Friday, February 27, 2009

Earthrace Visits Revas Restaurant

One of the nice aspects of living in Whangarei if you are a person like myself interested in boats and the sea is the huge number of varied and interesting craft that pass through every year. Whangarei is an internationally known stop off point for people voyaging around the world. Every year Northland is visited by hundreds of world voyagers. Many visit Whangarei - many for overhauls and refits. Studies have shown that this traffic is worth about $30 million to the local economy.

From time to time some very unusual and interesting craft visit. The 'Earthrace' is one of these. This first photograph shows Earthrace moored outside Revas Restaurant last weekend. When I went on board to take a look and take photographs some of the crew (see photo above) were sitting happily on top of Earthrace devouring a couple of huge pizzas from Revas!

If you do a Google on Earthrace you will be able to find out in detail more information. Most of the information below has been obtained from the the Earthrace Web page.

In June 2008, the amazing Earthrace vessel set a new world record for a powerboat to circle the globe, and she did this with 100% renewable bio diesel fuel, and a net zero carbon footprint. The voyage was over 24,000 nautical miles, and took 60 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes, smashing the old record by over two weeks.

Earthrace is a 24m (78ft) tri-hull wave piercer that has been designed and built specifically to get the record for a powerboat to circumnavigate the globe. She is an advanced endurance vessel, capable of submarining up to 7m (23ft) underwater as she powers across oceans. One journalist recently reported "Earthrace is like a rally car but for oceans, with her ability to handle rough seas and storm conditions at high speed."

There are a many features that stand out on Earthrace. Firstly the distinctive horns. These are actually ducts. Hot air from around the engines is expelled out the top of these, while cool air is sucked through the lower channel and funnelled under the engines. This however is not powered, it runs simply by convection. In big seas (waves over 8m (26ft)) the horns get submerged, however any water ingress is ducted out the sides automatically. Also, because Earthrace is only underwater for a few seconds at a time, the engine bay holds enough air to keep the 1080hp of Cummins Mercruiser engine roaring along.

Another feature about Earthrace is her unusual appearance, especially the extremely narrow hulls and flowing lines. She has this shape to allow her to pass easily through waves, rather than riding over the top like conventional designs.
The range of Earthrace depends on speed. At 6 knots she can go an incredible 13,000nm (24,000km) on one tank of bio diesel. That's over half way around the globe! Of course your crew gets grumpy at 6kn when you're in such a high speed vessel. At 25 knots she has a range of about 2,000nm (3,700km).

Well shipmates if you are feeling like splashing out and throwing caution to the wind in these straitened economic times and would like to buy her - you can - for she is for sale for a cool US$1.5 million - Hmmmm, tempting? - But for myself I think that sort of money would buy a house in both hemispheres complete with a small yacht moored close by so that we could live a sort of endless summer (a sort of yachtee version of that surfie movie 'Endless Summer' ) - I will leave the sophisticated Earthrace to others.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Wally Brown (2) - The Island That Didn't Exist

If I was a pirate I would probably be looking at a map of an island with a big red X marks the spot on it. X being the spot where the treasure is buried. But I am not a pirate (yet). I am a small boat sailor and all my charts have a multitude of X's marked on them. The X's are like kisses at the end of a letter or an email to someone you love. These X's on my charts mark special places, special anchorages, special memories. These anchorages are enduring places, always waiting for the happy sailor to return to. But I do know of a chart that has a very big X marked on it - just like the one a pirate would be looking at, and the treasure that X marks is both a geographic place and an enchanted memory.

I am looking at a chart at the moment (NZ 6321) of Lyttelton Harbour. If you use your index finger and start at the quays in Lyttleton and trace your way Eastward towards the Pacific Ocean turning around Adderley Head on your starboard hand (right for landlubbers) you will find Port Levy. Ease the mainsail and the jib sheet now and sail your finger about half way up the bay and to starboard of your finger you will find a tiny little island called Pukerauaruhe. Years ago this island was called Browns Island as it belonged to our old shipmate Wally Brown. It also had another name written but unspoken in the sensibilities of a young sailor boy - its name was Enchantment and the young sailor boy was me.

If you look in the above photograph you can see Browns Island (Pukerauruhe) on the port hand side (left for landlubbers) out towards the head of the bay. It appears as a small dark little island close to the shore.

Many many years ago circa 1920 a young Wally Brown had been sailing his little 20 foot yacht the Senorita around the bays when he came across the island. It is easy to miss as you sail up the bay because the island is close to the shore and tends to merge in with the background hills. But Wally was sailing close by. He liked what he saw and immediately anchored and went ashore. Already his imagination was soaring with ideas and plans - a cascade of 'what ifs'. He knew what he had to do.
On Monday of the next week Wally went to what was in those days the New Zealand Lands and Surveys Department and inquired about purchasing the island.
"Can't be done" said the sharp little clerk.
"Why not? " said Wally.
"Because" said the clerk looking towards the queue of people waiting, "The island is not on our Lands and Survey map therefore it doesn't exist! - Sorry, next! "
" Now hang on a minute mate," said Wally. "It does exist, I know because I was standing on it two days ago - yes that's right, I was there. An island is an island, it just doesn't up anchor and sail away you know - the island exists all right"
"Ok," said the clerk, who despite his sharp manner, the shiny bottom on his sit-a-lot clerk pants and his rather frightening moustache (that made the pencils on his desk stand to attention) was sensing an out of office experience.
"If you can show me the island, I will see what I can do."
They sailed the next day for Port Levy. ("Can't go on the weekend, must take mother shopping and finish my book on Canadian Grain Silos").
The outcome of all this was that a very long lease was taken out on the island and Wally began building his little bach - transporting all the materials down the harbour on the little ship Senorita.
The irony of the all this is that when Wally passed away many, many years later (he was nearly a hundred - which shows that sailing, having a house with a gorgeous little attic room, a real dosey of a blokes shed, a ships mast in your front garden to fly flags on and an engine in your boat with no gearbox correlates strongly with longevity) --- as I was saying the irony of all this is that when he died and his sons wanted to renew the lease, they were refused and a long and convoluted explanation, liberally and inextricably interwoven with large amounts of goats mature was given as to why the authorities had to tear down the bach and return everything to it natural state - ironic given that in the beginning the island was deemed nonexistent.
This is Wallys island which I photographed with my trusty little camera from the Murare's dinghy. With the tide fully in there was not a lot of land area. All the trees and vegetation were planted by Wally. You can see his little bach in among the trees. The windmill on the right was used to charge truck batteries which were used for lighting purposes. Beyond the windmill and out of sight is a long jetty. At the head of the jetty was a big wheel with a crank handle. When he left the island Wally would crank the jetty up like a drawbridge.
The island in the early 1930s. A rudimentary jetty can be seen and the beginnings of pine tree growth which years later dominated the island and provided shelter and pine cones for the open fire.
If you look closely at the roof you can see that there are some very big rocks on the roofing iron. These rocks were used to help hold down the corrugated iron roof in furious winter gales.
The inside of the bach was very rough and rudimentary. The walls were covered with newspapers, glued on the walls as wallpaper.
From the right the people are My dad, Wally Brown and an unknown friend of Wallys. I took this photo myself some time in the 1960s.

The island is still there in Port Levy. An island doesn't up anchor and sail away like a yacht. So maybe one day when I am a pirate I will look on map NZ 6321 and see a big red X drawn on Browns Island and remember that heart beating enchantment of a young sailor boy. I will sail there in my little pirate yawl called Crackling Rosie and wade ashore with my peg leg and my parrot called Malarkey cussing on my shoulder. I will raise the skull and crossbones on a replica of the mast Wally once had in his front garden to fly flags and claim the island as an independent state.
I shall live there and entertain wandering Sirens, mermaids and assorted dusky maidens - I think that's the most a pirate could do in the circumstances.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wally Brown (1)

Myself, Wallace Brown and my father. Lyttleton Harbour 1962?

Memories from the past often seem to me like the night sky - much of what has happened to us has faded from our consciousness or receded like galaxies beyond the sight of the naked eye. But some memories shine like bright, bright stars on a moonless night. These memory stars pierce our consciousness not only because the events have been seared deeply within the biological apparatus of the brain but because they have also been written upon our hearts. As a young sailor I had experiences that form great memories of a sailing friend of my fathers - an interesting and kind man who included a keen young boy not as a passenger but as one of the crew.
Wallace (Wally) Brown was a character whose yacht Murare (Maori for Tramp or Wanderer) my father crewed on for nearly 20 years. I liked that because it meant that I got to go sailing often with my father and Wally, and it provided a good contrast to all the sailing I did in my P Class yacht.
Wally lived in New Brighton Road not far from the Smith Clans house. If someone had ever come and asked me for directions to his house, this is what I would have said. "Continue down Pages Road East towards the sea. When you come to the New Brighton Bridge turn hard left and follow the river along New Brighton Road. You will soon see his house. You can't miss it - it has a very tall white ships mast, resplendent with a yardarm and gaff and rigging on the front lawn. There will probably be a flag flying somewhere on the mast."
I remember Wally flying a flag at half mast on the death of President Kennedy in 1963 - and when I think of that I think of what a piece of originality that mast in the garden was, and how unlikely in such a conservative place as Christchurch in the 1960s.

I loved old Wally's house. It had a small attic window in the roof belonging to a little attic room - very comfortable and shipshape it was to - it was small and warm and cosy just like a small yachts cabin - every real home should have one. On the back of the section was the quintessential and archetypical blokes shed. The shed was laden with tools, timber, dinghies, masts, old sails, boating gear and paraphernalia of such abundance that it all hung like grapes on a vine in a bumper year - the very roof sagged with it all.
I have many, many memory stars about my sailing days on the Murare. Here are a few of them that shine brightly for me all these years later and make me smile.
If you look in the photograph you will see that my father and I are wearing jackets to keep out the cold Easterly wind. Look closer at the photograph and take a look at what Wally is wearing. He has on a jersey (sweater) with a lot of holes in it - but don't be fooled, he has on three or four jerseys. As Wally said, "Why throw away something just because it has a few holes in it. I keep all my old jerseys and wear them on the boat. Holes in different jerseys are never in the same place so if I wear three or four of them all the holes get covered and I keep warm and save the price of a new one." - such words were the wisdom nectar of an oracle to a young impressionable sailor like me and is probably why to this day I find it hard to throw anything away.
The good ship Murare was small by today's standards but made a good little weekend yacht for exploring and racing around the bays and inlets of Banks Peninsula. She was a good little sailor with only one vice - and that was the engine.
The engine was an old 'Rugby' engine. It was fitted with a direct drive shaft - no gearbox. This meant that there was no reverse gear and no neutral. When the engine was going the propeller was turning. If you wanted to stop going forward you turned the engine off.
This mechanical fact made for some interesting and exciting entrances onto the pile moorings in Lyttleton harbour. A very fine judgement had to be made as to when to turn the engine off and let the momentum of the yacht move her with just the right amount of forward speed onto the mooring. If the wind was blowing hard and the water was rough this judgement became critical. Too little speed and the boat would end up getting blown off course, too much speed and you were liable to overshoot the mooring and crash into another moored yacht. It was a manoeuvre that took much skill and many were the times when there was a lot of grabbing of ropes and shouting and pulling as the crew attempted to slow the yachts speed. I remember a lot of action but no disasters.
There is another story that would be hard to forget because it was told every time I went on board. Wally would be making a pot of tea. He would give me the teapot and he would say. "Throw that overboard me lad" - then there was a pause - a pause that became a familiar part of the ritual - "Just the tea leaves mind, NOT the whole teapot" - then came the punchline always delivered with a smile and a chuckle - " Once had a young fella on board and I said to him, throw this overboard meaning the tea leaves and he threw the whole bloody tea pot in the drink! lid and all." That was the cue for me to laugh and I would laugh gladly, happy to be talked to as a shipmate and friend.
There were many stories that he told - about being gored by a bull, crossing the Tasman Sea as a young man on the square rigger 'Huia', of working as a trouble shooter with the MED Electricity Department - " If that electricity meter in the hallway of the house had got smashed the way that fella said it did, a large piece of wood must have flown off the axe, turned right angles in mid air, flown up the hallway and turned right angles twice again, bloke musta thought I was bloody daft or something!"

But there is one story that I have left to the very last. It is one of the best things about Wally Brown, or so it seemed to a young boy, obsessed with sailing, a devourer of books about sailing and raised on the fictional tales of Arthur Ransomes 'Swallows and Amazons' books. You see my shipmates - Wally had an island all of his own. A real island. A living and breathing New Zealand small bach kind of Island - A small sailor boy gasping in wonder and delight island. A real fair dinkum island that taught me that reality is always better than the fantasy, no matter how slick a fiction writers skills.
The Island is still there in Port Levy which is one of the long deep bays on Banks Peninsula in the South Island of New Zealand - And that island has its own story which I will tell you about in my next post.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Local Circumnavigation

My sea kayak has been loaded onto the trusty rusty Honda and I am off to circumnavigate Limestone Island which is a local bird sanctuary. I am interested in seeing close up the native bushes that I helped plant many years ago on a DOC (Department of Conservation) volunteer planting day. I wasn't disappointed. All the native bushes and trees that had been planted seemed to be big and bushy and thriving.

In the background of the first photo is the very lovely Cygnet - she is feeling jealous, - " Don't get too comfortable with that slim, sleek bimbo of a kayak" she says - " Just remember who it is that's got a mast and a sail." - "Of course I won't forget," I reply - " Us sailors always stick together don't we?" - This seems to satisfy her and she gives me a wink. That's the way it is with P class yachts - beautiful but stroppy.

At Onerahi I back the Honda down the launching ramp. Limestone Island is in the background.

I could afford to buy myself some sort of very flash car - but I am not really a car person. I like cars and value them and use them every day but I have a tendency not to look after them very well - I mean, I put the petrol in them and get them serviced and all that sort of thing - but I don't spend a lot of time polishing them or ogling them. I prefer to polish and ogle something that is really worthy - something that floats, runs down wind like smoke and has a tiller to hold.
AND - I have found that a car that is not looked after and polished and cleaned too much has a lot of advantages. I will never lose this car in a supermarket car park. I will always be able to find it. All have to do is look for the dirty charcoal coloured Honda Accord with the dent in the back, the dungery old roof rack and the bird droppings on the bonnet - easy peasy!

Speaking of birds - these oyster catchers were on the beach at Limestone Island. By the time I got there the wind was up and a light drizzle of rain had started. The oyster catchers were facing into the wind and had tucked their long bills under their wings.
"Gidday Kiwis" I called.
"Humrpff" they replied, "We aren't Kiwis, we are Oyster Catchers!"
"Yes you are," I said. "Everyone who is born in New Zealand is a Kiwi !"
"Oh," they said, put their heads under their wings and went back to sleep.

Limestone Island is not very big and it only takes about 40 minutes of paddling to get right round. It used to have a quarry on it and also a brick works. I am glad it is now a reserve. Over the years I have seen a change in the landscape as the bush returns. Being isolated from the mainland means the Kiwi and other native birds that are released on the island have - in conjunction with a predator eradication programme - a fighting chance of survival.

On the south side of the island are the remains of the old brick works. To the right of the brick works and on the foreshore are the remains of the "Tiri" an old boat that was a famous pirate radio station during the 1970s in New Zealand. In those days there were no private radio station licenses. The Tiri anchored far offshore just inside International waters and broadcast popular music to Auckland listeners. The radio station was successful but did have the unhappy tendency to break free or drag her anchors during very bad weather and there is a long history of dramas and near sinkings. I can't remember the full story of her demise (that is your Google Homework for the week dear readers - teachers like me have a tendency to set homework) but she ended her days as a hulk here in Whangarei harbour on the shores of Limestone Island.

Back in the car with the kayak on the roof rack. I just manage to beat the very heavy rain. I then try an experimental photograph. If I smile very, very, very hard like this it pulls the double chin around my neck upwards in a great gravity defying feat of elasticity - the result being that it makes me look at least three days younger than I really am, not something to be sniffed at when you are 57 - cunning aren't I?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


A 44 gallon drum has been cut longitudinally and mounted on a steel frame. At one end is a pipe that projects from the end of the drum with a tap on it. Underneath and furiously heating the drum is a big fire. In the drum are ingots of lead. In the first photograph you can see that most of the lead has melted and is forming a shiny silver lake in the drum. The year is 1978 and I am casting the 2 ton lead keel for the good ship 'Mariner'.

The second photograph describes visually the logic of the operation. The lead is melted. The tap is opened and the molten lead flows down the little chute and into the mould which is held in the ground and is set in concrete. It is a straight forward process that can be dangerous but generally goes well if you are well prepared and have thought the process through before hand.

Nothing could go wrong could it?

When the big jumble of grey lead ingots became a lake of silver I turned the tap on the pipe that projected from the end of the drum - nothing happened. I turned the tap on and off and then in true Kiwi style I hit it with a hammer - nothing happened. I knew what the problem was. There was solid lead in the pipe from a previous casting, blocking the pipe.

I ran to the phone and called the boatyard who had loaned me the casting drum.

" %$#(*&^)#$%$#(*&!!!!!??? " I yelled down the phone.

" Use a blowlamp to heat the pipe and the tap, that will melt the lead and unblock the pipe " they replied.

"And by the way" they said.

"yes?" I said.

"@##%^&*!@#$%%#!!!!!! " they yelled.

I didn't have a blowlamp but there were a few blokey blokes in the neighbourhood who might have. So off I went running and banging on doors asking to borrow a blowlamp. One can only imagine what must have been running through the minds of those poor people confronted by a young man with a wild staring look and grubby face gasping the word "blowlamp?" in their face. No one rang the police, but no one had a blowlamp that I could use.

Dejected I began returning to the flaming site. A hundred or so metres from home I heard a roaring sound. Turning the corner I saw a beautiful river of silver cascading down the little chute and into the mould in the ground.

I doubt whether the great Peter Snell would have beaten me over the last hundred metres.

What had happened was this. While I was away a large pile of burning wood had fallen forwards under the tap and pipe and the heat had quickly melted the lead. Because I had left the tap open the lead just flowed out of the drum.

By the time I arrived back the keel mould was about three quarters full. The whole casting had happened without me there at all.

I had thought and planned this operation. I had thought about all the possible problems. I thought I was really well prepared. When nothing came out of the tap I had thought that I had a huge problem. I tried desperately to intervene and fix it. I raced around like a blue arsed fly trying to get a blowlamp. Finally I thought that I had a problem that I couldn't solve. I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew - I thought I was out of my depth - why hadn't I just paid the boatyard to do all this? What the hell was I ever thinking? - Then Providence intervened.

Luck? Fortuitousness? Randomness? Serendipity? Providence? - it all depends on your 'World View' I guess - but I do know this. What I started I finished. The keel was lifted out of the mould. I drilled bolt holes in the lead for the big bronze bolts and the finished keel was bolted firmly home onto the good ship 'Mariner' where it belonged.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Zebby The Cat

This is my cat called Zebra, but we call her Zebby for short - it's that nickname thing again. She is a sort of minature Bengali Tiger. But why call a cat Zebra ? I hear you ask. Well she is a tabby cat with lots of stripes so Zebra seemed appropriate at the time - although now I think it is a bit silly, sort of like calling a circus elephant 'Mouse' because of a colour similarity - but I am a human being, so what the hell do you expect? common sense?

She likes to sleep a lot. If I sit quietly while she is asleep with her eyes closed and I flick my fingers gently, her ears rotate in a sort of sleepy inquisitiveness to the sound. If I click loudly she opens her eyes. If I call her name she hops up, stretches lazily and pads across the floor to have her favourite therapy - chin and tummy rubbing. She is like a Zen Master, she has mindfulness down to a fine art.

Zebby is about 5 years old. I remember vividly the day we met. It was one of those days when I got chosen. I don't often get chosen. But when I do, it is something that I remember for a long time.

We went to the SPCA (Society for the Protection and Care of Animals) to get a cat. The cages with the cats were set out in a long row. The front of the cages which had the cosy sleeping part fronted one aisle. If you went around to the other side there was another aisle where the backs of the cages had their little play and walking around area.

As we walked along the first aisle we looked at lots of cats. Some were sleeping. Some were walking and miaowing. Many were active in one way or another. At the end of the aisle there was a little tabby kitten looking out through the bars of the cage. It looked a very intelligent little cat with shiny fur and bright eyes. The cat looked straight at me. I looked straight at the cat -
Was it love at first sight? I don't know about that, but I do remember this. When we went around to the back aisle, this was the only kitten in the whole row to run down the ramp to the play area of the cage and engage my eyes again. So I said to the SPCA lady - "let me have a look at that little kitten." - "Ok" she said and went and opened the little wire door. The moment she did that the little kitten leap out of the cage and started to climb up my jeans. It climbed as hard as it could past my jeans and up my jersey until it reached my shoulder.
"I think that cats got your cards marked" said the SPCA lady, "I think IT'S chosen you !
"I think you are right" I said. - and that was the end of that! - or rather a new beginning.

Zebby got a new home. She is still with us. She is an affectionate and very independent cat. (as cats are apt to be).

Sometimes she is Zen like - sometimes she just says "Please rub my tummy right now." But one thing I do know - This is the closest I will ever get to owning a Bengali Tiger!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Cygnet Project (3)

The 'Cygnet Project' is chugging along just fine and dandy and I am enjoying doing this restoration very much. I have painted the hull with its finishing coat of Polar White paint and have now turned her upright.
To date the deck has had two coats of its seven coats of varnish. The instructions on the tin call for six coats so I will do that and put on one more for luck.
If you look in the background you will see the rudder and the centerboard hanging from the carport rafters. Whoever built this little boat put a lot of care into the building of the rudder and centerboard - if you look carefully you will see that they have been laminated out of alternating Kauri and Mahogoney woods. Such detail I think is an indication as to the care that went into the building of the hull. This care has meant that this little craft is still as sound as the day she was built - which by my reckoning (looking at the nature of her gear - wooden masts, sail number etc) indicates that she could be as old as 30 or more years. Not as old as her new skipper and certainly better looking in her new white paint and varnish.
I love this little boat. To the outsider that may seem a bit silly but for me a 'P class' yacht holds so many memories of my growing up years sailing on the estuary in Christchurch. I remember it all so vividly and have such happy memories of all those far off sailing days.
Roll on launching day is all I say!

Three Things To Celebrate

Alexander at his Painting Exhibition in Kerikeri - 6 February 2009

Yesterday was an interesting day. We had three reasons for a celebration.

First - yesterday was the 6th of February and Waitangi day in New Zealand. This day celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and is a very important document for New Zealand. I think that despite criticisms from both extremes of the political spectrum the treaty and its recent off shoot the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal has meant that there is a political mechanism in place to deal with grievances. We may or may not agree with the outcomes but I think that it has meant that latter day New Zealand has not ended up with some of the protracted problems of say Northern Ireland or the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

Second - Waitangi day is the birthday of our second son Nikolai. He was born in 1981, so he is 28 this year. Years ago I used to kid him by telling him that the guns that were fired by the navy at Waitangi and that the bands that played etc were really to celebrate his birthday - it's the sort of silly jokes dads embarrass their offspring with - I can't remember what he thought of that idea at the time. Yesterday I said, " How does it feel to be 28? " - "Older," he replied. "I know the feeling", I replied and left it at that.

Third - Yesterday our second son Alexander held his third exhibition of paintings. This time in Kerikeri. He was invited to do so by the gallery owner who had seen his work in Whangarei. So we all bundled ourselves into the aging Honda Accord with the dent in the boot, the oil leak and the stone stuck in the brake pads somewhere which means that at every Stop sign people turn to look - searching for the hideous noise ( but I digress and why did I tell you all about my cars current short comings - buggered if I know).

- Anyway, moving on - The gallery owner is a painter himself and he has works that have been sold all over the world. That an established artist finds Alexanders work worthy of exhibiting is encouraging indeed.

I asked the gallery owner what he saw in Alexs' work and he said that he saw a very original talent and that he thought that if Alex was to keep "pushing and extending himself" combined with getting his work shown in the right galleries in Auckland then he might begin to sell more of his work and build up a reputation. I certainly hope that this is the case and that this happens - After all, we all want our kids to find their place in the world. To be involved with something worthwhile that uses their talents and to see them do well don't we.

Yes - yesterday was an interesting day.

Friday, February 6, 2009

In Praise of My Bed

A sailors bed is a hammock so they say, (and I am a sailor of sorts) - but any sort of bed will do me when I am tired out - all I need is peace and quiet, stillness and darkness.

Now that I am back at work and the summer holidays are over I am finding that I really need my sleep to be able to function properly. I had an occasion last year where for medical reasons (long story don't ask) I didn't sleep for a few days in a row - what happens in this sort of situation? - well you start down the slippery road to going a little crazy - so I learnt a very hard but valuable lesson about the need for adequate sleep -- but I digress --- Now that I am back at work I need to get as much sleep as I can and look after myself. I am no use to anybody if I can't function properly.

Looking after oneself and being able to function properly reminds me of what you are told when you go on an aeroplane i.e. - "If the oxygen masks fall down, put yours on first, then put the mask on your child etc - if you don't put yours on first, very soon you will not be alive and you won't be able to help anyone else" - adequate sleep is just like that, its an oxygen mask of sorts - if you don't get enough sleep very soon you will be of no use to anyone because you will be irritable, exhausted, inefficient and unhappy. It can even affect your driving in a dangerous manner - the last thing you want to do is to bowl a cyclist or drive into a tree!

----- sobering stuff and quite correct.

.........So here is a poem about someones bed.

IN PRAISE OF MY BED -- Meredith Holmes

At last I can be with you!
The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labour of being fully human.
working my opposable thumb,
talking, and walking upright.
Now I have unclasped
unzipped, stepped out of.
Husked, soft, a be - er only,
I do nothing, but point
my bare feet into your
clean smoothness
feel your quiet strength
the whole length of my body.
I close my eyes, hear myself
moan, so grateful to be held this way.
Hmmmm ...... praise indeed don't you think?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Four Loves

"The Four Loves - EROS " - Luke Allsbrook

A couple of posts ago I wrote about Romantic Love. As an addition to that post I thought it would be of interest to add some information which I have pretty much cut and pasted from Wikipedia to flesh out this topic.

C.S. Lewis wrote an excellent book on love called "The Four Loves" which deals with the four types of love that we can be subject to. Each type of love serves a different purpose in our life journey and fulfills a different function at different stages as we grow and develop as human beings - I read Lewis' book many years ago and recommend it if you are interested in this subject.

Some commentators place the loves in a hierarchy of worth in this order:
AFFECTION - EROS - FRIENDSHIP - AGAPE. i.e from the more or less programmed biological imperative of AFFECTION which is required for the functioning of families to the act of free will in the self giving love of AGAPE.

From Wikipedia:

Affection (storge, στοργη) is fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves: natural in that it is present without coercion; emotive because it is the result of fondness due to familiarity; and most widely diffused because it pays the least attention to those characteristics deemed "valuable" or worthy of love and, as a result, is able to transcend most discriminating factors. Ironically, its strength, however, is what makes it vulnerable. Affection has the appearance of being "built-in" or "ready made", says Lewis, and as a result people come to expect, even to demand, its presence--irrespective of their behavior and its natural consequences.
Friendship (philia, φιλια) is a strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity. Lewis explicitly says that his definition of friendship is narrower than mere companionship: friendship in his sense only exists if there is something for the friendship to be "about". He calls Companionship or Clubbableness a matrix for friendship, as friendship can rise in the context of both. Friendship is the least natural of loves, states Lewis; i.e., it is not biologically necessary to progeny like either affection (e.g., rearing a child), eros (e.g., creating a child), or charity (e.g., providing for a child). It has the least association with impulse or emotion. In spite of these characteristics, it was the belief of the ancients, (and Lewis himself), that it was the most admirable of loves because it looked not at the beloved (like eros), but towards that "about"--that thing because of which the relationship was formed. This freed the participants in this friendship from self-consciousness. Because the more they were looking towards something beyond or above themselves, the more those who were looking towards that thing with them were welcomed with the same sincerity, which freed the relationship from jealousy. And although the love may not be biologically necessary, it has, argued Lewis, civilization value. The thing beyond or above themselves may be of monumental importance to society. But without the benefit of friendship to blunt the loneliness of "being the only person who sees this", or the idea that two heads are better than one, many advances in society may never have been embarked upon. The relationship is by its nature selective, and therefore, exclusive. This characteristic is not detrimental per se, but the idea or goal towards which friends strive need not be altruistic. The innocuous ideas may simply be the cause of pseudo-aristocracies that ignore the legitimate cries of those outside their group; the malefic ones may be quite worse.

Eros (έρως) is love in the sense of 'being in love'. This is distinct from sexuality, which Lewis calls Venus although he does spend time discussing sexual activity and its spiritual significance in both a pagan and a Christian sense. He identifies eros as indifferent. This is good because it promotes appreciation of the beloved regardless of any pleasure that can be obtained from them. It can be bad, however, because this blind devotion has been at the root of many of history's most abominable tragedies. In keeping with his warning that "love begins to be a demon the moment [it] begins to be a god", he warns against the danger of elevating eros to the status of a god.

AGAPE Caritas
Agape (Caritas) is an unconditional love directed towards one's neighbor which is not dependent on any lovable qualities that the object of love possesses. Agape is the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. The chapter on the subject focuses on the need of subordinating the natural loves to the love of God, who is full of charitable love. Lewis states that "He is so full, in fact, that it overflows, and He can't help but love us." Lewis metaphorically compares love with a garden, charity with the gardening utensils, the lover as the gardener, and God as the elements of nature. God's love and guidance act on our natural love (that cannot remain what it is by itself) as the sun and rain act on a garden: without either, the object (metaphorically the garden; realistically love itself) would cease to be beautiful or worthy. Lewis warns that those who exhibit charity must constantly check themselves that they do not flaunt--and thereby warp--this love ("But when you give to someone, don't tell your left hand what your right hand is doing."--Matthew 6:3), which is its potential threat. "

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

This poem has always been a favourite of mine right from when I first read it at primary school all those years ago. I particularly like these lines ............ " for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of morning to where the cricket sings ".........
Innisfree is a lake in Ireland, but when I read this poem I think it could have been written especially for Henry Thoreau who spent those years living simply on the shores of his beloved Lake Walden on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean!

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

A Great Love

Many years ago I watched a BBC adaptation of Vera Brittains book '' Testament to Youth".

It is a simple but tragic story. The agonizing story of a lost generation - the youth who fought and died during the First World War. A story of anguish, pain, horror and waste. It is a poignant and heart rending story told from the heart by the author Vera Brittain.

Vera is a very bright and capable girl. She meets a very bright and talented young man, a scholar and a poet called Roland Leighton who is studying at Oxford University. They fall in love and plan their future together. It is a great love in the nature of all true love - a great wonder, a great magical alchemy, a great facet of the spiritual dimension and a very great gift from the gods.

In the midst of this love the second world war intervenes and Roland goes off to war. He is posted to France. Vera is of course at her wits end worrying about his safety. Later all her fears are confirmed by the news that Roland has been killed on the slaughter fields of the western front.

Close to the time of his death Roland writes Vera a prophetic poem. This poem haunts me still, long after hearing it spoken in the BBC dramatisation. It is one of those poems which because of the context of the story and its real life, heart breaking loss, clutches at my throat. It takes my breath away not only because of a real sense of tragedy of that loss, but because of the audacity of its wisdom, its prophetic quality, its love, its tenderness, its giving and its attempt to set free. It also stands as a symbol of all the lost young love of a generation destroyed by war

Hedauville. November 1915.

The sunshine on the long white road
That ribboned down the hill,
The velvet clematis that clung
Around your window - sill,
Are waiting for you still.

Again the shadowed pool shall break
In dimples round your feet,
And when the thrush sings in your wood,
Unknowing you may meet
Another stranger, Sweet.

And if he is not quite so old
As the boy you used to know,
And less proud, too, and worthier,
You may not let him go
(And daisies are truer than passion - flowers)
It will be better so.

Roland writes with words that show an emerging poetic gift, a gift cut down well before its prime. He manages with sparseness of line and graphic imagery such tenderness of heart and mind. Such amazing wisdom well beyond his young years.

When I read the poem I have an image in my mind of Roland standing amongst the mud of the trenches and the futile banality of war. He has a butterfly cupped in his hands. He offers his hands skyward and opens them. In his love and in his wisdom he lets her go. He is saying - go, live your life. Don't look back. Where you go I cannot follow. It will be all right - my heart gives you permission to love again - and he releases the butterfly onto the winds of the future.

This is the archetypal act of great love - to truly love is to run the risk of losing that love. Letting go for the growth and happiness of the other.

But the heroism of this story does not stop there. Vera goes on to be a writer and an antiwar campaigner. Years later she meets another young man, who knows of her story. He has always admired her from a distance. He courts her with sensitivity, intelligence and devotion. They are married and have a family. The marriage isn't a great love, (And daisies are truer than passion flowers), rather one of affection, friendship and devotion.

I think there is a lesson here, and it is this. If you have a great love in your life then nurture it, feed it, grow it, cherish it, fight for it, live it - and unless some extraordinary circumstance requires you to do so - while you have breath in your body, never, never, never let it go.