Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SEA FEVER

Alexander helms the good ship Mariner on Whangarei Harbour.

Yesterday I went sailing with my son Alexander - it was a good sail with the breeze building over the day to about 20 knots. It is good for dads and sons to do things together and yesterday was one of those kind of days.

This poem by John Masefield is one that I remember from my childhood. I remember it impressing me greatly at a time when I was an avid, obsessed small boat sailor. I well remember riding down Bexley Road in Christchurch NZ and seeing in the distance the shimmering, flapping of sails of yachts rigged ready for sailing at the Pleasant Point Yacht Club - I remember pumping the pedals on my bike and pulling the front wheel of my bike off the ground and into the air in anticipation and excitement as I rushed to rig my own little P class 'Elusive' and go sailing - to be part of the wonder and excitement of it all.


SEA FEVER

I MUST down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield


Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Earth Is Enough

Bay of Islands New Zealand

THE EARTH IS ENOUGH - Brian Turner

You listen to a blind man singing
what only the lucky can see
and you've a feeling you're
missing something he is not

let what's constant be reassuring
not dull ..... and let time slow

for you like it that way
there's a rhythm
in the waves of the land
and in the clouds

looking for a way
out of the sky ..... and the light

so bright all day
is fading ..... soft
oh dulcet air and airs
you touch us inside

and out and you don't ever
want them to leave you alone

there must be some
who believe the earth is enough
who thinks of anthems
of refuge ... of wonder ... of peace


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Monday, December 21, 2009

Poem For Charlotte


My Daughter Charlotte And I Decorated The Christmas Tree Today

Only a daughter knows just what you mean,
Couldn't care less if your life's on a lean,
Keeps all your secrets, knows about fate ---
Only a daughter who's great.
Only a daughter will smile at your quirks,
Helps and approves, shares a dessert,
Not say a word (sometimes) unless asked for advice---
Only a daughter who's nice.
Only a daughter will cover your butt,
Stand up for your rights, tell you what's what,
Offer a thoughtful and smart point of view,
Be the one person who keeps coming through,
Someone you just gotta love (and I do!!)
Only a daughter like you
Merry Christmas, dear daughter to you.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Welcome To Holland - My Sisters Story



My sister Elizabeth has raised a severely disabled child. At this child's recent birthday (he is now 34 years old) my sister gave me this story written by Emily Kingsley - Elizabeth told me that this story sums up the life and landscape of raising a disabled child - it is a story she draws strength from - I draw strength from the example of my sister, she is one of my heroes.

WELCOME TO HOLLAND!
by Emily Pearl Kingsley


I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel.

It's like this . . . When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Michelangelo David, the gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes and says, "Welcome to Holland." "Holland?" you say. "What do you mean Holland? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy." But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place. So you go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It's just a different place. It's slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts. But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned." The pain of that will never go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you will never be free to enjoy the very special, very lovely things about Holland.

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A Time For Remembering


Two nights ago I stopped at Kaiwaka, a small town north of Auckland and took this photograph of a local house that fronts the main highway. These sorts of luxuriant light displays are not uncommon. In fact whole streets in some towns and cities in New Zealand are flooded with a colourful kaleidoscope of light in this way.

I am both immensely attracted and slightly repelled by this stuff all at the same time.

The adult in me, chin in hand, eyes looking skywards, head nodding knowingly while smiling paternalistically at the chattering classes penchant for glitzy whims and fancies, kitsch quality and shallow transient sentiment, will point out to myself (who is the only one listening) that of course its all a rort, a conspiracy of multinational companies, a flagrant orgy of materialism and that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost forever amongst ostentatious vulgar light displays and that it was never like this in my day.

The child in me doesn't worry about this sort of analysis. Notwithstanding the odd visit to a Christmas Church service around about this time of year, the meaning has always been the same: presents, aka - stuff, lots of stuff, good stuff, new stuff, ripping wrapping paper off stuff, playing with stuff, whooping with delight about stuff - and then a big, big, big Christmas dinner where the adults were so distracted by adult stuff, no one noticed all the extra stuff you shoved in your mouth - I grew up in a poor neighbourhood but there was never a lack of food on Christmas day and I always made a point of stuffing myself with it using the skills honed during the year in a household of nine children - there were two sorts of children - the quick and the hungry.

The child embraces the immediacy of the experience without too much reflection. The smell of a fresh loaf of bread, raiding the neighbours orchard, high stars above a Guy Fawkes bonfire on New Brighton Beach, cowboy movies, throwing stones on the roof of the commercial chicken farm behind our house, sailing on the Christchurch estuary, wearing fluorescent lime green or pink socks (a high fashion accessory in the very early sixties) - the sublime and the ridiculous are all the same for the child - its the experiencing that matters, the reflection comes a lot later.

The adult in me knows that you can't wind back the clock, and that I can't be, or act like a child anymore (well not ALL the time) but I can remember. There's no harm in that. There is a lot to remember. And in a strange way as I grow older the memories shine like beacons, not unlike a light garden in Kaiwaka. A family of nine children makes for a lot of memories - which are still there in my minds eye amongst the wrapping paper and stuff everywhere in the living room on a long ago Christmas morning. Perhaps when I return north in a weeks time I will leave with the falling of the light so I can stop, get out and quietly lean on the car in the night and watch the Kaiwaka light display again - Take another look at all the neon kitschy stuff all over the lawn - and let the child remember.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Defying Occams Razor

Noahs Ark - Schagen, The Netherlands 2009.

Of course, it's only a replica of the biblical Ark, built by Dutch Creationist Johan Huibers as a testament to his faith in the literal truth of the Bible.
The ark is 150 cubits long, 30 cubits high and 20 cubits wide. That's two-thirds the length of a football field and as high as a three-story house. Life-size models of giraffes, elephants, lions, crocodiles, zebras, bison and other animals greet visitors as they arrive in the main hold. A contractor by trade, Huibers built the ark of cedar and pine.


Suddenly in the middle of the night a blinding light sears through the curtains. Big scary shadows dance on the bedroom ceiling. There is a roaring sound of an engine. Half asleep, a number of possibilities race through your mind. 1 - A 747 Jumbo Jet has overshot the runway in Reykjavik, Iceland, and is landing in your New Zealand backyard? 2 - An Alien spaceship has arrived to abduct you and invasively poke and prod you with rude sharp instruments, a situation you will only realise on your return from space when you undergo repressed memory therapy with Uncle Looneytunes the local UFO psychologist? 3 - The next door neighbours son is coming home very late in his noisy car with the headlights on high beam ? (a dangerous and irritating thing to do in certain circumstances).
Of course being a nimble and logical thinker you cross your fingers and choose possibility number 3. ---- And in doing so you have proved the principle of 'Occam's Razor' ------ let me explain.

Occam's Razor is a principle that states: Where two or more hypotheses are offered to explain a given phenomenon, it is reasonable to accept the simplest one - the one that makes the fewest unsupported assumptions.

Of course the simplest explanation is not always the correct one in every instance - A saying that expresses the logic and sentiment of Occam's Razor states that: "When you hear hoof beats, don't expect to see a zebra", which of course would be true for most people except those living on the Serengeti Plains in deepest Africa or the local zoo keeper.

I came across this exception to the rule of Occam's Razor myself during my recent sojourn in The Netherlands. While photographing a rather large yacht in the port of Hoorn on the Ijsselmeer a hasty passer by commented, "If you want to see a really large boat, go to Schagen" - A number of possibilities came to mind; A very large traditional 'Botter'? A huge tugboat up an impossibly narrow creek ?(I had already seen this several times); Noah's Ark? Maybe a supertanker moored in a huge inland canal?

When I did get to Schagen, a small pretty little town with a canal that leads to the inland sea (Ijsselmeer) the last thing that I expected to see was Noah's fecking Ark!
It was fecking huge, jaw droppingly fecking huge -

- and if another hasty passer by had commented, "When you hear hoof beats, don't expect to see a zebra", I would have replied, "Of course I would expect to see a zebra, that's the fecking ARK for Gods sake".

Occam's Razor is named after William of Occam, a 14th century English philosopher. The 'razor' comes from the idea of shaving off any unnecessary assumptions from a theory.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Interconnectedness



Once upon a time in a city called Tiel (same population as my own town of Whangarei) in The Netherlands a man born in 1951 (same birth year as me) with a son named Niek (similiar to the English name Nicholas, as is the name of my son Nikolai) remembered a book that he had read when he was about 12 years old. The book is called "South Sea Vagabonds" and was written by a New Zealander Johnny Wray (Bens city of Tiel is not far from Zeeland in The Netherlands which is New Zealands namesake). I read this book myself at a similiar age and have a couple of copies of it. I was surprised that this book written and published in the 1930s had been translated into the Dutch language.

"South Sea Vagabonds" is the story of how a small ocean going yacht was built during the depression years using scavenged Kauri logs, second hand rigging and sails and good old Kiwi "number 8 wire" ingenuity and tenacity.

The name of Johnny Wrays yacht was the "Ngataki" and earlier this year Ben in Tiel in The Netherlands Goggled the name "Ngataki" and came up with only one link - it was the link to my other and now unused Blogspot called "Simply Sailing". It was from this link that Ben made his way through cyberspace to this Blogspot 'Stream Of Consciousness'.

At the time that Ben was doing all this, another domino in the casual link was falling into place - I just happened to be on a six week cycling tour of The Netherlands which included the province of Zeeland which is very close to where Bens town of Tiel is. Ben began commenting at this time on my Blogspot.
On my return to New Zealand Ben commented again that he was about to embark on a camper van tour for a few weeks in New Zealand before travelling to Australia to see his son. I gave Ben my phone number and was very pleased to get a phone call from him last week. As I am house sitting in Auckland at the moment it was easy enough (despite Aucklands horrendous peak time traffic) to find him in South Auckland.
I arrived at their camper van at about 7pm and left after 5 hours of wonderful friendly talk - how very nice it was to meet Ben and his lovely wife Renee, to laugh and wonder about the global cyberspace enabled connection and to talk about New Zealand and The Netherlands.

It was an interesting scene - I arrived with a big map of The Netherlands wanting more information about a land of water, canals, dykes, bicyles and that range of corpulent, beautiful, wonderfully, specifically, contextually evolved traditional Dutch yachts ---- and they were armed with a map of New Zealand with their route marked on it. They were well informed about where to go and I think (as I write the weather has been glorious for many days) they are going to have a very nice time.

Ben and Renee are warm and friendly people; open and straight forward; generous, intelligent and very, very interesting to talk to ---- I thought house sitting in Auckland was going to be a bit starved of interesting things to do - but meeting this couple was a bit like going to the biscuit tin thinking that everything has been eaten and then finding to your surprise and delight that amongst the old wrapping paper is a big fat chocolate macaroon biscuit - The Dutch would say of our meeting, "It was very Gezellig" - and that's what it was - very,very Gezellig indeed. :-)

I like dominoes and causal links and I hope the dominoes keep falling.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mr Darcy


Pride is a good feeling if you have accomplished something - my brother in law Darcy Sheehan sits astride the custom built Harley Davidson that he built and entered in the Whangarei Motorbike show by his company 'East Coast Motor Bikes'


Prejudice by a group of insiders is avoided by donating a trophy " Best In Show" - that is voted for by the viewing public"

My brother in law Darcy Sheehan is an accomplished businessman who currently runs East Coast Motor Cycles - a company that imports and sells Harley Davidson motorcycles. A recent development in his business is to import various component packages to make custom built bikes - it seems to be a bit like putting together Lego - you decide on the look of a bike and then import and bolt together the component custom parts.

A few weeks ago there was a bike show in Whangarei and Darcy and his partner in the custom bike building part of his business built a couple of bikes for the show. They also donated to the show a trophy "Best Bike In The Show" to be awarded on the result of a popular vote by the viewing public. It was with a huge amount of embarrassment that Darcy and his colleague won back the trophy that they had donated!!

Congratulations Darcy! - The Whanau is proud of you, but we are prejudiced :-)


I wonder if I keep the engine noise down I could get away with riding this on the cylce paths in The Netherlands? No? Well I was only wondering.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

First Sail Of The Season

My Friend Gerry Steers The Good Ship Mariner

Last week I went for a sail down the harbour with my friend Gerry. It was a day not without its drama - for the first part of the day there was no wind whatsoever and we had to motor. Then when the wind filled in I heard a terrible screeching sound from the motor and on inspection found that a drive belt had shredded itself as it came off the flywheel. I have learnt from some hard marine experiences to think before I act (and I usually do so) So, at the point where my hand was on the kill switch I realized that if I turned the motor off I wouldn't be able to start it again because the drive belt was attached to the starter motor. Getting the boat back onto the mooring under sail only, is possible except for an extremely narrow and difficult section of river where we would have both the wind and the tide against us. So I decided as the wind began to pick up to put the engine out of gear and sail with it idling. It isn't the way I like to sail having the chug chug of a diesel engine in the background and it would have irritated me greatly if it hadn't been for the very good company of my genial friend.

There are some people you just get along with. There is a sort of chemistry. When I met Gerry over twenty years ago we began by talking, laughing and joking and have pretty much been doing that ever since. There are no taboo subjects,the talk comes
easily and it's intelligent and interesting. Often it is extremely irreverent, gloriously hilarious and swings like a pendulum between the hysterical and the sublime - the whole carboodle goes swaying up and down all over the place like a little yacht of dubious pedegree in a big wind and a choppy sea. Gerry knows almost nothing about sailing, but he is one of the best of crews.

Later I reflected on how despite the fact that the trouble with the engine had meant that we had had to cancel some of our plans for the day (A quiet lunch at anchor and a walk ashore) we had both had such a great time. It reminded me of a crucial factor in how to choose a crew by one of New Zealands most famous and successful sailors - Sir Peter Blake. It was Blake who won the around the world Whitbread race in the 1980s and was the manager of 'Team New Zealand's successful winning of the Americas Cup in San Deigo in 1995.

When choosing his Whitbread around the world crews Peter Blake would take the candidates on a weeks adventure camping, which included some sailing. Of course those that had applied were very experienced sailors. But it wasn't experience alone that Blake was looking for, it was something else. The people that were chosen were by and large not the most hot shot sailors, nor those with the greatest technical expertise. He chose those who could get along with others; those that didn't take themselves too seriously; those without huge egos; those slow to anger and quick to make amends; those prepared to put aside their own individual egos for a time in the quest for the common good, the collective goal; those whose attitudes promoted camaraderie and fun, because he knew this was the key to binding a group together in pursuit of a common goal. He chose those who were willing to immerse themselves in a cooperative venture and strive for the glory of the little sailing community that would be formed on board the huge Whitbread Yacht.

Of course it would be a statement of great hubris to suggest that Gerry and I would have been at the top of Blakes list. We would have in fact been complete pests - I for a start would have wanted to water ski behind the yacht when she was doing 20 knots in the Roaring Forties and fly big coloured kites off the stern every day. Gerry would have had the crew divided into debating, joke and story telling teams and they would have all been too distracted to ever put up a spinnaker. In fact debating philosophically issues such as - the morality of winning, the definition of winning [Is not the last yacht home also a winner of sorts? especially if they have more fun than the first boat home??] etc etc - would have been philosophical issues promoted by both of us - not because we care about the questions or their answers, but rather because we care about talking, arguing and laughing.

--- BUT I like to think that the sort of camaraderie that we had during last weeks sail also had its place and value on Blakes winning yacht.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

.....I wheeled with the stars. My heart broke loose with the wind.


POETRY - Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age.... poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, not silence,
but from a street it called me,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among raging fires,
or returning alone,
there it was, without a face,
and it touched me.
I didn't know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names
my eyes were blind.
Something knocked in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first, faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom,
of someone who knows nothing;
and suddenly saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
the darkness perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire, and flowers,
the overpowering night, the universe.

And I, tiny being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss.
I wheeled with the stars.
My heart broke loose with the wind.


* (And Pablo, your poetry has the same effect on many who read it)

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