem to notice when no one else does, there are times when I wish I could simply not notice them in the first place – just like everyone else.


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Why did I say?

I have at any one time, a number of unpublished posts on WordPress (currently 23 29). Some of these may eventually be published, but the majority are used by me as sounding boards where I write down and develop thought and feelings that exist in my mind but lack words or visual context. In a way, I’m translating my thought processes into a form that I might be able to use in dialogue with other people.

Outside of the blogosphere, I do exactly the same, except the thought processes are kept in small mental “notepads” where concepts have been converted into streams of words at various levels of completeness. During most of my waking hours, I’m constantly moving from notepad to notepad revising the content so that I can recite it should a need to communicate with fellow human beings arise. I find speaking “off the cuff” difficult at the best of times times, even with friends and family. I rely to a large extent on finalised or nearly finalised notepad scripts. I can really put my foot in it if the only appropriate script hasn’t been well prepared.

Quite simply, I don’t think in words or images, yet I’m unable to communicate with fellow humans without making an effort to convert “thought blobs” into strings of spoken or written words, otherwise known as sentences and paragraphs, or larger objects such as a blog post or opinion piece. I struggle with conversations because of the necessity to convert incoming words into “thought blobs” and then to reverse engineer my thoughts back into word streams. Social interactions require almost instantaneous conversions in both directions and although I can convert incoming word streams into thought processes reasonably quickly (providing there are no other word streams within earshot, or some other distraction) and with moderate accuracy (providing there are no other word streams within earshot, or some other distraction), reversing the process is much more difficult, not to mention exhausting.

While most of the unpublished WordPress articles start out with the intent to publish, the process of putting words to what I wish to express, exposes a “weakness” in the way I process ideas. That is I find it very difficult to put forward an argument in a way that is meaningful to those who don’t process thought in the same way as I do.

Some articles simply stop part way through, waiting for the moment where I can add flesh to the bare bones of what I have written. Sometimes, the effort of translating thought into words reveals flaws in my logic, but not necessarily providing me with a solution. These articles will sit there until either I realise the premise is not worth considering and I delete the offending article, or I find a solution and publish after considerable revision.

Most posts languish because I realise I’m unable to do the translation from thought blobs into meaningful dialogue. A bit like running an automated translator over some complex idea presented in a language that has absolutely no relationship with your own. For example here’s the previous paragraph after it was translated into another language and back into English:

Part of this information is just waiting for conversion at any time period beyond the quality of the bone with different answers. Sometimes, someone wants to understand the cut word, but does not provide a solution. In this approach, Until I understand this data, I will pull the information or find a solution after a constructive publication.

Sometimes, when I review what I have previously written, especially if it’s largely abstract, philosophical or religious in nature, it makes about as much sense as the translation above. There’s a few unpublished articles which currently are about as understandable as the example above, but a few days from now those article might make sense and others might appear as nonsense to me. What others might make of them is another matter.

Even this post, which I’ve published as a consequence of something I did a few hours weeks ago, consists mostly of content for an unpublished post about how I convert the way I translate my thought processes into English, and the fact that even though I’ve just recently turned 70, I still struggle with the process.

Perhaps my biggest issue is that language is linear – within sentences, within paragraphs, within stories. While perhaps the best communicators are those who are linear, I struggle with the whole concept of linearity. For me, there is no beginning, middle or end: there’s just a whole, (or if I’m confused about something, there’s just a hole).

Another issue is that I don’t see anything in absolute terms. This gives rise to some people interpreting what I say/write as being vague. Ashley of The Boastful Blasphemer is convinced that I’m “the most wishy-washy, waffling, non-committal, vague, imprecise, escape-hatch-leaving ‘debater’ I’ve ever talked to“. While I completely disagree with the “escape-hatch-leaving” part, there might be an element of truth in the rest. There are no absolute truths. Every fact is open to interpretation (even if we don’t realise that is what we are doing).

I have at times stated that I have no notion of time. This is probably somewhat inaccurate. I understand the notion of time – I am unable to experience time. Most people seem to remember events in terms of chronological distance. They seem to instinctively know approximately how long ago personal experiences occurred. I have absolutely no idea. I’m only able to remember the relative significance of various events. Important events are close while less important events are distant. This even applies to the present moment.

For example when experiencing a migraine, everything occurring in the “now” is distant and may be further away than events that occurred even decades ago. In such circumstances the past is more “real”, and certainly more immediate than the present. After the migraine is over, everything I experienced during the attack remains distant. A good example of this might be the first time I saw my first grandchild. I had a migraine at the time. I have absolutely no memory of the actual event. The only “memory” of the event is the description provided by my wife and daughter several years later.

This brings up another factor: With a very few exceptions, I have no visual memory of past experiences, nor can I create a visual picture of an event. For this reason, I find it difficult to distinguish between events I experience directly and those described to me by other means. The above incident with my first grandchild is one example. For a while I thought I was able to describe the incident from my own experience. Later I realised that there were discrepancies in my “recollection” that turned out to be the way I interpreted the event as described by my wife and daughter.

Here’s another example. My daughter’s home has tall picket fence at the front, about as tall as I am, nearly as old, and unpainted. Now you know as much about her front fence as I do. I probably could not identify it from a photo lineup of similar fences any better than you could with the description I’ve provided. Oh, there’s a row of trees and bushes on the property side of the fence. So if only one photo matched that description, and one of the photos was definitely a picture of my daughters fence-line, then that would be the photo I’d pick. But then knowing the facts that I’ve just provided, you would be able to do exactly the same thing. And you’ve never seen the place.

Fortunately there’s no other property in the same block that matches the description above, so finding it is not difficult. If there was a similar fence-line, I’d have to memorise a different set of parameters that made the daughter’s property uniquely identifiable.

What some of you might be able to do is create a mental image of the fence-line I’ve described. While it’s very unlikely to be an accurate image, it’s something you can “see” in your imagination. I can’t. I rely on the information I’ve specifically set out to remember. Specifically, there is a thought blob that when translated into English indicates last block in street, on left, picket fence, my height, my age, unpainted, trees behind. There is no picture associated with that description.

In the local New World supermarket milk products are located on shelving at the back left corner of the store. It is the south west corner of the store and diagonally opposite the entrance, which is at the front right, north east corner of the store. Now you know as much as I do, and if I were to place you in front of the supermarket, you could find your way to the milk section just as easily as I can. What I can’t do is describe what my eyes have seen when I visit.

This lack of visual memory can lead to potentially embarrassing moments such as the one recently described in I wonder what she wants? I learnt a long time ago to be careful of relying too much on distinguishing personal features. It’s rather embarrassing to discover the person you’ve been talking to for the last ten minutes is not who you thought she was, but a total (but friendly) stranger.

I’m not even immune from failing to immediately identifying my wife, and we’ve been together for 48 years. When we go out, I make a note of what she’s wearing. Remembering that information, along with the fact that she’s likely the shortest oldish person of Asian appearance is usually sufficient for a visual identification. While that description is reasonably reliable here in Aotearoa New Zealand where approximately one in eight people are of Asian descent (and around one in twelve in our hometown) , I discovered it wasn’t so helpful in Japan where the ratio is more like 999 in 1000 are of Asian descent, although she is still significantly shorter than average, even in Japan.

A further visual clue is her gait. It’s rather reminiscent of how a cowboy might walk after a week in the saddle. While it’s not exactly what could be described as elegant, it’s a godsend when it comes to identifying her when in this country, but again, in Japan not so much as many women of her generation, especially from farming families, walk in a similar manner

So how do I recognise people? Mostly by voice. I’ve found that to be the most reliable for me. In fact, as there are no other forms of distraction, I can usually recognise someone on the telephone faster than in a face to face situation. If I happen meet someone I know while I’m out and about, there’s a good chance I won’t recognise them unless they speak to me, and even then, the distractions of sights and sounds might be enough to delay recognition for some time. At home or in the office, there’s much less distraction, and I can usually recognise the caller before they’ve identified themselves.

As I was diagnosed as having a 90% hearing loss when I was seven years old, I wonder why I am able to recognise voices so well. But that’s a conversation for another time.

I know face blindness is more common in autistic people than is the general population, and I wonder if a lack of visual memory and thought without words or images are also more prevalent. To date I haven’t seen any discussion of this, but perhaps its something other autistics experience and haven’t realised that it’s not what most people experience.


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One Tree Hill

Some songs tend to haunt me. They get into my head and stay – sometimes long after the welcoming mat has been withdrawn. But there are a few that I’m happy to have stay for an extended period. One song in particular has bitter sweet memories.

It was written to honour the memory of a former work mate of mine. Greg became the fifth staff member of the local branch of the multinational I.T company I worked for.  He was around ten years younger than I was, and we worked together for around two years. He left the company around 1980 to join a local band, which from memory, was called something like Straight Flash.

Greg was very likeable. He was always charming, humorous and witty, always polite, and very considerate of others. In other words he was real gentleman, even though he was still in his teens. Travelling took up a lot of our work day and sometimes two of us might spend up to six hours in one day as we traveled between various jobs. We’d take turns at driving, and whoever was in the passenger seat usually did most of the talking. To be honest, I can no longer recall what we talked about, but I remember that I enjoyed his company as talk was not oriented towards sport and other topics that typically occupy the minds of teenage males.

Unfortunately the branch manager was one of those people who can often be heard starting a comment with “I’m not a racist, but…”. To him all Māori were lazy, and incompetent of performing tasks that require intelligence and skill. While he acknowledged Greg’s courtesy, and reluctantly conceded Greg’s grooming was always immaculate, in fact better than anyone else our small team, he was always critical of Greg’s ability as an engineer. It was the criticism he was constantly under, I believe, that caused him to leave the company and seek greener pastures the music industry.

Eventually Greg became a very close friend of Bono from the band U2 after a chance late night meeting when the band was touring Aotearoa New Zealand. Greg took Bono to the inaptly named One Tree Hill (it’s a volcano, not a hill, and although there was a lone tree near the summit, that was removed for safety reasons several decades ago). The “hill” is of great spiritual significance to the Māori, and apparently Greg successfully conveyed much of the meaning to Bono.

Unfortunately Greg was killed in a motor vehicle crash in Ireland in 1986. This song was composed in Greg’s memory and the vocals were recorded in a single take because Bono didn’t feel he would be able to do more.

I often think of Greg, and wonder what he could have achieved if his life wasn’t cut so short at the young age of 26. Hearing this song as I did this morning, always brings his memory back to the front of my mind. I still miss him. R.I.P. Greg Carroll.

One Tree Hill

We turn away to face the cold, enduring chill
As the day begs the night for mercy love
The sun so bright it leaves no shadows
Only scars carved into stone
On the face of earth
The moon is up and over One Tree Hill
We see the sun go down in your eyes

You run like river, on like a sea
You run like a river runs to the sea

And in the world a heart of darkness
A fire zone
Where poets speak their heart
Then bleed for it
Jara sang, his song a weapon
In the hands of love
You know his blood still cries
From the ground

It runs like a river runs to the sea
It runs like a river to the sea

I don’t believe in painted roses
Or bleeding hearts
While bullets rape the night of the merciful
I’ll see you again
When the stars fall from the sky
And the moon has turned red
Over One Tree Hill

We run like a river
Run to the sea
We run like a river to the sea
And when it’s raining
Raining hard
That’s when the rain will
Break my heart

Raining…raining in the heart
Raining in your heart
Raining…raining to your heart
Raining, raining…raining
Raining to your heart
Raining…raining in your heart
Raining in your heart..
To the sea

Oh great ocean
Oh great sea
Run to the ocean
Run to the sea

 


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Numbness of mind

I was seated, but I could not draw my knees together. The light was white, bright, very bright, painfully bright. Behind me there is movement but I’m unable to turn my head to see. It does not respond to my wishes. I hear soft sweet sounds that might be voices, but I can’t be sure. They are in stark contrast to the oppressive mechanical noises all around. I know I am required to lean forward, but I don’t know how I know. I start to lean forward and immediately feel a hard cold surface against my chest. I sense air movement on my back and realise my top half is not clothed. My arms are lifted and draped over the top edge of the surface. It is very uncomfortable but I know I must not move. How do I know that I wonder.

I feel rubbery fingers moving over my lower back concentrating on the spine area. Again, I sense rather than hear an urging that I must relax even if I’m uncomfortable. My head is thumping, agonizingly so, and that light hurts, even with my eyes closed tightly. I want to escape, but I am unable to do so.

A dull ache starts in the area of my lower spine, at or slightly below waist level. It grows in intensity, slowly but surely. I want it to stop but I don’t know how to say the words. I hear a groan. Is that coming from me? I’m not sure. The ache goes away, then returns, different but the same, and maybe not in exactly the same spot. I’m not sure. I sense shadows moving around me even with my eyes shut. It’s too painful to open them so I remain frozen where I am.

A sharp pain on my inner thigh, a little above the knee . A few more stab of pain, each in a slightly different area. Like I imagine a red hot poker being pushed through the skin, but there is no burning smell, only the sensation. I keep trying to find the words to tell it to stop, but the words are elusive. They tease me then disappear.

The ache on my spine disappears momentarily only to return. The ache feels different but I don’t know in what way. Is it in the same spot? Maybe, maybe not. I feel more stabs of pain, this time perhaps more like white hot needles. They are near my groin. Suddenly the white hot needles move from groin to scrotum. I realise I am no longer sitting. I am standing.

The sweet soft sounds that may be voices sound agitated. They want me to sit again but I don’t hear any words. Then a new sound – deeper and commanding. Is it another voice? Who is it directed to? I do not know. It does not matter as I don’t understand it. The ache in my spine has morphed into a pain. When did that happen? I sense pressure being applied to my shoulders, but can’t feel it. I just know it’s there. I lower myself slowly.

I realise that I’m straddling a chair backwards. My chest meets the cold hardness of its back. The pain in the spine remains and is soon joined by a return of the ache, although not as intense as before. I drift into nothingness.

I feel myself being lifted. Rubbery hands under and on my arms. Green legs on one side, blue, or maybe white on the other. Not sure. The glare is painfully bright. I cannot see their feet. Do they have feet? It seems they’re gliding. I’m half walked, half dragged then manipulated onto a bed. I think it’s a bed. I feel it rising. Then it stops. Some bars rise up beside me. I’m imprisoned. The nothingness returns.


What I describe above was not a nightmare, nor a scene from a horror movie, although I wish it was. It was very real, and every so often the memory returns to haunt me. You could be forgiven for thinking that I described an alien abduction. Looking back on it now it doesn’t seem too much different from the description of some so called abductions, but I’m yet to be convinced of the reality of such events.

Yet the experience I describe above was real.

It occurred while I was hospitalised for a week during a severe migraine attack. I have nothing more than fragmentary glimpses of that time. The actual event described, as I later learnt, was an attempt by hospital staff to obtain a sample of spinal fluid. They failed. I have no recollection of any emotional state during the episode, hence the title of this post.


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Safe landing

When I was about ten or eleven years old, I joined into the tail end of a conversation about what humans can and cannot do. One of the older boys in the group claimed that it is impossible for humans to land on two feet and not bend the knees. He said that even if you try to keep your legs straight, you can’t as bending the knees is instinctive and you cannot override it.

A few of the kids decided to test this theory by jumping off a chair. Not one of them managed to land and keep the legs completely straight. Their knees bent to some degree, and the group decided that indeed it was impossible to land without bending the knees. I wasn’t convinced, as I observed that none of the children locked their legs straight during the descent. So I decided to demonstrate that it was possible to land without bending the knees.

There was a reason I had been dubbed the little professor. A well as being a mine of (mostly irrelevant) knowledge, I liked to experiment. I clambered onto the chair, launched myself into the air and locked my knees absolutely straight, and held that pose during the descent. And I proved it is possible to land without bending the knees.

What I didn’t prove is that you can do it safely.

I saw stars and flashing lights. I heard a roaring sound like a freight train rushing past. I felt and heard a grinding sensation in my neck. Then there was blackness. I don’t know if I actually passed out, but moments latter when the roaring, lights and darkness abated, I found myself standing upright with flashes of pain going off along my neck and spine. The boy who had made the claim, shrugged his shoulders, said “Oops I was wrong”, then turned his back on me and walked off.

It never occurred to me at the time that I might have been set up. That possibility didn’t occur to me until a decade later, by which time I had lost all contact with the group. If it was a set up, I’m grateful that they chose a chair to jump from and not the garage roof.

The first migraine attack that I remember having was  when I was around ten or eleven, although they didn’t become a regular feature of my life until I was twelve of thirteen. I wonder if there’s a connection…


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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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