Monday, November 30, 2009

I Am Grateful

I Am Grateful - Pablo Neruda

I am grateful, violins,
for this day of four chords.
Pure is the sound of the sky,
the blue voice of air.

A Champagne Supernova

I don't usually take much notice of trite sayings, lists of 'to do' prescriptions, exhortations and the various other Deserterada that abound. But I came upon something of this genre recently that made me look closer - Well it didn't just make me look closer, it made me ask the kind lady for a pen so that I could make a copy.
A couple of weeks ago I was in a country cafe close to Warkworth. As I sat down to drink my tea I spied a painting on the wall. The nicely framed painting wasn't a visual image, it was a quotation ? or maybe just the musings of the artist? - anyway, I liked it a lot so I wrote it down and here it is:

Life should not be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely in an
attractive body but rather to skid sideways
champagne in one hand - strawberries in
the other, body thoroughly used up, totally
worn out and screaming
Woo hoooooo..............................
What a ride................................

Yep, quite like that idea.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Boyhood Dreams

This is the Alan Buchanan designed sloop 'Barbican' - she is a very salty 32 feet of pure joy.

There is a saying that goes like this - "Be careful what you dream of young man, for you shall surely attain it" - I don't know the origin of this quote but it seems to contain both a certainty and a warning. The warning is that: - As it is certain that you will attain what you want (if you dream hard enough - and work hard enough to make that dream come true), make very sure that what you dream of is worthy, is of substance - good and true.

This yacht 'Barbican' is a yacht I dreamed about when I was growing up - I have always loved this design and in 2003 I purchased the plans from the designer Alan Buchanan with the intention of perhaps building her - and it is still a dream I would like to fulfil if the circumstances are ever favourable enough to do so.

Since 2003 I have collected a dossier of articles and photographs of Barbican and last week downloaded an article about her from the 'Alan Buchanan Classic Yachts' website - When I read the article I smiled for two reasons - First, the story told me that someone else like me, had dreamed when they were very young and had now seen that dream fulfilled, and secondly because I was reminded of similar circumstances regarding another yacht and someone elses dream.

At the end of the Barbican article I read this - "Barbican is now sold to a marine electrical engineer who, as a boy 20 years ago, wrote to the author offering to buy her from the proceeds of his paper round. He now has his dream ship"

This yacht is the 'Stiletto' and in an article about her I read this a few years ago -

"Chris Petrie first set eyes on Stiletto when he picked her out of the crowd at Burnham Week in 1962. He was just 18. She was making her debut. It was love at first sight. 'I remember saying to myself, "I want that boat one day." - Twenty three years later in 1985, and quite by chance, he spotted a broker's advert 'Rare chance to acquire Stiletto'. He didn't have to think twice to make a cherished dream a thrilling reality. When the long awaited moment arrived there was sweet satisfaction indeed in helming and owning such a classic thoroughbred."

I am very, very, very happy for both these people who made their boyhood dreams a reality - It really does make me smile - in a chaotic world, somewhere between ticking time and a hard chance and with the help of the Gods a dream was realised. There is something very satisfying in thinking that some at least defy the odds and make their dreams come true. ---- "Good on ya mate," is what us Kiwis say :-)


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Holder For A Mariners Binoculars (2)

In a previous post I showed how I had constructed a special holder for the good ship Mariners binoculars. This photo shows the holder which I have screwed to the aft bulkhead with four bronze screws. The round rod is made of brass and was bent carefully in the vice. This rod holds the binoculars in place.

The binoculars fit snugly in the holder. The wooden backing plate is slightly wedge shaped being thicker at the bottom than at the top - the binoculars lean backwards keeping them firmly in place.
The installation completed. The position is close to the helmsmans steering position and it is an easy reach inside to grab the binoculars, use them and then replace them in the holder. I am pleased with the result - it means no more hunting for the binoculars and no more sliding around of binoculars on wet heeling cockpit seats - a shipshape ship is a happy ship.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Making a Difference

I was putting some books back into one of my bookshelves today and came across a little story that made me think about a sadness someone told me recently.

I was told by an intelligent, gifted teacher who is passionate about her work, about a boy who she had once taught. The boy had had all the help in the world at school because of his learning problems, fell into the wrong company after leaving school and ended up in prison. In prison the boy was helped again and it was thought that he had been thoroughly rehabilitated - and he was for many years - but in the end he went back to his old friends, his old ways, his old activities involving drug dealing and was killed in tragic circumstances.
The question posed was - "Are we wasting our time investing in all this interventionist education in schools, all this rehabilitation of prisoners when so many of them fail themselves, their families and society - is there a genetic disposition that predetermines their recidivism?
The story that made me think of all of the above is called "One At A Time" and it goes like this:
"A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach at sunset. As he walked along, he began to see another man in the distance. As he grew nearer, he noticed that a local man kept leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things out into the ocean.
As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the man was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water.
Our friend was puzzled. He approached the man and said. "Good evening friend. I was wondering what you are doing."
"I'm throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see. it's low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore. If I don't throw them back into the sea, they'll die up here from lack of oxygen."
"I understand", my friend replied. " but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't possibly get to all of them. There are simply too many. And don't you realise this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast. Can't you see that you can't possibly make a difference?"
The man smiled, bent down and picked up yet another starfish. and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied. "Made a difference to that one! "
CODA: Now, the difference between starfish and the eddies and currents that influence their destiny and troubled children who become prison inmates is the possibility of making a choice, of swimming against the prevailing current - 'Exercising Free Will' - This possibility of having some control over our destiny is what separates us from the animal kingdom. Despite the legacy of genetics, our upbringing and other social determinates, we still have the possibility of making choices. And there are some inspiring stories of many who beat these odds and don't fall into recidivism. Recidivism rates are often high but they would be even higher without trying to implement the ideal of rehabilitation and giving targeted help where required.
The thing we must not do as teachers (I have been teaching and helping children for over 35 years) is to think that what we do, we do in vain. We must intervene, teach, help, coach and keep the faith - and always remember that those that we help are always better off and further along the road than if we hadn't lent a helping hand ----- As to whether after all of that help the people in question choose to cast themselves back like dark stars on a criminal shore is something we cannot control, and within limits is their choice. It is a bitter pill to swallow if you have been personally involved with one of these failures, but complete identification with, or feelings of responsibility for, would be a great mistake.
As a teacher myself, as I look back over the years, and taking into account the total number of children taught, I am sure that both for myself and for my colleague who posed this question in the first place there are many for whom we can claim that we, "Made a difference to that one"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wheels Within Wheels

....."As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of a chrysolite and the four had the same likeness, their construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel." - Ezekiel 1:16

The phrase "wheels within wheels" is of ancient origin and has generally come to mean something that is not easily understood; that there is more to the situation than may appear on the surface. The quotation above, from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, is part of a mystifying biblical passage that has led many to believe he saw a UFO

The phrase denotes complexity, that one must look past the superficial to see deeper into a problem or situation. I know that you know, that I know that you know, that I..... Like the Russian matryoshka dolls we open one only to find another, and inside that yet another, etc., etc. The phrase can also have a more sinister connotation, that there are ulterior motives behind seemingly innocuous actions - all part of a larger and less obvious plan.

This photograph appears in the current New Zealand Listener Magazine. It took my fancy because if you have been reading my Blog over the last few months you will know that I have just returned from 6 weeks cycling in The Netherlands.

When writing Blog postings about The Netherlands I mentioned a couple of ways for a solitary cyclists to elicit conversations with the locals / other tourists - One was to pretend that I was lost and ask directions, the second was to offer to take a photograph of a couple if I saw them taking pics of each other. Afterwards I thought another cunning idea would be to wear cycling gear with New Zealand emblazoned all over it - I know this would elicit contact because foreigners really do like to hear the Kiwi accent and many Dutch people have connections with New Zealand (there was a lot of immigration from Holland to NZ in the 1950s and 60s.

So when I saw this photograph I thought .......Hmmmmmm.... here is yet another way... this would be the conversation eliciter par excellence - a paragon of conversational prompting of epic proportions - In fact I could busk with this bike. All I would have to do is parade it in the local village square, stand next to it with a hat for the money at my feet and nod slowly over and over again, thus answering the questions before they passed the lips of the viewers (yes I do ride it, yes it is a bicycle, no I am not a nutter, no you can't have a ride on it today, no not all Kiwis are crazy bastards only some of us are, yes paper money will do just fine if you don't have any coins) .............

Hmmmmm...., sometimes we just can't think of innovative ways to solve a problem or find a fresh way of engaging with the ordinary. But look! there is always a way, if you keep your options open and your mind thinking outside the square and contemplate a circle in a different way, well, you might find wheels within wheels .................. in fact I am building one of these at the moment in my blokes shed - I wonder if Air New Zealand will fly it to The Netherlands for me? I have some unfinished business there.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Ah, old boat you need launching
Sea mists are gathering
But you will float, you have been built

A Holder for a Mariners Binoculars (1)

The 'G' cramps have been removed which held the wood while the glue was drying and I am now ready to fair and level the backing plate with the smoothing plane. In all I glued together four scraps of wood to make a piece big enough to take the binoculars. ( Old boat builders like me never throw out wood ends if at all possible as you never quite know when they might come in useful)

This is a job I have meaning to do for ages. There are times when you are sailing where you are continuosly picking up and putting down binoculars, the wind is fresh, the boat is heeling and you want a safe and handy place to put the binoculars. I intend to screw this holder just inside the companion way hatch, a very handy place and close to the helmsman / woman.

The teak wood block has been squared up with a small fine toothed hand saw and the job of planing and sanding has begun.
The sanding is nearly complete and you can see more clearly the detail of the wood grain.
Measuring and aligning the brass rod which will be used to hold the binoculars in place.
I have bent the brass rod in the vice and are about to drill the holes for the rod ends. Quarter inch brass rod is no match for a 90 kg man who has just eaten a good lunch.
Checking and fitting the clearances around the binoculars. The wooden backing plate is wedge shaped so that when it is fitted vertically to the yachts rear bulkhead the binoculars are leaning slightly backwards which help to keep them in place.
A first coat of varnish is applied which brings out the beautiful wood grain. I will give it several more coats of varnish before screwing the whole setup firmly in place close to the skippers steering position on the good ship Mariner.
There are a number of nice little jobs that need doing on the boat. It is always a pleasant exercise problem solving, designing and executing some sort of solution.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Only God

We all have our passions - Charlottes passion is singing. Here she is holding a stack of her recently recorded CD "Only God". Charlotte has a huge amount of experience singing and worship leading in local churches. A natural outcome of this has been the writing, singing and recording of a CD of Christian spiritual songs.

Charlotte has a website here: - I highly recommend you take a look.

To listen to this album go to:

What does a proud dad say about having such a beautiful, talented girl for a daughter ? - he says thankyou, I feel blessed, that's what he says.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Blokes Shed

This is my very small shed. It is 2.4 x 1.8 metres (8 x 6 feet). There is just about room enough to swing a cat so long as you hold onto the stump of the cats tail and the cat is pulling its head in firmly to its chest - it's a very small work space.

I have been varnishing a storage box that I have built for the good ship Mariner which is on the stool in the middle of the picture.

To be able to work at all I have to haul out the bike and numerous other boxes and bits and pieces. The small space becomes a lesson in tidiness and ingenuity as I struggle just getting bigger projects through the door.

As I was working away on this storage box today I remembered a book about sheds written by Jim Hopkins. Its called 'Blokes and Sheds' and he makes some interesting comments about sheds and their relationship to the Kiwi character.

.......... " What sheds do, undeniably, represent is something about the way we want to be. Much is spoken these days of New Zealand identity. A lot of it is self serving twaddle, an argument promoted by certain superior souls who want other peoples money to pay for the things they enjoy doing. What they tend to overlook is that, apart from the unique, painful and evolving relationship between Maori, and European, most of our 'identity' comes from somewhere else. Our religions, philosophy, notions of class and gender, our legal system, our political processes, our media style, planning concepts, even our fairy stories and notion of Father Christmas mainly come from somewhere else. We can't even claim to have invented a sport of our own.

What we have invented, or evolved - and it's often confused with identity - is an attitude, to the world, and each other, that's ours and ours alone. If anything summed it up , it would probably be Ed Hillary's line after climbing Mount Everest, "We knocked the bastard off". Laconic and tongue-in-cheek, it treats the extraordinary as commonplace and makes it a team effort as well. That kind of self - effacement in important here. We particularly dislike the growth hormone that can make some people too big for their boots. And we particularly like self reliance, the willingness to 'give it a go'. Born of necessity, it survives by choice. Being willing to give it a go is expected, it's part of how we want to see ourselves, it's part of our attitude. Which is why sheds, and what they represent, are important. We've got our share of famous sheds. The one in which Richard Pearce built his aeroplanes (and flew before the Wright Brothers), of where the jet boat, the electric fence and the animal tranquiliser gun were developed. Then, of course, there's Rutherford's den (a sort of basement shed) where he first picked up a chisel and split the atom.

......... There's a tradition of ingenuity we enjoy and still discover out in the shed..... "

- Jim Hopkins - Blokes and Sheds (pub 1998)


Signs of Spring

Zebby the cat seeks the shade, I wear jandals and sit in the sun drinking a morning cup of tea - a sure sign that the great seasonal propeller is returning Spring to Northland again.

There is a distinctiveness about Northland Springs and Summers. It is a distinctiveness that needs to be felt - something is singing in the air; an unspoken expectancy, a shimmering, a sharpness of light, the wind is warm, warm, warm and the sun demands huge respect - This is no ordinary sun, with its zenith almost overhead at the height of summer and with a burn time of about 6 minutes you feel and know that its engine is thermo nuclear.

That world renowned hedging bush 'Greenis Vegetatas Comminus' displays its Spring flowers. This outdoor chair is world famous - it was on this meditation chair that I discovered the full meaning of life and the universe.

Northland doesn't have the distinct seasonal contrasts that other countries, or even other more southern parts of New Zealand have. The contrast is one of wet, cold and rain contrasted with wet, warm and sun. But there is a very special time from December through to February where Northland transforms itself into something special and very particular to itself - razor sharp light, incandescent sun, furnace like warm, huggible wind, iridescent colours, dusky horizons and magic.
Each locality in New Zealand in every season weaves its own magic as it interacts with the weather - Central Otago, Banks Peninsular and Canterbury, the Able Tasman National Park - to name a few, all weave their own particular chemistry and enchantment.

The old Bottlebush tree at the front of the house with its candles on fire - This tree whooped with delight on November the 5th - Guy Fawkes night - Old Bottlebrush flashed with fire under the high stars and the celebratory fireworks.
Spring brings the rumour of Summer with her and my eyes turn towards the coast and the sea - out come the charts - I look forward to day sails, some weekends away maybe and a few big sails over the Christmas period - Spring is bought to us by the old propellers of the seasons and no matter what has gone before, it always holds gently in its hands, the hopes of new beginnings.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

An Expensive Photograph

In a roundabout way this photograph cost me 35 Euros. It happened like this. I was cycling down the main cobbled street in the Port of Hoorn, one of many such small ports on the coast of the inland Zuider Zee (Southern Sea) in The Netherlands when I was stopped by two ladies in Police Uniforms. The short story is that I should have seen the no cycling signs and walked with my bicycle, but all that I saw were large numbers of parked bicycles, and a few bikes being ridden along the street.

I thought that after I had listened to the no cycling explanation from the Policewomen I would be given a warning, a friendly pat on the shoulder and sent on my way with cream buns and a thermos full of hot tea - (A Johnny Foreigner can get this impression after weeks of amused chortles and smiles at ones accent - gosh! you say to yourself, don't they just looove Kiwis! -- and you are right, except for two Policewomen in the port of Hoorn, who deliberately left a Russian Gulag to make my day an expensive one.)

"The fine is thirty five Euros" I was informed.
"I don't have thirty five Euros on me," I said lying through my teeth.
"There is a bank and a money machine over there" I was informed.
"What if I don't pay?" I inquired.
" We will take you to the Police station and lock you up until you do pay" she replied, mouth twitching at such southern hemisphere cheek.
"Oh" I said and went to the machine which was around a corner out of sight, pulled thirty five euros out of my wallet and promptly paid.

I then gave what I thought was a rather excellent dissertation about how this would never happen in New Zealand and that a warning would be sufficient for a tourist who can't read Dutch. But all this was ignored including my statements about how highly offended I was, blah, blah, blah - but to no avail - I had broken the law, I had been duly fined, the Dutch economy saved by my thirty five euros and two Policewomen who were in fact only doing their job - did their job.

As they turned to go and startle other bike riding miscreants I had an overwhelming urge to pinch one of their bums - not with any sexual connotation but in the deliberate and malicious way I used to pinch John Ryan's bum when I was in primer three at Central New Brighton Primary School - I swear he once attained the height of one metre above his chair - pure fright, pure joy.

BUT - none of this stopped me from enjoying the delights of Hoorn which is a lovely little port - and it was in a canal of this port that I found a rather nice housing arrangement that is a delight to a sailor such as I.

The house in the photograph is floating on the water on the top of a steel barge. Access is from the street on the left through a quaint gate in a large bushy hedge. The house has nice indoor, outdoor flow onto a small deck area where one can sit and take in the surrounding view.
The yacht is called Sirius (I would rename her Delight if she was mine) and is of Scandinavian pedigree - a clean, mean, speed machine - I know she sails beautifully, her lines have a pure poetry of purpose.

I personally would love, love, love, love, love, love to live like that - a floating house with my yacht moored next to it - ah, it would be bliss indeed for an obsessed old sailor such as me.