Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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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.


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94 and going strong

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is my mother.

It was her birthday today.

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

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


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Worship and other secrets

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

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

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

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

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

When I was a small boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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A post over on Mindful Digressions prompted me to write this article about a character who enchanted me as a child. So thank you Doobster for the prompt.

I was about ten when there was a new addition to the household. It came in the form of a little black bundle of fur which was quickly named Blackie. He was a little kitten that my father had brought home to replace Smokey who had to be put down after coming off second best with a gin trap (not illegal back then, but prohibited in residential areas).

Smokey had adopted us when I was five, and was a very gentle, affectionate tabby, but was not much into play. We adored him immensely and he was sadly missed. There had been two attempts at replacing him, but for reasons I can no longer recall, both died after being with us just a few months. At first were were reluctant to become too attached to Blackie in case he was destined to a similar fate. But there was no denying his charm and intelligence.

Brother M, who was a little over a year younger than I, enjoyed tormenting his siblings (there seems to be one in every family). Usually it was his younger siblings, but I was also fair game. His favourite trick was to do something that would get another child in trouble. For example he would sit on the sofa beside me, hit me hard and yell “Ouch! Stop hitting me”. Our mother was fairly tolerant of sibling rivalry, but eventually M’s loud complaints at being bullied would result in her intervening. Of course I would be blamed as I was bigger than him.

Blackie was as much a victim of M’s tormenting as the rest of us. While I would never be so devious as to cause M to take the blame for something I did, Blackie had no such scruples. One in particular is still memorable.

M and sister B were sitting together on the couch, and I was quietly reading a book on the opposite side of the room when I heard B tell M to stop annoying her. M denied doing anything, but that was to be expected. This continued to occur at about one minute intervals, with the voices of both B and M slowly becoming louder. On the fourth or fifth occasion, I happened to look up just in time to see Blackie disappear behind the back of the sofa. Curious, I watched and waited. A minute later, Blackie’s head appeared above the back of the sofa, followed a moment later by one of his paws. The cat slowly stretched out the paw, gently patted B’s ear, then promptly disappeared from view. Of course, B again protested at being annoyed, and naturally M denied all responsibility. I was part way though telling them that Blackie was to blame when I changed my mind. I mumbled the rest of the sentence to an inconclusive ending and we all went back to minding our own business.

Another minute went by until Blackie performed the same trick again. This continued for about ten minutes and the complaining and denial had degenerated into an argument. I was beginning to think the better of my silence when our mother intervened. M was of course blamed as he was bigger than his sister, and was sent out of the room to “rethink his attitude”. I kept my mouth shut. Blackie appeared as if from nowhere, curled up on B’s lap and started his very loud purr.

That incident was the only one where I saw M being punished for something Blackie did. But until Blackie’s death, M was occasionally blamed for things I knew he couldn’t be responsible for. I kept my mouth shut. Yes, I admit it. I do have a (slightly) mean streak.

In those days we owned a dozen fowl, which kept us well supplied with eggs. They had an enclosed house and a yard of about 20 feet square to scratch around in. Every few days, the birds were allowed out to exercise on the adjacent lawn. The lawn was bounded on three sides by buildings and fences and by a garden on the fourth. The children were assigned the task of keeping the fowls off the garden and from escaping through the openings between the buildings. It kept us children quite busy.

While we had allowed Smokey to be outside during these “bird outings” as he shown no interest in them, our mother had though it prudent to lock Blackie inside while the birds were out. One day Blackie managed to escape. and he was discovered hiding behind a small bush, his tail swishing excitedly as watched the fowls intently. Our mother, in her wisdom, decided not to force the cat inside, and told me to keep a close eye on the cat and to intervene “only if necessary”. How I was supposed to do that I’m not quite sure as a cat in pursuit mode moves very fast.

As one bird approached the edge of the lawn near where Blackie was hiding, the cat got into position ready to pounce. I got up to grab the cat, but it was too late. Blackie sprang out just as the bird put its foot on the garden. The bird let out a loud squawk, did a quick u-turn and ran for its life towards the open gate to its yard with the cat in close pursuit. Blackie was so close that he could have easily brought the bird down by extending his paw, but he made no attempt to do so. He stayed right behind the bird until it passed though the gateway, whereupon he sat down nonchalantly licked a paw, then wandered back to his hiding place.

This continued for the rest of the afternoon. Blackie would remain on the garden, either hidden from view, or quietly stalking a bird if it approached the garden. He never made his presence known to the fowls unless one of them actually stepped onto the garden or attempted to go through one of the openings. At that point he would chase the bird all the way back to the gate to the yard, then walk back to the garden. Finally, it was time to return the fowls to their enclosure. This was a task that required the combined efforts of several people as the dozen fowl found ways of avoiding going through the gate. The moment Blackie understood out intent, he had the reluctant birds rounded up and inside the yard within seconds.

We continued to keep an eye on Blackie for a few weeks whenever the fowls were let out, but we never had to intervene. Finally, Mum felt it was safe enough for Blackie to mind the fowls on his own. For the rest of his life, he could be relied on to keep the fowls off the garden and from escaping. When it came time to return the birds to their enclosure, all we had to do was step onto the lawn and clap our hands. Within seconds all the birds would rounded up and in their yard. If he was able to he would probably have closed the gate as well. He had already worked out how to open doors inside our home. At school, farm kids sometimes boasted about the talents of their sheep dogs. Now we we able to boast about the skills of our “chicken cat”.

Blackie, like most cats, had a dislike of dogs. The only exception was an elderly cross-bred terrier that lived next door. He was too feeble to jump the low fence in the front of the section, (for non-NZers, a section is a residential property or lot). We didn’t have a front fence, so Bib, as the dog was affectionately named, would push through the hedge separating the two sections whenever he wanted to go for a walk. Blackie and Bib could be often seen lying together as if they were the closest of friends.

Blackie’s dislike of dogs turned to irrational hatred (Bib excepted) when he was about nine months old. One day a cocker spaniel managed to corner Blackie and he was unable to escape. Before he could be rescued, Blackie took matters into his own hands (paws?) and struck at the dog’s nose. The dog gave a loud yelp, turned tail and ran for the safety of his home several sections up on the other side of the road. I recall seeing the dog disappear behind the house with Blackie still in hot pursuit. A little latter Blackie reappeared, his tail standing up as if in pride as he trotted back home.

We didn’t see dogs on the street so often after that. Blackie made sure of it. If he saw any dog within half a block of our section, he would be off after it instantly. I never saw a dog stand up to our cat, and there were some large dogs in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately his hatred of dogs lead to his demise when he was a little over two years old. He was hit by a car in one of his mad dashes across the road in pursuit of the cocker spaniel.

He was sadly missed and will forever have a fond place in my memories.