Wednesday, December 19, 2012

twenty five years on

A few days ago the small world that is facebook has reconnected me with Nick who I haven't seen in about 23yrs. Today was the twenty fifth anniversary of his older sister's unexpected death when aged 20 she collapsed in the street in York from an undiagnosed brain anomaly that I used to know the name of but have long since forgotten.

I had known Heidi from Yorkshire Friends Summer School, she had been there as a Stu(dent) Hel(per) the one year I went as an attender rather than as a Stu Hel myself. I was 16 and still fairly new to the world of Quaker youth events, whilst I'd been to JYM earlier that year (over the Easter weekend for 16-18yr olds) and a couple of Link Group weekends, Holiday School was a whole new world. It was a whole week for a start off. At these events I had discovered it was possible to get to know people in a way that just didn't seem to happen at school, people I'd known for a weekend seemed to know and understand me better than those who had known me since playgroup, we had deep and meaningful political and spiritual conversations I'd never dreamed I'd get to have with people my own age. So a whole week together with people like this was a pretty mind blowing experience.

The Stu Hels as far as I was concerned were all amazing, but Heidi stood out for me. She reached out to those of us who were new whether we were 13yr old E groupers or 17yr old A groupers and made us feel part of the 'family'. She sang and played her guitar and led the music activity group I was in - so many songs will always remind me of that week at Ampleforth and of Heidi. Holiday School and music are intertwined so deeply; whether the songs were from sitting around with a guitar and singing in free time, in activity sessions, the old time and country dances from the socials each evening or out of the silence of the epilogues - especially the last night one (which had some classic play lists the years I was there). My cd collection has so many albums that are there because of Holiday School, which when it boils down to it only equated to 3 weeks of my life between 1986-1990 yet has influenced my entire life since.

I can remember sitting there one day watching Heidi and thinking 'I wish I could be like her', when I went back as a Stu Hel and following that switched allegiance to Northern Friends Summer School and went there as staff for several years over two eras (one in the 90s and again in the 00s) it was Heidi who shaped the way I worked, and even the songs I sang and shared. Not only did I help at these week long summer events but at countless weekend events across the north of England and Scotland with various groups. There is much less for Quaker children and young people here in Aotearoa NZ but still I have kept involved, even if some years it is only helping out with them at Summer Gathering. I remember how important it was to me, and I want to enable others to have something akin to that experience, and to have someone there who fills the Heidi shaped hole for them.

I missed Holiday School in '87 as I was on the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage so that one week was all the time I ever spent with Heidi. I was living on the farm with the Brockleys when she died, after Helen told us Ruth and I sat in our room in tears not wanting to believe it was true. Luckily we were able to make it to the memorial service for her; all through it as I listened to the ministry and remembered who Heidi had been to me I found going around and around in my head the song I had first learned at JYM and that we had sung at Holiday School that same year. It seemed to capture her so perfectly, yet I couldn't quite manage to get myself to my feet and start to sing. Afterwards it turned out several others had been having the same thought and we all wished we had...

So, twenty five years later... this is for Heidi, for Nick and Kate and everyone else who misses her too.

Building bridges, between our divisions
I reach out to you, will you reach out to me?
With all of our voices, and all of our visions
Friends we can make such a sweet harmony

Saturday, December 15, 2012

in the money (ish...)

For the second time in my life I find myself with what to me is a substantial amount of money in the bank. Last time was in 2005 when I eventually got the pay-out from my ex for my share of our flat. That money was what enabled me to come to Aotearoa NZ and be Resident Friend in Wellington. I knew that if I was careful I could make it last the 18 months I was contracted for and a further 6 months on a visitor visa whilst I figured out how to stay here!

This week I got my redundancy payment. Whilst nowhere near as much as the last payout (especially if you think of it in pounds, yes I know the exchange rate is in my favour but still the number looks a lot smaller!) it is still enough for me, with my relatively frugal lifestyle, to live off for about 6 months once added to the modest savings in my account. Thankfully I'm not needing to pay for any round the world tickets out of it just yet which makes life considerably easier.

The temptation to spend is strong, even for me, but my wish list is things like a new battery for my laptop (which now only works when it is plugged in), replacing my 10yr old gortex jacket which even with the best will in the world isn't going to manage to keep me dry for another winter (it has been re-waterproofed several times!) and splashing out on an overlocker which really does fall into the 'want' rather than 'need' category - especially as I have no idea where I'd store one! I know Jess sorting through some of her late grandfather's collections this week ended up with me having an extra empty drawer in my room (woo hoo!) but it would be pushing my 3D packing skills to reorganise my belongings to that extent. Even if I did buy all those things though I'd still have a comfortable amount left in my account.

I know that there will be relieving work in both kindergartens and other ECE centres in town to top up the funds next year which gives me more 'wobble room' but what is stopping me rushing to spend the money (apart from waiting to actually try a jacket on rather than speculate online!) is this continuing sense that change is about to happen - possibly heightened by the associations of the last time I received a lump sum! So until I have more idea what that change might be I'm holding fire.... well almost. I did order a beginners Italian cheese making kit which arrived today, so now I'm trying my hand at ricotta rather than just paneer. I watched Ben & Charlotte make mozzerella when I was there a couple of weeks ago and I decided it was time to get a bit more adventurous. We'll see how it goes!

Friday, December 07, 2012

more than oats

I was reading Rachel's blog post about Quakers being associated with oats and sometimes not much more, even in Nicaragua and it made me think about a conversation I had on my way back from Auckland on Monday.

I was in Kerikeri waiting for the shuttle bus to take those of us from the Auckland bus the rest of the way home and a guy sitting at the picnic table next to me asked if I was waiting for the bus too. We drifted into conversation about the journey and the convenience of the bus (even if it takes 7hrs, well it does for me, he was only going as far as Kaeo which spared him 3/4hr of that!) and got round to why we had been in the big smoke. A meeting yesterday I replied, and catching up with friends either side of it whilst I was down there. A meeting on a Sunday? he queried, yes it was for church, ah right. So I simply asked what he had been doing - he had been installing solar panels on a house on Waiheke Island so I told him about the photo-voltaic array that had been installed on one of our church's buildings back in January and how at the Meeting yesterday we heard it had fed 3.8 megawatts back into the grid over the last 9mths. I added that we had a strong testimony for the earth and that the photo-voltaic array was as more about setting an example, education and lowering our energy footprint than about feeding into the grid.

After a short technical discussion he asked which church was that? Quakers. I didn't know there were any Quakers in New Zealand! Well there aren't many of us, but we're here alright! He shrugged and said he didn't know much about Quakers, just what he'd seen on tv and films and stuff. I said that was most likely Amish rather than us and explained that whilst Quakers way back might have looked much the same we'd moved on a bit since then. Were we christian? Well not entirely - and many Quakers here and in the UK had a far more universalist approach, but in other places yes, they were very much christian. I told him there was a group that met here in Kerikeri, and one couple in the Meeting had built their eco-house 30 years ago. We continued the discussion on eco-housing etc and as we headed off for the bus he was looking thoughtful about our discussion.

Will he ever look into who we are further? Who knows but at least someone else at least knows we exist! I find myself constantly challenged about how much to say about Quakers and when, I don't want to be seen as one of those who rams their faith down other people's throats whether they want to hear or not, but if people don't know that we exist how will they find us? As Rachel says the question is whether 'to be or to be and to be known'; letting our lives speak is such a strong testimony and many of us shy away from vocalising what leads us to live our lives the way we do but if we don't share what drives us how will anyone know? Over the years I've challenged myself to be more open about it when people ask 'where are you going?' on trains, buses etc and other such situations, I try to gauge the depth of my explanations by how interested they seem rather than fall into a pre-prepared spiel.

I must admit when the guy on Monday asked me why I'd been to Auckland my heart sank as I knew that if I was to stick to my own decision on this I had to tell him but I just didn't feel like I had the energy to explain, but then a way opened to fall into it anyway. A reminder perhaps to me not to try to avoid answering the question and stick to my outreach commitment?!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

the sound of sirens

I don't know if it still does, but as I was growing up in Holmfirth the Fire Station there had a siren that was set off to call the firemen (and yes I mean firemen, I don't think female firefighters had arrived on the scene back then, certainly not in Holmfirth anyway) in in the event of a call out. There were some firemen based at the station full time, all of whom I knew at least by sight and some by name after doing my Guides firefighters badge. I walked past the station every day on my way home from High School and always got a wave from whoever was on duty.

When I moved to Kaitaia coming up for 6yrs ago it was the first time I'd lived within earshot of a station siren since I was 17, and still it reminds me of Holmfirth when I hear it go off. It also reminds me though of old newsreels and period dramas etc with the air-raid sirens, especially with the slightly eery tailing off at the end. There is talk of using them as tsunami warning sirens in various flood-prone areas as part of the Civil Defence system here, but they'd somehow have to make their sirens sound different or most people wouldn't react until the fourth round of it as up to three (which means all three engines are needed) is considered normal!

Since moving into town last year I've become far more aware of the siren, mainly from being 8km closer to it - we also hear more of the sirens of the various emergency response vehicles that can set off around the same time, sometimes followed by the sound of the air ambulance/rescue helicopter coming in over our street (and kindergarten) to the hospital to whisk serious cases off to the better resourced Whangerei or even Auckland hospitals. After an instance of hearing the full set we're usually pouring over the next edition of the local rag to find out what happened if we haven't already heard on the small town grapevine.

The station siren usually causes great excitement at kindergarten as it means there is the possibility of a fire engine going past or even better the helicopter. In some ways I suppose it is good that the children don't yet associate those sounds with sadness, injury, death and destruction, but when the siren blows for the third time, or has gone off on several separate occasions during the day, it is hard to acknowledge their enthusiasm. I for one am extremely grateful for those prepared to put their lives on the line to respond to the call and even if briefly hold those heading off in the light along with whoever is at the other end needing help.

The siren went off again tonight, twice, and was what prompted me to get around to writing this. Somehow it going off in the dark always sends a shudder down my spine, maybe it is the air-raid association and too many books and tv programmes like Carrie's War and The Machine Gunners... whatever the reason I hope everyone out there is ok.