27 December 2009

Another anniversary

Yesterday evening, when I 'phoned Susan at Helen's house, Susan reminded me of another anniversary. On the 27th of December, 1969, with Candace - Susan's sister - riding pillion, I rode my Yamaha 50cc motor scooter to Greg's house, in Manoa Valley. It was to be my last night as an unbeliever. The 'Greg' in question was a friend, a fellow taxi driver, an apostate French-Canadian Roman Catholic, and a keen Scientologist. I was myself more than interested in Dianetics and Scientology, but was unqualified to be audited for two reasons:

  • use of psychoactive drugs - Scientology is incompatible with such substances, not for moral reasons, but because the drugs interfere with auditing - I had taken LSD that evening - a frequent practice of mine at the time
  • lack of money - auditing is expensive

(Perhaps the two factors are related - drugs are expensive, too :-))

Poor Greg! He had been a good friend and had been seriously trying to help me (I very badly needed help) with Scientology, when I show up with Candace, and announce - maliciously (I wanted to see some fun) - that Candace is a Christian. In the end, Greg lost me to his cause. As he said when I left that night, "they [Scientology] would have to get 'round to "clearing" me once "this sector of the galaxy" was clear."

As I have described in a kind of testimonial, it was I who was caught. Greg began attacking Candace's Christianity; I listened - the only time in my life I had ever heard anyone talk about Jesus in a personal way - and at about 5AM the next morning, at Bill Arnold's flat in the basement of his father's church, knelt and told God that my life belonged to Him.

That was forty years ago now. I have had so very much to learn, and am still so very far from where I should be - but that God took pity on me - pretty much down and out at age 27 - is inexpressibly good.

I only regret that in the forty subsequent years I have responded so poorly to His grace - yet He has kept me thus far from the ultimate disaster of rejecting Him; has given me, indeed, the wonder of being a Catholic now; and I hope and believe will grant me the grace of final perseverance. May He do the same for you who read this, and for many!

25 December 2009

Happy Anniversary!

In 1995 Christmas acquired a new meaning for our family, for it was on the 24th of December, 1995, that Susan and I, with Helen, Eddie, and Adele, were received into the Catholic Church, the Family of God. Johnny was living in Seattle by that time, but he was already under instruction then for his own reception three months later, at Easter, 1996 - the 7th of April.

This Christmas we are scattered around the world. There have been changes. The future is still to be seen. Yet I count that date, Christmas, 1995, as a real rebirth of our family.

As I write - evening of Christmas Day, 2009:

  • Susan is with Helen and Robert and Georgia Grace and Gus in Newcastle (the one in New South Wales, not the original one in England :-))
  • Johnny is with his wife Diane and Diane's family in their family bach near Sydney
  • Adele is with her husband Luke and their daughter Thea in (freezing) Highland Park, New Jersey
  • Eddie and Eveline, with Robyn, Jonny, and Julian, are in Helensville

And Helensville is where I spent Christmas Day. I went to Mass this morning in Helensville (I didn't go to Midnight Mass last night - the first time I have missed since becoming a Catholic - as I knew I had to get up quite early this morning), then to Eddie's house, for lunch. We had a wonderful time together - but just wished you could all have been there, and particularly that our family could be together again for a while.

This coming Sunday is Holy Family Sunday - so I pray that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph will pray for our little family, for our love for God to increase, and that, at the end of all things, we will all be together again, inseparably and eternally, with Him Who is Father of us all.

19 December 2009

Angels Unawares

There are persons whose entry into one's life has far greater importance than, perhaps, the persons themselves ever suspect.

My high school physics teacher, James Anthony Rossas (known to us as JAR, of course) was one. He suffered through my pretty gross junior and senior years (5th and 6th form equivalent) - I mean my grossness in those years; the years themselves were ordinary years :-) - and bore with my failure to apply in time for University, so pulled strings to get me in anyway. Later, when I became a Christian, still writing to him, he was delighted - only to have me lecture him on the errors of his Catholicism.

I wish he were still alive now, that I might ask his pardon. But if, through God's grace and infinite mercy, I am granted the inexpressibly good gift of eternity in His friendship, I expect to find Jim Rossas there - and to be told how much his prayers helped me merit the gift of faith.

When I became a Christian, at the end of 1969, I rushed into my friend's office at the University of Hawai'i in early 1970 to convert him. To my astonishment, Greg - a reader of this - exclaimed, "that's impossible! My adult Sunday School class has been praying for you for two years!" :-) I had not known that Greg was a Christian. I had scarcely known that there was such a thing as a Christian.

Over the succeeding years Greg was such a friend! He still is, although he lives in Hawai'i and we in New Zealand, so we have - alas! - little contact.

Father Horgan is a very special case.

Greg's own encouragement, in 1974, led us to Yap, in 1976 - and to Father Horgan.

I was very suspicious of anything Catholic in Yap in 1976. Nevertheless, Father Horgan somehow became our friend. I remember that I never thought of talking to him at all of matters of faith. We spoke - and I think this very accurately expresses the reality of the situation - a different language from that of Catholics. I did not know how to talk to him.

Every Thursday evening he came to our house - quite near the Catholic Mission in Yap - and we had ice cream together and talked of family matters. Once, indeed, religion got involved. When Adele was born, the local Protestant church would not baptise her - they had decided they believed only in "believer's baptism" - they meant "confessor's baptism," of course. And of course it never occurred to me to have a Catholic priest baptise her.

Our Protestant church in Auckland gave us authorisation to baptise her, which we did - with Father Horgan signing as one of the witnesses :-) Father's aunt (Rita??) rather adopted us overseas waifs, sending us Christmas gifts and writing letters to us. The importance of these persons in our lives cannot be exaggerated - yet I little recognised it at the time.

In about 1986, as I recall, Father Horgan was enabled, using Frequent Flier points, to visit us in Pukekohe. Some years later he told me that he had been a little hurt that we had not invited him to come to our Protestant church worship. I had, in fact, been almost afraid of our Protestant friends' finding out that we had a Catholic priest staying with us.

One of the greatest joys of my life was my being able to tell Father, in 1995, that we were about to be received into the Catholic Church. And I think our joy was matched by his astonished surprise.

Father Horgan is now in New York, after many years in Yap as a missionary priest. Sue and I talked with him yesterday. He does not know what his future holds. He is a reader of this blog, so I can only say, Father, what a blessing it has been to know that you are our friend, and that you pray for us. We pray for God's blessing on your ministry and life. May we be finally united indissolubly in His presence!

12 December 2009

Happy Holidays!

Well, I was thinking about writing another entry in the closely-followed reality-blogging series 'Memoirs - Dad' and I thought I would write about my memories of family Christmases.

Then I realised that I (practically) haven't got any.

Not really true, I suppose. As I begin to write I seem to recall doing things like string alternate cranberries and bits of popcorn, to put on a tree - or was that something that Edna and I did?

I think I only distinctly recall one Christmas present. I suppose I was - what? - seven? eight? It was a pistol belt with two holsters and two cap pistols. What I cannot recall was whether I was the recipient or Peter, because I do seem to recall some strife between us about it. Did he receive it and was I jealous? Did I receive it and was I selfish?

I have not a clue - perhaps Peter can enlighten me. What I think it may tell me is that the importance of Christmas presents is, if not small, at least evanescent. And of course our family had no tradition of religious activities at Christmas - except there was that one fascinating memory of going to Mass with Kenny's kids, my cousins. I feel sure that was Christmas Eve Mass.

But I do recall vividly and with great pleasure two other sorts of holiday during the year: Easter and Hallowe'en.

Hallowe'en was "Trick or Treat." I have heard that things are a bit less innocent today. At the time, we dressed in conventionalised symbols of death - shirts with printed skeletons on them, masks - and went door to door, half a dozen or so of us together, knocking and crying "Trick or Treat!" I do not recall ever being disappointed, and I do not think any of us would have thought of 'tricking' had we not been 'treated.' If All Hallows' Eve is no longer innocent fun, I am sorry. In the early 1950s - we did not do it in Oroville, as we lived on the farm - it seemed harmless (except possibly to our teeth :-)).

Easter - again, am speaking of Bakersfield, in the early 1950s - was Easter eggs! My mother boiled eggs and we coloured them. I loved that process almost more than the hunt. On Easter morning we had our hunt, but the local council also put on an Easter egg hunt in a park. These were always hard-boiled eggs. Susan tells me she remembers chocolate eggs; that is as may be. I never heard of a chocolate Easter egg until we moved to New Zealand, in 1973.

When we lived in Oroville, there were no Easter egg hunts - at least I do not recall any - nor trick-or-treating (but my mother did host neighbour kids at a Hallowe'en party at our house, complete with rubber gloves filled with ice cubes to pass around, and grapes (as eyeballs, you see)). But I had my first introduction to Easter as a religious event. In high school I played my horn in the brass choir, at Easter sunrise service in the graveyard. That was the first inkling I had that Easter had anything to do with dying - and with rising again.

Christmas blessings to all of you! This year Susan is flying to Sydney on Christmas Eve, and I expect I will see Eddie and Eveline and the kids on Christmas Day. I will, I hope, write something again before then. Tomorrow is, after all, only the 3rd Sunday of Advent. But I thought of Christmas today, and wondered to think how little I remember of early Christmases.

08 December 2009

Taawureng

Or Sehnsucht. What C. S. Lewis called "the 'inconsolable longing' in the human heart for "we know not what."

Taawureng is the Yapese word for it. I know that will not trigger anything in the minds of anyone likely to read this, but it does for me. 'Homesickness,' 'longing' - I know of no English word that quite does it.

The concert is over. The review was good - and William Dart is hard to please, so I suppose we did well. But the concert is over. And I am ... sad, I suppose, I must say. I am listening to the Tchaikovsky now. Foolish me!

Sehnsucht - taawureng -is the deep heart-ache that says, "if only I ... if only I do this, do that ... the ache will be stilled."

It will not be. Nothing will quench that thirst but Heaven, but God Himself. As we approach a concert I feel it so strongly; when the concert is over I am let down. The ache cannot be given peace.

But I will not live without it. We think of the theological virtue of hope as something cheery, light, perhaps. It is not. It is this ache, this deep longing for home. It will be - God grant it! - finally swallowed up in fulfilment. But not by anything this life can offer.

The paradox of hope is that the things - music, beauty, joy - that bring Heaven closest to us are the things that cause that wound to ache most intensely.

We would not do without these reminders of the Thing we hope for for anything. That way lies despair.

I thank God He has given me the inexpressible gift of music.

28 November 2009

Rabbits

I don't really recall exactly how I started raising rabbits.

Naturally on the farm we had a lot of animals. Though our money crops were all from the orchards - olives, oranges, and almonds - we had pigs and steers, for meat; goats and sheep (to help keep the grass down in the orchard; at least, that was the theory, though I don't know how well it worked); chickens, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl; dogs and cats (also pet skunks, for which my mother is to blame).

But I raised rabbits.

The origin of the rabbits was somehow connected with 4-H. "Calf Clubs" are the closest New Zealand equivalent that I know of, though it's not really the same. 4-H clubs had rather more the flavour of scouting. Although agricultural in orientation, there were a lot of activities - were they called 'merit badges??' - that you could do that were not strictly agricultural. I know that I did an electricity project and a Morse Code project.

And I did rabbits.

I remember that what attracted me to the idea of rabbits was making money. I wanted to buy a telescope, and the bottom-line one that I wanted cost US$49.95 - a quasi-infinite amount of cash to a 12-year-old. I don't recall whether I had any formal allowance from my parents. But I decided rabbits was the way to get the telescope (it worked - eventually).

My father and mother supported me grandly. The idea was that I would have eight breeding does, two bucks (this was the proportion that the book said was what I needed). This implied 10 rabbit hutches - which my father built. It also implied a steady supply of Purina "Rabbit Chow" (I was going to put in a link to that product but when I go on the web now I find they have so many duded-up versions of "Rabbit Chow" that I decided I would be embarrassed to link to them). I only now begin to think that my mother may always have paid for that. If so, my money-making business may not have been as money-making as I may once have thought.

Raising rabbits is not itself difficult. You feed them. You give them water. The hutches have a little dark box in the back for the doe to go into to have her babies. You have to put the buck in at the right time for breeding, wait 8 weeks for birth, and then feed the babies for twelve weeks.

Then you have to kill them.

Hmmm...

Eventually I became reasonably skilled at slaughtering rabbits - though I cannot say I ever approached the task with aplomb - but learning how was a bit traumatic.

Jeremiah promised to demonstrate for me, with the first one. OK, we bring out the victim. Jeremiah explains. Then, in the smoothest fashion you could imagine, with his left hand he gently grasps the little rabbit by the hind legs, has a stick in his right. Up sweeps the rabbit, down comes the stick sharply on the back of the neck. Probably severs the spinal cord because there is no wriggling now. Out comes the knife, throat cut, and the rabbit is in Rabbit Heaven before it knows it is dead.

With similar expertise comes the slaughtering. Skin cut just so and so, peel it off like a sock. The skin goes on a stretcher to dry and the skins eventually are sent to a place in Sacramento that pays me US$.25 each for them - and at one point sells me, for ... well, I don't remember, but only a few dollars - a lovely pair of rabbit skin gloves that I wish I had now and would probably cost me hundreds.

Gutting the carcass is quick and clean. Be very careful not to rupture the gall bladder as the liver is part of the meat you will sell and gall will ruin it for eating.

OK, now it's my turn.

My stomach knots a little even now, in memory of that 55-year-old crime.

I grab the rabbit. Not gently. It begins to struggle. I raise it quickly and start smashing it with the stick. It does not like this. I am in tears by this time. Eventually it is sufficiently subdued that I manage to cut its throat.

The rest of the operation is a blur. I do remember that we had to throw that one away.

I did, as I say, get reasonably skilled at the operation. It is surely a sign of the fallen state of creation, that, as St Paul says in Romans 8 (I think it is) 'groans in tribulation' now. Adam and Eve were told that the plants were for them to eat; Noah had explicitly to be given permission to eat the beasts. I am not a vegetarian and do not believe we are required to be - but it is surely a reminder of our state that, however well we succeed in reducing the pain an animal feels in being killed, we ourselves know that it would be well if it were not necessary to kill in order to eat. It is. It will not always be so. The lion will, one day, lie down with the lamb; and 12-year-old boys will one day no longer need to kill rabbits to buy telescopes.

I must tell you some time about the day Peter and I were given permission to kill a rather mature cock, with a rather dull axe. But not now.

21 November 2009

When does it stop?!

I posted nothing last week and if I don't do something now I will post nothing this week. In fact, I think I posted nothing the week before last but am afraid to look to find out.

OK, yes, I have been busy, but in truth the reason for my silence lies more in the fact that everyone else has been so busy that I have been unsure what to write about. And from today I am very definitely busy, so just a few brief notes, and then I have to head off for rehearsal.

Johnny is in the States at the moment. He has just finished spending two weeks with Adele, and then is off to California to see Kathleen, his half-sister, and Peter, my brother.

Last 14 November was Eddie and Eveline's 11th wedding anniversary. So that they could have a couple of days to themselves, Sue and I spent the week-end at their house. Saturday I took Robyn, Jonnie, and Julian to the zoo - Sue had an appointment in Auckland, so it was just me.

And having survived the wild beasts at the zoo, I thought I should be safe taking the kids to St Luke's Shopping Centre for lunch.

I got out of the car and felt something on my left thumb - just some fluff or something from the car, I suppose. I brush it off.

Hmmm... That is the thumb with the damaged joint (Peter - that is from a time when I thought I could box with Jeremiah and he, fending me off, allowed me to bash it against his fist :-)) and it throbs sometimes. Nevertheless, it is not many seconds before I realise I have been stung - by a bee, I assume. Never mind. Bee stings don't bother me for long, and we are in a hurry. Let's go, kids!

By evening I am thinking it is an odd bee sting. My thumb has swollen massively. This is very unusual!

In the morning the swelling has gone down but there is a large and nasty-looking blood blister. I conclude - what is almost certainly the case - that I have been bitten by a spider - very likely the white-tail. There is a story that white-tails can cause arachnogenic necrosis, but Wikipedia says white-tail bites are probably not implicated - and I am counting on Wikipedia to be correct! At present it appears to be slowly healing.

5-6 December we are playing:

The Tchaikovsky is the most romantic music in the world. The biggest challenge will be not to get teary-eyed whilst playing :-) The Cantata is a challenge! A local Chinese choir will sing the Mandarin, and they are bringing in 20 soloists (singers and instrumentalists) from China for the thing - should at least be interesting!

And that is it for the week-end - and possibly until after the concert.

01 November 2009

jj learns a lesson

I bought this horn eleven months ago from KBB Music (which means, please God, that in another month I will finally have paid for it - but that's another story).

On the 13th of October, KBB sent me spam that I could not resist:

Dear French Horn Player,

Visiting horn player Mark Paine will be joining forces with three other international artists to perform a concert featuring the first NZ performance of Benjamin Britten’s The Heart of the Matter for voice, horn, piano and narrator, as well as Schubert’s Auf dem Strom for voice, horn and piano at the Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Epsom Girls' Grammar School on Sunday 1 November 2009. more

During Mark’s stay he will also be available for private horn lessons between Thursday 29 October and Monday 2 November. To book a lesson, please contact Mark directly by email markwpaine@yahoo.com

Mark is the principal horn of the European Union Chamber Orchestra and co-principal horn of the City of London Sinfonia. He specialises in playing high horn parts of the early Classical period, especially in the works of Haydn. Mark’s latest CD of Haydn Divertimenti and Symphonies has just become Editor’s Choice in UK’s Gramophone Magazine. Mark also plays natural horn, having done several projects with John Eliot Gardiner in the Orchestre R√©volutionnaire et Romantique. Visit Mark’s website

Your KBB Music Team

I have never had a horn lesson in my life (which will not surprise some of my musician friends). Indeed, I have never felt the need of one. I have thought that in order to get anything from a teacher, I would have to attend lessons weekly for a year or something - and there was no question of that, either from the point of view of money or time.

But Mark was a one-off. And Mark is at a higher level of ability than any teacher I might have available in Auckland under normal circumstances.

I e-mailed him. And he answered!

In short, it was arranged. The lesson was arranged for yesterday, Saturday the 31st of October, at 11 in the morning. My children will understand that it was a bit of a trek when I tell them that Mark was located in Torbay (72.2 Km, according to Google Maps).

I am very glad I went.

I was very nervous about going. What was this world-class horn player going to think of John Jensen's feeble blatting?

He was, in fact, very helpful, both straightforward and modest - and I don't mean false modesty. I mean he recognised his own ability and worth - and honoured what I was able to do, without either puffing it or putting it down.

And his instructions gave me what I wanted. I have been at loose ends as to how to practise between concerts. I have not, in fact, done very well with that. Mark gave me an excellent run-down of what I might do. He also very patiently listened to me rattle on - I expected half an hour of time with him; he gave me an hour and a half.

We are now preparing for our final concert of the year. It is going to be challenging. We have just three pieces - but two of them are big enough. We start with an overture:

Then the gut-wrenching (to me, at least):

(which, if it doesn't bring tears to your eyes, nothing will).

And after the interval (ready for this?):

in Mandarin! (All the music instruction notes are in Chinese - I trust someone will tell me what they mean). The Music Association of Auckland is supplying the Chinese choir and soloists (some 20 of them, I think I have heard, being brought from China for the purpose).

I think we will be busy for a while.

I have to go now and put some of my lesson into practice :-)

26 October 2009

Sacrament

Today is Labour Monday - no, that is not a Sacrament - not even a sacramental - I only mention it to explain how it is I am able to write a bit on a Monday.

It is, indeed, a bit of a marvel that I am able to write anything, three-day week-end or not. This has been an extremely busy week-end. Susan and I spent all of Saturday and much of today shifting furniture between the house and the 'sleep-out' room that is my bedroom-cum-office.

And Sunday was the day of ... well, Sunday was the reason for the title.

About a week ago Eddie told Susan and me that he intended to be baptised. This was news of mixed import to us, as Eddie had been baptised when he was an infant. So I understood that what he intended was to go through a form of adult baptism. By the end of the week, Eveline had chosen to follow him in this step. Eddie wanted Susan and me to be present.

It has been a bit of a stormy week for us all, debating, considering, and, finally, deciding that we would go to the event. Although no re-baptism is possible for a person who has once been validly baptised, I understood that this was Eddie's way of affirming his determination to follow Christ. That is a determination that I most emphatically want to support. I suppose one can view this as a renewal of baptismal vows.

It had long been the plan for Sue and me to spend yesterday with Eddie and Eveline - our monthly lunch with them - and the baptism was to be at his church's evening service, at 5PM.

Calling it a 'church service' is, perhaps, a bit misleading. It was indistinguishable from a Christian rock concert. I must confess that the volume of the band was such that I genuinely think a steady exposure would be damaging to one's hearing. Thankfully, the noise ... er, music :-) ... didn't last too long.

There was a sermon (on faith) - I have heard worse from Catholic priests. It was a bit of a trip back in time for us - the standard evangelical sermon urging (rightly!) faith in God, followed by a call for decision.

The baptism itself - looked like about twenty persons were baptised - was fully-clothed, full immersion - full-on! I couldn't hear anything of the words used in the baptism, so I don't know whether any there who had not been baptised before were in fact baptised now or not - that is, I don't know if it was baptism "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." I hope for their sake it was, and, indeed, I prayed then, and since, for all those who were baptised.

This morning Sue and I went to Mass, as we usually do. It was, in style, quite a contrast! Well, of course, it was a week-day Mass, not a full Sunday Mass, and there were only about 20 people there. There was no music, but, had there been, it would not have threatened anyone's hearing. And Father's 5-minute homily did not end with a call to persons who wanted to determine to follow the Lord to raise their hands!

All that is true, but the deep difference was stark, and real. Eddie will read this post, and I do not wish to be writing a sermon to him, nor to give the impression that I am not very glad we decided to go to his re-baptism ceremony. I am deeply glad that we went, and pray for him and Eveline and their children. Nonetheless, last night during the baptisms, I had a sudden thought: what is happening here is John's baptism. These people are undergoing a baptism of repentance - and well they, and each of us, should. If the formula was Trinitarian, even although the minister performing the baptisms made clear, in his speech, that he did not believe in baptismal regeneration, then this was valid baptism for the unbaptised. Nevertheless ... what I thought of was John's baptism.

At the end, after the sermon, Sue and I left. There had been some good music - that of it that could actually be heard, of course! - and wonderful zeal, and a sermon that I could well take to heart on believing God and trusting Him. Still - something was missing.

Not something, actually; Someone. This morning God condescended to give Himself to me Bodily, in His full Substance. I cannot forget that. I cannot do without that. I can readily contrast some points of Protestant worship with Catholic to the credit of the Protestant. There is much that they do well that we do not (though I would either have to find a congregation with less powerful amplifiers, or else wear earplugs :-)). They can give me Jesus spiritually. They can give me His Words. They can tell me of His love.

I am thankful for what the Reformed Church gave me. I am thankful for what the Baptist Church gave me before that. I am thankful to Eddie and Eveline for inviting me. But there is something that only the Catholic Church can give me. The Catholic Church gives me Jesus. I cannot do without that. It is my prayer for Eddie and Eveline, and for all men and women, that they come to know Him Whom to receive is life eternal.

17 October 2009

Harry Potter

I was going to write something this week-end - honest, I was! But time has crept up on me. Tomorrow is our 'Family Concert.' We play for 'subscription concerts' each year - those are ones you have to pay more for - and one Family Concert. The Family Concert is ... cheaper. The subscription concerts cost (depending on the seat) $30 or $40, for adults. The Family Concert seats are $15.

So I suppose it's a matter of 'you get what you pay for.' We try to deliver the same quality performance for the Family Concert as for the subscription concerts, but they are much shorter - and are aimed towards young people. This year we are playing:

  • Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" - written for children but definitely not for children to play! It ends with a fugue that goes at a lightning pace. There is narration from a local actor named Robert Mackelenberg.
  • Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" - just the dance section, but a local young dance troupe is supposed to be dancing (I haven't seen them yet).
  • John Williams' "Hedwig's Theme" from "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

So I expect it is the last piece that will be the most popular. At rehearsal last night our conductor - Rupert d'Cruze - asked if anyone had a stuffed owl! "Yeah, right!" I thought. To my astonishment, someone - our second horn player, Christine - said that she had - "If the children haven't destroyed it by now."

Well, it just goes to show you what amazing things some people have in the back room.

09 October 2009

That injury

The last time I posted anything about my childhood, I spoke of an injury connected with my two rooms.

My bedroom was a smaller room - an original dressing room, I suppose - off a larger room, but the two rooms were separated by what is called a 'french door.' This is a door that is a wooden lattice with little windows in it.

Somehow - I really don't recall how, but I think Peter and I were wrestling over something - I kicked my bare right heel through the glass - and partially severed the Achilles tendon. I don't really remember what year this happened. Perhaps about 1956, in which case I was around 14.

Naturally, this is pretty serious! Nowadays there are not many general practitioners about, but then, at least, Dr Patrick was our family doctor, for just about everything, and he sewed up the tendon, under local anaesthetic, applied a plaster cast to it, and told me he would take it off in six weeks.

Note that I called in a 'plaster cast.' Today that immobilising device would be a prefabricated form made of aluminium or plastic; then it was layers of gauze bandage coated in Plaster-of-Paris. And we lived on a farm.

Walking through muddy ground pretty much did that cast in in considerably less than six weeks - about four weeks, as I recall. It began to dissolve. Back to Dr Patrick, who took it off, inspected the healing wound, and showed that, whilst medically he may have been a terrific doctor, as a judge of character - in particular, 14-year-old male character - he was a complete failure.

He told me he would leave the cast off and I should just be careful for a while.

In my humble opinion, telling any 14-year-old boy to 'be careful' is risible naivety; tell young Johnny Jensen the same is utter madness.

The very next day, wearing gumboots, I found myself chasing Wayne Farrens across a newly-ploughed field - for a while.

Then I was not chasing Wayne, but was on my hands and knees, and in considerable pain.

All that Wayne knew was that I was not chasing him any longer.

With a severed Achilles tendon, you don't walk. So I crawled back to the (pretty busy) highway, crawled across it, crawled up our fairly long driveway, past Peter (who looked at me with contempt; he later told me he thought I had probably done something like fallen down and skinned my knee and was now wanting sympathy), and into the house.

When my mother came, she knew immediately what had happened. Angrily she pulled the gumboot off. When I stopped yelling, I said that I had thought she would cut it off. "Those gumboots cost ...!!!" - well, I don't know what she said they cost, but it was clear that she wasn't going to destroy them, 'specially to spare the feelings of stupid child who couldn't keep out of even obvious trouble.

That time it was (I was later told) two and a half hours of general anaesthetic (real ether - you wouldn't like it). I begged to be taken home that night, and was allowed. Dr Patrick told me sternly that this time it would be in a cast for eight weeks, and that if I did it again, he would have to shave more off the ends of the severed tendon and I would be lame for life - and serve me right.

Non-dissolving stitches, too. They took six months of regular visits to the doctor to be removed, and to have me lie under a UV lamp for healing. I remember Dr Patrick pulling the end of one stitch out, and me yelping, to which he responded by asking, "Did that hurt?" "Yes!" "Well, good! Maybe it will teach you to be more careful next time."

I have a big mass of scar tissue there now that is easily injured and slow to heal, to teach me, indeed, to be careful.

04 October 2009

That new church

I mentioned in the post about the Samoa tsunami that our church is being pulled down, and thought I might fill in a few details.

I think it was in about 2000 that Father Martin Bugler (pronounced, as he carefully told us, Bugg-Ler - not like a man who plays the bugle!) - I suppose after consultation with the parish council - announced that it was time to build a new church building. Actually, he had talked about renovating the existing building, but after discussions with the bishop, had said we would build a new building entirely. Father Martin thought it possible we might begin the very next year.

We are beginning, at last - some nine years later. I am not surprised. Money considerations have been the primary reason for the delay.

Last Sunday, the 27th September, was our last Mass in the old building. During the week they have been setting up to use the hall as our church - probably for about a year, I am told. The old church - built in 1879 - is still standing but I presume will shortly be knocked down.

I confess I view the event with some sorrow. This is not principally nostalgia for the old building - although I personally saw no reason why it could not have been renovated and enlarged - but because the proposed new building is ... well, let me just say that a church building, whilst needing to be useable by the people, should be so built that it speaks of the glory of the Kingdom. I am not of the school that thinks only the gothic can properly be a Catholic church. They wanted this church to be a bit 'rounder,' a bit more 'communitarian.' From the little I know of architecture, the basilica style could have achieved the same ends - glory and usefulness - but I should reserve my judgement until I have seen it. There is not, in any case, anything I can do about what will be built - and I had made my views known during the planning stage. Now I look forward to the completion. I suppose it will not be done until sometime late next year - perhaps about Christmas, 2010, which will also mark the end of fifteen years that Susan and I have been communicant Catholics.

03 October 2009

Samoa

Disasters are news until you see some of their effects in person.

Saturday Mass today - in the nuns' convent chapel, since they are in process of tearing down our church to build a new one (we will have Sunday Mass in the church hall for a year, I think) - and Father Ikenasio is saying Mass.

Father is from Samoa - and I had been told that some members of his family had been lost in the tsunami.

It is still news - until Father came into the chapel this morning. I remembered, then, but still didn't think too much of it. Father was a little hesitant at first. A little slow off the mark. A little ... shaky.

A sudden intake of breath - and he apologised to us.

Father's homily consisted only in thanking us for our prayers and concern. He has not been able to get much in the way of details, but Susan tells me that so far he has been told that seven family members are dead. They are all on his father's side (his father and mother are safe) - and he has not been able to get information about his mother's family. Many dead were people - young children, often - who were sleeping in communal houses near the sea - swept out to sea.

I don't watch television, nor listen to the radio, or I suppose I would have been bombarded by these images since the disaster happened on Tuesday last. Seeing Father today... well, I don't know what to say, but to pray.

27 September 2009

Ours vs Theirs

I do not often post from other blogs, but, recalling District-9, I found this, from Catholic Exchange, quite affecting:

Stranger Is a Dangerous Word

September 26th, 2009 by Monsignor Dennis Clark, Ph.D.

Num 11:25-29 / James 5:1-6 / Mk 9:38-43,45,47-48

About a fifteen years ago, Time magazine reported on a curious experiment conducted by the sociology department at Stanford. It seems the department took a late model automobile into a nearby residential neighborhood and abandoned it for a week. They hadn’t really abandoned it, of course, because they were watching from a hidden vantage point to see what might happen. What happened was absolutely nothing. Adults and kids walked or drove by, looked at the car, and obviously wondered whose it was and why it was there. But nobody laid a finger on it.

After a week of this the hidden observers ended their vigil and drove the car away. But not very far, just a few blocks, to a spot on the side of a well-traveled road that wasn’t part of any particular neighborhood. Once again the car was "abandoned" and the observers took up their binoculars to watch from a distance. But this time they hadn’t long to wait. Well-dressed adults and teenagers in decent cars - the same kind of folks who lived in the first neighborhood - descended like locusts on that car and took what they wanted, tires, stereo, seats, doors, engine, the works! Within five hours only the frame remained.

The same car, the same community, two locations just blocks apart. What made the difference? The scholars thought a lot about that and finally concluded that the difference lay in a simple distinction: ours vs. theirs. Even if we don’t quite know the details, a car parked in our neighborhood is presumed to be one of ours. Whereas a car parked out in no-man’s land is labeled "theirs," the property of one of the faceless "them," who have no connection with us, who are outside our circle, and thus merit no consideration from us.

That ugly little distinction, we vs. they, ours vs. theirs, is constantly in play, always sneaking up on us and trying to take over. It labels a person as a "stranger" — not one of us — and then gives permission for just about anything.

How could a person kill someone entirely unknown to him in a drive-by shooting? Easy. The victim was a "stranger," not of the group, so his life just didn’t count.

How can an airman drop bombs on innocent non-combatants below? Because they are strangers and not ours.

How can we sometimes be so callous about the sufferings of the homeless and destitute? Easy! Because they are strangers, people without faces, not one of us.

And how can some of us be so rude and aggressive to other, perfectly decent drivers on the freeway? Because they are strangers, not one of us. Can you imagine acting that way if you knew the other driver was a friend or a client or your mother?!

The pattern shows up in even the tiniest of things. I’ve learned that even cigarette butts can tell us the same tale. At the end of a typical Sunday morning, when more than a thousand of our own parishioners have passed through these doors, hardly a cigarette butt is to be found anywhere on the grounds. But have a handful of visitors here for a 30-minute wedding, and you’ll find butts everywhere, even ground into the floor inside the church. To some of those visitors, we are strangers, not one of theirs, so anything goes.

In this gospel, Jesus had the disappointment of hearing his best friend John make this same ugly distinction, we vs. they, ours vs. theirs. "Jesus," he said, all puffed up with pride, "we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him, because he was not one of ours!" What a disappointment for Jesus! John had already heard the Good Samaritan story at least as many times as we have. For nearly three years he’d seen Jesus befriending everyone who came along, showing no preferences, making no distinctions, welcoming everyone into his life, and leaving no one outside the circle of his love.

John had seen and heard all that, but just like us, he still hadn’t taken it all the way into his heart. His old instincts were still in charge. But Jesus didn’t give up on him. He just told him again: for us there can be no such thing as a stranger, only brothers and sisters. For us there can be no "them," only an all-inclusive "us." The circle of our love has to grow so wide that no one is left outside. This is our life’s task and we’ll achieve it only with God’s help.

So let us turn to God in prayer.

Lord, we have set limits on our love and have been willing to call many of your people "strangers." Help our hearts to grow ever larger. Teach us to recognize all people as brothers and sisters, and show us the way to bring all people into the circle of our love. Amen.

26 September 2009

Happy Birthday!

Today - 26 September - is Susan's birthday!

It is also that of approximately 18.579436949424012813404792706216 million other persons - give or take a few. Assumptions behind this calculation:

  • The world's population today is 6.786 billion
  • Babies are as likely to be born on any one day as on any other

The world's population figure must be correct, because it is taken from that impeccable source: Wikipedia.

The assumption about the probabilities of birthdays is questionable, but are you going to be able to prove me wrong? I don't think so!

I point out the (approximate) number of other persons (I don't vouch for all the decimal places; that just comes out of Windows Vista's calculator, when dividing 6.786 billion by the number of days in a legal year = 365.2425 (think about it - remembering that years divisible by 100 but not by 400 are not leap years; I'm sure you'll work it out) - I point out, I say (a long parenthesis back), the number because today is also the birthdays of:

  • Susan and my close friend Jenni Surrey
  • Our daughter Helen's husband Robert's

And Susan thinks this amazing. I have offered the to calculate the probability, given a number of friends, that some two - or three, or whatever - have the same birthday, but she has declined. This is lucky for me as I am by no means certain I could make that calculation (correctly, that is).

The world has become a more boring place. I just wondered whether Wikipedia (again) could tell me that probability. It can. Sad when the mystery goes out of life. But looking at that page, the maths seems sufficiently opaque as to ensure I would get tired of trying to understand it before having finished.

Tuesday last, the 22nd of September, was my birthday - and also those of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins - so there! I did not blog last week-end, and I could tell you that the reason was because on the Sunday - the 20th - we went up to Eddie and Eveline's for what was the official John and Susan Birthday Lunch. It is true that we went - and had a lovely time with them all - but it would not be true. I could have blogged on the Saturday but did not - because I forgot.

Actually I just read the Birthday Problem page and it turns out to be pretty simple after all - ah, well!

Sue and I will leave shortly (this Saturday afternoon) to stand as Godparents for Gerard and Delia Farrell's new daughter (whose name, I am informed, is Magdalena); then off to Little Thai Restaurant for dinner. Little Thai is the only proper restaurant (as opposed to Burger Fuel, where we go for takeaways) that we go to. The reason: both cater to Susan's no-gluten needs.

And let me take this opportunity to wish a hearty 'Happy Birthday' to all 18.579436949424012813404792706216 million (minus one) of the rest of you whose birthday is today.

12 September 2009

911

It is, after all, 12/9 in New Zealand today - but it is 9/11 in the US, and many are remembering. I might be expected to have something to say on the subject - I don't know that I do.

Borrowing on the Internet is, I suppose, fair game - at least until their lawyers send you a polite letter - and as "J. Christian" says, commenting in a blog I read:

Reflecting on 9/11, I recall an essay by Lee Harris on the motivation for the terror attacks. His thesis is that they were not an act of war as we traditionally understand it, but that they were the enactment of a fantasy. As a way of introducing his idea, he describes an encounter with a college friend protesting the Vietnam War:

Thus, when he lay down in front of hapless commuters on the bridges over the Potomac, he had no interest in changing the minds of these commuters, no concern over whether they became angry at the protesters or not. They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama. The protest for him was not politics, but theater; and the significance of his role lay not in the political ends his actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, he was acting out a fantasy.

The victims of 9/11 were "supernumeraries in a private psychodrama." Props.

I have no special insight into evil or knowledge of whether an act is Satanic or not. Hate is a strong, strong word, but dehumanizing others to the point that they are props in one's fantasy -- that has to be a special kind of hatred.

I found this revealing of some of my own activities in life. I have - thank God! - not given in to hatred. But I there have been times in my own life - sometimes with my own family - when I have found that I have treated others as mere supernumeraries in my own private psychodrama.

Sue and I are off to see friends tomorrow, Sunday the 13th of September (Robbie Loretz, for those of you who know him). Busy week-end!

09 September 2009

Happy Father's Day

From Eddie:
I think you may have to click on the image to read the text.

05 September 2009

Upstairs

In a comment to a previous post, Peter said:

...the rock pond and swimming pool ... were built at the time the house was built, not by Higgenbotham but by a guy named Tyler, who according to Higgenbotham had the house constructed, with all the fancy pond, pool, landscape vegetation, etc., as a wedding gift for his daughter. All in 1911.

Supposing Mr Tyler's daughter to have been 21 in 1911, and Mr Tyler to have been, say, 25 when she was born, he might have grown up in the years following the American Civil War. Upstairs there were six bedrooms, but in fact there were three large bedrooms, each with a smaller attached room. My father told me that the smaller ones were dressing rooms.

Whether or no, they were for us six bedrooms.

We were six in our family (including, remember, Jeremiah, who was an effective part of our family. All right, but did my parents not share a bedroom? They did. So that means we only needed five bedrooms - is that not correct?

It is. How it came about that I had more than the lion's share of rooms I do not know. A greedy self-interest on my part certainly had something to do with it, and only now, in advanced years, does it occur to me to wonder whether either my brother or sister may have resented the fact that I had two rooms of my own, and the only two rooms that gave me pretty complete privacy. I had two rooms, and effectively pretty much first rights to a third.

Up the stairs and to the left was my parents' room. It was large enough that my father's desk was in the corner. Next to it, with a door into their room and another door to the hallway was the large bathroom - the only one with a bathtub.

From their room - sharing a door with it into the hallway - was the bedroom that belonged to Robin, my sister.

Turn right at the top of the stairs, then left, and you are in Peter's room - the larger of the two whose smaller room was Jeremiah's.

Across from Peter's room was ... my suite. The smaller bedroom, at the back of the house, was where my bed was. Between my room and Jeremiah's was the small bathroom (shower and toilet but not tub).

But the bigger bedroom that led into my own was effectively my office. What did I have in there? I don't recall in detail - and I think at one point there must have been a bed, for that bed, and the so-called 'french doors' (double doors with panes of glass) between the two, were responsible for the only moderately serious injury of my life - but more of that another time.

Anyway, that was my two rooms - and off that larger room was a screened-in upstairs open-air porch (at least we called it that) - that also had a bed in it - two, perhaps - in which I liked to sleep in summer. I think Peter also slept there, sometimes, so there must have been two beds. No doubt he can refresh my memory.

Regarding that injury ... well, next time!

30 August 2009

District 9

I rarely go to movies. I suppose in the last 40 years I may have seen 20 movies.

Today I saw District 9.

I saw trailers for this some weeks or months ago and was, really fascinated. The South African accents interested me as a linguist, it is true, but I could see in the basic idea of the movie elements of a powerful modern parable. I thought I would get my son Eddie to go to see it - I can't recall any time I have had the patience to sit through any movie except with someone I have some relationship with.

So I asked Eddie, and then thought that my close friend from work Marko Blagojevic might go as well. In the event I went with Susan, with Marko and his wife Rachel, with Eddie, and with Varoon, another friend from work. Marko did an unforgettable barbecue lunch for us at his house and we then went to see the movie.

Sue and I got home a couple of hours ago. I am still stunned.

The movie is a powerful story of conversion and of the Cross. You may already have seen it. You (whoever you are who read this) may not wish to see it - it is very violent. It is gut-wrenching. It is not a usual movie. It is not to be forgotten. It is well worthwhile seeing, nonetheless.

Do not, however, take your children!

29 August 2009

Through the kitchen...

...and out the back door.

Stopping, of course, for a bite to eat. There is not much for me to say about the kitchen, really. The time I spent there was devoted to eating, washing dishes (when made to), and mixing syrup.

Mixing syrup was - what? - the last two or three years I was at home? My father had a vending machine business and you probably don't want to know the gory details of what happens inside a soft-drink machine (the kind that dispenses little cups, with syrup and soda water that comes down into them, not the kind that dispenses bottles or cans. I have never seen the cup+syrup+water sort in New Zealand, actually). Some other time.

Dishes, by the way, are worth a comment. Since there were three of us children, there were three jobs: washing, drying, and putting away. I suspect washing was always the most distasteful, but can't recall very clearly.

But the kitchen leads to the back hall (toilet down the end of the little hall. We had two bathrooms upstairs and a toilet downstairs), and the back hall to the back porch, the laundry (off to the side), and the back yard.

We had a camphor tree in the back yard, which I thought was really cool. This tree:

is, according to Wikipedia, more than 1,000 years old - but then it is in Japan and everyone knows that makes it special :-) Ours was surely not 1,000 years old (unless some early Indians brought it from Asia, where it is native), but it was pretty cool. The gum from it smelt camphorish, and it was just generally a neat thing to have.

We also had two monstrous Pampas Grass plants - the same genus as New Zealand toetoe - and I hated them.

We had many chickens around the place. Chickens?! My mother was nuts on birds. We had chickens, bantam chickens, , ducks, geese, and probably other poultry that I have forgotten.

But we had chickens. And we had a nice big chicken house. And some of the hens actually laid their eggs in the chicken house.

And sometimes they laid them in tunnels they had made into the Pampas Grass.

The leaves of Pampas Grass are like tiny hacksaws. Run your finger along the edge of the leaf in one direction - from base to end - and they are smooth enough. Draw your finger in the opposite direction - and then find some tissue or something to stanch the blood.

It never seems to have occurred to me at the time to wonder why I was the one asked to crawl into those tunnels to get eggs out that had been laid. Perhaps I was not the only one. Peter may have done it. I was asked to do so, anyway, and I always did it - but was not happy at it. I put long-sleeved shirts on. I got cut anyhow. When I would find a nest, unless the hen was not there, I also generally got pecked. But I did get the eggs.

We had a fountain in the backyard that left its mark on me. I wonder whether the builder of the house - was it Mr Higginbotham, who sold it to us, or someone before him? - had rather romantic Mediterranean ideas. The crops - olives, oranges, and almonds - were, after all, quite Mediterranean. There were those classical columns at the front (albeit wooden rather than marble). And there was this fountain affair. It was a circular mortared stone pond with a central mini-tower which had a pipe in the middle of it. I don't recall there ever being any water in it.

I used to like holding on to the central tower, and walk around the edge, leaning into it. One day I slipped. I suppose the muscle in the place where my thigh hit the edge of the fountain was fairly deeply torn, and subsequently repaired with scar tissue. I still have the indentation, more than 50 years later.

I think I recall my father's telling me that Mr Higginbotham's wife was Tahitian - met during the Second World War, I suppose. Whether because of this or not, we had a swimming pool!

22 August 2009

Busy, busy, busy

OK, I didn't do anything last week-end, and ... basically, I'm not going to do anything this week-end! Tonight is our Beethoven concert. Last week-end was rehearsals. Tonight is the concert (and our conductor, Eugene Albulescu, said, regarding the horn duet in the trio section of the symphony, that "horn players would generally have two root canals without anaesthetic than be presented with it") - so I must practise.

And tomorrow, Sunday the 23rd of August, we are going to go see Eddie and Eveline. And Monday I am on leave - to try and catch up a bit on lost work.

But I was sufficiently moved by this reference to one of Newman's sermons that I offer it here for you to look at. It warns us against talking the talk ... as though that were a substitute for walking the walk:

Unreal Words

09 August 2009

The TV Room

We had a television!

Peter tells me - in his comment - that we had a television in Bakersfield; I do not remember it. But I remember the television in Oroville. My Dad built it!

Again, memory may be unreliable, but I recall its being in a man-height wooden frame, with a full picture tube (I think early tvs tended to have a small tube, maybe 12 inches diagonally) - 21-inch? Bigger?

The 'works' - all vacuum valves, of course - were in a chassis under the tube, and, for all I know, exposed lethal voltages.

It was black and white, of course. Did the United States - our part of it, anyhow - have colour televsion in the 1950s? I don't know, and rather doubt it, but we certainly had not.

The television was in - naturally - the tv room, to the left of the dining room. It had a painted concrete floor, I think. When we were watching tv, we were often set to doing kitchen tasks for my mother. I remember things like shelling peas, and churning butter. we had a little - what? - one-US-gallon? - glass butter churn with a handle to turn the paddles. Of course we were not allowed to eat the butter! We ate margarine - cheaper! Butter was for my mother to sell to the neighbours.

I actually can recall only one tv programme that I watched regularly, and loved: The Mickey Mouse Club. I watched it with great fervour, because I was in love with Annette Funicello (who, I have just discovered from that web page, was born exactly one month later than I - now doesn't that tell you something? - yes, other than the fact that she will soon be 67 as well, which is almost inconceivable). Ah, love!

All of which does make me think back to electromagnetic sources of entertainment in Bakersfield. We may have had a television; we certainly had a radio, and Peter and I had one in our shared bedroom. We were allowed to listen to a number of programmes - and perhaps some of the ones listed below were ones that we listened to without being allowed - at least, Susan tells me that she would never have been let listen to the spookier ones. I remember, especially, in no particular order:

And above all - the highlight of the week, lying in bed on Saturday mornings:

Of course some of these, and other radio programmes, ended up on television as well, and Susan remembers some of them from that medium. I remember, with pleasure, Gunsmoke on tv. But in truth, television never played a large part in my life. I enjoyed the radio when I was a small boy - but even then, I was far more of a books man than a radio listener or movie watcher. Other than a few television programmes in my 'teen years - and especially Annette, of course - I didn't watch much tv then - and almost none later, until my own children came along - precious little even at that time.

From the television room - still on the front of the house - you go into the (I now know) quite large kitchen - and then outdoors!

02 August 2009

Oroville house3

Peter has mentioned a basement, and I had, in fact, forgotten it. Perhaps it had some sort of workshop in it - but what it certainly housed was the heater.

The house had central heating. The heater was some sort of oil burner - burned diesel oil, I think. I remember my poor father trying to get us to keep the thermostat at a very reasonable 20 degrees (68F) - and we - or at least I - constantly turning it up to max (85F, or half a degree below 30C). Did I ever take seriously or even comprehend talk about expense? I doubt it. I certainly have no memory of any traces of a twinge of conscience (neither about that nor about much else, I'm afraid).

I suppose the warm air outlets went upstairs, but possibly not. There were some downstairs that I used to love to stand in front of on cold days. Maybe the system was set up so that warm air would flow upstairs.

But at the foot of the stairs was a big grill, whose function I neither knew nor questioned. I know now what it was. It was the air intake.

I appear to have engaged in sleep-walking. One morning there was very pungent, unpleasant odour coming out of the warm air outlets. It was ascertained - how, I don't know - that I had walked in my sleep, down the stairs, and emptied my bladder into the air intake - straight, I imagine, onto the burner of the heater.

Regarding that, of course, I feel even now no guilt - can one be held to account for actions taken during sleep? But I must not have been very popular with the rest of the family for a while.

To the left of the entryway is the dining room. The table in my memory is very large, but I suppose it was quite normal in size. We were six at dinner (including Jeremiah). The table, sideboard, and chairs were all some kind of set - elaborately-carved dark wood. I wish I could say that our dinners were pleasant affairs. Well, I suppose they were for me. It never occurred to me to inhibit gross or offensive behaviour at table - or even that my behaviour could have been offensive. But dinner times must have been a trial for my mother and father and for Jeremiah.

And then ... the TV room!

01 August 2009

106 Victoria Street

Although I have been writing (for my children's - principally, I think, my sons' - sake) about my childhood and youth - what I have named with the grandiose title of 'Memoirs' - life is now. And now involves very actively the house we live in.

As I said some time back - late last year or early this year, I think - there is a possibility of our moving to Patumahoe, to keep an eye on the house next to the 'Rural Retreat' (as those who are planning it call it). If this happens - still quite uncertain, I should say - it will take place probably early in 2010. In that case we will either rent out our existing house, or sell it.

As my children can testify, it is - or at least has been - scarcely in rentable or salable condition. We moved in in September, 1984. The house itself was probably built in the late 1920s, variously modified since then, and prettied up a little bit (very little) before we bought it. At that time the carpets were pretty old, I think; the wallpaper new (some of it); the paintwork mostly not very new. Since then, until early 2009, Sue and I have done the minimum necessary. We have had it painted (the outside) once in those almost-25 years (and that was probably ten years ago); had new iron on the roof (the old had really had it); fixed one thing and another: not much.

So this year we borrowed some money from our friendly local branch of the Bank of New Zealand (they really are very good people, and know us well), and made a plan.

That plan could be summarised in one word: Susan.

Susan has done all the work so far, and will certainly be doing all that remains. Well, to be completely accurate, the work has been done by Susan and friends - principally Gail. Gail has been pretty amazing. She has been doing house renovations for years as a sort of paid hobby. She loves doing it and is a wonderful worker. And because of her experience, she knows what to do, where to get needed materials, what not to touch, and so forth.

Susan and Gail picked out wallpaper - and bought it at half price. Gail and Susan have so far wallpapered the dining room and hallway along the back bedrooms (there are two in the back of the house and one in the front); removed the wallpaper in the rearmost bedroom - the one I had been using, so I have been banished to the 'sleepout' room that has served as bedroom for each of our children at different times.

Oh, well, not only Gail! Elise, my very close friend at work, got her cousin's husband Paul to sell us a houseful of carpet for NZ$1,000. We will get it put down for another $2,000. The numbers might, perhaps, sound high to an American, I wouldn't know, but it is very cheap for here.

There is much more to be done. The three bedrooms and the living room must be papered. The linoleum in the kitchen, laundry, and toilet needs to be redone. We are getting insulation in the attic and perhaps under the floor - the NZ government has just started a programme offering up to $1,300 (or one third, whichever is less) towards insulation, so we will do that. If we can somehow manage it, we will get some kind of dry heating.

And Susan has got a mixing tap for the kitchen sink! That has been a marvel. All our sinks have separate hot and cold.

Sue is now falling so much in love with her tarted-up house that she won't want to leave, if it turns out that we are to do so :-)

Don't know about the outside - paint and such like. If I had the money I would tear out all the gib (what I am told Americans call 'drywall board' - one of those brand names that, like 'kleenex' in the States, or 'biro' in New Zealand, have come to be generic), put all new wiring in - we will probably be burned to death one night by our ancient fabric-insulated wiring - and in-wall insulation, new plumbing, the lot. I haven't and what sells, or rents, houses is, I suppose, the carpeting and wallpaper, not the underlying fabric. So we do what we can, and what will pay off. But it is a bit like eating peanuts: the more you do, the more you want.

27 July 2009

Retreat - part 2

I have returned, having learned that:
  1. I am a sinner
  2. God is infinitely separated from me
  3. God loves me and deigns to dwell within me
  4. God wants my complete surrender to Him

"Oh," you say, "I thought you already knew all that."

Well, yes, so I did. I know a lot of things that I need to be constantly reminded of, to deepen my understanding of, to learn to really believe; to hope in; and finally and essentially, to learn to love.

For what it's worth, here is the meditation that I used repeatedly - I hope with some profit - during the retreat:

"Come now, insignificant man, fly for a moment from your affairs, escape for a little while from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside now your weighty cares and leave your wearisome toils. Abandon yourself for a little to God and rest for a little in him.

Enter into the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything save God and what can be of help in your quest for him and having locked the door seek him out. Speak now, my whole heart, speak now to God: 'I seek your countenance, O Lord, your countenance I seek.'

Come then, Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you.

Lord, if you are not present here, where, since you are absent, shall I look for you ? On the other hand, if you are everywhere why then, since you are present, do I not see you ? But surely you dwell in light inaccessible. And where is this inaccessible light, or how can I approach the inaccessible light ? Or who shall lead me and take me into it that I may see you in it ? Again, by what signs, under what aspect, shall I seek you ? Never have I seen you, Lord my God, I do not know your face.

What shall he do, most high Lord, what shall this exile do, far away from you as he is ? What shall your servant do, tormented by love of you and yet cast off far from your face ? He yearns to see you and your countenance is too far away from him. He desires to come close to you, and your dwelling place is inaccessible; he longs to find you and does not know where you are; he is eager to seek you out and he does not know your countenance.

Lord, you are my God and my Lord, and never have I seen you. You have created me and recreated me and you have given me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. In fine, I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet accomplished what I was made for. And you, O Lord, how long ? How long, Lord, will you be unmindful of us ? How long will you turn your countenance from us ? When will you look upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and show your countenance to us ? When will you give yourself again to us?

Look upon us, Lord; hear us, enlighten us, show yourself to us. Give yourself to us that it may be well with us, for without you it goes so ill for us. Have pity upon our efforts and our strivings towards you, for we can avail nothing without you.

Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek you if you do not teach me how, nor find you unless you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you; let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you."

St. Anselm of Canterbury, bishop : Proslogion, 1.

Prayer :

O God, You inspired St. Anselm with an ardent desire to find You in prayer and contemplation among the bustle of everyday occupations, help us to take time in the feverish rhythm of our days, among the worries and cares of modern life, for conversation with You, our only hope and salvation! We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord…..

22 July 2009

Retreat

Once a year I go on an Opus Dei week-end retreat. These start Friday evening and conclude on Sunday afternoon. I will be on retreat this week-end - and so I thought I would write a few words now - in Jeremiah's memorable, and invariable, letter-opening phrase: "Just a few words to let you hear from me..." - as I won't be able to do so this week-end.

As retreats go, a week-end isn't much of one. The famous Ignatian retreat lasts four weeks - though it is normally undergone only when facing large life issues, such as the possibility of marriage or the priesthood. Most priests go on a one-week retreat each year. There are longer retreat programmes available, but for most of us, money and time are limiting factors.

Money, yes. I don't think I ever thought about where the money comes from for 'Catholic things.' Those of you who know me well, and have read the little essay on how I became a Catholic, know how much John Henry Newman has meant to me. He will be beatified next year - the first of two major steps towards canonisation - and I ... well, I will not attempt to say how it makes me feel. But the whole party - and these things tend to be big ones - is supposed to be paid for by donations (I have sent a teensy bit). I think before I became a Catholic, I just imagined that somehow 'the Vatican' ... well, just paid for these things!

So we pay for retreats. They house us (in a local motel) and feed us. I doubt, really, that what we pay covers all the costs, but still, a week would be a stretch.

I am so glad I go. Sue goes on her retreat, too, once a year. These are 'silent retreats' - at least that means that we don't chat with one another about work, family, the news, whatever. The priest gives little mini-sermons from time to time. The rest of the time - most of it - we pray.

I was thinking, this morning at Mass, about my age. I will be 67 in September. I hope I am beginning to make some progress in knowing what life is all about. To be sure, I have done a little linguistic work; help out with the computer needs of the University; play my horn. By far the greatest worldly task I have done is to bring five children (remember Kathleen, my first-born, although not Susan's daughter) into the world. That is a gift of God and I thank Him for it.

Nevertheless, what life is about at bottom is this: learning to love God - and, in that loving, to love each person one comes into contact with - one's neighbours.

If only I had begun to learn that earlier - much earlier. I became a Christian only at the age of 27 - nearly forty years ago! My Christianity was, however, almost wholly self-centred. I was so glad of God, Who had saved me. He would give me - well, He would give me this, and that - and so He did.

It only gradually dawned on me that what He wanted most of all to give me was Himself. As I began to come to understand this, I found, eventually, the Catholic Church, where, I believe, I can receive Him in the fulness which He intends.

If I will.

To be open to God is not easy. One may believe one is open to God when, in fact, one is open only to His lesser gifts.

Well, I am beginning, at an age when many have rested from their labours, to understand this. Please pray for me that I will open my heart more, turn from the toys which He gives me to the full gift - the Giver Himself. Pray that this retreat will benefit me, and, through me, others. And you who are young - or not so young - waste no time, I entreat you. God is there. He has so much to give you. But it is not easy. We are so wedded to the things of creation that we fear to let go of them to turn to the Creator. He is there. He will give to you that which you desire most: Heaven - which is to say, Himself.

19 July 2009

Oroville house2

The living room was, to my 12-year-old imagination, huge.

Possibly this only means it was slightly larger than the living room in our Bakersfield house, but I do think it was very large. Into the front door (which, perhaps, we did not use very often) and turn right - the living room had no doors separating it from the hall, but a two-door-wide opening. It ran the depth of the house. On the right was a fireplace, again, very large. Next to that was something I thought exceedingly cool: a little cupboard opening into the living room, and with an outside door. Wood that we cut (Peter and I, using a two-man push-pull saw - what's a chainsaw?) and split went in there from the outside, came out on the inside.

Cutting that firewood almost lost me a finger joint, and did leave me with a scar I have today. Once I was idly (note: idly) chopping, with a hatchet, a finger-thin branch into lengths for kindling. Hmm... That was not the branch I just chopped, but the end-joint of the index finger on my left hand.

It didn't cut the bone and I don't think any doctoring ensued; just bandaging and being told what an idiot I was. But I am lucky (on that and other accounts) still to possess all my bodily bits and pieces.

That living room was the centre of our evening entertainment. The television was not there. This was the music room.

At the rear of the room was my mother's piano. My mother was a concert-quality amateur pianist. I wish I knew more of her training and experience. When, in 1968, my sister Robin was preparing for her final performance examination, playing a difficult modern saxophone sonata (I suppose it would be called), my mother was to be the accompanist. Having reared two girls with serious musical pretensions, I know that we paid, and paid well, accompanists for their examinations. My mother was very good. In the end, for other reasons, the examination never happened - but 'mom' - or 'mama' - would have done it and done it well.

Many evenings - I seem to recall at least a couple of times a week - we (my mother, Peter, Robin, and I) played music in that living room. My father was not musical. I think he played drums a little with us - nothing much else. But Robin on saxophone, Peter on clarinet, I on cornet, and my mother on piano, played the sort of 1930s and '40s dance band music that she liked - Hoagy Carmichael, Jerome Kern, others of that ilk - she bought music with parts and we played them. I remember those sessions with great pleasure. As we grew older I think it became more and more difficult to get us to sit down. As a father with grown children, I easily imagine the feelings with which she must have seen us get bored with doing that. Sad that one only readily empathises with one's parents when they are dead, or, as in my mother's case, far away and do not communicate readily.

There was - incidentally - an addition made to the piano later on - an electric organ. It used the piano keyboard - how did that work?? - and an enormously heavy external box full of vacuum valves. There was a little switch arrangement at the keyboard to turn it on.

I am doubting my memory. Did it really use the piano keyboard? Or did it have a keyboard of its own? Perhaps Peter recalls. I find it difficult to imagine how it linked into the keyboard of the piano - if it did. It would be much easier today, but with valves instead of transistors - and no computer logic! - impressive! My own days of electronic experimentation - the 1960s through 1980s basically - taught me how such things are done. But they took a lot of space, and lot of electrical power.

Hence the television my father built, which occupied a large-refrigerator-sized wooden rack he built. I may have to skip the dining room in order to talk about what we called the 'TV Room' - next time.

18 July 2009

Home alone

I will write something about the Oroville house tomorrow - but I am feeling maudlin this evening. Susan is in Australia. She has been enabled to visit Helen and Robert in Newcastle - but a nearly unalterable condition of her going away during the week is my taking leave to fulfill her newspaper-delivery contract. Susan's paper route is complex and it is very difficult to find anyone to fill in satisfactorily.

This isn't really a great problem. I have annual leave that I have to soak up, and was already (before this trip came up) scheduled to take leave from Friday the 24th through Monday the 27th, in order to go on retreat, so I extended my leave.

But I am lonely - and bored. I finish making my dinner; do the washing up; and then ... well, there is the computer. And I have many jobs that I probably should do. But without Susan, I am at loose ends.

Sue left here Thursday the 16th - two days ago - for Sydney, and took the train up the coast. It's only about a two-hour drive by car; perhaps a bit longer on the train, because of stops. Helen and Robert have a smallish house - three bedrooms, to be sure, but still a small house. Thursday night they had not only Helen and Robert, their two children Georgia Grace and Gus, but my sister Robin's two children Ka'ai and Kaleo, who are touring Australia and were on their way up to Brisbane.

So Ka'ai and Kaleo slept in Helen and Robert's room; Gus slept in his room; Robert slept in the living room; and Susan, Helen, and Georgia Grace slept in Georgia Grace's room. Close companionship :-) Yesterday, Friday, K & K continued up the coast, so I suppose things are little easier now. Later in this week Johnny is driving up from Sydney to spend some time!

Sue comes home next Saturday, the 25th - a week from today - but I won't see her until Sunday evening, when I get back from the retreat. Life in, if not the fast lane, at least in the lanes in which ships pass one another in the night.

It will be awfully nice to get back to what passes for normal around here.

11 July 2009

The Oroville House

Peter ('Unitman') has been so regularly correcting my errors (e.g. we appear to have had a television set in Bakersfield, which I do not remember at all) that I expect him to have a field day with this one. I note, however, that on his blog there are practically no posts at all, so I guess this underscores the old adage:

Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't be teachers are critics.

I expect to be told off about that, too :-)

The house in Oroville seems to me to have been very large - at least by modern standards. One's childhood memories exaggerate space and time, so no doubt it was not as huge as my memory makes it; it was, nevertheless, very big.

The builder seems to have had a bit of the neoclassical in mind. The house had two storeys. You approached it up a longish drive from the highway - perhaps 100 metres? - and the whole front of the house had a covered porch, with the cover held up by white cylindrical columns, with capitals and bases, Greek-style. The fairly large front door went into a wood (not carpeted - I think) entry way. Straight ahead is the stairway. To the right of the stairs is a hallway with a broom cupboard and the telephone.

I spent a fair bit of time in that broom cupboard, with that telephone. That was, you see, the way to get privacy with your telephone conversations. Take the 'phone - the cord barely reached - and go lie in the cupboard and talk to your mate or your girlfriend (with, I think, the danger of a brother or sister listening outside). Was there an extension in the house? I can't remember, but seem to think there was. Or was that because we had a party line?

Our first number was, I think, 1552-J. No dial. You lifted the receiver and the operator asked, "Number, please." We did have a party line, and we knew when the call was for us by - well, something in the pattern of rings. I don't remember what the pattern was.

I don't remember what family was on the same party line, either, but I do recall there was some fun connected with the fact of its being a party line.

Later we were converted to a dial telephone. Peter may recall the number. Hey! I think I remember the Bakersfield number, though! FAirview 5-3078. Is that right? Funny how these things stick.

And I am going to have to quit there. The house will take some describing. It had six bedrooms, living room, dining room, the room we called the 'television room,' kitchen; two bathrooms upstairs, one toilet downstairs. It was, indeed, quite a house.

Tomorrow (12 July) is Johnny's birthday. I wish I could be there to be with him. But Sue and I will be up visiting Eddie. Then next week, on Thursday the 16th, Susan is flying to Australia, to spend time with Helen and Robert up in Newcastle. I will be on leave, in order to do Susan's paper deliveries.

05 July 2009

Television

Little post, because it has been a busy week-end, but I wanted to add something that harks back to our time in Bakersfield. It was the first time I saw television.

We had no television in Bakersfield. This did not mean that we were deprived of (or protected from, depending on your point of view) of the wonders of moving picture shows. There was a time - I do not recall exactly when nor how long it may have lasted, time being very different to a small child - there was time which may have lasted for a summer, possibly longer, when I recall us (all three of us?? Just me and Peter??) being at a local theatre for what was called "Saturday Matinée." We were there without our parents - of that I am sure - for westerns, slapstick comedy, even, occasionally, stage magicians. I seem to believe it cost $ .25 to get in. I remember it all with great pleasure.

On 2nd June, 1953 Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England - and of a lot of other places as well; the United Kingdom and the whole Commonwealth, in fact. Our neighbours the Deweys had a television set. Did they buy it for the purpose of seeing the Coronation? Perhaps. I don't suppose the spectacle was broadcast live - how would that have been possible in 1953? - and therefore I assume we watched a film - a 'newsreel' - of the affair.

It was very exciting. I remember nothing of the coronation itself; I do remember being awestruck at the possibility of seeing movies in one's own home.

We got a television only when we had moved to Oroville. My father built it, and not from a kitset but - at least such is my understanding - from circuit diagrams in a magazine. It stood in a refrigerator-height open wooden frame, with no-doubt lethal circuitry all accessible to reach. It was, of course, black and white, and, naturally, used valves rather than transistors, which had only just been invented then. I don't recall exactly when this was but I would say about 1956.

When I went to University in 1960 student dormitories did not run to television sets. Edna and I had one (which I had built from a kitset) in Honolulu, from 1966 to 1968. I recall little of the rest of my life being much involved with the dread box. Certainly a generation later was much mastered by the world of television, but it has never been much more than a sort of novelty to me. No doubt this explains some of the ways I fail to fit in with the experiences of many.

28 June 2009

Back to the Reformed Church

Well, that is a bit of a cheeky title, and misleading. Susan and I have not left the Catholic Church and returned to the Reformed Church.

But last night we had the pleasure of attending a Reformed Church dinner.

The occasion was the 20th anniversary of the official establishment, in 1989, of the Pukekohe Reformed Church., and the 25th anniversary of the ordination of John Haverland, the current minister.

I confess Sue and I were a little nervous. Eddie had told us, some weeks ago, that the dinner party was going to happen, and that we were to be invited. "Perhaps the date will be some evening when we are tied up," I thought :-) But no, it was to be for last night, the 27th of June - and we were free.

Susan was concerned. There were certainly persons in the Reformed Church who, at the time we became Catholics, were very upset at us; at least one or two had clearly cut her, when meeting her, in the early days. I recommended that she ring up John Haverland and ask his advice. She did, and he said that he would ask the Session (the meeting of the rulers of the Church) that evening.

His reply was that they said they definitely wanted us to come, and that they were sure no one would be disturbed.

So we went - and from everyone's reaction, I am sure he was correct.

Eddie and Eveline came as well, so they dropped by our house yesterday evening, and we went together. I am very pleased that we did go. The proceedings were as expected. There were talks from persons who had been involved from the very beginning to the present day. I myself was asked to speak briefly about the way in which we, with the Jacksons and Darbys, had been the part of the beginnings of the congregation.

All of this will not be of much interest to some of you, and what follows will be completely dark to all except members of my family and friends who were, or are, involved in the Pukekohe Reformed Church - so if the rest of you have read this far, you may safely close your browser at this point. I am going to list some of the people we saw and talked to.

  • Mike and Tina Flinn - it was really lovely to see them. I love Michael, with whom, and his brother Richard, I worked hard in the early days to get the Church going. They sat at our table.
  • Daniel, Joshua, and Jason Flinn - what lovely young men! Daniel is particularly handsome. He and Eddie were very close as boys and we are all at the same table.
  • Roel and Alie Voschezang - at our table but I was able only to greet them briefly; too much going on.
  • Derek and Janine Grul - Janine was the organiser of the whole thing and did a marvellous job.
  • Many many others, listed in no particular order
  • Alice Voschezang - just married and beautiful.
  • Jacqui Phillips and most of her children - also stunningly beautiful young people. Whare Phillips died only a few weeks ago.
  • Mike Waldegrave and two of his and Jacqui's boys: Mikie and Jacob. Jacqui had to stay home with Jonnie, but said she would otherwise have come.
  • Craig and Sharon Roberts
  • Alice Voschezang recently married a guy from Masterton who seemed to know us and our kids well - don't know his last name & will try and find out.
  • Donald van Dorp and his wife Nancy
  • Don and Jenny Petchell
  • Jaap Loef, his wife and some of their 13 kids. A number of his kids are now living in the USA and Aussie
  • Carl Larsen, who was Ross and Glenys's minister in Balclutha. Ross, I gave him my e-mail address and if he e-mails me, I will put him in contact with you. He asked about you and Glenys.

(Susan wrote the lines after the Roberts above). I'm sure there were others I am not thinking of, but my children and other friends from the Reformed Church will remember many of these.

It was really good to see these people again. Yet it was a melancholy meeting, after all. Ken Campbell opened the proceedings, talking about the days before the Church started, when he conducted a Calvinist Bible Study in Pukekohe - talking about such topics as Total Depravity (the 'T' in TULIP, the Calvinist's motto). There were numberous reminders of what we see as the sad poverty of Protestant Christianity.

This morning at Mass I recalled something that Roel Voschezang had said to me in 1994, when I was talking to him about the possibility of my becoming a Catholic - and he did not understand that was what I had in mind, although I believed I had told him clearly enough. At the time he was involved with a political group (the now-defunct Christian Heritage Party). One of the men working with them was a Catholic. The man said to Roel, once, that he (the other man) did not really understand how what Protestants did in their Sunday services could even be called worship.

Mass is not said very well in the Pukekohe parish. By that I mean that the homilies vary from acceptable, if not deep, down to ... well, downhill. The music, occasionally really good, is mostly poor and sometimes terrible.

But I was carried away today by the reality of the Mass. Please pardon me, all you who are not Catholics. This can only sound like mysterious references to private experience. So, I suppose, it is. Certainly any Catholic who does not believe the teachings of the Church - and in particular, who does not believe that Christ is bodily present at the consecration - that, indeed, we have the unspeakable privilege of receiving Christ, and Him crucified, at Communion - to such a Catholic, I am sure there is no powerful sense of reality.

I myself can in no way deny that reality.

There was a time in my life, in 1984, when I thought I had ceased to believe in God. I certainly had lost any sense of the reality of God's existence. I experienced a kind of existential certainty that God did not exist, that faith was an illusion.

But I could not make myself act on that certainty. I tried to not-believe - tried, and failed. My sense that faith was all illusion did not leave me immediately. My experience was the same. I concluded, however, that if I could not live as if God did not exist, I would rather live as if He existed.

My un-faith did not last long.

So here. I have - thank God! - no temptation to doubt the reality of the Presence - but I cannot imagine ever leaving the Catholic Church.

"Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the Words of Eternal Life."

21 June 2009

Nothing new under the sun

Last night (Saturday the 20th of June) was our second concert of the year. I thought it went pretty well, considering. Our music was:

  • Mozart, overture to "The Abduction from the Seraglio" (just five minutes of fun, lovely music)
  • Weber clarinet concertino - University 3rd year clarinet student Natalie Harris - she was really good, though she weaved and danced too much, and had a treble clef sign tattooed on her back :-)
  • Brand new piano concerto by Dunedin composer Anthony Ritchie. I always hate contemporary music when we start it and end up - if not loving it, at least loving playing it. Emma somebody-or-other was the really amazing pianist
  • After the interval we did Dvorak 9 - very well known, very moving and dramatic - and a terror to horn players. It was that one concerning which I wrote 'considering' above :-)

Susan always comes, loyally, to our concerts. Last night, even although she had pretty severe back pain, she came. And when she comes, we always do the same thing. She shows up about 6:30PM, after the rehearsal, having bought food from Burger Fuel - they, and only they amongst fast-food places, have gluten-free hamburgers. And we eat in the car.

Last night I told Susan this reminded me of when we were kids and our parents used to take us to drive-in theatres. This was pre-television (for us, and for many families). My parents would bring the three of us to the outdoor theatre. There was a sand-pit and playground up front. The sound was from a little hang-on speaker that you stuck on the side window. There was a marvellous place called the 'snack bar' up front where you bought popcorn, cokes, etc.

That was the 1950's. In fact, for me it was the early 1950's. To the best of my recollection we never went to a drive-in after we moved to Oroville in June, 1954; Peter may correct me, but I don't think we did.

All gone now - or so I thought. Television, and then video tape and DVDs, had driven them out of business. Apparently there has been a mini-revival in the States. And according to Wikipedia there are still some functioning in Australia.

I don't think there are any in New Zealand. I would be interested to know whether there ever were any. As a child I loved going to the drive-in. We wore pyjamas. Kind of being at home but not.

Drive-in restaurants are another matter - some other time, perhaps.