Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why I would not be a good Mary

I never really took much notice of Mary in the Christmas story. I guess it was the shepherds or the visitors from the East that held some resonance being the onlookers checking out what was going on.
After I had become pregnant and given birth, my attitude to Mary changed and I began to see why some sections of the Christian faith truly revered her. She was quite an amazing lady.
I would have been a crap Mary. Even the first time she is mentioned in Luke, she is impressive. In response to the angel's prophecy of her giving birth to Jesus, she said "May your word to me be fulfilled."
I would have said "Why now, why couldn't you wait just a bit until I had married Joseph. It is going to be a nightmare for me and him. My friend's are never going to believe it. It will just make your son look illegitimate. Why can't you wait just a bit!"
Then just before she was due to give birth a census was decreed. How mad I would have been about this. "For goodness sake, I told you to wait a bit with the conception, now I have to go to Bethlehem. I am heavily pregnant, it is going to be so uncomfortable. I said I would do what you wanted and now look! Is this really your will? Can you please change things so I don't have to go. I have my midwife here and everything arranged."
If the travel wasn't bad enough, there were no rooms left when they got to Bethlehem. Again I would have been pretty mad about this. God plans his son to be born and has not planned a room for him. I would have agreed to the animal area, any area to rest while heavily pregnant but my hormones would have got the better of me and I would have done a fair bit of crying.
Even once the birth happened, things weren't all gold and angelic choirs - Mary and Joseph were told not to go home but to flee to Egypt. I would have been quite cross about that too.
But Mary did it all. It isn't reported she got that mad either.
Here was seemingly one of the most important events according to the Christian faith and even then lots of things appeared to go wrong or were extremely difficult for those involved. Makes you think just what kind of faith this is and how much faith you have to have, especially if you think God is asking you to do something.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

2 months on from the earthquake

Well it really has been ages since the earthquake happened here in Christchurch.
Finally in the last few weeks, three year old Tristan has stopped saying he is too scared to go to bed because of the aftershocks.
Are we still getting them? Yes we are. Now, though we get around 1-2 over four magnitude quakes a week. If we haven't felt a decent one in a week, we know it will happen soon.
How do they make me feel?
We went away for a night to Geraldine and I felt so relaxed. I am not consciously thinking about aftershocks in Christchurch but it must be there in the back of my mind - constantly wondering. That little bit of tension never letting go.
We came back to Christchurch and arrived home about 3:30pm. At 7:30pm there was a 4.7 aftershock. The noise was back, the shaking, the rolling and then it stopped. My stomach had sunk again into a nervous waiting. Will it stop, is it another larger one? I was fine after the big one but a large shallow 5.0 aftershock near our house a month afterwards has ruined it. I thought I would never fear another earthquake again but now that is not true.
Now when a decent aftershock hits, inside, I am thinking forward what will happen next? Will it stop? Will it not? It is different for out towners to experience a couple while they are here, that is kind of cool and then they can go away but we stay and they keep coming every week.
I want to relax and not worry about them but now I find that really hard because I start thinking into the future about what the shake will do next.
There is a lot of ongoing issues from this quake, mostly under the surface because we have to say we are all alright. Everything is go in Christchurch! But really everything is waiting in Christchurch, waiting for it to stop so repairs can begin. We have been assessed and expecting a small payout to fix our minor damage. But so far that minor damage is just getting a little bit worse with each large aftershock. The cracks grow wider and more appear.
How to end this? Well like our lives currently, there is no end to living with the intermittent shaking, we just keep on planning and going about our lives.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Good Samaritan

Did you read the story about the thirteen year old boy Daniel?
He was waiting at a bus stop in Sydney.
The bus driver came with his bus but it was full. He had been told not to take anymore passengers. He saw Daniel by himself and thought he would be all right. He drove on.
A lady driving a car passed Daniel and saw him with a scruffy looking man. The combination of a tidy teenager and a scruffy looking man didn't fit. She felt uneasy but she drove on.
Another lady was driving passed with her husband. She saw Daniel and the scruffy man with evil eyes and pulled over up the road a bit. She watched them in her rear view mirror. She watched for Daniel to wave to let her know he needed help. He didn't, so she drove on.
You know this story, it is like the one Jesus told and we know who comes next.
It is the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan comes, cares about a stranger and takes the risk to stop. But this is not a story Jesus told. This is reality at a Sydney bus stop. There was no Good Samaritan who came along after the others.
Daniel has not been seen since.
I am sure everyone in this story and all his family wish to God the Good Samaritan had come along. So do I. Where were they when Daniel needed them?
It makes the Good Samaritan story's point pretty scary.
What scares me most is would I have stopped?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Earthquake and business

I know, it has been over a month already - get over the earthquake!
We are in nothing like the condition of Haiti but there are long term consequences from the quake and I think various businesses are going to struggle for awhile.
There are things you don't think about and of course everyone wants to put a positive spin on things but these are the realities after talking to people.
Real Estate is really tough. Banks won't give loans unless there is insurance to cover it and insurance companies were having 21 day stand down periods to cover property so no insurance, no loan, no house sale. The figures for Canterbury in September were well down on last year. It is easy to look at figures and and let them slide off the screen but those figures are connected to real estate people's wages who were possibly thinking spring would bring good things after a very wet winter and suddenly it is not so pretty a spring.
The damage for many businesses from the earthquake was minimal. But talking to a commercial insurance broker in Canterbury there is a minimum excess on natural disaster of $2,500. Imagine you are hairdresser or a fast food place and sustained $2000 of damage. Even though you pay a hefty insurance premium every year, when it counted, you get nothing and have just wiped $2000 of profit off your year. That is a lot of hair cuts or curries to sell to recoup that loss. Then the broker suggested that after this big quake, Canterbury's minimum excess for natural disasters may go up to the same level as Wellington of 5% or a minimum $5000 excess. No doubt insurance rates will increase next year too just to make the little guy hurt even more.
Everyone stopped spending after the quake, retailers enjoying the upswing in sales with spring were suddenly back in winter again as people put away their purses. Just as things were getting back to normal for many retailers in less damaged parts of the city, the GST rise occurred.
Then there are the businesses still trying to relocate and find new premises. If a property is damaged so much you can't tenant it, the tenant can stop paying rent immediately in many leases agreements, but not all are like that. Also one company relocating said the offers were changing all the time, initially there were open ended leases that could be done month by month and then very quickly landlords were wanting people to sign up for three years. Some businesses in undamaged buildings, find themselves next to buildings badly damaged and either have to move themselves for demolition work to be carried out or have to contend with big cordons of wire fences putting off potential customers.
Then for every business affected, there are the suppliers affected and so the trickle down occurs. Restaurant suppliers suddenly have goods no one wants because either the restaurant is damaged or the restaurant didn't need so much because the central city was cordoned off and no one was out eating. Karl went passed a wee Thai restaurant in the central city one night after the cordoned had been lifted. The smells coming from it were divine but it was totally empty.
How many restaurants currently still shut owed money to suppliers and without any income coming in, I wonder if they are paying the bills.
Not only is landscape of Christchurch going to be changed with the demolition of a number of old buildings but the landscape of local businesses is going to change too and they really give flavour to a city.
Of course, the aftershocks keep happening too. We might get a few days without them and then another hits, rocking the house. They are now more an annoyance than anything but there is always that thought of, what if the next one is bigger, in the back of your mind. Christchurch definitely doesn't need that now.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Good from the earthquake

So we are still getting aftershocks but they are fewer and we can go for a few days without feeling one, which is nice. The assessor guy comes on Thursday to check our house is okay. I think it will be fine, but it will be good to get the okay from someone who actually has knowledge about these things.
Now it is a new reality and it feels a life time ago when every night we were woken from sleep - now it is only some nights.
I look back to the day of the quake and the day after and how I felt. For most of the year I have been battling anxiety issues. Those two days gave me a window into a new way of living and a reference point. My anxiety, which is apparently irrational, is mostly over the future. It has been quite some steps even to admit that what to me seem perfectly legitimate concerns and anxieties are actually irrational and not really legitimate at all.
Those two days of the earthquake were different. I couldn't think about the future at all. I had to stay in the present. I had to make sure our family was safe. I had to make plans for cooking without power. Everything I had to deal with was just for now, because we didn't know what would happen next. I was anxious about aftershocks but so was everybody. This wasn't crazy anxiety separating me from the rest of the world. This was normal anxiety that we all could talk about and share.
For two days I felt quite free.
I dealt with things as they happened and had no thoughts of the future, other than getting through, that day and then the next. I didn't have to think about what would happen later in the week because there seemed to be little point. We were here today and in 5 minutes or even 10 minutes there might be another big aftershock, so just deal with now and be glad for what we have.
It was a different way of living for me. When other major things have happened in my life, you do live in the moment but whatever it is, dominates the moment. In the case of the earthquake, our house was fine, we were fine - so my mind was free to think about what ever it wanted but there seemed no point thinking about the future.
It didn't last of course, because you do have to think about the future and make decisions for things that might happen. I now know what is like to not be anxious about it and when the anxiety starts to build, while I am still learning to control it, I can remember the feeling of freedom of the quake and think I did it then, I can do it again.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What lasting memories will I have of the quake

Things that have stuck in my head since the Saturday big earthquake:

There must have still been some power at the time of the quake because I can remember looking down the hallway, while kneeling in the doorframe, holding a shivering Tristan. The whole house bucking and rolling and the pictures on the wall banging. The noise of the quake, the banging of the wardrobe doors and windows and the creaking of the house.

The silence following it when everything stopped and the power was gone.

The starry, starry sky looking so calm and beautiful, when everything around us had gone weird.

The strange, grey silty volcanoes that appeared down the road.

The contrast of things being completely normal in parts of Christchurch and buildings completely wrecked in others. All the fences and cranes, busy fixing buildings and making them safe.

The friendliness of everybody looking out for one another.

The constant aftershocks in the night, that stopped us sleeping properly for over a week.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A week on from the quake

A week ago we were hit by the 7.1 earthquake. It is hard to believe. The week seems to have lasted forever. My new frequented websites are geonet and a googlemap of the aftershock locations.
Last Saturday, it was all about getting through the day, surviving aftershocks and being glad from lack of damage. Yesterday the fatigue really hit hard. A week of sleeping badly and it was catching up with me. We had some drinks in the evening, didn't need many, which made things seem a bit more normal. And we went to bed early, hoping not be woken up this time by another aftershock. But no around 5 we were awake again. At least it was a smaller one and a lot further on in the night.
Today feels better with more sleep but now the earthquake and its associated issues, are added to the background of life.
The ongoing effects that need to dealt with or just lived through are now part of our future. Thoughts of how things would go in September before Saturday are now having to be rethought.
What is strange, is having lived on the edge of my nerves all week as the aftershocks kept coming, on Friday they were less strong and I realised now they were just part of the day. I almost can't remember what it was like to not expect aftershocks every so often. They are now just part of life. Wait, feel them, check if everything is still okay, get on with life. Last Saturday with no water, no power and uncertainty on sewage you think, I'll never take these basic services for granted. A week on, I am already. I expect water from the tap and I trust the power to stay on. Some people still don't have these things, even in the same city but on our side of town, it feels mostly normal and my normal attitudes to water and power have returned too.
Next week as school and preschool begin again, will be strange. Driving into the central city for school does make me slightly nervous. Not the trip in, but the trip home goes down some of the streets that sustained heavy damage. Places we drove past everyday of the school week and now may not be there. We can't forget but we have to move on too.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


You don't appreciate the stress of aftershocks until you've experienced them. Being without power all day Saturday we only caught the end of a tv special on prime and Eric what'sisname and Barry bowtie guy were saying how they were from Hawke's Bay and Wellington so knew about earthquakes and were asking whether Christchurch people were nervous due to not being used to feeling earthquakes.
Umm no.
Sure the aftershocks were of a variety of strengths but the problem is that everytime one is a stronger magnitude, your body reacts to the memory of the big one. Adrenaline starts to flow and you are on edge once again.
Most people now don't even care about any aftershock under 4. Between 4 and 5, the conversation pauses, we wait - do we need to take cover or will it calm down? Over 5 we're moving to the doorframe and even if we don't make it, the heart is pumping and adrenaline is rushing again. We had a powerful jolt this morning that made some things fall down again. Afterwards we were shaking. Even though mentally we were okay, our bodies are really taking a hammering to the constant feeling of unease. Each big aftershock takes you back to sitting in the dark, hearing the rumbling and the banging of everything in the house.
The slightly less strong ones, there is the mmmmmmmm low rumble then shake, shake, shake and it passes on. Maybe 10, maybe 5 minutes or maybe an hour later mmmmmm shake, shake, shake again. And so the days go on.
Now on the fourth day, there are not so many little ones happening all the time, which is a relief for the nerves - just every now and then, bang. This can go on for days apparently! We are so lucky to be in a country with building codes such that many people are still in their own homes. I can't imagine going through this in Haiti or Pakistan surrounded by rubble and with nothing.
One day in the next month or so hopefully life will return to a more relaxed normal.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Christchurch Earthquake

I woke up with Karl jumping out of bed, saying "it's an earthquake!" For a split second, I thought of staying in bed as the earthquakes are usually small and over in seconds but it was getting louder and more shaky. I jumped out of bed too and we grabbed the kids. I was under the door frame with Tristan who was still not properly awake. The whole house was violently heaving and there was long low hum and the noise of everything shaking about. So many thoughts go through your mind. I remembered the red cross person in form 1 saying Christchurch will have big earthquake in your lifetime. This had to be it. Then there was relief that the house was still standing and we were all okay. We stayed under the doorframe. Tristan was now shivering with the shock. It was pitch black as the power had gone off.
Then the after shocks started happening. You would hear the low hum and then it would hit, the house lurching and creaking once again. Each time we would pause and wait, get to the door frame, it was a bad one or just wait and see if it was getting worse.
Miraculously we had very little damage. Things we thought would have fallen were still in their place. We took a mattress out to the lounge with the duvets. We got a kettle on the camp stove heating up some water for a cup of tea. By now we had found the torches and lit a candle. Every aftershock we held the candle while it passed. Karl said to put the heater on as it was really cold. I hadn't even noticed. Then we went outside and it was freezing but the sky was amazing. Stars staring back at us unchanged but now we could see them. No light from the city showed a full, brilliant sky of stars and the hills were completely dark apart from sugarloaf. We checked on our neighbour and he was fine. We were glad to have heating that wasn't reliant on electricity and the lounge was getting nice and warm. In the glow of the torch light were Tristan's two big brown eyes, everytime an aftershock hit.
The text messages started coming. From outside the city they said buildings had collapsed. We replied, no they haven't it's not that bad. But we were quite wrong. We made porridge on the cob oven. We now had the internet via the iphone and realised just how bad things were. We turned the radio on in the car in the garage and began to hear what it was really like.
Daybreak was a relief but also strange as now the water had stopped and we still had no power. What to do? It felt wrong to do normal things but we tidied up, pushed things, that hadn't fallen back from the edge where they had shuffled.
Walking out to the street, you couldn't see any damage. It was surreal. Had it really happened?
We drove across the city to see if our business was okay and it too, had miraculously come through pretty much unscathed. The power was even back on there and the roads were busy and many people were walking around. Over there, you couldn't even really feel the aftershocks.
Back home, we still didn't have any power but we did have water back and you could feel the aftershocks. Everytime the kids dived under the table. Everyone else paused, waited and then carried on what they were doing. It was tough on the nerves the low hum warning of what was to come.
We were tired and the nerves were frazzled, even just down the road, chimneys had fallen and the weird light grey mud had bubbled up out of the ground forming little volcanic circles. It seemed so random who had suffered and who was fine.
Saturday night was hard, the aftershocks were still coming but we finally had power, which was a relief. The kids were too terrified to go to sleep and just after we had calmed them down, another aftershock would shake them up again. In the end we all slept in our room, waking up to the larger aftershocks.
Sunday was even stranger as we seemed to be almost normal but we had to remember to boil the water and there was still the aftershocks, which we had got almost blase to now. Quakes that, had we not experienced the big one, would have had us stopping and going - that was an earthquake! Most of them come with the low hum before them.
We went to the supermarket as it was our usual shopping day, the shelves were half empty from things having smashed and you could see juice splashes still up the stands. Some stands were still in pieces. The bread aisle was completely empty.
So we made our own bread at home.
The roads could be fine and then there would be a big bump or a slump. There were still more aftershocks on Sunday night and I woke up just after midnight, why was I awake? Then I heard the low hum and my stomach sank. You just get sick of it, the constant uncertainty. The aftershock hit and it was a larger one but it passed. Lucy came into the room and climbed into our bed, her heart pounding. That was the night sometimes you slept through them and sometimes the shocks woke you up.
Monday there was no school but Karl had work. Walking around the house, I noticed cracks we hadn't seen before, maybe the aftershocks were still causing damage. They were not that major but should we call into the earthquake commission?
Today I feel really tired, three nights of less sleep, over the feelings of being on edge every time an aftershock comes (at least they seem to have dropped off quite a bit today). We walked down to get some milk at the dairy. Walking you noticed more of the damage, the cracks, the silt that had bubbled up from the ground, engineers checking the shops. Life is now sort of normal but we still boil water and it seems things aren't going to be completely normal for awhile,

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Historical walk/drive around part of Christchurch

I got the information for this from a cool little book called St. Albans, from swamp to suburbs put out by the NZ Federation of University Women, Canterbury Branch and we did this on a beautiful sunny winter's day with the kids - hence we tried to do the interesting stories they would enjoy.
1. The trip starts at the car park behind the Carlton hotel at the corner of Papanui Road and Bealey Avenue. This is a little bit of history about the building of the current suburb in this area. The land before that was swamp and while Maori would have used it as a rich food resource and a thoroughfare between different pa sites, this particular area didn't have settlements I don't think.
There were no roads and it really was quite different. Flax was ten feet high and there was dense bracken, very peaty soil and swamps! Settlers from England come in the 1850s and for 150 pounds they got a 50 acres of rural land - like in the St. Albans area and a quarter acre in the city - the other side of Bealey Avenue. They chose their blocks then had to build roads to get to their land. One of the first roads was Papanui Road because that brought in wood from Papanui Bush, so the settlers built their houses facing onto Papanui Road. To pay for the road a toll bar was put across the road but all the residents hated paying so instead they would go down Caledonian Road or Springfield Road but these roads were so bad it was said a horse could sink up to his abdomen in the mud! Today there are lots of streetlights but back then there was very few and if you wanted one on your street corner, you had to help pay for it. There was 18 streetlights in the whole area by 1885 and even then they didn't light them on moonlit nights and turned them off at 2am on other nights because they were so expensive to run.
2. The Carlton hotel on the corner was built in 1865 for farmers bringing in their stock to sell. Behind the hotel was sales yards to sell the stock. A guy called A. W. Money owned it but he didn't keep the hotel up to scratch and in 1882 the license board said he could only keep his license if he rebuilt it, he said yes but then didn't do it. He sold the hotel to the Wards Brewery in 1901 and they built the current building in 1906 for accommodation for visitors to the International Exhibition in Hagley Park in 1907. In 1907 A. W. Money was killed outside his former hotel when he stepped off a tram and broke his neck! Before you go onto the next stop, note the Avon River.

3. 150 Springfield Road - almost opposite Abberley Crescent. This home was for John and Susannah Green who arrived in New Zealand in 1850. They didn't have running water so they had to go and get it from the Avon River, down by the Carlton Bridge (past the Carlton Hotel) A long way to walk for water.

4. You can walk from here or drive - corner of Rutland Street and St. Albans Street. St Albans Street was put in by the Provincial Council because James Field complained that his land and others had no access to them. So the road was put in but it was often under water. He and others complained again but the provincial government said it wasn't their problem as people were subdividing their land so the landowners should provide and pay for the roads.

5. On Rutland Street Henry Forwood took up farming in 1890. He had been a banker in London but decided he wanted to try farming. He got a lot of books and set about setting up a model farm. He had dairying, pigs and chickens. He grew oats, carrots and potatoes. A reporter at the time said "Mr Forwood's farm is a very interesting one and will well repay a visit of inspection." Most of the farms in the area were dairy farms. Then as the land got more profitable they started growing more crops and plant nurseries. It was hard work though as the land had to be drained and some people didn't have enough money to make the drains so then they couldn't use their land. Once the land was drained, it sunk and then all the logs off old Kahiketea trees that had fallen into the swamp had to be removed and put in piles so the land could actually be used.

6. Shepherd Place off Trafalger Street, at the end is St. Albans School and English Park.
7. English Park used to be the site of the Philpotts Homestead. They were Methodists and a number of methodists settled in the St. Albans area. In 1853 the Reverend Kirk was on his way to some Methodists in Otago, when his boat put in for repairs in Lyttelton. Methodists in St. Albans walked to Lyttelton over the Bridal Path (you can see it in the distance over English Park) and brought him back making a path through the swamp to lead him along. He held a service in the Philpott's kitchen and ended up staying in Christchurch.
8. The methodists were very keen on education and ran day schools and educated ladies in the area also started teaching children from their homes. It was decided a school was needed and St. Albans school was opened in 1872. To pay for it a rate was put on the houses in the area. Children often didn't make it to school because they couldn't reach the school due to flooding or they were needed at home to work or they were sick with measles or scarlet fever or smallpox. One such epidemic shut the school from June 2 to July 17 1882. The school got its funding based on average attendance so if not many kids turned up, they would shut the school to try and keep the average up. School was supposed to be compulsory for 7-13 yr olds and they started to use the police to enforce this. Children had to attend school 50% of the time. A boy, James Hazell was taken to court for only going to school 11 times by May. But the case was thrown out because half the year hadn't passed yet. Interestingly the only secondary schools in the area are private ones.

9. Caledonian Road - corner of Holly Road. This has now been cleared and is selling for residential sections but this used to the Caledonian Hotel. Before that it was a general store called the Rising Sun owned by Mr Innes. He had a room on the side of the shop that he got a license to sell "refreshments" It was very popular as people could pretend they were just going shopping for bread and things but then go through into his room for drinks. One woman smashed the windows because she was so angry that her husband had been jailled because of the debt he had not repaid that was supposedly for potatoes.

10. On the way home you can look at the trees down the middle of Bealey Avenue. The trees between Springfield Road and Montreal Street were paid for by Gould, a man who had a very big house in the area. He thought it would be nice for people and he provided seats for people to sit on and admire the view. He asked the council to put fences around the trees to stop them being eaten by wandering stock. A bit different from today!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Passing Cows - a wee story the end

“Well it is a hatch.” I suggest.
We open the boot and fold down the back seats. We climb in either side of the picnic basket.
It is cramped and the car roof is low. Propped up on one elbow we pass the rolls and the butter and the meat and the salad between us. Simon squishes his roll together, encasing the ingredients. He looks up. “The farmer had better not come past and see us now.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Passing Cows - a wee story part three

The cows sway in time to their hooves as they amble to the side of the road.
We drive carefully down the arrow of road re-emerging in front of us. The cows only give us a passing glance. They are more interested in the grass on the verge.
A human head pops up amongst the black and white bumpy back bones. The farmer is astride his quad bike and riding towards us. He takes one hand off the handlebars and is waving at us.
Simon drops the window as we drive up abreast of him. The farmer leans across to the open window.
“Christ mate. Slow down. Do you know how much damage one of these could do to your car?“ He shakes his head and looks back to the cows.
The farmer stands up on his bike. He guns it towards the back of the herd.
Simon stabs the button and window slides up again.
We creep forward much slower now.
“How are you supposed to know how fast to pass cows?” Simon mutters.
I shrug. “The sign didn’t say.”
“Stupid cows.” He grumbles.
The cows are thinning out and walking faster. Around another corner we are alone and begin to pick up speed.
“You wouldn’t believe we were so close to an international airport would you?” I say.
“In some cities we’d still be in the suburbs, not passing cows.”
The wipers sweep up the collection of rain polka dots on the windscreen, smearing them in arcs.
“Yeah. Do you remember that two hour bus ride in London to get to Heathrow?
There was that guy who wanted to know what we were laughing about?” Simon asks.
I laugh “Do you think he knows how fast to drive through cows?’
On our right arrives the yellow signpost pointing to the reserve and our destination. We turn onto the rocky patch of scrubby cut grass, half surrounded by a remnant of native bush. It is hard to decide whether to be pleased this piece has been saved or sad it is the only piece in the area remaining amongst the farmland.
We get out of the car into the rain. It is falling more steadily.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Passing Cows - a wee story part two

Simon indicates and we turn onto a narrow sealed road heading into the hills. The first drops of rain burst on the windscreen. I look up at the sky. “I’m not sure the picnic is going to work.”
Simon wrinkles his nose. “Wonder if that farmer is pleased? People always say, the farmers will be pleased when it rains.”
The hills press in towards the road, squeezing it between the folds of the land. They are a lush green. Maybe the rain here is not so surprising. The colour in the long grass and the trees is even more brilliant against the blackboard sky. We drive around the end of one hill and head down into a gully. The ground on either side of the road starts to flatten out.
On the side of the road is a yellow, diamond, warning sign with the silhouette of a cow. There are no cows to be seen. The road is lined with old silver birches and willows beside wire and worn wood fences. Their leaves are hanging like lace curtains for the privacy of the farmland against the city traffic. We turn another corner.
The curtains are gone.
There are cows all over the road.
Simon rams the brake pedal hard.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Passing Cows - a wee story part one

A scruffy ute suddenly pulls out from gravel driveway. Simon hits the brakes.
It speeds up very slowly in front of us.
There is no one behind us, the road is an empty black ribbon under the blue sky.
“Why do they do that? I mutter. “He could’ve waited until we went past. It wouldn’t have made any difference to him.”
“He’ll probably turn off again soon, just to really piss us off.” Adds Simon
“He’s slowing down.” I sigh and we slow again too.
The farmer does not indicate, but the ute is drifting to the left and then turns onto another gravel road. We both grimace in annoyance. What else can you do?
The sky changes to thunder grey, the closer we get to the foothills. The ragged Southern Alps we had been staring at for the last thirty minutes, disappear behind dark streaks of heavy rain.
Our home in the city is probably still in the brilliant sunshine that demanded we go out and enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - the end

He came back to me.
He stood in the doorframe. It still had the blue pen lines where I had marked his height each year on his birthday.
He came over and awkwardly pulled me to him. My head rested on his heart.
Quietly I said. “Aidan. When I found out I was pregnant with you. I cried. I cried for my future I thought I’d ruined. I cried for you and how unfortunate you were to be mine.”
His arms loosened around me.
“But everyday, I tried to keep you happy and eased your reflux. I was worried you would die and it would be my fault. As you got older, I worried you would run onto the road or get hurt climbing trees. I kept you reading and looking out for Mars. I thought you would finish your studies and settle down in a job in a university somewhere, maybe with a family.”
I took a deep breath, “I am afraid to lose you Aidan. What is my life now? Without you, what am I?”
Aidan let me go. We stood centimeters apart but alone in our own thoughts. I stared at the vinyl diamonds between his socks; the vinyl he had run his cars across.
“I tried my best Mum. I wanted you to be proud of me. I am good at physics. I am good at this.“
Aidan’s phone rang and it tore off the cloak of tension holding us. He went into the lounge and I heard him, picking up the photo frame of him and me on his first day at school. I looked at that photograph every day.
Aidan came back into the kitchen where I hadn’t moved since he left. “I will always love you Mum, wherever I am.”
“Me too.” I whispered.
“I’m scared I might die out there.”
“Me too.”
“But I’m still going. I want you to be happy for me.”
I walked over and held him.
“I’ll try Aidan.” I said into his shirt.
Aidan wrapped his arms around me. “I’ve asked Katya to keep an eye on you. Every time you look at Mars you can think of me, and the nights we used to spend together looking up. And please, I did do it for you.”
I was not sure it was the best gift from a son to his mother, but I had no choice.
I squeezed him hard.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - a wee story part 5

“I love my work. I have given up everything to get to this. Look at Katya. I loved her. I wanted to stay with her but I couldn’t have both.”
“You wanted Mars more.” I murmured.
“This is history. It is bigger than you or me or Katya.”
“Nothing should be bigger than the people you love.”
“I thought you of all people would understand. I did it for you for Christ’s sake. For you.” He picked up his laptop and scratching his head, where there used to be curls, he walked out of our kitchen.
This kitchen was where we had played with playdough; we had built space rockets and Martians in multicolours.
He turned around.
“Look at you Mum. You are still living in the same house; even the table is from when I was a kid. I am not your baby anymore.”
I heard him in his old room and then his footfalls on the worn carpet in the hall, the floorboards creaking.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - a wee story part 4

I made myself a cup of lapsang. Aidan had never liked it. He was working on his laptop at our formica, kitchen table.
“Aidan. I love you.” I blurted.
“I know.” He said, as he tipped the last of his coffee in his mouth and handed me the empty cup.
I didn’t take it.
He looked at me. His long lashes fanned against his eyelids.
“You are so selfish and I did not want you to grow up like that. Everything is just about you and Mars. I meant for you to learn to love...” I trailed off, looking into my tea for inspiration. The smoky aroma reminded me of those nights.
“I know what you gave up.” He said, rubbing his laptop like a pet. “I know you wanted to complete your PhD but I came along and Dad left you and went back to Germany. Aren’t you proud of me?”
I said bitterly, “You think you have gotten where you are because you did it.”
“I did. But I did it for you.” He was staring at me now without blinking.
“Have you not seen all the people that have helped you?” I could feel the tears on the edge of my eyes.
“Every winter night when you were little I checked on you. You always wiggled out of your blankets and I would gently pulled them back up over you so you wouldn’t wake up cold.”
“What are you trying to tell me? Not to go? Not to make history? Didn’t you used to say I should make my life worth something?”
He stood up and I stared up at the underside of his chin.
But he was still my son.
“Not without love.” The words were not right and it sounded soppy but I hoped he understood.
He exploded before me like a supernova.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - a wee story part 3

Katya came to congratulate him on Tuesday afternoon. She gave him a hug with her shoulders, her black hair tied up tight behind her head. She gave me a hug too. I could feel her heart thumping against me.
“It is amazing isn’t it?” Aidan said. “Aidan Jones going to Mars.”
Katya agreed it was amazing.
I asked her what she was up to these days.
“I’m teaching physics part-time.” Katya said. I have a wee boy – just turned three.”
It seemed only a few years since Aidan was that size. Aidan left to check to his messages, while we were sharing toddler stories. I saw Katya out.
That night I went outside, to look up at the stars. Aidan had looked out the door at me. I was going to tell him how much I enjoyed those evenings long ago, standing outside with him leaning against me, smelling the wood fires, feeling the chill against my face and staring up at the myriad of stars. Aidan hadn’t come outside. He was not used to Christchurch’s temperatures after California.
We went to the University on Wednesday for more speeches. Katya was sitting at the back, with a little boy driving cars around her feet. Aidan glared at him when he dropped a car on the wooden floor as the vice chancellor was finishing his introduction.
I played with Katya’s little Theo while Aidan caught up with his old lecturers and then suddenly he was calling me to his next appointment.
The whole week was one event after another. I began to feel like his secretary.
On his last day he had no more appointments. Now was my chance.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - a wee story part 2

This week I needed to be honest with him. If Mum were here, she would encourage me. “It doesn’t matter what I think.” She’d say. “If you think it best for Aidan, then you do it, you’re his Mum.”
Monday we went to his old primary school. He told them to work as hard as he had. He opened the Aidan Jones Technology Centre.
As we were leaving he said to me; “What are the chances of them ever reaching space?”
“You did.” I replied.
“None of them will work as hard as I did.”
I said nothing. The “I” in that sentence bit into my bones.
Aidan got As right through primary school. When Aidan was seven, I took him to lecture by an astronaut. Aidan was mesmerized with his stories and pictures of earth from the orbiting space station. The astronaut had said; “I wasn’t the brightest student in my class, I just worked hard.”
In the winter evenings Aidan and I would go out on the back, concrete steps and look at the stars. He would rest his head of crazy, blond curls against me. I said he was lucky to live in New Zealand. We could see so many stars from our house, not like in those bright cities the astronauts captured in the pictures.
When he was twelve, I said there was a downside to living in New Zealand. Yes we could see so many stars with our clear skies but he was unlikely to become an astronaut. “Kiwis don’t go up in rockets”. That night we stayed out late looking up in silence at the winking stars and then he just gave me a hug and went inside.
At high school going to parent-teacher interviews was easy. Aidan most enjoyed physics and decided that would be his major at University. He soon lost me, he was delving deeper and deeper. He brought Katya home, she seemed to be able to keep up. I liked her, we would share a pot of lapsang souchong tea but soon I realized she was coming to chat with me. Aidan was back in his books. He was determined and addicted. I should have been pleased but his intensity was unnerving.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Behind Every Good Astronaut - a wee story part 1

It was our first dinner together in three years. Aidan’s eyes flicked across me and back to his plate.
“Jesus died just to point out we shouldn’t let being scared of dying stop us from doing things. All that theology about it being for us, shows we can’t handle our own insignificance in this universe.” He sucked in mouthful of spaghetti noisily.
I kept twirling the spaghetti around my fork. It had only been a year since Mum died. She would be shocked at his flippancy. She had taken Aidan to Sunday school every week until he was twelve. I had treasured those Sunday mornings by myself. I missed her so much. Aidan missed her funeral; he was already busy with training.
Aidan was only home for a week. We were going to fly back together to the United States and I would watch him take off. This was it. My boy might never return.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nappies & Christianity

The other day had an interesting wee ponder on the parallels of movements. (Not the bowel kind.)
I joined the modern cloth nappy movement not at beginning but in the early days. The equivalent in the Christian movement of just before the big growth phase in Acts thing. It is interesting five years on as the modern cloth nappy idea has grown and what has changed.
Five years ago when I mentioned we were going to use cloth nappies I got a lot of rude comments and put downs and "you'll never do it" comments. Now they are even in supermarkets. Here is the interesting thing to become mainstream they have to take on some of the mainstream characteristics. To meet price requirements of chain shops or supermarkets, modern cloth nappies have to be made in China. At the beginning they were not Made in China. Now we see divergences in the nappy businesses some refuse to go for cheap labour and maintain manufacture in a country, such as NZ because it something they feel is important. It was at the start. The people who first started using modern cloth nappies were those not afraid to be different, not afraid to be ridiculed by friends. There was a very strong environmental bent that usually meant those who used modern cloth nappies also did other environment conscious things and didn't usually choose the mainstream way of doing things. They mostly usually went unnoticed by the main stream crowd and media.
I look at Christianity, which is a much much older movement and I see the same things. Starting with a small, unremarkable group who found someone and something. When they started off, they all held similar beliefs and the most important thing was just sharing the word - what they had found out. It was the same with the modern cloth nappies. People used to say I converted someone today and everyone would get excited. Just like those early chapters in Acts with comments of how many were being added to their number. Then as it grew and grew other things came in, people have their bias and tangents happen. All still for the cause but in different ways.
Some say the worst thing to happen to Christianity was when the emperor became a Christian and declared it the religion of the Roman empire because suddenly it was no longer in the background - it had become mainstream and to be acceptable to mainstream things were subtly altered and added to.
You wonder what the early founders would think today of the Christian movement. Some would probably be pleased with how big it has grown and others would probably be disappointed with how things have changed. "It's not like it was in the old days." "Do you remember...?" So it is with modern cloth nappies - interesting.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dancing road worker

The other day, going to the supermarket we passed some roadworkers, working near an intersection with lights. Everytime the lights went red for the main lot of traffic, one guy would start dancing - presumbly to music in his head.
Then the lights would change and he would get back to work. No doubt the other guys worked far harder than him. The light changes are quite regular.
Is he a slacker? Or was he doing great PR for the roadworking people?
He was very funny and the kids thought it was hilarious. He definitely made us notice the roadworkers and what they were doing. He made our day a bit brighter too so I think he did deserve his wages that day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

cath - gone but not forgotten

It was nine years ago at the end of last month that Cath was killed.
Funny things remind me of her. The Wellington Sevens Rugby tournament because I went the day after her funeral. The kids, because after we got married she was always asking when I was going to "pop a sprog", but she wasn't around when I finally did. Facebook, because she would have been right into that, but it didn't exist in her lifetime.
I see a person that looks like her. That is the silly thing I guess, they look like her nine years ago. She will always look like that now, never get older like me.
It is also weird to think nine years have passed. Now I have lived nine years longer than she has. It doesn't seem right or fair but that is the reality.
I can remember getting a cell phone call that she had been killed and it took awhile for me to get the message of what had happened. Then I heard it on the news but the names were not released and for twenty-four hours it felt like she was okay, maybe it was mistake and it wasn't her. I went off to Auckland for work but that night in my hotel room I saw the news and they showed her picture. There was no pretending, the cell phone call had been real, it was Cath. It was only twenty four hours but it seems looking back, much longer the waiting for the media to somehow make it true.
I think about her family these days and how everyday they have reminders that she is no longer with them. Then it is strange to think of the impact of her death and how so many many people have died in Haiti and the grief so many over there must be feeling.
Death is so arbitrary but so final.
Well Cath no matter how many years go by, you won't be forgotten and you'll be forever young as I get more wrinkles and I think you would tease me for that.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Another year vanished

I had a wee look back as I head into 2010.
2009 for me, seemed to be year of learning more about me - weirdly. You'd think after 30 plus years I would know all there was to know about me but apparently I have been ignoring some traits or recent events have just bought them to my attention.
So what have l learnt?
I have a pretty bad phobia of spending money and worry too much about it. It doesn't seem to matter if I have enough or even more than enough - I worry. This year I am going to try to worry about money less - this will be very hard. Though yesterday I managed to go from mild anxiety attack to relative peace so there is hope yet.
I learnt I am motivated by success and find it hard when I can't tangibly achieve that.
I've learnt life doesn't instantly change - that is only in the summarised magazine article or television interview. Everything takes time.
I've learnt people are what I enjoy. I thought I loved travelling and want to do more but looking back on the travel I have been fortunate to do, it is the people that stick out in my mind. The sixty year old German who was forced so close to retirement to take a move to China by the company he worked for. He was loving it, he was thoroughly enjoying seeing something completely new to him every day he walked to work. His attitude was fantastic. The lady in Sri Lanka who was so thankful I came to help train them when she said in her heart she thought I wouldn't since the airport had been bombed a week before. I know what it is like to ask for help and then get turned down from afar.
This year I haven't left the country but we have had some really neat people to stay through SERVAS. Even though sometimes we've been busy and I need to reorganise the house when they come, each time it has been worth it and my world has increased. It is also surprising what people will tell you as the person behind the counter. We opened our world cooking ingredient retail shop - Summerfields Foods - last year and I have met some very interesting people I would never have met otherwise. Their lives have taken a course they might not have chosen but it sure is interesting listening to their stories. Now we are busier that doesn't happen quite the same but it is great to be growing the business and the busyness.
I've also learnt;
a tidy house to live in is important to me.
that kids can adapt and thoroughly enjoy things you were worried might adversely affect them.
I can hear someone say the stress of a new business and trying to be superperson, took it's toll with a near breakdown and not see that same thing happening in my own approach.
that great friends are there when you need them.
that little kids really do grow very quickly.
that there are an every increasing number of "morals" related to the "right" way to bring up children and that it is okay for me to pick the things important to me for our kids and that doesn't make me better or worse a parent for the things I am not worried about.
Life is not always easy but when it is not you learn a great deal more than when everything is lined up nicely.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.