Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, April 29, 2013

Physical labour on a day off.

Tension builds...
Today is Monday my traditional "day off". Last week I missed out on it so today I was determined to have it. I took my wife into the dentist at 9 a.m. and went to the church. While there I tried to do some temporary repairs to a toilet cistern. I then went to my office and answered a couple of emails. My phone rang. It was a leader at one of my chaplaincies concerned about a team member, could I make contact with that person. ... I felt pressure building. Straight after this call my wife texted to say she was finished at the dentist. We had coffee, did some shopping and went home. A phone message demanded attention. Again some emails raised work issues to deal with. Over lunch I dealt with them or arranged to deal with them later in the week. I made contact with the troubled team member, chatted on the phone and made a time to meet him during the week. In the early afternoon I had one further phone call to deal with.  It is funny how you can begin the day quite relaxed and looking forward to time to do your own thing, but one small phone call or email can bring a real sense of stress and frustration. You want to forget work "do your own thing" but these things distract you and bring your mind back to work. It is really frustrating. Because you want to have a day off you can't really get stuck into the work issues. But because these issues intrude you cannot feel relaxed and ready to rip into doing your own thing! The result is that you do not enjoy the work, nor the time off!
The afternoon saved the day. 
After lunch I went out to the workshop and taking the chain sharpening file I had purchased I sharpened up my little electric chain saw. I then got out my fire wood cutting apparatus and chopped up, then stacked some logs I had drying down the back. I grabbed my old saw horse that I use for cutting up logs from under the bushes. I looked at it and remembered that I probably built this thing something like 24 years ago from scrap timber we had lying around. It had served me well over the years. I dragged logs down and cut them up. I then split them up with an ax. Finally I wheelbarrowed them to the wood shed and stacked them in there. Good solid physical work, lifting, cutting and swinging the ax. When I had done enough I went on a fast five kilometre walk, finishing on dusk. 
I now have pleasantly sore legs, back and arms. It was nice work. I slowly shed clothing as I worked up a sweat, but I did not think about work issues. They were on hold, it was really an afternoon off. 
On Monday nights I often look up next Sunday's readings and begin the process of creating a service. It always feels better after genuine time off.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

I managed my week...

Quite like this picture from up "my mountain" but photos seldom do justice to the feel of it.

A blaze of autumn colour.
These five ducks have come close to dwellings on the Otago Harbour- Duck shooting season begins soon. 
Packed week....
Tomorrow I am going to have a day off. I did not have a day off last week. I had a lot of things to do, a funeral in the middle of the week, and two of my weekend helpers were away. Even today just before the service while I was completing power points, a man kept coming into the office to ask questions and before I knew it time had got away from me. At one stage I said to myself, "I'll never make it!" But I did! After we had lunch today I lay down on my bed, promising myself to go for a walk in half an hour. An hour and a half later I woke up! I was tired. I did however fit in a walk. 
Nice surprise...
My wife and I went to our late friend Norrie's favourite cafe for morning tea on Saturday. He had gone there just before he walked out and got hit by a car. The police's spray paint markings were on the road and somebody had taped a bunch of flowers to the nearby lamppost. We went in and while standing by the counter a man I did not know came up, and after giving a bit of cheek, introduced himself and shook my hand warmly saying, "Thank you so much for the funeral the other day!" He had got to know Norrie at this cafe and had attended the funeral.  We talked briefly about our friend and then went our separate ways.  It was nice he made the contact.
Friday night friends... 
 I had a conflict of loyalties on Friday evening. I have a commitment to be at the Drop-in centre we run at the Church. With the sometimes unstable people we have it is important that I be there. But three fire fighters were retiring and they were having a farewell night at the fire station beginning at the same time of 6:30 p.m. I was visiting a fire station in the afternoon and they asked if I was going.  I responded that I had the Drop-in centre. "There would be lots of us who would really appreciate it if you were there!" they responded leaving me in no doubt about where they thought my loyalties lay. I went to the drop-in centre and played pool there. (I was doing some fine shots, I was hot!) At 8 p.m. when I thought it was safe to leave I went down to the fire station. I knew that they would be having a few beers and wondered how I would be received. I need not have worried. I walked in and people were indeed pleased to see me and welcomed me like old friends. They asked about my health. I  got to catch up on a number of ex-firefighters and we talked about life. A daughter of one of the retirees came over to me and talked warmly.  I had shared in her wedding about a year ago. I was never short of people to talk with, they kept coming to say hi and to chat. One man bought me a beer. There was a lovely guy serving behind the bar. He and I often talk, he is a "spiritual" man. In his busyness he looked in my direction and I could see him smiling. I waved and he waved back with a broad smile that said, "It's good that you are here!" One of the senior officers walked past patted both my shoulders and said, "Its good to see you Father Ted!" I talked with all three guys retiring. I was really moved by the open friendliness that I discovered. I could not help comparing it to Christian groups. I know that they too care, and there is warmth, but somehow there is a stiffness about Church groups.  In some way our religion stifles that genuine warm hearted openness.   It may be that I am their minister and that stifles them? Anyway I enjoyed an hour and a half of mixing with my fire fighter mates before going back to the Drop-in just as it was closing. 
The week ahead...
I have another busy week in front of me. There is a lot to catch up on around the Church, in Night Shelter issues and in chaplaincies. The hospital have asked me to come in again and spend Thursday there. They are going to look into my dependence on a catheter again I think, but I wonder why it is so early? Instead of the four weeks they had promised between such visits this is barely two. That will mean that I have a day less in which to do things. I wish I could move beyond this ongoing health issue! As I walked this afternoon I could not help thinking how much I really am looking forward to retirement.  It is funny people are already coming to me and saying, "You could do .....this!" and presenting some plan. It has been suggested by a few guys that I join their choir?  ... yeah but no! It REALLY isn't my thing. Another man was suggesting a project I could do. Others are already saying, "But you will do my funeral won't you?" ... First up I will need space.  I sometimes want to scream, "Leave me alone!" On Sunday next week we have the Annual General Meeting of the Church. It will be my last and that will seem strange but also a relief.  Thirty four Sundays to go. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Norrie's goodbye...

Norrie Duff on one of his adventures.
Yesterday I took a funeral for Church member and friend Norrie Duff. I had spent time in preparation with the family and they said that Norrie wanted a short simple funeral with plenty of time for people to talk afterward. They also said they wanted an open time when people could share.
I prepared a short simple funeral service suitable for the family and for Norrie, but we did not end up with a short service. As people gathered I began to realise that this was not going to be a small funeral. All the chairs in the quite sizable funeral home chapel were filled and there were a small number of guys standing at the back. I would guess somewhere around 250 - 300 people attended. I opened with an introduction, we sang "Morning has broken" and I read part of 1 Corinthians 13. His two sons shared about their father. They both got emotional but both did a good job, writing out what they had to say and giving me a copy in case they could not handle it. I then read a letter sent from London by a grand daughter. That had my voice cracking up. We then entered the open time. Norrie was an ordinary guy who had worked in department stores. He had a lot of ill health in his years and also suffered the loss of his wife when he was around 59.  He was an active Christian and had attended two different Churches in Dunedin. He was a organ/piano/key-board player. But most of all he was a just a super friendly guy. Sometimes when you announce an open time there is a deadly silence and people look uncomfortable, nobody willing to come forward. Yesterday people were just about lining up to speak of their contact with Norrie. A special friend he had shared a house with. When she was 90 and he was 77 they both went on a trip to Australia staying at youth hostels! A representative from a singing group he played for. A lady who regularly bumped into him on her way to work. A guy who purchased his car when he had to sell it because he had developed cataracts, who just "had to keep in contact with such a nice guy".  Person after person spoke of the influence this ordinary man had on their lives, how he had brought light, laughter, a listening ear and friendship. There were tears, laughter and love. Each speaker was applauded spontaneously. Somebody said to me after, "For a funeral, that was so much fun!" It was the spirit of the man rubbing off on his funeral. Here are just three of the lessons I have learned from Norrie and the experience of leading his funeral.

  • I learned that you do not have to be rich, famous, in a position of power or pushy to have a powerful influence. Norrie was "Norrie".  Just a friendly guy who would talk and listen to people in a respectful way. He was genuinely interested in people but somehow you felt at ease, and in no way judged or categorised.  He had no "agenda" when he shared with you, he was not trying to impress or influence. There were so many people at his funeral and such an outpouring of love because he had touched and influenced them not by his theological knowledge, an astounding intellect, nor a forceful personality, or position of power .. but just by a ready smile, an openness to others and a willingness to take the risk of saying "Hello".
  •  I learned that illness, setbacks and sadnesses do not have to ruin your life.  Norrie was an epileptic and as a young husband and father the family had to cope with his regular fits. (Later in life these were controlled) Over the years he had a whole list of health difficulties. (Heart troubles, joint troubles, eyesight problems etc.) He had the sadness of losing his wife at a relatively young age. But his second son described his approach to his troubles roughly like this. "He faced them head on. If he could change something he did. But the things he could not change he sucked up, adapted life to them and moved on to make the best of life." As I grump about having to wear this catheter I need to learn from his attitude.
  •  I was reminded to soak in life. In conversations with Norrie he would talk about various trips or experiences and you sensed he just appreciated the beauty, the feel, the small things and the majesty of the world about him. He would describe some scene and close his eyes as if reliving the experience, smile and say, "Oh it was just beautiful!" He told of hoping in his wagon and driving off into the hills. He would go to sleep in the back of the old Landcruiser but position it so that when he woke he would have a beautiful view of the hills and mountains about him.  He would take walks and explore the history behind the locality. His oldest son in his talk gave a beautiful picture of how Norrie lived. "He lived at a million miles per hour, it did not matter what  the doctors said, like a dog with his head out of a car window!" He tasted life, enjoying sights sounds and smells, was fascinated by the people he met and loved to do all he could to experience and soak in the world about him while he could.
Any way I  just thought I'd share how he impacted me.  I was also reminded that I am good at leading funerals. While I think the "success" of this one was largely because of the nature of the guy we were remembering, I think I have an ability to lead things in such a way that the ceremony expresses the spirit of the person and of the family.  I had so many positive, affirming and appreciative comments, and yet I felt I had done little toward the outcome. I do word each ceremony carefully, try to avoid cliches and think about the audience. To do a good job requires careful thought and work. I still find the exercise extremely stressful. I do not intend to continue taking funerals into retirement. I look forward to having more free time to be like that "dog with his head out the window". Thank you Norrie for coming into my life.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bereavement; Gay marriage in NZ; A "penny dropped"; something beautiful & heavy workload.

A couple of years ago as I looked out on the congregation I saw an elderly man (late seventies) who was a new face. I met him briefly after the service as he headed out and he informed me cautiously that he was "Church shopping" and that he had been to a few. He thought it was time to move on from where he was attending and was trying out Churches. He went on his way, with me thinking, "Well he won't be back!" To my surprise a couple of weeks later he came back. He was absent for a couple more weeks (checking out other Churches) then came back again. Ever since he has been there whenever he was able, has at times played the piano for us and been an active part of our congregation. I went to visit him and found a warm, friendly man who I just clicked with. We sat and chatted as if we had known each other for all our lives. He came to help set up a Christmas Day dinner and then assisted at the dinner itself. He came with his crutch but pretty soon it was discarded and he was dashing around like a teenager with a wide grin on his face. He simply loved it. He thought I was headed in the right directions with the things we were doing. This year he has had bad health with surgery and a nine week stay in hospital. He had just started venturing out to Church again. In spite of his health difficulties he was always cheerful, positive, warm and friendly. I felt completely at home with him. I knew him as "Norrie Duff". On Friday morning upon opening the newspaper I discovered that a "David Noris Duff aged 79" had been hit by a car and died later in hospital. (I knew he frequented a cafe next to where the accident happened.) "It must be Norrie?" I said to myself, "It can't be Norrie!" I did not want it to be Norrie, but all the evidence suggested it was.  I did not know his family at all so could not ring to find out, and anyway thought that might be an intrusion. It wasn't untill the evening that I had a call from his son to tell me all that happened. Friday was a long day during which I could not concentrate. I am sad. He was my friend. As I walked into Church on Sunday mornings to lead the service he would give a smile and a nod. He was one of those whose "attending" and very posture during worship drew the sermon out of me. He and I just felt at home with each other. I feel like I have lost a soul mate and I don't have too many of them. On Wednesday I lead his funeral. I think I will struggle to keep composed.
Proud of my country legalising Gay Marriage.
Gay Marriage legal in New Zealand
The other night amidst very emotional scenes the New Zealand Parliament passed the Marriage (definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill which legalised Gay Marriage in NZ. Here you will find a clever speech and here the feeling and aftermath in the Parliamentary chamber. I have not preached directly about this matter except to allude to the principles of equality and inclusiveness whenever I could. ("Let the hearer hear what I am saying" - type of approach) In private conversation, through blog post and other opportunities I have expressed my support. I once wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper but it was not printed. (They did print stupid illogical anti-gay opinions) It is to me a victory for love! It is a victory for equality, for responsibility and commitment.  The thing that hit me this morning is that in public worship I would love to have given thanks for this victory. I would love to have thanked God for the liberal, loving spirit that has driven this legislation. I would loved to have thanked God that we live in such a country and expressed pride in the achievement of our little country. But I could not. I had been warned that it would be divisive, and indeed it would have been. I felt deeply sad and even less at home because of that. It reinforced for me my decision to retire at the end of the year. I do not really belong in this denomination.
A penny dropped
I do not know what congregation, if any, I will attend when I retire. I long for a group of progressive thinkers who I could journey with. I would love to be part of a group of friends who encourage each other in an active progressive thinking Christian way. I have had thoughts that maybe when I retire I could start such a group but nothing jelled. I had a friend from the Night Shelter Trust phone me on Thursday and ask me about my day in hospital. I told him about the book I read by Karen Armstrong and that she was the instigator behind the "Charter for Compassion". He had never heard of it so I explained what it was. When I hung up I had an epiphany. "What about a group which was centred on the Charter for Compassion?" It would then be inclusive of those who did not necessarily go along with "Christian things". It would keep before us the need for compassionate action and stop such a group becoming a group of navel gazers or anti-established-church gossipers. The idea simply rang bells with me. It has a heap of potential. Will I have the energy to do it? Wait and see - watch this space.
My friend Joan.
A beautiful scene.
I have told you sometimes about the rough times at our Friday night Drop-in centre. I want to tell you of a really beautiful scene. We have a notorious town drunk called Joan Butcher. She has a very sad life story. She really has a nice "spirit" and I cannot help loving her. At the moment she is being looked after in mental health wards at the hospital. She arrives now at the drop-in centre sober and friendly. Unfortunately her brain and her speech are irreparably damaged. In recent weeks she has sat in a corner talking warmly with those who dropped by to chat. She sat there doing crochet, making head bands and cellphone carrying pockets. We have a lovely Indian nurse lady who, with her husband, was helping us at the drop-in on Friday night. She sat beside Joan and talked with her. She purchased a headband from her and the next time I went down, she too was crocheting and told me that Joan had been teaching her. It was a lovely picture of barriers broken down, love and acceptance.
When I went back to work after my surgery I intended to take life easier. It does not happen and it feels out of control.  I have an incredibly busy week ahead. Here are some things I have to do.

  • I have to do Norrie's funeral - at least 8 hours extra work.
  • I have to prepare and record a radio church service.
  • I have to write up, collate and print the Annual Report for the Church Annual General Meeting. The secretary used to do this, but we do not have one these days. 
  • I have to do 8 hours of chaplaincy work.
  • I have my usual Sunday service preparation to do.
  • I have to arrange to have meetings some people for the Night Shelter.
  • And of course there are some usual weekly responsibilities I have to fulfill.
I will not be able to have a day off tomorrow, nor will ANZAC day on Thursday be a holiday for me. Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Quick trip to Christchurch pics.

Last Sunday we drove to Christchurch to catch up on our son, daughter-in-law and grandson. On the Sunday night we had a car accident.  On Monday afternoon we headed home again stopping in Oamaru for the night. Here are three pictures.

An inattentive driver did this to our good little Toymotor! 
But getting to cuddle little Theo was worth it. 
Nan hasn't lost her touch with babies.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Life is unfair.

I spent today in hospital. It was a trial removal of my catheter four weeks after my TURP operation. When I arrived they looked a bit blank, they did not know why I was there, in spite of the fact I had a letter telling me to report at 9 a.m. today.  They sent me through to another ward and they worked out how to sort me out.  I had to laugh. I saw a nurse aid who had given me lots of banter when I was in four weeks ago.  "Oh no not you! I'm leaving!" she said, and we continued to joke with each other. Later in the day she told my wife I was her favourite patient. 
I knew that a lot of time in hospital is spent waiting so I took a book in. I completed reading the book while I drank water and peed. ("voided" is the word the nurse used.) The book is called "In the Beginning - a new interpretation of Genesis." written by Karen Armstrong.  If I am reading her correctly when she speaks about the early stories (myths) of Genesis she says in essence that one of the messages is "Life and love are unfair! Get used to it!" Tonight I agree with her.

  • They decided that I could not go without a catheter and put a catheter back in! I am deeply disappointed. It feels like the whole operation was a waste of time. It feels like nobody really knows what to do and they are just trying different things out. Life is unfair.
  • I have a sore neck and smashed up car in the drive, all caused by an inattentive Christchurch driver. Life is unfair.
  • The people who were killed or injured at the Boston Marathon bomb explosions did not deserve what happened to them. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Life is unfair.
  • 100,000 Iraq citizens killed when the British and Americans went into Bagdad were in families just like us, trying to make ends meet, they did not deserve to die because one man was wanted. Life is unfair.
  • Christchurch, NZ citizens' lives are still horrendously disrupted as a result of the earthquake two years ago. Some have lost loved ones. Many have housing problems and difficulties. Life is unfair.
That's one message in this book and that's how I feel tonight.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A "REAL" week.

Woops! Back to earth...
In my last post I waxed on about my friends "in low places" responding warmly to me. Sorry, I lied.  At our Friday night Drop-in centre there was one man who definitely does not love me! He has mental health issues. He had come in and received a meal and also grabbed one of the loaves of bread we had been given to use or to hand on. One of the others gave him a bit of good humoured banter, but he took exception and yelled at them, threw the loaf of bread at them and slammed his meal hard down on the table. (food went everywhere) Briefly there were raised voices but we stepped in quickly and calmed the situation down. All was quiet. He mumbled something about "I'm sick of this Church" while helping himself to a second helping of free food, more cakes, a cup of coffee and a new bag of bread rolls to take home. (The loaf he threw was not returned to him.)  When he left the hall later in the night I passed him on the stairway. I decided, away from the others that I could talk with him about his behaviour. I said quietly and, I thought in a caring way, that I knew he was upset, but that we really do not want people throwing things at other people in the drop-in. He went off his face at me. I continued to try to talk calmly, acknowledging he was upset, but that there are other ways of dealing with it than throwing things. With that he threw his bag of bread rolls we had given him directly at my face. I can tell you they were hard crusted bread rolls and quite heavy because they hurt. I followed him out toward the footpath still trying to pacify him and talk calmly, but he just yelled abuse at me. By the time we got to the footpath I had had enough. He was not listening. "John you are banned! If you can't control yourself, you are banned!" With that yelling abuse at me he came at me waving his fists. He threw a couple punches at me which I avoided by swaying backward.  One was within an inch of the side of my already smarting face.  I then realised he was serious. The "little boy" in me was by this time angry and I clenched my fist wanting to punch his lights out! But my "adult" took over and I kept my hands firmly at my side, took a step forward glared at him and said, "John you really do not want to do that!" He had his fists up in fighting position, and there was a moment when our eyes locked, and I was ready to duck again. But thankfully he backed off and went around the corner and down the street yelling abuse at me over his shoulder. Apart from that incident we had a beautiful night with our drop-in friends genuinely pleased to see me and concerned for my health. I feel sad for John. He needs more care from our mental health system than he is getting, but we do have to keep others safe and he is getting out of control.
So much sadness..
It is Tuesday and I have been back at work just over a week. I have been astounded at the amount of sadness I have encountered! I cannot list them all, but every day in that week I have listened to tales of woe and heartbreak. Marriage breakups, deep depression, one death from cancer, stressed relationships, stressed people and a person in trouble with the courts. I have heard of these through chaplaincies, church, friends, phone calls and texts and began to wonder when it would all stop. To add to this list of sadness on Sunday we drove to Christchurch (5 hours drive away) to catch up on our son, his wife and our grandchild. While looking for their street in the dark we were rammed from behind by a speeding inattentive driver. Our good Toyota Corolla was severely damaged around the right hand tail light area and we received sore necks.  (You need to understand as a result of the earthquake a couple years ago Christchurch streets are cluttered with bumps, lumps and road works.)  We did get back home but I think the insurance company will write it off. Then this morning while having our breakfast in a motel room an hour and a half from home, we watched the unfolding news of the tragic bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon. (The upward spiral of violence in the world - violence breeds violence.)  My first week back at work after my operation has involved me in feeling so much of the sadness in people's lives. Of course there is a big heap of good, but just sometimes it feels like life has gone mad.
Hospital again...
Tomorrow I go back into hospital and they take the catheter out and do another trial. I do hope it works, I am finding the catheter stretching my patience.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


I was interviewed by some social work students the other day. One of the questions they asked was "What are the rewards in what you do?" I gave them some sort of answer about a guy who changed and other stuff. Since then I have experienced rewards.
That evening while driving home I saw at a bus stop a man who is a struggling alcoholic/gambling addict/hoarder for all the 20+ years I have known him. Currently he is living with an old woman friend, both have rough health and I think they assist one another through life. I had heard he recently suffered a stroke. He is 10 years older than I am, I have assisted him at different times over the years and he has been a regular at our drop-in centre. We had not had contact for the last few months because I guess, his life has been reasonably settled. When I saw him at the bus stop I decided to seize the opportunity for a catch up and offer him a lift. It was so good.  He greeted me warmly and as I drove he talked about our history together and told me about his stroke experience. I dropped him off and he said "thank you" and shook my hand with real warmth. I think the "thank you" encompassed much more than the ride.
The next day I was walking to visit the brewery as their chaplain. On a street corner I came across Jamie. He is one of Dunedin's characters, has mental health problems and is known as "Speedy" for his habit of walking fast through town listening to his radio. He was standing near a planter with coffee in one hand and radio in the other. I greeted him with "Hello Jamie". With a big smile he said loudly, "David Brown, my friend!" put his coffee down and extended his hand warmly to me. He kept repeating, "David Brown, my friend," as I asked how he was. "I'm OK David Brown. You're a good man." I said bye and went on my way.
About a half a block up the road I pass a day centre where a number of "our" drop-in people attend. Another man was coming out and heading for home. He is a nice guy, but struggles with hearing voices and other health issues. We greeted each other warmly and spent quite some time chatting. We eventually parted company with a warm handshake and "Thank you its good to catch up."
While I was talking with him another woman came out of the centre and greeted me warmly and I asked how she was. The three of us talked briefly with her offering to take me on a guided tour of the centre, but I really had to get to the brewery. She was obviously pleased to see me.

What are the rewards of what I do in the community? Others may like to have the adulation of people of status, the movers and shakers in town. To be honest I often find their contact and supposed friendship hollow and somehow insincere. These people, the people "in low places" tell it like it is! It is deeply rewarding to have their respect and appreciation.
A younger photo of my friend Jamie.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

First day back...

I am not a photographer but I managed to snap this little chap yesterday.  I love these Fantails.
I have just arrived home from my first day back at work after my recovery from a TURP operation. It has been so far a nine hour day and I must admit to being weary. I have spent over three hours in chaplaincy work, one and a half hours in a meeting of ministers and the rest of the time in preparation for  next Sunday's church service, sorting out emails and tidying up my office at the Church. I have been reminded that listening to people is very tiring. 
I did enjoy the three weeks off and did some things there that I must build into my life. 

  • On most days I managed a walk. I was not allowed to do strenuous exercise but I did walk at a reasonable pace for nearly an hour and sometimes longer. I found even in that short time, just walking I was getting fitter, and it gave me time to think. I need to build this or other exercise into my life nearly every day.
  • I did a lot of reading. I read some good books on spirituality and theology. It was refreshing.  I do quite a bit of reading in preparation for each Sundays service. Also I have always tried to keep up with reading new directions and thought. Most often though my reading has been last thing at night while having my cup of "Horlicks" in bed. I think I need to re-affirm to myself that such reading is a part of my job and claim time during work hours to do reading. 
So I have gone back to work with these two aims. To exercise more regularly, even if it is just to walk regularly. Secondly to build more reading time into my life. I'll let you know how I get on.
This little Fantail came around our backdoor yesterday.  He seemed to follow me down to the clothes line. I came inside and got my camera and he was still around. I love these birds. Walking in the bush they will sometimes seem to go along side of you flying from tree to tree, waiting for you to catch up then flying to the next, chirping all the time. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Back at work...Monday stewing.

From my Saturday 10k walk. The little boat looks so small next to the ship.
"Hello mountain my old friend." 
I meet interesting people on my walks.
Return to work
Three weeks ago today I had a TURP operation. The bits of paper from the hospital suggested...

  • Convalescence at home takes 3-6 weeks.
  • "Do not indulge in any activity which causes physical straining for six weeks ( e.g. digging in the garden, lawn mowing, playing golf, lifting heavy weights, sexual intercourse etc)"
  • avoid driving for six weeks!
How to completely emasculate a man!
Well I went back to work on Wednesday for the afternoon (6 hours) and must admit to feeling tired at the end of the day. Yesterday I conducted the morning service at Church. In my job you do not ever escape from work and I have been dealing with emails and phone calls for the past three weeks. This week I will return to work seriously.... though I may pace myself a bit.
I have been touched by the level of support I have received. I have a heap of "get well" cards, there has been constant phone calls and a number of people have visited bearing gifts. When I arrived back at Church yesterday there were genuine welcomes from the people.  To some degree I felt guilty because I felt a little "detached" yesterday. My time off has given me a glimpse of retirement so I went back into "harness" with a certain amount of, "I'll see this out to the end of the year" attitude. I will get back into it and get fire in the belly again. But I have been warmed by the level of support shown. I really have not had major surgery but these folk have treated me with that sort of concern. I think some of it is that I have very seldom been sick over the years.
A long time injury annoys...
My back went out on Wednesday morning. I went up a ladder to our manhole in the ceiling and at one stage, holding the manhole cover, I nearly fell off the ladder backwards, struggling to retain my balance. I think that did something and a few minutes later when I bent over to pick something off the floor, my back went out. Over 40 years ago I was a young plumber on a big building site. There were a number of young apprentices and we used to fight, chase and wrestle each other. It was harmless fun, but often got very boisterous crossing the line to down right dangerous. One time I was running from my friend and raced to the stairs. (the end of day whistle had gone) My friend lashed out at me with his steel capped boot and collected me on my lower spine. Every now and then down through the years that disc he hit goes "out".  It doesn't happen often and mostly my back is as strong as an ox. Every time it happens though, I remember and mutter, "That bloody Robin Greer!"  I find if I hang somewhere and walk it generally comes right.  We have a friend going through struggles at the moment. I wonder if her struggles and indeed a lot of the difficult mental health and relationship struggles we have are because deep in our past somebody "kicked us in the spine"? What emotional injuries do we carry that go "out" from time to time just like my back?
Mountain walk..
The bits of paper from the hospital do say that "Walking is the best exercise for recovery". I have been walking. I have tried to fit in at least a 4.5k walk every day, and sometimes have extended that to a 10k walk. I have enjoyed it. Yesterday I decided the time was right to reacquaint myself with my Mount Cargill. My wife has thought that this would fit the category of "activity that requires physical straining". Anyway yesterday she allowed me to drive myself (so good- I HATE being driven) to the Organ Pipe walking track and I enjoyed a strenuous walk up Mount Cargill. It was overcast but somehow so clear as I took in the familiar views. The bush and birdsong were amazing and I met some friendly people. (I think walkers by nature are friendly)  But I must tell you of one person I met. I had climbed to the top in very good time. I felt pleased with myself. I turned around and began the descent. There is a part close to the top that has a series of three steep stairways. I had just started down these when I met a couple I guess in their thirties. The woman was ahead of the man and I greeted her and we joked with a bit of banter. Then as she passed I met the man who greeted me cheerfully with the same warmth, but with slurred speech. He had cerebral palsy! His arms, feet, head and legs were totally uncoordinated! He was walking up the stairs at a reasonable pace, but my guess is that it must have taken incredible effort and concentration to do it! I was feeling pleased because three weeks after a small procedure I was still fairly fit and able. Here was a man dealt a difficult hand in life, tackling this mountain (big hill really) with vim and cheerfulness. I thought to myself that if I were in his position I might have decided climbing mountains was not my thing and stayed home watching TV feeling sorry for myself. I was so impressed with him and felt it was an inspiration to meet him. Complaining about my sore back suddenly seemed stupid.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Something special from my son.

We have a son in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dan is living there with his wife Magda who is from Poland.  Daniel is a very clever young man. It seems like every hobby he takes on he excels at. He used to play classical guitar with a beautiful touch. He then took on DJ scratching type music and got himself quite a reputation for his skill. He then took an interest in computers and he built himself a number. I have a quite powerful desk top with a great sound system which he built. He has moved on to photography and produces some amazing photographs. Lately he has been adding little sayings and quotations to them. The one above appeared on facebook with the note; "To my Mum and Dad, peace, love and respect. From your boy. In Edinburgh."
Pretty cool. I just had to pass it on.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Memories of special times

I am still on "light duties" recovering from surgery. I am taking the opportunity to sort through papers in my study at home. Lots of times I will come back from meetings, or a day's activities and just pile some papers, mail or notes on a corner of my desk or on a shelf. I have been trying to sort through these. In the midst of these I have found cards like the one in the photo above. Inside this "thank you" card it says;
This comes with
sincere appreciation.
Thank you very much for taking .........'s service for us,
your kindness and your caring,
kind regards,

I have thrown out several of these today. Each one brought special memories. They are of days when I have been privileged to be allowed into a family's grieving. I have listened to their stories, their laughter, their tears and felt their grieving. In some ways for a short time I have been allowed to be a part of their family.  I have been invited to conduct a service that somehow puts into words or gives expression to their feelings and thoughts as they farewell a loved one.
Sometimes it has been an aged parent whose time had come, and you gather up childhood memories, thanksgivings and love. At other times, as with the card above it has been somebody who has died too young and you ache with their aching hearts and feel their questions, longings and sometimes anger. I recalled as I read the one above, standing with a father beside the open coffin of his son, who died needlessly as a young man. As I have read and discarded each one I have been reminded of that sense of privilege and companionship I have experienced as I have walked with people in a part of their life's journey.  
It is both a hard but very precious part of the career I have had. I look back with satisfaction and a deep sense of fulfillment. I have helped people in these difficult moments in their life and it seems I have done it well. What more could I ask of life?
Pretty fortunate really.
I am recovering from an operation on my prostate. I am still uncertain that it will turn out alright and really remedy my problems. I am still living with a catheter and in a couple of weeks go back into hospital for some more treatment. To top it all off yesterday morning my back went "out". I was bending over to pick something off the floor then suddenly nearly landed on the floor in excruciating pain. At one stage I grabbed at a coat hook on the wall for support and it broke. It began to come right yesterday afternoon, but this morning I struggled to get out of bed and down the hall. It has improved, but it has made me feel sorry for myself. 
When it improved enough I went for a walk to improve it some more. As I walked I began to count my blessings. Yes my "plumbing" needs repairs, but for 63 years it has operated well, without a second thought... I should be grateful for the wonderful mechanism that it all is. My back has gone "out" and causing pain. But I am sure it will repair itself. For 64 years I have done untold things with my back. I have lifted loads I should not have lifted. I have twisted it in ways it was not designed to be twisted in. I have neglected to look after it and keep it supported, but it has and will serve me well. So I should not growl that for a few weeks out of 64 years I am feeling like an invalid. This old body has, and will still serve me well. It is just a hiccup - or two. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Baby sitting and concern about Government directions.

Edith Daisy Brown, a bundle of perpetual motion.
I've still got it...
On Sunday we traveled out to Portobello on the Otago Peninsula and moved into a two bedroom motel unit at the camp ground. Our son and daughter-in-law were to attend a wedding reception at nearby Larnach Castle and we were to baby sit our grand daughter.  Edith is 10 months old and just does not sit still. She is walking and is very alert, noticing everything that goes on in the room. She is also very attached to her mother and if mum goes out of the room she gets agitated. We were wondering how she would go when mum left to go out for the night? I think it is the first time both mum and dad have left her for a night out. 
Mum and dad said goodbye and headed off to the wedding and within seconds Edith was letting us know her heart was breaking. Nothing would console her. We quickly changed her into her night attire, put her in her buggy and took her for a walk.  She quietened down as soon as the buggy was moving. (I was walking around in circles with the buggy while I waited for my wife.) When we returned after our evening walk she was fast asleep so we gently transferred her to her cot and she slept soundly. After about two hours we heard her wake up! We knew she would be beside herself realising mum was not there. We picked her up and were successful for a few short periods by distracting her with music and different toys, but she soon began to cry again. Before she got too worked up I cradled her tightly in my arms, rocking gently backwards and forwards while I softly sang to her. She calmed, but every now and then remembered the reality and cried briefly. I changed songs and that distracted her for a while. Then I recalled that her parents often affirm her good behaviour by saying "good eating" or "good walking" or "good girl". Thinking this might work I included the line in my lullaby "What a good little girl is Edith", repeating it at regular intervals in the tune I was singing. I could see her begin to relax and her eyelids shut. They would periodically open again and she would screw up her face to begin to cry, but calm immediately and eventually she relaxed completely and was asleep.  I do hope her music tastes improve as she gets older! I was so pleased with myself! I still have it! I can calm a distraught baby! I took her back to her cot and she was still sleeping soundly when her parents came home.  I felt quite useful and somehow privileged. 
Keep watching the government..
The Government is to pass laws not allowing protesters to come within 500 metres of oil drilling rigs or oil exploration vessels. Does this limit freedom of speech? This government with the movie industry and other industries have and are passing laws which changes things so that it is easier for big investors to do things. It feels like it changes things so that the rich can more easily get richer, and in some cases I think unions, freedoms, or checks and balances can be hampered. They are also making noises about maybe extending the time between elections.  There is a sense in which I feel a little nervous. We do not have a very influential and united opposition and this government seems to just change anything it sees as inconvenient to its goals. We could easily see freedoms eroded that we should not lose. I went through a display in Berlin about the rise of Hitler and the thing that struck me is that little by little things happened and were allowed to happen, until a mad man controlled the country.  Trade unions had limitations put upon them. Bit by bit their power was diminished. The press was hampered little by little. Education, schools and universities began to be more and more controlled.The Church had control measures put in place. Gradually changes were brought in by this right wing government and the average german citizen did not really notice the changes until it was too late. Everything seemed to have its rationale and reason.  I think New Zealand is a great country to live in and has too much to lose.  We need to be vigilant when a powerful government is doing things always with the excuse "for the economic good of the country". There are more important things than economics! We citizens need to be watchful.  I want New Zealand to be a good place for my grand children to live in.
My son Simon and his son Theo.