Friday, September 28, 2012

being prepared

A few nights ago I had a dream, or perhaps a mental wandering in that hynagogic state that is neither asleep nor awake, given that I seldom remember my dreams and this one I can recall quite clearly. In it I was sitting chatting to someone at our dining table when the room was plunged into darkness due to a power-cut amidst a cyclone. Finding a match and candle was easy enough from there and then I went in search of my lantern in the Civil Defence Emergency kit which is stashed under my bed (mine isn't quite as comprehensive as the official list). This was the point where I realised that not keeping the batteries in the lantern was not a particularly cunning plan given the lantern was new and I was fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out how to put the batteries in....

I don't remember much that happened after that other than eventually I did succeed. Woke up with a mental note to self - check how the batteries fit in to the lantern!

Well I didn't write it on my 'to do list' did I, so it didn't happen. And then, last night when I was busy working away on my session for JYF Camp on the World Conference of Friends out went the lights! Gah... well at least I didn't need to bother with matches and a candle as my glowball lamp was by my bed so having found that no bother it gave me enough light to pull out the right storage bag and get the lantern and the plastic tub of batteries out. Finding which batteries was easy - I'd written in black marker pen on the back of the packs which were for the lantern and which for the kitchen radio and how many of each were needed (well I am my father's daughter after all!). What I hadn't figured on was how blummin' difficult the batteries would be to get out of the packet! So one very badly split nail later (half way down my thumbnail kind of bad) I managed to get them out. Unscrewing the lantern was easy enough, finding out which way up the batteries went in was easy enough. Getting the battery holder back in the lantern however was a challenge. Luckily my brighter wind-up torch was on my bedside table (glowball and torch I can find in the dark from my bed anytime in pitch darkness - handy when I sometimes need to take medication on waking in the middle of the night, hence having acquired the skill). Eventually I figured out that the batteries weren't quite in right and hey presto, one lantern.

Several thoughts went through my mind; I was glad it was just a power cut and not a major emergency given how long it took to get the lantern going (the weather was pretty wild and worse further south and probably the cause of the it); I knew I should've done something about the lantern after that dream; if you're going to have a power cut then just before bedtime isn't a bad time really - although as I hadn't yet brushed my teeth I sent up thanks that we're on town supply water and so didn't need an electric pump to make the water flow out of the tap (Not an insurmountable issue had we not had flowing water after all, as there is a large stash of water bottles under my bed too, but even so...); it made me appreciate having the CDE Kit and knowing exactly where to find everything in the dark/dim light.

On Wednesday it was the Big Shake Out so we had the children practicing several times at kindergarten on Tuesday to get ready for it. They were excellent and had the added bonus of getting to laugh at the adults trying to squeeze as much of themselves as possible underneath tables only 18" high and still leave enough space for the children to hide! Going 'turtle' with your head under a chair or table ended up being the next best thing. We are highly unlikely to get an earthquake up here - tsunami or cyclones are our main risks in the Far North - but just because we live somewhere safe doesn't mean we don't need to know what to do, we could easily be visiting somewhere less stable (ie pretty much anywhere else in this country!) when a big one hits. I, for instance, am off to visit Wellington next week - bang on a major fault line and well overdue a big shake.

I haven't yet returned the lantern to where it belongs, it is still on my bedside table. I'm dithering about whether to leave the batteries in or not. I guess now I know what to do (and they are out of their packet!) putting them back in the tub isn't such a bad idea. I've dealt with too many old leaky batteries over the years from unused items stuck in the back of cupboards etc to be all that keen on leaving them in - but then again...

Meanwhile whilst I figure out what to do with the lantern I guess I need to get back to being prepared for my talk on Tuesday! Thanks to one of the JYFs providing the techie knowledge (cheers Jonty!) I now have downloaded YouTube clips of the conference in case there is no internet signal at Huia (highly likely) and I've almost got the rest of it together so I'm feeling reasonably prepared - but not yet at the point where I could manage without notes which is I guess the equivalent of being in the dark! However 'tis bedtime again (thankfully still with power tonight!) and if I don't get to sleep soon I won't be prepared for doing anything tomorrow...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

playing god...

As those of you who are friends with me on facebook will know I've been spending a lot of time in the garden over the last month or so. Basically since we've had dry weather on my days at home and when it hasn't been too soggy underfoot (which given how much rain we've had this winter has been limiting at times - nextdoor's lawn has been masquerading as a paddling pool on a regular basis).

What I think of as 'last year', ie my first year here, I did some gardening on and off, but it really takes a year to get to know a garden and what is where. But I'd gradually been working away at various bits clearing the vegetable garden of the encroaching flowers (alstromeria and agapanthas), trying to keep the bark paths weed free and waging war on the creeping buttercup and convolulous that seem determind to strangle everything else in the garden.

Once the worst of winter was past though I set out to be more proactive, especially getting the vegetable garden more productive. What I soon realised was that I was reaping the benefits of my labours over the previous year as jobs that had taken all day to do before were now taking an hour or so. This has meant that on top of finishing off a couple of jobs I'd started ages ago to edge some flower beds to keep the soil (and weeds!) from taking over the path, the back garden is actually starting to look pretty respectable. It looks even better now Dan has restored the garden furniture to pristine condition from their decidedly tatty state.

A crack has appeared in the chimney stack which is going to get filled soon so we decided to shift the pot plants from around the base at the side of the drive to give better access. Of course once they were shifted it made sense to get in there and give that area a really good (and rather overdue) clear out of weeds, a build up of roots, soil and a collection of pebbles and shells mostly at least half buried. As often happens, one thing led to another and having got that bit tidy it showed how bad the rest of the strip down the side of the house was, so today I tackled another section of it. The job is by no means completed but it will have to wait until after I've been away next week to be finished off, meanwhile it does look a bit better!

I've reflected many times whilst gardening that it feels like 'playing god'; deciding what shall live and what shall die/be relocated/composted and turned into something far more useful (to me); destroying the homes of insects and lobbing the snails on to the drive or lawn for the thrushes to find; pruning things back (WGYF planners, pruning always makes me think of you!) and generally reshaping the world. I'm not sure quite what image of 'god' I have when I think of it as playing god - perhaps more of a Discworld one (Thunder rolls... a six) than anything more theologically profound, it does all seem rather Old Testament which is an image of god I'm not especially sure about.

Yet whilst I can't go along with creationist theories I can quite happily accept there being 'something' out there that is behind/underneath/inside of everything. For years as a teenager I fell back on the Star Wars 'Force' as a way to explain the concept of the Inner Light or that of god in everyone/everything to my school/uni friends who were trying to understand what this Quakerism stuff was that I'd got involved with. It still comes in pretty handy occassionally as an explanation I must admit!

Given how much my back is telling me about it I obviously wasn't using 'the force' with any amount of Jedi competence but there was a fair amount of brute force involved with shifting some of the more stubborn roots and creepers today. All I can say is thank goodness I didn't have to do six days of this before I got a rest...

Monday, September 24, 2012


On our news tonight was a piece about the Liverpool vs Man Utd match, showing the roses, balloons and the words truth and justice being held up by the crowd in memory of the 96 who died at Hillsborough. The recent clearing of the Liverpool supporters for the tragedy and the exposure of the enormous cover-up that occurred being way overdue.

This case has been covered by our media a fair bit, surprising given it is about something that took place over 20 years ago on the other side of the world. But I am grateful for it, It has made me think back to that time and two things have really struck me.

Firstly was the memory of sitting watching the news at my parents in the Easter Holidays, at the time they were living in the Channel Islands. I was in my first year at university in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, living in Castle Leazes halls of residence. One of our crowd, Andy - an ardent Liverpool fan, who lived on the corridoor below me had been really excited at the end of term about going to the semi-finals with his cousin. So there I was, on a wee island with no-one but my family watching the news and having absolutely no way of knowing if Andy and his cousin were amongst those involved. No emails, no facebook, no cell phones... and as most of us then suddenly realised as we were scattered around the country - most of us didn't have anyone's parents addresses or phone numbers. We had to wait until we were all back at uni to find out if Andy was coming back at all.

Thankfully he was there, he and his cousin had been in the upper terrace and had been involved with hauling people to safety. One of the first things we all did when we got back was get out our address books and get home phone numbers and addresses - no-one wanted to go through that anxiety of not knowing again, that horrible feeling of isolation and helplessness. I just love how these days through facebook when some disaster happens I often know within hours, let alone days or weeks if those in that area are ok no matter where in the world they are.

The other aspect that hit me was the realisation that I had forgotten that there had been a cover-up. I can't now remember how I knew the true story, other than obviously hearing what Andy had had to say. Most likely articles in the student newspaper and the Independent or Guardian and other such publications - I didn't watch tv in halls. But being a Social Studies student, and having covered the sociology of the media for A level, I had a healthy disrespect for mainstream media, especially the tabloids. Also I had a healthy disrespect for the police authorities - watching on dvd the series Our Friends in the North in the last year reminded me why that was! It is easy to forget now the way they behaved through the '80s, it wasn't pleasant. So I had believed the Liverpool fans, the doctors who had happened to be there and the journalists who didn't cow-tow to the official line, and was duly sceptical of the Taylor report findings. After all it wasn't that long after the Bradford City fire and that botch up, and less than 6 months since I'd seen for myself how the police story differed from what my own eyes saw at the so called 'Battle of Westminster Bridge' when the mounted police charged student demonstrators and one of my friends got kicked on the shin by a horse.

It is only reading up on it again that that is starting to come back. Luckily for me I had the luxury of forgetting it, it wasn't me or my family who had been blamed. Life moved on. I do remember getting a start though, when being driven through Christchurch not long after I'd moved here and seeing a suburb called Hillsborough. My driver was a fellow Brit though and he understood the instant connection my mind had made. It was more than the usual mixture of feelings about seeing place names from the UK being used here, although no doubt when the suburb was named it was long before the stadium had even been dreamed of! But where I could, and still do, laugh about Morningside, Costorphine, Portobello, Rotherham, Sheffield, Oxford and Cambridge (to name but a few) somehow Hillsborough didn't feel quite the same. It was almost like naming somewhere Cullodden or Glencoe and invoking the ghosts along with the name. It definitely brought with it a sense of unease. So whilst the details had gotten hazy with time, the underlying sense of injustice and horror was obviously still lurking around in my subconscience.

These days I'm only in touch with a very small number of my friends from Havelock Hall, Castle Leazes - and most of them indirectly. But over the last few days the old crowd have been very much in my mind. Somewhere I think I still have that address book, I wonder where everyone is now? Scattered to the four winds far more than we were that Easter, that is for sure.

Monday, September 17, 2012

getting on with it

Well thankfully by this afternoon I was out from behind my dark glasses and resuming some semblance of normality, albeit after I'd had a power nap admittedly.

Whilst trying to find things that Needed Doing that weren't overly taxing I got on to ironing some patchwork squares ready to sew them together to make a quilt top. Once ironed I figured there wasn't much point putting them back in the bag and set to laying them out on the sitting room floor working on the final layout (most of my patchwork works on a 'start with a general plan and then make it up as you go' basis). I had it all laid out, the intertwined koru of kiwiana fabrics and of autumnal colours, and went to get my camera.

I learned early on in my quilting days to take a photo once I'd got the layout sorted so that should something happen I didn't have to figure it all out again from scratch. This was after I had discovered that my cat Banjo had decided that his new hobby was quilt design too, ie after I had it all beautifully laid out he'd go and reorganise it as soon as I turned my back! Banjo stayed in Scotland when I emigrated, but the habit of photographing it all 'just in case' has stayed with me and I've had cause to be grateful for it a few times.

Great, I'll just email the photo off to... oh. In more recent years these photos have been shared with Natalie as we've encouraged each other along with our various quilting projects, helped make decisions on which fabric looked best for a sashing or a border, was the layout ok or did it need something in to break up the intensity a bit more, is it me or do those patterns just not look quite right next to each other? At Natalie's memorial her friend and quilting mentor spoke of how she'd post a quilting related photo on facebook and then find herself disappointed that Natalie hadn't commented yet before the reality of the fact that she wouldn't any more would register. This is the first quilt I've worked on in ages, so this is the first time I've had that 'oh' moment which left me wondering 'but who can I send it to instead?'

I know Jane will be popping in on Thursday, so that is okay - she and I often talk quilting at length, although her skills are far superior to mine - she makes works of fine art complete with exquisite embroidery. I really felt the loss of having someone whose skill level was comparable, and whose practical approach of 'I'm making it to be used, not hung on a wall and admired,  no-one will notice once it is on the bed/floor/cot/etc' fitted so perfectly with mine!

So I sat and thought, what would Natalie do? To which the obvious answer was - just get on with it. So I sewed, trimmed, ironed and sewed some more. By teatime I was knackered and more than ready to stop but I had the quilt top done. All it needs now is some sashing/framing and I need to go shopping to get material for that. Later on I even managed to sort some of the backing material out, that'll be tomorrow's project then.

I might not have her here any more to give me encouragement and ask later 'so how's it going?' when progress reports have dried up but I'm pretty sure that one way or another Natalie will remain part of my quilt making for many more quilts to come, as inspiration and motivation to just go for it, after all, it's only a quilt.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

as I see through a glass darkly

When I was a student (first time around) my flatmate Jo wrote a poem with that line in it (and yes I know she'd borrowed it - I just didn't know that then!), and I have been reminded of it over the last few days as I've peered at the world through sunglasses.

I've got a rather nasty virus (viral encephalitis for those medicy geeks amongst you, or those who just like an excuse to play with google) which amongst other things means I have conjunctivitis and photosensitivity.

Now my eyesight isn't actually that bad, even though I wear glasses - it's just that one eye is long sighted and the other short sighted and I get headaches without corrective lenses. However I've not had prescription sunglasses for a while having gone for contact lenses and cheapo sunglasses as my summer option - working with small children being the main reason. Of course conjunctivitis means no contact lenses...  and unlike one of my colleagues I've never managed to get the hang of wearing sunglasses over my glasses so this has meant that the last few days have been spent wearing my sunnies indoors, preferably in a darkened room trying to persuade my eyes that they don't mind managing without corrective lenses, not really.

It has taken until day 4 to be able to look at a computer for more than 10 minutes at a time, in fact it has taken until today to be awake more than I've been asleep during what would be considered 'normal waking hours'. In other words I've reached that point of being sick where you start to feel better enough to want to actually do something other than roll over and go back to sleep, but you still aren't actually physically capable of doing very much.

All my usual sickbed stand-bys of books, radio, music, dvds or sewing have been out of the question - noise sensitivity and horrible earache being one of the more prominent symptoms on top of sore/very tired eyes and a pounding head (not helped by trying to peer at soft focus text through aforementioned dark glasses...). The weather hasn't really been particularly helpful either - either the sunshine has been painfully bright (to me) or the heavens have been chucking a rather spectacular deluge at us. However unlike the 2yr old and 5yr old playing next door in the enormous puddles I didn't feel quite in the mood to run around screaming in delight getting soaked to the skin. Funny that.

I was bemoaning this feeling of frustratedness to Phyllis earlier today and she laughed and basically said welcome to my world! Okay so using her magnifing machine she can read, albeit in short stints but her eyesight really is not good. After all that is partly why I live here, to be eyes that can see, although the last few days have been the not-quite-blind leading the not-quite-blind. It made me really grateful that when doing the dishes or cooking I could, if I really needed to, lift my sunnies and peer in better light at what I was doing. Not for very long before the brightness got too much but enough to get the job done effectively. After several days my eyes have got used to focusing without my corrective lenses again and I can manage to type/read the screen as long as I do so in relatively short bursts. I also have good reason to believe that in a day or so all will be back to (my) normal again...

It has given me a much better understanding of what life being partially sighted is like - the frustration of almost being able to see well enough but not quite. I'm no stranger to partial sightedness - my Grandad gradually lost his sight through my teens, and I've worked with those who are blind/partially sighted but there is a big difference to being familiar with it from the outside and experiencing it for yourself. The trust games of being blindfolded and led around the room by a partner are great but the difference between not being able to see at all and almost being able to see is huge psychologically.

When you can't see, you can't see, and that is it, end of story - you just have to find another way. But when you hovver on the verge of full functionality there is an expectation on yourself that you should actually just be able to do it the normal way, so things take longer as you have to do so many things twice, once the usual way and fail and then try again in an adapted way.... I guess with time you'd get used to it and theoretically you'd automatically go for the adapted way, but human brains are strange beasts! Maybe it is the added combination of old age or perhaps simply stubborness but I can understand now better why I've witnessed so many repeats of trying and failing to do things the 'usual way' rather than accepting that asking for help or doing it differently in the first place might be a better plan.

Well fingers crossed tomorrow sees (literally and figuratively!) more improvement. If nothing else I've certainly learned how bad my touch typing is that is for sure, I really must make more effort to improve!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

endings.... awaiting beginings

Last week was quite a lot to take in really. Lots of endings and uncertainty about new beginnings...

The week didn't exactly get off to a flying start as I got made redundant. I've had a job share for the last couple of years and my job share partner had just been appointed for a full time post in our kindergarten. So the powers that be decided to disestablish the job share and revert to three full time teachers plus 11hrs lunch cover. I was offered the opportunity to take either full time or 11hrs but full time is way beyond practicality for me in terms of health (I only just manage my 21hrs some weeks, so 40 is way out of the question!) and 11hrs isn't really a living wage. So after a lot of emails back and forth and some soul searching I've decided to take full redundancy and see what relieving work I can pick up....

In some ways I'd been expecting life to change, I just wasn't sure how and when that might come about. I'm pretty sure I've blogged about the apprehension I felt about going to the World Conference in Kenya, knowing how the 2004 Triennial changed my life I had this unsettled feeling that change was once more on the cards and had assumed the World Conference would be the catalyst. Yet the event came and went and life went on much as it had been, yes it was a transformative experience but not in the turn-my-life-upside-down way the Triennial had been! Then more recently I realised I was about to clear the last of my debts and wondered what would happen next as every time in the past that I have gotten myself into a secure financial position life has shaken things up and put me back at square one and counting every last penny/cent again! I just didn't anticipate the way that this would happen.

It was looking back at this growing feeling that change was in the air that helped me make the final decision. Pretty much since I got back from Kenya (minus the half-expected life changing experience) I'd found myself sitting in Meetings for Worship holding the question 'so what does god want me to do now' in the light and hoping for divine inspiration, but all I ever got back was 'be still and know that I am god'. To which my impatient reply was 'yes I know that but what I am supposed to be doing?' until I finally twigged that what I was supposed to be doing was be still and know that god is there... harrumph. So I am now (slightly less patiently again) waiting to see what the universe has in store, working on the grounds that something has always turned up in the past and that getting anxious and trying to hurry things along or shape them myself has always ended up with frustration and dead ends.

It is rather ironic really that after a year of being over-committed on the Quaker committee/responsibility front I will find myself with more time on my hands to deal with it all just as several of those roles come to an end! At the end of the year our Monthly Meeting is amalgamating with part of the neighbouring one which is dividing in two, the larger part joining with us and the rest joining the next MM down the line and sorting out some geographical anomalies of boundaries that have been around for some years. For what feels like my sins I've been very much involved with the transition process and am part of the amalgamation committee which meant I ended up facilitating a day for our MM on Sunday addressing some of the issues.

It has been a painful process on many levels and brought about mainly due to the failing health and aging population that makes up the majority of our MM, so there is a constant flipping back and forth on the part of several Friends between wanting to hand everything over and not have to deal with any of it ever again and then not wanting to let go of control and change things as it means having to accept their own inability to manage. Add to the mix a certain amount of failing cognition and we find ourselves going around in circles a lot of the time - discerning gods will requires letting go of ego and seeking beyond individual preference, but that seems to be a step too far for many so it feels like a small group of us in our MM dragging them kicking and screaming along into a future that is nothing like they had expected, yet it is where the discernment of others is leading us. Ho hum. I keep telling myself that 'this too shall pass', that it isn't long now really to the end of the year and then it all becomes someone else's problem. Well okay, it doesn't really cease to be my problem but at least I get to share it with more people who are willing and able to deal with it!

As if those two things weren't enough for one week Saturday was spent saying goodbye to Natalie with her Kiwi based friends and whānau. Richard and the boys plus a couple of friends flew over from Australia to join us for a very special celebration of Natalie's life. It was a very moving occassion, with many a 'leaky moment' as Richard called them - just as well I took plenty of tissues, I needed them! I still find it hard to believe that someone who lived life to the full in the way Natalie did could be snuffed out so fast and so young. That night when I got home someone had posted something on facebook which I wish now I'd copied down as I can't even remember who shared it but it quoted some cleric explaining (to paraphrase badly...) that untimely deaths are more a case of crossed wiring in the universe rather than being part of a divine plan and that god greives them as much as we do. I'm not sure quite what I think of that theologically in the cold light of day but when feeling exhausted emotionally and physically it was a comforting thought as I crawled off to bed knowing I had to be up early again in the morning.

In memory of Natalie some of us who studied with her are working towards getting a community quilt made for Natalie's whānau, the beginning of what could be a major project... at least it looks like I'll have plenty of time for it!