Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, June 27, 2014

Eleven Days in Edinburgh.

The family.
I learned today that the early name for Edinburgh was Dun Eideann - which means "Citadel of the slope." Of course my home town "Dunedin" get's its name from that... "The Edinburgh of the South." Edinburgh Castle is certainly on a slope.
The Project.
Knox's house and a "Well" or where the early people of Edinburgh came to get their water.

We have been in Edinburgh eleven days and we are getting used to the city.
A project with my son.
I have been working on a project with my son. He has a small backyard with a deck, which is very close to neighbours. The fences on the side are picket style fences which are not very private if you are eating on the deck or doing things outside. They had decided to put up panels to make the yard more private so Daniel and I have been working on that. I enjoy working on projects with my sons. It is a bit tricky because I have to allow them to make choices about things and respect them as the boss of the job no matter what I think, because it is their house. I think though that they gain confidence from my presence and involvement. So most late afternoons and evenings this past week have been spent building this fence. We had built a back fence which encompassed a shared access way.  A neighbour checked about her access and we assured her that it was still OK.   This prompted my son to check the local building regulations. To be on the safe side we pulled our panels down and relocated them. This slowed the project down.  With tomorrow being Saturday we ought to finish the job. This next project is to sand and repaint the deck.
Getting to know Edinburgh
My wife and I have been slowly exploring Edinburgh. We have enjoyed doing things that people do, like going to the supermarket. We caught a bus and then a tram out to a hardware store one day. We are getting quite confident on the bus and even advised a local about the tram the other day. We poked around the central city a few times. We came across two charities caring for the homeless so we visited them. While we are not into gathering souvenirs and not inclined to be ripped off by touristy things, we have enjoyed exploring some historical sites in our own way and time. It has been good riding the buses, walking neighbourhoods, shopping and getting to know another city in another country.
Their talking…..
In Dunedin we encounter Scots who have immigrated to NZ. Most are now older people so when we hear a Scottish accent our minds assumes “elderly”. Here of course all ages speak that way. We were in a burger store and heard a young girl speak emphatically with her mother in this broad accent.  It seemed so “different” to us that we both giggled. It is strange too hearing an Asian or an Indian coming out with a broad accent. We decided that Scots speak loudly. (We thought the same about the French) In a bus or restaurant you hear people conversing or talking on their phone and you hear every word! I think New Zealanders are more shy or converse quietly so that others are not privy to their conversation. We have encountered couples having an argument. New Zealand couples when they argue in public tend to almost whisper through clenched teeth, sometimes smiling, so nobody will hear. On the bus, in the street, on park benches we have encountered couples arguing openly and loudly.  On the bus was so funny – He was sitting across the isle and a row behind his wife. They were going at each other with periods of silence between. The people around did not know where to look and just when you thought it had stopped one of the two would blurt out some other point! I laughed today – a young woman was pleading with her boyfriend who obviously had too much to drink watching the football. In frustration he yelled at her, “Och! Speak “Inglis” y’daft bitch. Y’d’na’ken.” (Oh. Speak English you daft bitch. You do not understand.) They speak quickly and efficiently. In a pie shop - “Y’ right tha?” (Are you all right there?) the shop keeper says. I love their “Aye” pronounce “Ei” which means “Yes”.  I hate Subways, even in New Zealand, because the people serving you blurt out questions about things you have to make decisions on, and I often struggle to hear.  On our first day here we went to a Subway and with a Scottish accent blurting out questions, I was lost and had to guess. Our ears are getting attuned to their way of speaking and mostly we get by. It is the same language, English, but somehow it sometimes sounds very very different. “Y’ken?” (Do you understand?)
Our talking..
But… there are times when in shops we ask for something and we get a blank stare back at us. They have not understood because of our accent! At a cafĂ© we were asking for soup, scones and tea for two and we had to repeat it several times… speaking slowly with gestures.  At church a lady said to my wife, “Oh you have a lovely quaint accent!” In your mind you want to say, “I speak English, it is you who have the accent!”  But no, here, we are the foreigners with the quaint accent that is hard to understand.  In a poem entitled “To a Louse” one time Scottish National poet Robbie Burns wrote this; “O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.” (O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.)
Seeing from the outside
There have been a number of experiences like the language encounters, which have reminded us of the above quotation. There are things in a city or a country that “everybody knows” except if you come from elsewhere. I was on the top floor of the bus the other day and a lady lurched up the stairs looking for a seat. I was perched on a seat and she, struggling to stay on her feet as the bus bumped and swayed, asked “Are y’leavin’?” “No” I replied, “But you can have the seat.” I was taught to give my seat to a lady needing one. I stood as the bus continued on and when our time came to leave as we walked down the footpath my son said, “You don’t give up your seat on the top floor of a bus. You are not allowed to stand up there.” How was I to know? “Everybody knows that!” he replied. We have been reminded by such events that often groups of people, - churches, cities, countries – have things “every body knows” except those visiting. I had great difficulty in ministry trying to get church leaders to see what we were doing in church from an outsider’s point of view. It has been a reminder of Robbie Burn’s words, “O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.”
Greyfriars Kirk
We visited Greyfriars Kirk, a famous church not far from the castle with plenty of history. The history was interesting but the information about its current directions warmed me. As I read its mission statement and some of the community involvement I thought “That is the same sort of directions I was trying to lead my Church in St Andrew Street, Dunedin.”  They pictured the Church and its activities as a tree, with branches reaching out into the community, involving lots of people and groups who may or may not worship on a Sunday.  The worship on the Sunday was the roots feeding the branches which went wide and far into the community. “That’s the sort of vision I had, but somehow most in the Church never understood nor accepted.” I went away from Greyfriars thinking, “I am not so weird after all.”  - “D’ya’ken.”

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Life flushed down the sewer!

My son's caption - "Spot the tourists"
Princess Street Edinburgh.
Dave's dead!
I got a text message from a guy who went to the Drop-in centre at our old Church. He let me know that Dave had died. Over the last couple of years I had expected Dave to die a few times. He had ruined his body with alcohol and drug abuse. He came into my office perhaps twenty-five years ago and asked for some cans of food. He had run out and he was hungry.  I gave him some and gave him a cup of tea. He called back quite frequently for a chat and cup of tea and I got much of his life story. He asked if he could play the piano, and from then on he would call in, have a cup of tea then go up and play the piano and sing. He had forgotten the words to the songs, but that never stopped him - he would just make them up. He would roll from tune to tune, song to song and often played for an hour or more.  In his younger days he used to be in a dance band, playing piano, or keyboard, guitar and singing.  They had won talent quests and were quite sought after…. During this part of his life he was quite handsome and popular, but it was at the after-gig-parties where his heavy drinking began. Now as he played and sang he used to express his moods and his frustrations through his music, sometimes really pounding the ivories. He had a “crooners” voice, a Dean Martin style, and was quite pleasant to listen to in the background when he was in a good mood and playing quietly.  I was pleased to allow him the use of the Church piano so that he could keep his music alive, though one of my musicians was quite uncertain about this. Whenever Dave asked, I would allow him to play and then secretly pray that she wasn’t in town and likely to drop in at the Church. We had some ups and downs over the years. When he was boozed he could become stroppy and be disruptive so there were a few times he went off down the road abusing me because I had told him off.  I knew him years before we started the drop-in centre, but in due course he became one of our drop-in guys, and often played on the old piano in the hall during the night.   I recall once he told me how important the drop-in was to him and his buddies.  It is like a “pub with no beer” he said.  “If it wasn’t for this on a Friday night we’d be getting into trouble at the pubs.  Its bloody good!” The last few years his abuse of both drugs and alcohol caught up with him and his liver, veins and kidneys were not functioning properly and everything went down hill.  We did not see him much at the drop-in. The last time I saw him was when he came one night last year and asked after my health.  (Toward the end he sounded drunk even when he wasn’t. - nobody could convince me that regular use of marijuana doesn’t impact the brain!) I told him how I was and he responded. “You’re a good bugger – do you know that? – You’re one of the best! You’ve been good to me over the years – bloody good.”  “Happy to help when I can Dave.” I replied, but in my mind I said, “But I wish I could have changed you, healed you or made life much better for you."

This is the sad thing. Here was a guy who was talented, likeable and full of potential. In many ways he had more talent than I ever had or will have.  But his life has been progressively flushed down the toilet.  In spite of being in hospitals for rehab, in spite of all sorts of counselling and even imprisonment, Dave’s life has been stunted, and never reached anywhere near it’s potential. His death has reminded me of that. There are people throughout the world who for all sorts of reasons (poverty, oppression, mistreatment, bad choices, peer pressure etc etc) whose lives are messed up.  Such waste is tragic!  I have been in a sort of floating mode in recent weeks/months since retirement. I have been a “taker or user” of life and not contributing much. Currently I am not doing much to make this world a better place. I need to get back to living responsibly again to make life even just a little bit better for the Dave’s of this world.  Dave’s death is a wake up call to use responsibly the life I have been given.

It’s a small world.
We are in Edinburgh, a sizable city on the other side of the world from our hometown of Dunedin (The “Edinburgh of the South”) We were standing outside a pharmacy in Princess Street, perhaps the busiest street in Edinburgh with thousands of unknown people going by.  Out of the blue this woman stops, takes two steps back and says, “Hello Jean! Hello David!”  We knew her through Habitat for Humanity projects in Dunedin, she used to help with the catering. What are the chances of accidentally meeting in a big city on the other side of the world? She too was visiting family. We stood and chatted briefly as if we were in Princess Street in Dunedin, and she went on her way.  It was then that the amazing coincidence sunk in.  My kids and my wife tease me about knowing so many people. They reckon wherever I go I bump into somebody I know! – But in Edinburgh? - On the other side of the world? Really?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Our trip half way around the world.

The interesting events began at Auckland airport.
My evil looking wife…
Twice on our last overseas trip my wife got taken aside by officials at security and checked out. I remember because, on one occasion, as they led her away I went to follow her and was told quite gruffly that “It is just her - you wait over there! You cannot be with her.”  Well this time as we came through security at Auckland once again she was taken aside and checked out. She looks like a terrorist? NOT! They assured her it was just a random check.
Impatient tourists..
We went to the gate where we were to board for the Auckland to Shanghai leg of our journey. There we discovered a tourist group of, we assumed, Chinese folk, and most were wearing green jackets. We noticed that they had been doing lots of duty free shopping and had heaps of extra cabin baggage. They were a noisy lot and had white-jacketed minders running around negotiating with airline officials and explaining to them. Then came the announcement that Air New Zealand policy was only one item of cabin luggage of a certain size and weight. “If you have more than that you will have to take it to a counter and have it checked in to go into the hold.” There was much loud protesting and the white-jacketed people were rushing around pacifying people and giving assistance to sort out luggage. But it was noisy and some were defiant.  Our flight would be held up until it was sorted out. Noise, gesticulation, stressed airline people, annoyed passengers and frantic white-jacketed minders all created chaos. Eventually two police officers arrived; they talked to a few of the more vociferous people and stood by the airline workers as they made announcements. A man we met, who said he was a frequent flyer to London, said, “I think I will just stand back, well out of the way, and watch this.” When they announced that “upper-class” passengers etc. could now board, many of this group rushed forward, in spite of the announcement being translated into Chinese. Airline people, minders and police stepped forward and had to convince them that boarding would happen in an orderly fashion. Eventually, with some still carrying heaps of extra cabin luggage, we all boarded the plane. As I went past an airline worker checking our tickets I said, “You have really earned your keep tonight!” He rolled his eyes and said, “For sure!”  We took off considerably later than the appointed time.
My wife had no trouble sleeping. It was around mid night and they gave us a meal, after which she covered herself with a blanket and was sleeping soundly in no time. I could not. On both legs of our journey if I sat in the seat with my backside hard against the back of the seat, my knees were firmly against the seat in front. This was made worse when the seat in front was laid back for sleeping purposes. I had to splay my legs sideways and there was no comfortable legroom at all. The seats were too close together for a person my size. I am 6ft and solid, but certainly not the biggest person on the plane. I took time to check out other tall guys and they too looked horribly uncomfortable. The other annoying thing was that even though I made an effort to lean away from the isle, most times somebody walked past my shoulder was shunted. These discomforts are fine for a trip of a few hours, but for two twelve-hour stints they were hard to put up with. Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic, your seats are too close together for people like me, they discourage me from long distance flying.  I guess at the most I managed only an hour of dozing in the thirty hours of journeying to London. Our flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh was on a plane that had ample legroom, and I was asleep before the safety announcements started.
At Pudong airport (Shanghai) a group of sporting students from Nottingham University got on the Virgin Atlantic plane and were seated in seats all around us. I expected loud annoying behaviour. There were moments when they were loud and a bit annoying but most of the time these young people were OK to travel with. I did notice some of the young women talking disparagingly about older passengers. (Heaven knows what they said about me – they did not like being seated intermingled with other passengers – they preferred to be in one big group. - I guess the feeling was probably mutual) An elderly Chinese couple came past and these girls were talking about how they were dressed and how they shuffled. I have often noticed that good looking fashionable women, most often younger ones, often find a need to put others down who do not have the same good fortune. As these young women spoke I thought about their comments, particularly about this elderly couple. My guess is that this couple had worked hard all their lives. They had been through challenging times in Chinese history. They probably had faithfully raised a family and now were caring grandparents. Their commitment, their wisdom and life experience would most probably far exceed that of these scatty women who saw fit to judge them on their appearance! Having said that, apart from girls and boys making fools of them selves trying to impress members of the other sex, this group were by and large quite reasonable to be among.
As you can imagine I was REALLY looking forward to arriving at Heathrow and end of this tiring journey. About half an hour before our ETA I had begun to tidy up our belongings and get ready for arrival when the captain made an announcement. There had been an “incident” at Heathrow which would delay our landing.  Some planes were in a holding pattern, but our plane could not do that. We were to be diverted to Stansted Airport, refuelled and then fly back to Heathrow. They hoped they would be able to make a quick turn around, hopefully just an hour on the tarmac. We landed at Stansted and were kept on the plane while it refuelled. Then we were told we were waiting on instructions from Heathrow air traffic control and would soon be on our way again. We were instructed to return to our seats and buckle our seat belts. We waited awhile and the captain came on the speaker system saying that we would be able to leave Stansted in one hour 53 minutes! There was a great-unified gasp of annoyance from the up-till-now very patient passengers, then stunned silence.  I don’t know what happened, but after a brief time the captain announced that “No – ignore that announcement, we can leave in a few minutes.” Long-story-short we soon took off and flew the half hour to Heathrow. There were a couple of delays in finding a place to park the plane, but we were eventually disembarked. But my wife and I were meant to be connecting with a plane going to Edinburgh. In spite of rushing through immigration, baggage pick up and changing terminals as fast as we could, we missed our connection and had to buy tickets for another flight to Edinburgh. We were so pleased to get there, meet our son and taxi to his house. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Show a little kindness,...."

Saying farewell to our grand daughter on Waiheke Island
Big and spacious Pudong, Shanghai's airport. 
Heathrow- after we had sorted out how to get to Edinburgh.
My son's photos entitled "Nana and Leon meet at last." 
A barbecue dinner with our son and family in their Edinburgh house.
Big journey..
Since my last post we have traveled halfway around the world. We left Waiheke Island at 11 a.m. last Sunday, sailing on the Ferry to Auckland city. We explored the city shops, art gallery (where my son works) etc. for the afternoon, then caught the bus to the airport. At around midnight we flew out of Auckland bound for Shanghai. We spent a few hours in Shanghai airport (Pudong) then flew out to Heathrow Airport, London. From there we flew to Edinburgh, where another son met us and guided us to his house by taxi arriving by nearly midnight on Monday night Scotland time.  Since leaving Waiheke Island we had been on the go for forty eight hours. From NZ to Edinburgh about thirty six hours. It wasn't an uneventful journey but I will save that story for another post. 
Kindness... simply being pleasant.
I have wanted to share something good - three stories of kindness. On Waiheke we visited a bakery cafe a few times. It has outside chairs and tables. I was sitting outside in a chair while my wife was inside the cafe ordering our morning coffee fix. A car pulled up and a woman jumped out with a bundle of newspapers. She was obviously delivering a bundle of the local community paper to the cafe. As she walked toward the cafe our eyes met and she said a bright "Good morning, it's nice in the sun isn't it?" I replied but then to my surprise she changed her course, walked up to my table and said, "Here, read the paper while you wait." and smiling nicely handed my one of the papers. She delivered her papers, waved at me as she jogged back to her car,"Have a good day."- and away she went out of my life. But it struck me that little interaction was a delightful, mood lifting addition to my morning. On the same morning we went to the secondhand timber place at the local refuse station. The local churches run a "New Hope Store" - a second hand store and also linked to it, a recycling timber/hardware store. The proceeds go toward community projects in Waiheke. In the timber place there is a delightful, beautiful maori lady who denails the timber, prices it, serves the customers and generally runs this part of the operation. We had visited it often during our building project and every time she had treated us with good humour and warmth. Her farewell words each time always grated with me but at the same warmed me. "Yous have a good day, won't you." genuinely said. They grated because my mother taught me never to say "Yous" ... "The plural of 'you' is 'You' ... we are NOT sheep!" she would say emphatically! (as in "ewes") But the warmth of this young lady's treatment of us and her farewells always made me feel better. On our final visit there we got talking with her a bit more and told her we were leaving next day. "Oh...." she said, "I'm gonna miss yous!" The third story... we finally landed at Heathrow airport and our arrival there had been delayed by about an hour and a half. We had to connect with a plane leaving for Edinburgh so we were flustered, red faced and rushing. There were a number of people we asked for help.. A lady minding the "Fast Track" queue at Immigration who let us be "Fast Tracked". The immigration officer who dealt with us quickly and sympathetically and wished us well as we rushed away.  Another official looking person who gave us directions above and beyond her duty in a caring sympathetic way. We ran between places, dragging our luggage, we arrived at an area looking for ways to change terminals. A flight stewardess on her way home, changing terminals herself went out of her way to guide us. But beyond that, seeing our red faces and confused panic she assured us. "You are in the right country. Even if you miss your connection, there are other flights, you can get to Edinburgh tonight. Things will work out." she assured us helpfully.  It was so good to have her care and her assurance, bringing perspective and sanity back to this elderly couple from the colonies. Things did work out. 
The point that struck me is that each of these kind encounters made life more pleasant and enriching. They enhance a sense of "journeying with others" in life. They are simple, easy human interactions, but their impact is tremendous, and so life enhancing.  I confess that I am a bit of a shy loner who goes about my business being polite but perhaps not with the same warmth.  This extra humanity, this extra warmth is so easy to do, and it is like oil in the machinery of life, it makes life easier, better and smoother. I am thankful for these people and seek to follow their example more often. The old song said, "Just show a little kindness, shine your light for everyone to see, and you'll open up the blindness of the narrow minded people... etc" Let me commend this warmth of interaction. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Dalai Lama's words ring bells with me.

We have been using mostly old building materials. Yet to be painted.
My nearly two week old grandson. His father was covered by the same green knitted rug forty years ago.
Waiheke Island has some beautiful scenes... on my evening walk.
I am on Waiheke Island away from responsibilities in Dunedin. Building a workshop/spare room with my son among the poles under the front of his house has kept me active. As well as this I have been enjoying reading and walking in my spare time. I read Fred Hollow's autobiography and have been reading "Varieties of Religious Experience", a very old and long book by William James. It is often quoted and I have dived into it from time to time over the years, but now I have decided to read it cover to cover.  It is written in old style english being the result of Gifford lectures he gave. It is quite heavy going, but I have found it has prompted my own thinking on issues of "religion".  On facebook I saw the quotations below on the subject of religion and I warmed to them. I simply share them with you.  Tomorrow is our last full day here on the island, on Sunday night we fly out of Auckland headed for Edinburgh, and another son, daughter-in-law and grandson there.

 In response to this, some body shared the following: - The Dalai Lama is always asked, "I want to follow your teachings and become a Buddhist." He always replies " the world has enough Buddhists, the world does not have enough compassion. Become compassionate." ... Amen! 

Monday, June 9, 2014

"It's raining... great!" .. not the centre of the world.

Grand daughter Edith with her new brother Stanley.

We have been filling drinking water containers from this tap at a local picnic ground. 
These big, twisted, well spread old trees are everywhere. This one on our Sunday walk.

Beautiful Rain
We have been staying in our van at our son and daughter-in-law's place on Waiheke Island just off the Auckland coast in NZ. With a subtropical climate it is a nice place to be as autumn turns toward winter. But it has a problem. It does not get enough rain. Everybody has their own tank and if Waiheke goes through a dry spell, tanks can run dry. When we first moved here the tank here ran dry and they had to buy in water to exist.  We began showering every second day (whether we needed it or not) :-) at a cottage owned by Dominican Sisters around the road. (with permission) Its tanks were fairly full because it is used infrequently. Our van which has been our bedroom had to go to a garage to get a Warrant Of Fitness check (A NZ requirement) so we have now moved into the cottage. A check of my son's water tank over the weekend found the water level had dropped significantly. Last night I heard the rain start, very heavy rain and for once I was thankful. We often growl about rain, but we really do need it! We should be thankful for it more often. I had Aussie friends visiting once. They gushed about how green the landscape was. The next breath they grumped about the rain. My comment was, "To have the green landscapes, you need the rain." Today, even though I have been working in the rain, I am thankful for it. It will be adding to the house water supply.
A steep learning curve.
My two year old grand daughter is on a steep learning curve. She is very bright and active and has been a delight. But she has a new brother. Since his arrival there have been a few bad tempered little tantrums.  She has had the run of the house for two years, with two doting parents and heaps of attention. She is having to learn suddenly that she is not the centre of the universe. She is learning and the tantrums are becoming less. She is coping, which is pretty good really. Among some people I know there are a number who are decades older who have not yet learned that they are not the centre of the universe... and sometimes I must confess I am one of those.  We are interesting animals. 
Our project
My son and I have been working on a project. Building a workshop/spare room among the poles under their house.  We have generally got on well except when we have a difference of opinion about how things should go.... or when I make a mistake in measuring. (It is a pain getting old and unable to see as well without glasses.)  I am a bush carpenter... a bit rough. My son works at providing assistance doing installations at the Auckland art gallery and is very particular. We are using mostly old scrap timber which means the job takes a lot longer as we search out appropriate timber, clean it up and sometimes resize it. I am truly impressed with my son's abilities.  I have done a lot of building, but his skills leave me for dead. There are somethings I have learned from experience, but he has patience and is very good at problem solving.  I have been working alone today, he is back at work. He will inspect my work when he comes home. I hope it is acceptable!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Night Shelter in the Newspaper

Photo by Dan Brown, Edinburgh.
Apart from one or two little inaccuracies, I thought this was a good article by Bruce Munro in the Otago Daily Times, introducing people to a few Dunedin Night Shelter users. It is headed up: 

In From The Cold

They are united with each other by a lack of other options and with all of us by humanity's frailty. But each of the hundreds of men and women who every year pass through the doors of the Dunedin Night Shelter has their own affecting story. Here are four of them.
His first stint at the Dunedin Night Shelter, late last year, was not his first in the city. Thirty years ago, as a driven young man headed for a lucrative career as an investment adviser, he taught at two high schools in the city and tutored at the university.
Rex (not his real name) grew up in Christchurch. After graduation and teacher training, he taught for three years in Dunedin, married, did a postgraduate diploma at the University of Otago and then worked for the Government as a natural resources adviser.
Rex then wrote and taught an economics course for a polytechnic before beginning a decade in Wellington handling a bank's investment clients.
He owned two houses and travelled overseas two or three times a year.
''I was very much a materialist,'' he says, one hand repeating a nervous twitch every half-minute or so.
''I was very egotistical. I didn't care how I got what I wanted, as long as I got it.''
Seeing him sitting here in baggy, well-worn top and tracksuit pants, the distance between the two realities seems astronomical.
The seeds of his downfall were sown early. He started drinking young, but was sober for long periods, too. Triggers such as work stress and the break-up of his marriage, however, saw him repeatedly reaching for his ''solution''.
When the February 2011 earthquake struck Christchurch, Rex was living in an inner-city backpackers hostel. Several of the Japanese students killed when the CTV building collapsed had also been living at the hostel.
''About a year later, I started hearing their voices and seeing their faces,'' Rex says, tears in his eyes.
''I felt embarrassed so I didn't tell anyone. I thought it would go away, but it didn't. I was drinking heavily because that would make it go away.''
Rex was wearing the same clothes when he arrived in Dunedin in November, a dishevelled suffering alcoholic, homeless but desperate to be in the city should a spot became available on the Salvation Army's residential drug and alcohol addiction Bridge Programme.
After almost a week sleeping rough, it was suggested to him that he try the night shelter.
''I hadn't considered it because I thought it was for people in need,'' he says.
In addition to free meals twice a day, the shelter's real boon was a shower.
''I think I'd been starting to smell.''
He gratefully stayed three weeks either side of the eight-week Bridge programme, which proved transformative.
As well as receiving counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder, he had a spiritual experience during the programme which gave him hope and a new outlook.
''I'm still anti-religion, but I do believe in a higher power.''
Rex is now flatting, attending daily Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and is looking for work.
''I actually feel quite blessed I'm an alcoholic, because this has changed my perspective completely. I now love to help others.''
THREE minutes into the interview, talking to Bobby (not his real name) has become almost impossible.
''How long have you been using those?''
No answer.
''Do you know how long you've been smoking synthetic highs?''
Pause. ''A couple years,'' he replies.
''Have you been using other drugs as well?''
''Hmm.'' A slight nod.
''The Kronic's been quite a strong habit, has it?''
No answer. Bobby is staring straight at me. It is impossible to know whether asking the question again will help or hinder.
It is like talking on a really bad telephone line to someone on the other side of the world.
''You feel you need to use it all the time?''
Long pause. Then, ''What, sorry?''
''The Kronic. You feel the need to use it all the time?''
It had started quite well. Bobby, tall, bearded and 34 years old, had ambled into the room accompanied by Dunedin Night Shelter manager Ian McAuliffe.
Introductions, then: ''Where were you born and raised?''
''I was adopted at one week old,'' Bobby replies. ''I never knew my birth mother. I was adopted pretty much as soon as they could organise it.''
Music was his favourite subject at school. Raised on an Otago farm, he wanted to become a contract tractor driver.
The drinking began when he was about 15 and smoking dope when he was 17, he said.
He was not sure what he would do now synthetic cannabis had been made illegal.
By now, questions and answers were drifting further apart.
''How many nights have you spent here at the shelter?''
Pause. ''It's been ...''
''Three nights. And three nights last weekend,'' Ian offers.
''I had a flat. The landlord was very particular,'' Bobby says.
''I'd always do the same thing. I'd get paid and I'd go to the Kronic shop. I couldn't control myself. I got asked to leave.''
The remaining questions are mostly answered by Ian, while Bobby sits ... staring.
BEVAN felt like a bit of a fraud staying at the night shelter. Sure, he would have been sleeping rough if that man at the Oval in Princes St had not told him there was a night shelter just up the road.
But he was used to that. Staying here with the likes of a former inmate and a drug addict made him feel like he was ''taking advantage''.
''I'm chuffed, but I don't think I qualify,'' he said.
Bevan (26) was raised in a coastal village in Taranaki.
He got into a few scrapes when he was younger. When he was 20 he blew an astonishing 1200-plus micrograms per litre of breath on a traffic officer's breathalyser, losing his driver's licence permanently. But he learned from his mistakes.
He worked as a butcher, a slaughterman, an arboriculturist and a commercial fisherman. The work took him throughout New Zealand.
Then, in 2012, he was diagnosed with an unusual type of insulin-dependent diabetes. After more than one experience of losing consciousness and being unable to explain, he got a tattoo covering the inside of his right forearm.
''Diabolic diabetic 1.5,'' it declares in no uncertain terms.
Finding his energy levels quickly depleted and told he could no longer work but unwilling to go on the dole, Bevan opted to go bush.
He now spends months at a time in forests around Wanganui and on the South Island West Coast hunting, trapping, fossicking and voluntarily clearing tramping tracks.
He enjoys the time on his own and has his dogs for company when he is up north.
''They don't answer back and they don't ask for smokes all the time,'' he says.
Bevan had begun a hitching circuit of the South Island, on his way to the West Coast, when he lost his wallet last week.
''We had a few beersies in Oamaru. And the next day, when I got to Dunedin I couldn't find my wallet anywhere.''
Without money and looking for cover for the night, he was directed to the night shelter.
''It's been primo. Mean feeds, mean beds and they've been very welcoming,'' he said.
A couple of nights at the shelter gave him time to organise for his bank to send a replacement money card.
The next day he would be on his way.
''They've been great. I hope at some point I can give them something back.''
''MY father was an alcoholic, even though he tells the world he's not,'' Rachel states matter-of-factly.
Rachel is recounting her experience of homelessness, mental illness and the potentially life-saving role played by a Dunedin Night Shelter manager.
''In fact, my father was a raging alcoholic at one stage. And I lost my mother at the age of 9. It wasn't easy,'' the Christchurch-raised 33-year-old says quietly.
As she talks, she is often looking at her lap, remembering how it was, but giving the occasional flash of bright, intelligent eyes.
Rachel made it to the end of sixth form. A loner, but with a surrogate family of like-minded peers. The lurking depression bit hard when her daughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
''It was the knowing that every day I had with her was one less day before she died.''
Her daughter died in 2007. Rachel was admitted to hospital and medicated. In 2008, she moved to Picton.
She worked there on fishing boats and as a data analyst. But it was not long before she was in an extremely controlling relationship.
''Being told every day where I can and can't go, what I can and can't do.''
She finally left two months ago, busing to Dunedin for a fresh start and to be closer to where her son was staying with his father.
When the relationship with her Mosgiel host soured after a couple of weeks, Rachel found herself on the street.
''Not knowing anyone or having anywhere to go was really tough.''
For several nights she slept rough, the anxiety and depression mounting.
''It's the mental state that being homeless puts you in that's the worst part.
''I didn't feel like I had anything or anyone. It got to the point where I thought just maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I didn't wake up tomorrow. You know things are really bad when you get to that point.''
Fortunately, she contacted the night shelter and spoke to women's manager Lee-Anne McAuliffe.
''She just made me feel so relieved.
''I actually looked forward to going [to the shelter], not just knowing I now had somewhere to put my head down, but that I would have someone to talk to, which is what I was really longing for ... so I could try and get myself sorted.''
The next morning Lee-Anne took Rachel to Dunedin Hospital's Emergency Psychiatric Services and sat talking to her for about seven hours until she could be seen by a doctor.
The next two weeks were spent in care at Wakari's Ward 9C.
It is now a month since Rachel shifted into a place of her own. Her son has come to live with her.
She is taking daily medication, attending a mental health day programme, and thinking about the future.
''I'm not feeling depressed; it's minimal. Life's in a good place now,'' she says.
''I'm at a stage where I can build my life the way I need to build it. It's a whole new start.''

Gimme shelter
An almost 50% increase in bed-nights is the sort of problem most accommodation providers would love to have. But not the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust.
The trust which provides emergency short-term accommodation has seen a 46% increase in demand during the past 12 months, acting chairman Kevin Tansley says.
''For several months during that period we've had more than 100 bed-nights a month,'' he says.
''We get locals, transients, men, women and children, released prisoners, students thrown out of their flat, men who have suffered from domestic violence ... Every possible combination you can think of, we've probably had one or a dozen through the shelter.''
The trust, founded 10 years ago, does not receive any government funding, relying instead on donations and grants, board member John Le Brun says.
''So in that way, our services can be at risk. Keeping the door open is a monthly challenge,'' he says.
To put its services on a surer footing, the trust wants to buy the inner-city property it rents. The site has two houses; the roadside, five-bedroom night shelter, and, on the back of the property, Phoenix Lodge, which provides short- to medium-term accommodation for people motivated to make changes.
A successful $650,000 fundraising campaign would allow the trust to buy the property and create on-site office space.
Some significant donations have already been pledged. But they are conditional on the campaign gaining support and momentum.
''We are looking for widespread community support from people who are sympathetic to the issue of homelessness in Dunedin,'' Mr Tansley said.
Want to know more? For more information about the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust's One Bite fundraising campaign visit  www.dunedinnightshelter.co.nz/One_Bite

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Stanley's world

My son and his family the day Stanley was born. 

Stanley Arthur Brown
Older sister Edith
I can now share photos and a name...
My daughter-in-law put the following on her face book page with a photo.

Introducing Mr. Stanley Arthur Brown. Born by water birth at 5 minutes past midnight on May 31st, weighing in at a healthy 3.98kg (8 pounds 12 ounces). Mother and baby doing well, and Daddy and Edith pretty chuffed 

So let me introduce you to my latest grandson. He came into the world four days ago.
As I held my grandson I got to wondering what sort of world will he live in?
- We are already feeling the impact of global warming. 95% (I think) of scientists conclude that we as a human race are contributing to this. There will be ongoing impacts on life an d lifestyle as little Stanley grows up.
- What will family life be like for people when young Stanley reaches adulthood. We were reading some old children's book to his older sister. They were books about a child's experience of the birth of a brother or sister and they were books my now forty year old had when he was a two year old. The assumed "family" was a married mum and dad. But even now the "family" experienced by many children growing up is very different from this once assumed norm.  This book could be classed as very un P.C. in today's world. Stanley's older sister had a birthday party a week or so ago. A beautiful little girl attended with her very lovely and pleasant mother. This lady was chatting about her partner and I soon learned that her partner was a woman. I'm OK with that, but that is a big change from when this family book was written. By the time Stanley grows and as an adult shares in a family, there will be many more different types of family in the community. 
- I worry about the morality of the future. I do not mean that I worry about "sex outside marriage", swearing, or these sort of moral conventions. But what sort of measuring stick or guidelines will be around for Stanley. I am intrigued. I am workplace chaplain for an historical brewery in Dunedin and have been chaplain to a very old newspaper. Both places have recently installed lockable doors and gates around their premises and various security measures. Is it an indicator that our society has got less safe? For well over 100 years both firms have operated with open driveways. Now, because of an increase in theft and probably more likely, vandalism, they need to install lockable gates and doors. Our political parties now are hard to follow. Once principled, they now seem to change their mind according to popular perceptions. There tends to be the same measure applied to how we behave. If "everyone does it" it must be OK. We are learning that top cricketers can be swayed to cheat given enough money. Leading politicians have been found out and seen to be fudging the lines of honesty and integrity. How will Stanley measure what is right and wrong, what is of value and not of value? The Church in New Zealand has little and will have less and less impact. I am not saying all of it's moral teachings have been good, but at least the "way" and "spirit" of Jesus was kept alive by the Church. How will Stanley know the great "Golden Rule"? (Present in at least 26 major religions) 
- There will be incredible technological progress in the world. I worked on our building project yesterday by myself. I did not even get out the electric power saw. The things I cut I did with a hand saw. I took apart a machine with a hand screw driver.  Today my forty year old son was back working with me. I noticed the first thing he did was get out and set up electric saws.  He pulled the same machine apart, but he used a drill screw driver to do the job. The technological differences between my generation and that of my children are big, but Stanley will use technology that has not yet been invented, that would completely boggle my mind. Jobs open to him have not been invented yet. Life will be VERY different for him.

It will be interesting. If I am lucky I may get to see Stanley turn fifteen. Given my genetics it is unlikely. But this I know the world he grows into will be very different from mine.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Peace and non-peace in paradise.

Blackpool Beach.
Leisure boats in numbers for the Queens Birthday long weekend.  Off Little Oneroa Beach.
My beat up old van. We carted plywood and planks for our project this morning. We will sleep in it as our bedroom tonight. 
"Emi" our Hungarian "daughter".
We slept apart
The main reason we are staying here with my son, daughter-in-law and grand daughter Edith, is that we are to be here as "support crew" when a child is born. Well on Friday evening my daughter-in-law put her two year old daughter to bed, then her and my son caught the ferry over to Auckland to go to the hospital. The baby was well overdue and after a scan the medical staff had said it was time to have the baby. So my wife slept upstairs to keep an eye on our grand daughter, while I slept in the van under the house. The baby was born shortly after mid night and at sometime after 1 a.m. I received a text from my wife, who was in bed on the couch on the floor above me, to pass on my son's text that "he was out".  Our mission was to look after the two year old.
Big adventure
On Saturday we were asked to bring the two year old (Edith) over to the Auckland hospital to visit her mother, meet her little brother and catch up on her dad. After her early afternoon nap we got her up, fed her, packed a back pack with all the stuff a two year old needs, and headed down to the ferry. We thought we had left in plenty of time. Our instructions were that we were to take one of the family cars (because it had a child's seat in it) down to the ferry terminal and find a park to leave it in.  We were then to locate the other family car left there on Friday evening, unlock it to get a child's buggy out of the back, before heading to the terminal, get our tickets and board the ferry. We ended up having to park quite a distance from the terminal. We got to the other car, retrieved the buggy, set it up, but not correctly. At that point we discovered my wife had left her hand bag in the first car. I let her head to the terminal pushing this incorrectly set up buggy, while I ran back to the car to retrieve the handbag. I caught her up just before the terminal. The ferry had arrived and it's discharged passengers were clogging the footpath as we raced toward the ticket counter. The woman handed over the tickets and with a smile on her face said, "You have just under two minutes!" "Plenty of time!" I threw back at her with a cheeky grin. "Yeah - have a nap on the way!" she shot back as we gathered all our things and rushed away.  We were about the second last passengers on the ferry, they shut the gate behind us.  We flopped down in a seat for the half-hour ride. Then, in a strange city, we had to find the right bus to get to the hospital and get off at the correct stop. What a mission! We were pleased to see my son at the bus stop ready to take us to meet his new son.  Coming home we were not as rushed and much more confident, though keeping a tired two year old happy on a ferry for half an hour in the dark is a challenge. I quietly sang to her, but had some funny looks from people nearby. I find I am enjoying spending time with my bright, hyper-active two year old grand daughter.  We seem to "get" each other and we are becoming good mates. Being a grand parent has nice moments.  When I touched my new grandson's hand as he lay in his hospital crib, he opened his eyes, wrapped his little fingers around my finger, looked at me awhile and shut his eyes again, still holding my hand. I know it is a reflex action, and that his eyes are not really focused, but it does feel special. 
Waiheke Island is a lovely place, with lovely looking idilic bays. The permanent population is 7 - 8 thousand people. It goes up considerably in holiday times. There is a real mixture of people. Some of the richest people in NZ have homes on Waiheke. There are wineries and olive groves with palatial homes associated with them. Then at the other extreme there are poor beneficiaries. There are alternative lifestyle type people and many people who commute to Auckland for work each day.  It has quite a nice community feel to it and people seem to adopt a laid back lifestyle. But even here there are sad signs of human conflict. I was walking past a house on one of my walks and could hear abusive screaming of a man toward his children. Filthy language flowed freely, and a woman and a child screamed in response. As far as I could tell there was no physical violence, but it seemed odd in this house with all the trappings of an idilic lifestyle. When we came back from Auckland on Saturday night we came out of the ferry terminal and there was a group of young men. Obviously lubricated by alcohol they were screaming at one another, again filthy language flowing. They had their fists up and were threatening, and swinging, though no punches landed while we were around, but I think it got more serious after we passed. I walked out toward them with my two year old grand daughter in a buggy. I decided to cross the road, she did not need to be distressed by this event. Tonight in the early evening I walked down to the beach. The sun was setting over the ocean, making the scene look very beautiful. Yet in two houses I passed, people were screaming at one another! It seemed out of place and really sad in such peaceful surroundings. 
On the positive side I passed a bay, where even at 5 p.m. at night families were at play in the playground and on the beach. Couples were dawdling through the trees hand in hand. An elderly couple sat on a park bench leaning against one another taking in the scene. At another beach a family were having a picnic tea at a table by the beach, laughing and sharing amongst themselves. A couple of pairs of "elderly" cyclists came past and gave a cheery greeting to me, a fellow elderly exerciser.  This afternoon shop keepers talked warmly with us. To balance out the violence and conflict, there are loving, friendly scenes. Oh that we could all embrace friendly, responsible caring ways of relating. What a sad world! ... and yet "What a wonderful world!" 
"...meet at St Andrew Street."
We have a Hungarian friend who used to help us out at St Andrew St Church of Christ Community. We grew very fond of her and she called us her NZ "Mum" and "Dad". She is now back in Hungary, but when I emailed her to tell her we were coming to Edinburgh she is keen to come and meet us there. "Wouldn't it be funny" she writes,"to meet on the corner of St Andrew Street in Edinburgh?"  Dunedin, New Zealand was settled by people from Scotland who used Edinburgh street names in their new city. It is often called "The Edinburgh of the South." We are looking forward to catching up.