Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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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I have at any one time, a number of unpublished posts on WordPress (currently 23 29).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While most of the unpublished WordPress articles start out with the intent to publish, the process of putting words to what I wish to express, exposes a “weakness” in the way I process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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Batten down the hatches!

Just as I begin recovery from the recent onslaught of a severe migraine attack, I find we are about to face a new onslaught. What was supposed to be the tail end of Cyclone Cook is making landfall about now. Over the last day it has intensified and has now been categorised as the most severe weather event to hit Aotearoa New Zealand in almost fifty years.

On the 10th of April 1968, Cyclone Giselle, the worst extratropical cyclone in New Zealand’s recorded history caused widespread damage throughout the country and the sinking of the Inter-Island ferry TEV Wahine, resulting in the death of 53 passengers.

Everyone has all but forgotten the name of the cyclone. Those like myself who lived through it simply remember it as the Wahine Storm ot Wahine Disaster. It’s an experience few can forget. Lets hope Cyclone Cook proves to be an anticlimax.

The clip linked to below is taken from the evening news bulletin that day. For those of us there it seemd more dramatic as we had the “privilege” of watching the event unfolding through our television screens and knowing that the weather prevented any effective rescue.
https://www.nzonscreen.com/embed/7e15d764847b5b81


Postscript: All very much a let down in this part of the country. The cyclone tracked further east than had been predicted and my side of North Island received only a moderate amount of rain and winds that fell short of being gale force. Other parts of the country did experience gale force winds and torrential rain, flooding, fallen trees, power cuts, block roads etc, here it could barely be described as a storm at all. Cyclone Cook will not go down in history as the second most severe weather event to hist the country in recent history.


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Reflections

My father was a very private person. He kept his beliefs and opinions to himself. Most of these he took with him when he died. If I have one regret, it is that I was not able to get to know the real person that hid behind that gentle and loving façade I knew as “Dad”.

Occasionally he would slip and reveal a little about himself when retelling an anecdote about something that occurred in his past, but while he could be drawn into discussing the event itself, he would close up it we tried to discover how he felt about it, or what his opinion was about what happened.

Perhaps the only way we could see into the “soul” of my father, was in some of his poetry. It was here that he let his guard slip, although I’m not sure if he realised that he was doing so. Certainly we were unable to discuss with him the meaning or values behind his verse. I’m not sure whether it was due to his reluctance to reveal himself, or his firm belief that it was our own responsibility to interpret the “meaning of life”. Perhaps a bit of both.

Dad spent almost his entire adult life in extreme pain, but even more so over the last few months of his life. During this time, he was in and out of consciousness, and I think we were all hoping that his suffering would soon come to an end. Even so, he did his best to hide is pain, and not once did anyone hear him complain. When he was able, he still managed to tease and humour the family and nursing staff who took care of him.

I was unable to attend his funeral, and was unaware of the very last poem he wrote less than two months before he died. The other day, I stumbled upon the Remembrance card that was handed out at the funeral service. On it, was his last known poem. It’s somewhat rambling, but then what else could it be for a 90 year old in extreme pain and where the line between consciousness and unconsciousness was rather blurred.

I’ve posted the poem here purely so that I know where it is and can access it as I require, but if anyone else is able to enjoy it, then I’m sure my father would be happy for me to share it.

Reflections

I sit in here and wonder what life is all about.
It holds so many mysteries
Of that there is no doubt.
Who knows what’s due tomorrow,
Who’ll come knocking at my door.
Will it bring happiness or sorrow
like I’ve never known before?
What ever comes I’m ready
To take things in my stride.
For there’s been some lovely moments
Since my wife become my bride.
I know that if she ever took it in her mind to go
I’d be ever desolated because I love her so.
We have a lovely family;
Three boys but just one girl.
And she is like her mother, a really lovely pearl.
They’re a lovely family –
You couldn’t get one better.
To them I say most every day I really am your debtor.
I’ll do my best to give to you
The things that really count.
Like love and warmth and sympathy
That’s what it’s all about.
So take them as you find them,
That’s my advice to you, and you will find,
if you are that kind, they will do the same for you.
Look before you leap I say, for I know it to be true.
Don’t try to imitate bad things,
It’s not the thing to do,
But let your conscience be your guide,
Is my advice to you.
And let us hope that we can cope as other people do
For after all is said and done, you’ll find
That there’s still lots of fun,
Not sitting in the sun with nothing left to do.

May 2013

 


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Rockin’ rollin’ ridin’

For some reason I’m not able to fathom, extreme forces of nature exhilarate me, never frighten me. As a teenager, I remember watching a violent electrical storm from our front porch when suddenly all I could see was a bright white flash, followed almost immediately by a wave of heat. A second or two later, I was in complete darkness. My first thoughts were “Wow! I’ve been blinded by a lightning strike. What a story to tell!”

Slowly  my vision returned, and I realised that the reason for the darkness was that there were no street lights or any form of lighting from houses in the neighbourhood. I was somewhat disappointed that I wouldn’t have such an amazing story to tell after all.

Lightening had stuck a large step-down transformer that stood about 15 metres from our porch, and the flash and and rush of heat was the result of the transformer exploding from the strike, plunging the suburb into darkness.

In my Early twenties, a brother and I toured the South Island. On the return Cook Straight crossing between Picton and Wellington, The Interislander ferry ran into a violent storm. I was the only passenger to occupy the front observation lounge as the ship’s bow was pointing at the stars one moment, then disappearing beneath dark water the next. Everyone else, including my brother, were huddled in the rear lounge with vomit bags held firmly to their faces, or had developed complexions that ranged from deathly white to assorted shades of green.

I thought the scene was rather funny, although had I been aware that many of the restraints holding the cars, trucks and railway rolling stock on the lower decks had failed, I might have had some concerns for the safety of my car. As it was, I was blissfully unaware of the damage being done below me and enjoyed wandering the top deck promenade while waves several stories high rush past, and the ship pitch violently beneath me.

Earthquakes have the same effect. Living in Aotearoa New Zealand, one gets kind of complacent with short quakes. We’re rather small in geographical terms – only 268,000 square kilometres (103,500 sq mi) in area, about the size of Colorado – but over 20,000 earthquakes are recorded every year. Most pass unnoticed, but there’s usually around 250 each year that are noticeable.

I’ve experienced a number of earthquakes over the years that have caused some damage to our home and contents, although nothing too serious. Each quake is unique and as they come on, I wonder what type of motion will result. Some seem to move in just one plane, for example horizontally or vertically. These, especially the horizontal ones, often have a few violent shakes towards the end, which seem to cause all the damage. The ones I enjoy the most, are those that have a rolling motion and feel as though they are moving in all directions at once. Think of riding a narrow gauge train travelling at very high speed over a poorly laid track with incredibly tight curves, where standing is impossible without holding on tight to the handrails on the seats around you.

Last night’s shake was like that. I was sitting in the lounge watching some late night television, and everyone one else had gone to bed. At 2 minutes after midnight I felt slight sensation of movement, and wondered if an earthquake was about to happen. Very gradually the movement increased, and within 15 seconds, I could see the ceiling fan, and bookcases moving. Shortly after I was watching the walls as they flexed and appeared to have waves moving along them. Doors started slamming shortly afterwards, and by the time a minute had passed, I realised that if I had intended to move to safety, the window of opportunity had probably passed. It would have been impossible to walk upright, and I would have needed to resort to hands and knees to make an escape. So I enjoyed the ride. I realised that with a shake this long, a major shock had occurred within a few hundred kilometres.

At about 5 minutes after midnight, the rocking and rolling had subsided somewhat, and I decided to check on the rest of the family, as I am aware that others do not view earthquakes as I do. I found my wife, daughter and her three children upstairs standing in doorways somewhat shaken. The length of the shake had prompted my daughter to gather her brood around her, and even now, fifteen hours later is reluctant to let them out of her sight.

Strong aftershocks are still being felt, and while only two deaths have been reported, Wellington’s CBD has been closed off due to fallen glass and masonry. Universities and schools have been closed and some roads are impassable. What I find interesting, is that aftershocks have been dispersed over a wide area, from several hundred kilometres south of where I live to over a hundred kilometres north. I wonder if it’s a precursor to the “Big One”. The Southern Alpine fault ruptures approximately every 330 years, the last one occurring in 1717. The fault line extends for over 400 kilometres and is expected to cause a magnitude 8+ earthquake when it ruptures, quite likely, within in my lifetime.

While I know it’s likely to cause widespread damage and possibly fatalities, I really would like to “ride the wave”. I can’t think of anything more exciting.

 


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Songs that move me

For no reason that I can think of, today my emotions have been captured by two songs. They are songs I have been familiar with all my life, so why they keep welling up from the back of conciousness all day, I’m not sure.

However, they have very haunting melodies and they move me in the way very few other songs can. Let me share them with you. Enjoy

Pokarekare Ana is a love song written by a soldier during the first world war.

 

Hine e Hine (Maiden, Oh maiden) is a lullaby by Princess Te Rangi Pai, composed in the first decade of the twentieth century.

 


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whistling for a cuppa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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