Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Just a little news...

Edinburgh Photos

We got some photos from our son in Edinburgh. It was really nice to get them. We Syped the other day and he was down at a local park with his three children talking to us on his phone. The children were riding their bikes around the park and would say "hi" as they passed. Daniel is Maori/ Samoan and he is married to a Polish girl. The children are gorgeous, and also nice kids. Sadly we will not get to see them in person before I die. Scotland's infection rate with Covid 19 at the moment is the highest in Europe which worries us. We love them to bits. 

Lazy Dave

We head away during the week to receive more immunotherapy treatment in Christchurch. There are challenges at the moment. Some of my glands are not functioning as they ought and it is impacting on how I feel. Yesterday our daughter and son-in-law were out. They brought us some furniture and took some away. Normally I am in boots and all lifting, moving and doing physical work. This time I did assist, but had the feeling I was more in the way than useful. I find that I run out of energy and will take a rest and fall asleep so quickly. I find too that when I have been "working" as in preparing the weekly newsletter I send out for the Church folk during lockdown, it is much harder to focus. I am not the normally energetic person I used to be, and it is frustrating. 


When I heard I had cancer I thought of all the cancer patients I have known and found that at some stage most have had to battle pain levels. I have been reasonably fortunate but I am discovering that pain is increasing. Lying in bed I get pain in my side and shoulder. I can't get comfortable in bed. Today sitting in a beautiful lazy boy chair, the pain in my back made it hard going. I have been prescribed pain pills but they are not really doing the job. I am not getting a decent night's sleep so one of the topics of discussion when I see my oncologist later in the week will be "pain relief". It is really hard to describe "Pain". The pain you may hardly notice when you are out and about chopping firewood, can be excruciating when you are trying to get to sleep at night. 

Still learning.

I have been online this afternoon checking out some great TED talks on grief, death and dying. It has been helpful, though sometimes a bit gut wrenching. Three phrases which I appreciated. "Realise that Shit happens" "What medical care will help you live the way you want to?" "Living is more than staying alive".

I am also rereading a book I have read so many times before. "Man's Search for Meaning: an introduction to logotherapy." by Viktor E. Frankl. He is at the moment speaking of "finding meaning in suffering". I am not sure they are the right words for the type of book it is, but I am enjoying it yet again. (He describes his horrendous experiences in death camp concentration camps during WWII.) 

Monday, September 6, 2021



In late July it was my wife's birthday. What on earth do you get your wife of 52 years when it comes to celebrating the last birthday you will celebrate with her? I suspect by July next year I will have died of the cancer "we" are battling. What present can you purchase? As I have faced cancer and been in the process of writing and reflecting on my life, I have realised even more that without her I would have been nothing. When we got engaged I was a shy, uncertain teenager. I had thoughts and insights. I had some skills but none that stood out. I was a plumbing apprentice, probably fatefully doing some work with asbestos. She was a student teacher/teacher. Her input has enabled me to develop and be and do the sorts of things nobody would have predicted back then. What lasting gift could I buy? 

I went looking. She is riddled with arthritis now but you would not know it. She just keeps going. She will take on a project and see it through. She will take up a cause or support one of my causes and argue, question and stand up to the strongest of people against her. She will not back off if she believes in something. With her by my side in life I have been empowered to do stuff. I tried to think of some gift that expressed my appreciation of who she is and has been to me in my life? Some gift that would remind her when I am gone of her impact on my life and my deep appreciation and love. Her "strength and determination" amazes and empowers me. I had an inspiration. The Maori fishhook symbol means exactly that! I had given my son one when he left for overseas because he had turned his life around and I was proud of him. So I thought some ornament that depicted that would be good. On several occasions I went looking. There were some available but somehow they looked like cheap stuff, you would buy in a souvenir shop. They were glass or mock greenstone. I decided that I should make one so I purchased some little presents and promised more. In recent times I set about trying to make one. I found an old weathered piece of macrocapa wood I had shoved away years ago under one of my benches. I liked the colour. Then I began to carve something. It was not as good as I had hoped. I was trying to dash out to the workshop and work on it without her seeing it or knowing about it. I did some poker work on it with the words "Strength" and "Determination", but my poker work machine is a cheap toy and it did not work out well.   The wood dried out and split when I planed it. Everything went wrong. I varnished it and realised I should have oiled it instead. The varnish was old, the wrong colour and in the drying process dust stuck to the varnish. I made a base for it and carved two more words - Kia Kaha - which in Maori means "stay strong" - words made famous by the Maori Battalion in World War II. I made an inscription. I "finished" it. It looked rough, certainly cheap, amateurish and I nearly scrapped it to begin again. "She may never get it!" I thought. So I decided to give it to her saying "I mean well". So I put it in a box, sheepishly gave it to her over a month late, apologising for its rough appearance. She looked at it, we hugged and wept, holding each other tight. I think it was good gift! She took it into the lounge and set it up so all could see it. 

Just yesterday it was my birthday.  (It is always near or next to Father's day in NZ so I have always got gifts that include both celebrations) We are in a Covid Lockdown situation in New Zealand. There has been a recent outbreak of the delta version of Covid. In spite of criticism from overseas leaders (I suspect jealous ones) and some business leaders, our Prime Minister and leaders decided to "go early and go hard" as soon as one community case was found. (It came in from Australia) So we have been in lockdown and it looks like once again she and her health advisors will be successful. (Where in other countries numbers are going ballistic) So how do you celebrate your last birthday? I am so appreciating the sights and sounds of spring. On my birthday we decided to "go out for lunch". Of course you can't. No restaurant is allowed to operate. But in our local Port Chalmers township a restaurant is offering "click and collect" options, and they do lovely Pizzas. Jean rang them and we collected a lovely pizza, drove around to a bay on the harbour, and sat in the sun enjoying the scenery and talking. In the evening Jean cooked a roast dinner and our daughter and son-in-law came out (They are in our extended "bubble") with more goodies and we talked, ate and drank. I have had phone calls from family.  (We have been given vouchers for travel and accommodation by our children as birthday presents.) I decided that spending time with special people, in nice places was the greatest gift of love at this stage of my life.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Things out of kilter...

 "Lockdown Link" up back in production.

Last year when we were in Lockdown I undertook to send out a "newsletter" to the congregation each week with some thoughts, some news from people, photos and on line worship links. There are just a few who are not on email. So this last weekend we put out the second one for this Lockdown. We printed three off and delivered them to those not on email, with a couple of bran muffins. We put them in letterboxes. I have been astounded with how welcome they are. I have received notes of gratitude and others have sent news in. We dropped one off to an elderly lady along with a couple of muffins. Breaking the rules Jean talked at a distance at the door. When we got home she rang with real gratitude. You would think we had given her the moon. It was nice to be appreciated.

Father's Day in NZ

Today is Father's day in New Zealand. I received messages or calls from all our children except a foster daughter with severe handicaps. In her accommodation they are very careful not to let anybody from outside into the house nor anyone inside out of it. So we have not seen her for a week or two and I am hoping that soon I'll see her smile. I went up to the cemetery and visited my Parents memorial up there, taking some plum blossom. 

Hormones out of kilter

The Immunotherapy has mucked up some of my glands, so I am not receiving the right hormones.  My thyroid is knocked out and they are trying to get the right level of replacement pill. My adrenaline gland is malfunctioning and they are trying to get it OK.  I have a little bit of pain, I suspect more is further down the track. I have been getting very tired. I'll be out doing stuff, feel exhausted and come in, lie down, and to my surprise discover I have slept an hour. I feel weaker and not full of energy. I think they are getting it sorted, but I do not like it. On one hand I am amazed at the working of the human body. There's a pituitary gland in your head, about the size of a pea somebody says. If that malfunctions you know about it. I had a head scan the other day. After we had been talking about the results my cheeky oncologist signed off with, "And Oh Dave, you'll be please to know there is a brain present! Chuckle, chuckle!" What an amazing machine we live in. The various glands "take readings" and respond appropriately in the normal course of events.

It's crying time again...

I discover I cry at the drop of a hat. We have been offered counselling through the cancer care unit at the hospital at one stage, but I do not think I need it? I think there are times when it is appropriate to cry.  While waiting to tune into an online service I was flicking through favourite You tube hymns for my funeral music. I want tunes that express who I am, my values etc. I played a few and sat and wept. I watch the paralympics and weep at their fitness, guts and courage. I see the blossom of my last spring and feel both the joy and the sadness. I probably have not always wept when I should have in my life, but I think at this stage it is OK and healthy to have a weep or two. There is a lot going on in the world that is a bit disturbing. Afghanistan. Covid. Lockdown.  A terror attack in New Zealand! There's also isolation from people I would love to chat with because of the lockdown. I am fortunate though, I have had some beautiful phone calls from fire fighters and friends. 

Apart from that, all is good. My 73rd birthday tomorrow. Probably my last, but that is a lot longer than many in the world.

When we were kids, dad had a two cylinder Bradford van as his Plumbers van.

These are little native Kowhai trees from seeds I collected. I am hoping they will grow big enough for me to plant before I die.

A plum tree in our backyard in full blossom. Native Wood Pigeons (Kereru) love to perch amongst the blossom and eat the buds.

My dad at about age 47/48 and a young friend. Dad died at 49 years of age. The little girl died a couple of years ago. I conducted her wedding many years ago, and sadly also conducted her funeral. She was only in her early 50's when she died of cancer. Life is not always fair.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Life is full of ups and downs.

We were living Covid Free.

For at least six months we have been Covid free in the community in New Zealand. Anyone coming into the country has had to spend two weeks in isolation centres and sometimes it has reared its ugly head there. We have kept it out of the community and when we have looked overseas we have felt superior and fortunate.  We had been working through the population getting more people vaccinated, but even then it has been at a reasonably relaxed pace. We have let other nations have the vaccine, we were coping quite well without it. But then suddenly it was discovered in our community with one case, and it was the fast spreading delta variety. The government has put us immediately in Lockdown initially for three days. As far as they can tell it has come in from Australia, the New South Wales version. They are tracing it and finding more people exposed to it. From one person reported, suddenly we have now got 31 cases with lots of exploration, tracing and testing to do. Today they have added to our lockdown days until next Tuesday - a total of seven days. Of course there have been some protests, some unnecessary panic buying, and lots of questions of the government. But most people are happy and confident that "going early and going hard" will help us sort it out. Delta is a bit more difficult and people are getting tested in their thousands, more people are getting vaccinated and there is a sense of unknown about life again. We have been fortunate, for us life has generally been normal except much fewer tourists and not the freedom to pop overseas or have overseas friends and family here.  Even at the latest briefing now they recognise the links of all the cases so far, so they are making confident sounds, but we are in lockdown until next Tuesday at midnight. 

We are now fully vaccinated

The other day we had our second vaccination. We had been told that it impacts you more than the first injection, but we thought it was not as bad as the sore arm of the first vaccine. We feel a certain relief about that. We are happy to isolate and I am enjoying time to get some little jobs done. As far as my cancer is concerned I do feel wheezy more often. Sometimes I think somebody has said something behind me and I turn around and realise that it is just a wheeze in my chest. I had one moment yesterday when for some reason I struggled to get my breath and got a sore chest out of it. I struggled to get to sleep last night and wondered if this was a sign of things to come. An ex-politician died today and I watched a video of him discussing his cancer. He wasn't afraid to die, it was just "the manner of the dying" that scared him a bit.  I think that is where I am at. I am reluctantly accepting the early death, but I don't know about the misery I may have to go through getting there. With a sore chest and wheezy lungs last night I thought about that. This morning my brother rang me at about 10 a.m. and I had to admit to still being in bed, relaxed and reading. I have, however, had a good day today. I finished my first Lockdown project. I made a "garage" for my wheel barrow. Church elder, the late Ian Chadwick gave me the barrow in the late 1980's. It did a heap of work on Habitat for Humanity sites and was falling to bits. One of the volunteers disappeared it and brought it back a week or so later renovated with a flash plastic tray. I have since put a puncture free tyre on it. It is too good to be left outside but takes up room in garage, workshop and shed, so today we finished a special parking garage just for it. I am so fortunate for the people who have helped me on life's journey. Ian was a great guy. I remember after I took his funeral weeping on the roadside with his close friend.

"The Book" is finished!

I have been writing a book which I have titled, "Called by Love". It is subtitled "A happy heretic confesses." It has been on my computer and I have added to it bit by bit. I will tell my daughter that it is finished, but then add some more to it. I sent it off to her and thought it was finished but was reading another book and something prompted me to add another couple of paragraphs. I sent it to her two evenings ago and declared that it is finished! 

I am also writing the story of my life for family so I am trying to get my mind off the first "book" and onto this second paper. I have found it an interesting, sometimes disturbing exercise to look back on things I have done, and choices I have made and why I chose to make those choices.

May my book actually be finished; may I get through some good projects during lockdown; and may I enjoy the signs of spring happening all around me. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

Sad or living life more intensely?

Olympics are over 

The Olympics are over. I must admit to being one of the doubters. I felt for the Japanese people who were afraid of what it would do to the Covid numbers in their country. Their numbers of infections and deaths were rising before the Olympics started and I feared that having so many people travelling in and out of the country, it could have been devastating for the population. I wondered about the wisdom of holding the sports festival. But it went ahead and everything seems to have been well managed. I guess there will be a collective sigh of relief from the Japanese population when the last athletes leave. It seems to have been well managed. 

New Zealand Athletes did well.

Of course as a loyal kiwi I was delighted whenever any of our athletes got a medal. We "punched above our own weight" and had the best medal total we have ever had. There were some astounding results for some of our competitors.  In spite of my caution about the games I managed to watch most medal winning competitions for the New Zealand team. I cried with each one. Why? I have been trying to figure that out. I LOVE New Zealand, I think there is no better country to live in. I am proud of our athletes, but why the tears as the NZ national anthem is sounded, the flag raised and the medals are presented? 

Part of it maybe because as I know my life is short, I am simply living life more intensely, and tears flow because whatever feeling I feel, I feel more intently now?

I wonder too if it is because at other times I have used the Olympics or Commonwealth Games to spur me to get out and pound the pavement, go to the gym or climb the hills. But this time I know as my lungs seem to me to be "drawing in" that whatever athletic prowess I had has gone for good.  Maybe I am simply sorry for myself?

They had the replays of the winners on TV last night and I found I had to leave the room. It was too gut wrenching for me.

Anyway, I am a proud New Zealander, not just because of the skills of my fellow citizens, but because of the way they carried themselves during the games, expressing real sportsmanship. 

The First Medal struck a chord

The very first medal we got was a bronze in the Triathlon. It was all very dramatic. Our young triathlete had done so well and crossed the line. He immediately found himself coming to the aid of the gold medalist who had crossed the line and had collapsed on the ground groaning and in great discomfort. Our triathlete with others helped the winner into a wheel chair. Shortly after that he was interviewed. He broke down in tears as he mentioned the support of his family at home and he wept when he talked of his dad who had died 12 years ago and never saw him race. I identified with that. Some people may say, "That was twelve years ago and he's not over his grief!" But I could identify with his tears. When my daughter got married and there were toasts remembering family, I choked up. My Dad had died when I was 15 years old. Now more than 25 years later I missed my father. He had never met my wife or my daughter, or my children. He never knew what I had done with my life. While you do move on with grief, I believe you still hold the loss and it emerges from time to time. 

Five young lives lost needlessly

We went to Christchurch for immunotherapy treatment. While the side effects are not as noticeable as chemotherapy, you do feel exhausted. Straight after the treatment we drove toward home to the township of Timaru, about halfway home. We passed Meadows Road as we came into Timaru. We carried on to Dunedin the next day, Friday, but we learned earlyish on Friday evening of a car  crash, caused by excessive speed in which five 15-16 year olds were killed, and the driver (19) seriously injured. The car hit a lamp post in Meadows Road and split in two. One victim was riding in the boot of the car.  There are counsellors and trauma people arriving to assist the families, the friends and school pupils affected. I wept then too. The poor parents in the five, perhaps six families impacted will always hold that grief. Long after counsellors, relatives and the community have moved on, they will always wonder what their child might have become? In spite of the effort of counsellors and trauma people, they will be sadly impacted for the rest of their lives. They will no doubt have a haka in honour of the kids and fitting tributes with jokes will be shared. There will be celebrations of their lives, food and supportive (or is it "distracting") gathering will happen, but the deep loss will still be there.

An unnecessary tragic loss of life. "When will we ever learn?"  

Sunday, July 18, 2021

I had a weep.


We came back from Christchurch after another treatment of Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy for my mesothelioma. I have found the three-week cycle tough going, and we were to review the results of a CT scan. There was no advance in the cancer and just a little shrinkage in the last two months. The oncologist tried to put a positive side to this but we could tell it was not what he was hoping for.  As well as that there was a difficulty with the treatment impacting my 72 year old kidneys. The decision was made to stop the chemotherapy. While life will be easier, it does mark a surrender to the disease. There are no more attempts to shrink it. Immunotherapy which will continue will only hold it, but will eventually impact other organs in my body in the same way it is already impacting my thyroid. So, though for me it was not surprising news, it was a bit disappointing and had me facing again the reality of my impending death "some time" in the next year I suppose.

No further real contact

We Skyped with my son in Edinburgh and had quite a good talk with him as he told us of some of their thinking for the future of their family. He has a Polish wife and three delightful children. There are of course challenges in the Covid situation in the UK that could only get worse. I guess I realised that I will never be with him or them in person again. I love my kids and their kids.


I watched the news and there were unprecedented floods in Germany, Belgium and in the Netherlands. But also floods in our home country of New Zealand with well over 1000 people evacuated and considerable losses. Still in New Zealand and around the world there are people denying climate change. 


There are farmers and nurses protesting Government directions in New Zealand. The costs for housing in New Zealand is escalating, normal families struggle to own their own home, and renting is expensive. While New Zealand is doing well with Covid and even the economy is doing reasonably well, there are growing inequalities and resultant social impacts of that. 

Too timid?

I am writing a "book" about my convictions now but also re-reading my favourite books about Jesus. My "book" may never be finished as I am reminded of different aspects of Jesus' message and keep adding to it. I become more convinced of the distortion of Church life and directions as not really representing the way of Jesus. The thing that hurts is that I cannot now do anything about it! I have had my life and looking back I wonder if I have been too timid? People have commented that I pushed the boundaries in small ways that many could handle. I tried not to cause major division or to do things that would stop people listening to my challenges of lifestyle, priorities and directions. But I am asking, "Have I wasted my time?" "Have I been too timid?" It is too late now. 

It all piles up

So as I settled into home again after treatment I felt deeply sad. I had a wee weep. I told my wife how sad I was and she just came in and held me. All is OK. It was the accumulation of all these things and more that overwhelmed me. I am learning that for me life is closing down and the old activist David will be taking a back seat. Life feels out of control, but that is my new reality. Chemotherapy side effects drag you down anyway. Today I decided on a project, went out to the workshop to begin, but returned feeling too shaky and weak. I guess I am allowed a weep every now and then. 

A couple of early print offs of my "book". 

The three shelves of my favourite "Jesus" books.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

A privileged journey.

 I visited the Doctor at 10 a.m. last Friday and met a retired firefighter in the waiting room. We fell into familiar warm conversation. He had lost his wife early in the year. He was arranging a meal for retired firefighters who were going through a tough time and they would like me to attend. I then went down town for a blood test and to buy lunch, and bumped into another retired fire fighter. Again warm supportive and friendly conversation followed even though we were standing in the cold. I felt and appreciated the warmth of these two encounters.

I took my lunch to St John Ambulance and was there from midday until 2:35 p.m. in friendly conversation with various people. There was interest, concern, laughter and general sharing about life and their work. Several people said,"If you need help in the time ahead there will be plenty of people here keen to help."

I moved on to the fire stations from 2:45 until about 5:15 pm. and enjoyed more conversations. I came home feeling really privileged to have been a Workplace Chaplain. It has been and still is an enjoyable and valuable part of my life experience.

I was at an ecumenical four day seminar about mid year in 1993 and shared a motel unit with a senior military chaplain. We seemed to click and discussed theology, our work, our perspectives and experiences in life. On the last morning he asked me if I would be interested in chaplaincy in the military. "You're the type of person we are looking for!" he said. "You would be good at it." I told him that my latent pacifist tendencies may not fit well in the military.

During the four days I had similar conversations with the late Ruth Mitchell. She was director of Workplace Chaplaincy (Interchurch Trade and Industry Mission) in the Otago/Southland region. Again we talked about our work, our perspectives and some theology over breaks in the program. In the last session I ended up sitting next to her. "Would you be interested in Industrial Chaplaincy David, you would be good at it. Some ministers are not good in the workplace, but you are the type of person that could fit into the work scene." I said I'd think about it. She got in touch with me when she was preparing to run a week long live-in training week for new Industrial Chaplains. I agreed to attend. They watched your interactions with others. As well as various training sessions, they checked out your micro counselling and conversation skills. At the end of it a panel of people was to interview us and then decide. I walked into the room and immediately the chairman said, "There is no need for an interview, you are well suited for the job, we can offer you a position when you are ready."

In February 1994 I began in chaplaincy at the Fire Station for four hours a week. The chiefs there said they would review it in six months because some chaplains had not been ideal. I guess they forgot to review it and 27 years later I am still there. I am chaplain to a brewery and to St John Ambulance. I did a Newspaper for just a couple of years but four chaplaincies and Church ministry was too much.

I have been so privileged to have been a chaplain. I love the job, and feel like I have heaps of people who are real friends in the journey of life. The experiences, the interactions and the sense of being useful to people have been such a rich part of my journey. I am so grateful that I did say "Yes" to Ruth.