Reasons to be Cheerful

Ian Dury’s birthday. One of the cleverest wordsmiths to ever front a rock band – and what a rock band. The Blockheads were magnificent, especially the rhythm section of bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Charley Charles.

Here’s the band live, and in their prime. Love that great loping bassline.

Today is also World Chronic Fatigue Day, which is definitely something not to be cheerful about. I was diagnosed with this at Uni: unlike some, I got over it, albeit gradually. Others haven’t been so lucky.

Even the losers – RIP Tom Petty

‘God, its such a drag when you live in the past….’

This for everyone who finds the years of, roughly, 18-30, really tough going.

I’ve had dream flashbacks with this song – does anyone else have dreams with soundtracks? – with bits of memories, a lot of them about heartbreak.

It’s a great song, this, and this is a great live version: the defiant, “up yours” surge of the guitars and Petty’s final, defiant howl at the end.

#RIPTom Petty. Dammit.

Thought for the day: for apt reasons

Cave furorem patientis.

Publilius Syrus

John Dryden translated this into the more familiar ‘Beware the fury of a patient man‘.

Yes, and the patient woman too – and I can testify, from personal experience, to the accuracy of this wisdom. But ol’ Publilius, who was writing back in the first century BC, probably wasn’t that worried about the distaff side.

I’d  never heard of the bloke, but he seems to have come up with some beaut words of wisdom,  pearls of insight we still, in our unknowing, unthinking, 21st-century way, still use frequently.

There’s a whole bunch of things he is said to have said, here. 





Kaikoura is a favourite region. I’ve had numerous escape long weekends there in recent years:  it’s pretty much perfect because there are plenty of walks.

And I love that Coast Road.


The coast road.

If you have a writerly urge is part of the way you cope with life and that includes events like this one.

It can seem a bit self-indulgent, but what the hey. If you can’t be  a bit self-indulgent on a blog, where the hell can you be a bit self-indulgent?

(Genuine question.  As a slightly uptight,  culturally Presbyterian, Kiwi farmboy,  this is an area I probably do need some tips about).

…..Yes, *slightly* uptight. Don’t want to get too carried away about this or anything).

It’s included, in younger and fitter days, some great tramping trips, including climbing the magnificent Mt Tapaonuku back in the late ’90s, and several trips over the Kowhai Saddle, up Hapuku Valley and down through the other side.

Second time on that saddle was a landmark in a different way – going down towards the hut in the dry riverbed, I had one of those ‘hmm..will that collection of rocks hold my foot…yeah should be all right’ moments of hesitation.

And, seconds later a more dramatic moment involving turning a 180 degree turn as the rocks gave way and I struggled to hold my balance. One of the blokes in the group, who was ahead and below me, rekkined afterwards I’d hovered for several seconds and he thought I was going to be ok, before tumbling down the rock slope.

Looked magnificent, he said. Poetry in motion, or something.

Perhaps one of Ezra Pounds more deranged Cantos’, maybe.

The left knee has never been the same since.

Much more sedate visits since, including an immensely productive writing week in an old farm cottage last January.

But it’s a great part of the country: a mix of relatively sedate dairy land, the dramatic Mt Fyffe and the Seaward Kaikouras generally, and that magnificent, and now closed, road.

When I looked onto my digital photo file, I found nearly 200 photos of the region, about half from that road.

First visit was 1990, hitching through from Christchurch with a German marine biology student who had come out to see the whales. I hadn’t heard of Whale Watch at that point – it had been going a couple of years, if that – but word had spread and it was going to be the high point of her trip.

I’ve since done the Whale Watch thing myself: it’s great, though I found the dolphins we encountered more spectacular. About 500 of them, on the port side of the boat, and with the ones furthest away jumping higher, in great spirals, as if to say ‘Wee!! Look at us!!’

The same trip, we did the ultimate Kaikoura meal – crays from Nins Bin, and fried chips. Washed down with some Marlborough Chardonnay (Grove Mill, from memory).

The Kekerengu Store, ideally situated as it is between Kaikoura and Blenheim, is a compulsory stop-off point – the staff and owners are great hosts, the coffee packs the requisite punch and I’ve sat there, written up a journal or edited stuff I’ve been working on.

The shingle beaches – too dangerous to swim off, but wonderfully rugged and desolate. You look out, east, and feel you are on the edge of the world. Somewhere out there, half a hemisphere away, is South America.

It’s a great place to go, to gather your thoughts, and in that isolation locate and settle yourself.

Here’s hoping the geology can also settle itself.


Heavy Blanket

I don’t normally do this sort of thing on social media – but this is an exception. I can vouch for the usefulness of these blankets – they didn’t solve the sleep issues we have with our daughter, but they helped a lot, and she loves her ‘heavy blanket.’

And I’ve seen other kids on the autism spectrum benefit from the anxiety-reducing properties of them.

They’re not cheap – and if you’re a not-so-well-off parent of a child on the spectrum, they’re of a price that can hurt.

So, anyway. Here’s the givealittle link.


Here’s to 2015

It is usually around this time of the year a lot of folk take stock, discard the old, wheel the new into place, and make various promises to themselves about the coming 12 months or so.

I’m not going to get too carried away with this stuff. There’s a few priorities I’d like to be able to put a tick next to by around this time in 2016, I suppose: these involve nothing particularly earth shattering or original.

A bit less weight around the middle: a bit more money in the bank: that sort of thing. I’ve started a regular walking programme, or rather, a Sweating and Turning Red programme. By the time I’ve walked to the bottom of Mt Vic, done some weights at the Freyberg, and then walked back up the hill, my face makes the pohutakawa flowers in this picture, here, look a bit on the pale side.

Also doing a bit of writing, in a bit more of a focused and organised fashion. Deep in Muldoon-related stuff right now: it is oddly cheering, not so much about what happened then, but about today’s economic issues.

Things to Worry About

  1. North Korea.  These people have just lost their beloved Leader, one of only about three people north of the 38th Parallel with a weight problem.  These people are crazed with hunger and now with a weird collective grief.  Sort of like the Princess Diana thing, only instead of Elton John they have nukes. 
  2. Europe. These people are crazed with debt problems and with, in the jargon of the financial markets, ‘kicking the can down the road’.  They’ve now got the fiscal equivalent of stubbed toes and they’re running out of road. The thing about debt and deficits is that at some point you have to start the long slow paying back.  New Zealand learned this 25years ago – slowly and painfully, and our political discourse is still scarred by the decisions made at that time.  The EU can only get worse, and it will be worse for a long time. And they also have the baby boomers tipping over into retirement – at least NZ didn’t have that imminent problem in the 1984-92 period.  
  3.  Ditto the US. They’re now going into presidential election year which means the chances of anyone saying or doing anything sensible for the next 12 months is pretty minimal.
Cheerful sod, aren’t I?  Well, as far as New Zealand’s prospects are concerned, I am quite optimistic – over the medium term, anyway.  I’ve written about this here and here will be a third installment in the New Year. 

I’m not convinced 2012 is going to be all that great.  But the combination of diversification of markets, with New Zealand now being geared to the part of the world that is just beginning to grow; New Zealanders’ newfound interest in savings – for the first time in a very long time;  a political system which is not gridlocked and which is, however imperfectly, dealing with the country’s problems instead of ignoring them and/or just blaming them on ‘the 1990s’; and a very transparent set of government finances, means the medium term outlook for New Zealand is quite positive.

We’re not going to boom – and it would not be a good thing if we were – and a country of 4.5 million people, spread over a comparatively large and difficult land mass, will always be vulnerable.

But for the first time in my lifetime – and I’m 47 – I’m looking a decade ahead and seeing solid reasons for optimism.

The Shakes

Dropped some stuff in to the Wellington library’s collection for Christchurch.  It is a very very small thing, more symbolic than anything else, but it looked as though a lot of others were doing other small things.  The librarians were having to empty the containers quite regularly, I was told.  
Set aside the magnitude of the earthquake, unless you’re actually digging people out or helping patch them up then pretty much anything you can do seems pretty small.  The point is to try to do something. 
We’re such a small country, spread along these slender islands so very far from anywhere else.  What’s the first thing New Zealanders who don’t know each other do when they meet overseas?  Usually, it’s to work out who we know in common. And we usually find someone, although it may take a drink or two to work it out.
So there’s an instinctive reaching out for each other when something this big and awful happens. Most of us who haven’t lost someone want to be part of this, want to help.  Those who have lost someone, I’m sure, just want it all to stop. And the hard and awful thing is that its not going to.
Supermarket scene yesterday:   a woman from Christchurch dissolves into shaking and tears because she walked in without grabbing a shopping basket and now can’t get back through the turnstiles to get one.
I get her a basket as I come in: she thanks me as she phones her friend waiting in the car and says ‘I’m sorry, I’m not ready for this.’ Her friend comes in, takes her hand, tells me apologetically  [God, we can be so damnably polite at times] that they were caught up in the earthquake.
I say something banal but hopefully encouraging and we all move off down separate aisles. 

I was off work when the shake happened, for reasons which, when set aside the earthquake, can be filed under ‘don’t matter a hill of beans’.  The week is a bit of a jumble, about as jumbly as this post.
Stephen Stratford has a link to a wondrous performance of the First Lamentation of Maundy Thursday, based on the words of the Prophet Jeremiah. 

From memory, there’s a bit somewhere in the Bible where Jeremiah shakes his fist at God and asks the Big Fella what He’s playing at.

To which I can only say, Amen, brother. 

Battle of Britain Day

September 15.

Its worth remembering, for New Zealanders, that the man who commanded the fighter forces in 11 Group which bore the brunt of the battle was a New Zealander, Keith Park. Also that the number of New Zealand pilots flying in the battle was more than any other Commonwealth country apart from Britain itself.

The most comprehensive and analytical book on the battle, Stephen Bungay’s ‘Most Dangerous Enemy’, in analysing what and who won the battle, concluded Park’s skill as a commander was the most crucial factor:

“Throughout the long months of strain, Park hardly put a foot wrong, making all the major tactical decisions, attending to relevant details, visiting pilots and airfields himself, and fighting an internal polticial battle….Park’s performance was extraordinary. In the way in which he anticipated and countered every move of his opponent, it has many parallels with Wellington’s at Waterloo; but whereas Wellington sustained his concentration and bore the strain or some five hours, Park ran the Battle for five months.”

The apogee of this was the fight on September 15. A week earlier, the Germans had switched from attacking airfields to bombing London. It was a blunder on their part, but it may not have looked that way at the time. Their first attack on London was met with few fighters – they were still covering the airfields. The following week saw continued attacks, but indifferent weather. To the Germans, it appeared they were winning.

September 15 changed that. Park had moved all his Spitfire squadrons to the forward sectors: they met the day’s two big attacks of nearly a thousand aircraft and drew off many of the fighter escorts: the bombers were then met by a series of attacks by defending Hurricane fighters. The battles seem to have been particularly fierce. Pilots had seen London burning and they tore into the Luftwaffe. Many of the attacks were head-on: there were also a number of cases of pilots ramming German bombers when the pilots found they were out of ammunition.

Churchill – whose country house was not far from Park’s headquarters – happened to visit on September 15, as he had done on previous weekends. He watched the way Park was dealing with the incoming raiders and at one point, realising Park had committed more of his fighters than he usually did, asked where the reserve was.

“There is none,” Park said. Some instinct had told him to throw in everything he had.

Park had served in the army in the First World War, both at Gallipoli and at the Somme. He’d been injured several times, and then he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He was shot down twice and wounded there too.

After the first war he’d had a staff job. He had something of a delayed reaction to his war experiences and a note on his file said something to the effect that ‘this officer should not be put in situations of high pressure.’

How wrong was that? Between July and October 1940 the defence of Western Civilisation depended on how he decided to fight the Battle of Britain. His pilots were not known as ‘The Few’ for nothing – Park had to husband his resources and a wrong decision would have been disastrous. In the First World War Churchill commented his Admiral of the Fleet was the only man who could lose the war in an afternoon: Park was the Second World War equivalent.

It wasn’t a one off for Park – two years after the Battle of Britain he commanded the forces during the siege of Malta. Again, he won against the odds.

There is a nice story about Park on the ship taking him out to Malta. Also on board was a bunch of young pilots on the way out to reinforce the squadrons there. They were a little boisterous and the senior naval officer on board banned them from the officer’s bar.

Park – who outranked the senior naval officer – countermanded the order, saying ‘those young men have faced, and will face, dangers you will never have to face.’

After the war he retired quietly in Auckland.

Too few New Zealanders know about this man.

Chronic Fatigue Day

Today is International Chronic Fatigue Day.
I tend not to write too much here about personal stuff because, well, its personal. I’ve got a residual Presbyterian inhibition about letting out that sort of thing. Besides, I don’t want to bore people.

Not sure why today is different, but it is. My Other Half has chronic fatigue, and has had it now for, I think, 10 years. She had to sell her business after she got the condition. For now, she can’t work.

I was diagnosed with it myself when I was at University. I’d never heard of the condition at the time. Things like that happened to other people as far as I was concerned. I’d had glandular fever the previous year: had hepatitis simultaneously, which can happen. Bounced back and felt fantastic: I was warned by the doctor it would take me to 2 years to get back to my previous level of health but I didn’t take much notice. I felt fine. But nearly a year later it was like slowly walking into a swamp. Each day I was more and more stuffed. I’d come home and just crash. Eventually I started crashing in the library.

I was one of the lucky ones – I got over it. Slowly. But the years 1990-94 are years I was only half there, it seems.
I’ve never had quite the same amount of energy I used to have, but of course at least some of that could just be the aging process.

Oddly enough, I’m glad I had it. Partly because I think it’s a good thing for people who have had a pretty charmed life (and in retrospect I think had, up to that point) to get a knock-back or two.
It meant I canned the law degree I had started and went back to journalism, which I’d done for four years before going to Uni. I think I’d have hated being a lawyer.

Most importantly though (and this is perhaps linked to the first reason) it means I can understand what my other half is going through. A lot of people who have chronic fatigue lose their partner as well: it’s a difficult condition to cope with.

Since then I’ve met quite a few people with it. There’s also a couple of reasonably high powered people around town who have had it and recovered, which is kind of comforting.