28 March 2009

Mid-life crisis

Or rather, late-life crisis.

Sue told me the other day that, a few months ago, she felt a little stale. She could see the two of us living in this house, doing the same things as at present, but each year a little more slowly - like a wound-up toy that is running down - just keeping on keeping on.

Which is, after all, about right. Nevertheless, life has some surprises for us.

We are involved in Opus Dei. Since a couple of years after we became Catholics, Opus Dei has been of great help to us in living our faith, in seeking to serve God better in our daily life.

A part of that involvement means going to an annual week-end retreat. Susan attends a one-week theology course each year as well. These and similar activities currently take place in various inadequate locations - hired motels, private houses, etc - because Opus Dei is fairly new in New Zealand. In countries where 'The Work' (as it is sometimes known - 'Opus Dei' is Latin for 'the Work of God') has been longer they typically have a centre dedicated to that purpose.

A retreat centre is going to be built near Pukekohe. The land has been acquired; now building permits have to be granted, and construction undertaken. All of that is going to take some time. Nevertheless, there is now a real location.

And the trust that actually owns this property has bought a house on neighbouring land. The idea is that a couple who are friendly people, and acquainted with and positive toward Opus Dei, would live there. Their functions would be fairly vague - 'greeters' to people visiting the site; 'gatekeepers,' in a sense; possibly also involved in some management duties.

It is intended that Sue and I should be that couple.

The plan is that, for the rest of this year, they will rent the house to someone - perhaps just commercially. Sue and I need to do some freshening up of our house - that is the painting she referred to in her post today - in order to make our house rentable.

We had thought of selling our house, actually, which in some ways would be simpler. My concern is that if we were to do so, we would likely end up with not enough capital (after paying debt and moving costs), even with investment, to buy a house in this area when we finally must retire. So we are going to rent our house.

All a bit daunting and nothing I ever imagined doing but this is something we think would please God and help the Church - and we are looking forward to it. It will mean significant changes in details of our lives, but basically things will go on as at present. The house is about 12 Km northwest of Pukekohe so I will have to drive into town to catch my 'bus to the University - and of course it means more driving for Sue. But we are looking forward to it.

So I guess my mother was right when she used to say - à propos of almost anything: "it just goes to show you" :-)


I am beginning to wonder if this project - Eddie's idea that I should write 'memoirs' - was really such a good idea.

The problem is that the thing has acquired a life of its own - and the first few have had kittens. The other day, I was wondering what all to write about next. There are the obvious things - school, beginnings of music, etc - but I began thinking of rather more specific things - incidents, friends, adventures, interests, and so forth.

Here is a list that I wrote down in a few minutes at that time, just off the top of my head. Most of them will mean nothing to any of you, though a few may ring the odd bell in Peter's recollections:

  • first aeroplane sighting
  • earthquake (1952)
  • Robin Dalley
  • Karen Stone
  • Mary Carol Street
  • Being a crossing guard
  • Tommy Stanton
  • Jimmy Wallace
  • YMCA camp
  • Scouting
  • Daryl Rush
  • Stephen and John Dewey
  • Patsy Edmonds
  • Debbie Johnson
  • Donald Langston
  • Trip to Canada
  • astronomy
  • science fiction
  • piano
  • cornet
  • Pismo Beach
  • Union Avenue Plunge
  • Crosley
  • Lincoln (?)
  • 'woodie'
  • Zephyr
  • Austin (?)
  • icebox
  • mushrooms
  • bicycle brakes
  • cardboard labyrinth
  • pet monkey
  • pet mice
  • pit in vacant lot
  • spelling bees
  • Bronx orange trees
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Disneyland
  • Pius XII
  • Korea

Not that most of those bits and pieces could be a whole paragraph - but they are all bits of memory, and as I put them down more and more things float to the top - flotsam that I don't know what to do with.

I know what I'll do! I won't write about any of them! (this time, that is :-)). Instead - having just read Susan's little post for today - I will explain a bit of what she is referring to.

But I will do that in another post...

23 March 2009


We have had a busy week. John's orchestra had their concerts on Saturday and Sunday. There were rehearsals before and we have been trying to help out with the set-up, too.

The crowd was very appreciative - and sometimes almost carried away with showing their approval. It was fun to be there.

I have now spent three Tuesdays working on the house. Gail Clifford and I started with the dining room and it was been quite horrible. The ceiling has squares that are like very big tiles placed above beams. The squares have a design on them that look like the end of a fork has been drawn across them in a pattern.

The final paint job took all day because we had to use paint brushes and make sure the whole area was covered evenly. If we had the money, I would have had someone spray paint the ceiling. We now have three more of these ceilings to do plus the hallway.

Moaning aside, I love doing it. Gail and I work well together and spend the day talking and laughing.

A young friend of ours happen to come by yesterday and I invited her in to see how the diningroom was shaping up. She blurted out, "Oh, this is going to be great. I want to buy this house - but if I did, you would have to leave the wallpaper on the walls in the living room."

The members of my family know what the wallpaper in the lounge looked like - brown and cream flowers on a deep brown background - who would want that? Well, it is now considered quite trendy and the worst part is that I threw away all of the leftovers that were stored in the attic years ago. I have actually seen this wallpaper in a number of recent decoration magazines - I was amazed. We have the original kind - who would have thought anyone would have wanted it?

I told her we were not selling the house. We would be renting it and she wanted to know how much the rental would be. I couldn't tell her because we haven't got that far, but it was interesting to me to find someone who would like to live here. Makes me think that it won't be that hard to get renters.

Tomorrow we meet Robby Loretz for a picnic at an Auckland park. The weather has been dry and fairly warm. We are waiting for it to dip down very soon.


I always feel a little let down after a concert.

Natural, I expect. You spend three weeks practising - more, really, as we get the music a couple of weeks before first rehearsal - practising with increasing intensity. At last the week-end approaches.

Four weeks before the concert the strings have their first rehearsal. No, this is not, as I like to tell people that I pretend to believe, that we wind players are better than they are, so they need more practice. They need the extra time for two reasons. First, there are more of them in a section, so they need to get their section ensemble together before being thrown off course by us rude and crude blasters. Second, of course, they have quite a lot more to play than we have. We have sections in the pieces where we are just counting bars of rest - whilst they soldier on.

The next week-end we are all together for the first combined rehearsal on Saturday afternoon - three and a half hours together.

Next week-end - the week-end before the concert - we are together again both Saturday and Sunday afternoon, same length of time.

And now comes Thursday evening before the concert. Instead of my taking the 'bus home, Sue drives up to the University that afternoon. We eat somewhere, then go to the rehearsal venue and spend three quarters of an hour helping to set up chairs, stands, etc. There are half a dozen or so of us whose schedule permits us to spend a little time beforehand doing this.

Thursday evening rehearsal is beginning to be pretty keyed up. The concert is Saturday! We play from 7:15 until 9:30. I have found that by that time it often appears to me that this time, at last, the whole thing is not going to work. How are we ever going to get past this or that nasty bit? And - well, the ensemble at that point is a total disaster! Oh, woe is us! We rehearse in a local intermediate school's hall, so all the equipment has to be stowed out of the way as tomorrow is Friday and school is on.

By the time we get home and to bed it is after 11. I am always able to take the Friday before a concert on leave as I am definitely not getting up at 4:30 the next morning after that and going to work.

And because of that, I am available, again, to help load up the truck at the school in Howick, on Friday afternoon, to follow it to the theatre in Manukau City, set up, etc.

Friday evening rehearsal is 7:30-10PM. We have the soloists with us at last! Again, terror strikes. I didn't know that singer was going to hang on to that note so long at this point. Oh, my, the pianist is certainly muddy there - was that a new bar? Even Uwe, the conductor, seems uncertain.

Saturday afternoon Susan drives me to the theatre for the final before-concert rehearsal. And now - miraculously - things are coming together. It looks like we will make it again. Almost it seems we will make a real success out of it.

Sue comes back from her shopping at 6:30 and we dash off for a bit of dinner, then back to the theatre. 7:20 or so we trickle on stage and start warming up. 7:30 and Uwe comes out, bows, and we are off.

And I am now ... well, I cannot describe how I feel, when we are playing. But it is no wonder that after all that - and the concert itself - I feel let down.

Our concert on Saturday night - and we did a repeat yesterday, Sunday, which we do not always do - was, if nothing else, a popular success. Frankly it was not the most interesting music. The programme was deliberately put together for popularity as we need to make a profit particularly on our first and last concerts of the year. This one was some wonderful well-known arias, including "Nessun Dorma" and "E lucevan le stelle" by a terrific young tenor Derek Hill, and "Una voce poco fa" by Lilia Carpinelli - other songs by them, and crowd-rousing Strauss this and that. Friends of mine and Susan who attended loved it.

20th of June is our next - Dvorak's "From the New World." I hope to see you there! :-)

15 March 2009


...and cats and other beasts.

Again, Peter may remember more about this than I do. I get a bit blurry when it comes to my own past, but my mother, particularly, has had a steady stream of beasts through her life. I will have occasion to mention some later, but the one that prompts this post (which must be very short - rehearsals yesterday - 14 March, Eddie's birthday - and today; concerts next week-end) was a Scots Terrier whose name was, unimaginatively, 'Bonny.'

Terriers are supposed to be dogs that are sent into burrows of vermin - rabbits, rats, etc - to dig them out - hence the name - cf. French 'terre' - 'earth.' I don't recall much about Bonny but I doubt he - she? - did much digging out of vermin.

What Bonny did was to take baths (no doubt unwillingly). In very foamy soap suds. Actually I think the soap was just ordinary laundry detergent. My mother used to bathe the dog in the laundry basin, as I recall, in this stuff.

And sometimes we children - all three together, I think - were allowed to bathe in the bathtub with some sort of bubbly stuff - some kind of bubble bath stuff, I think. I doubt it was laundry detergent.

And I called it 'Bonny bath.' I can remember asking if we could take a 'Bonny bath.' And that is what it meant.

Under my house at present are - rotting away with mildew, I'm afraid - a lot of old colour slide photographs. My recollection is that one, at least, of them is of the three of us sitting in the tub surrounded by ... Bonny bath.

I shall never forget it.

Johnny - and other stuff

We just heard from Johnny who is in Sydney. He has sent to us a couple of photos of Helen's kids. They are all in downtown Sydney while Helen's husband is attending a medical conference. It looks like they are having fun and the weather is good.

I am always glad when our kids can get together. Johnny will come home for a couple of weeks in April. We have a lot of jobs for him to do - cleaning the gutters, painting the garage wall, sorting out the numerous items of things he has has stored here since leaving home in 1995. There isn't too much stuff but I want him to sort thru it.

We are now gearing up for the coming weekend which is "concert time". John plays in an orchestra - on his new horn - and is at a rehearsal at the moment. There will be two concerts next weekend - one on Saturday night and the next is Sunday afternoon. The venue is now closer to our house - about twenty-five minutes away. I go to every concert and we have friends who are also going thru the year.

Gotta go! More next week. Or maybe not. Next week is the concert. More next chance I get

08 March 2009


It is striking to me what a great deal of difference there appears to be amongst people regarding what they remember of their very early childhood.

I think some of my friends tell me of what they played with when they were two or three years old. John Henry Newman, in his "Apologia Pro Vita Sua", tells of memories he says he had - at age 64 - of the house his family lived in when he was not yet two years old.

I have a few memories - if they are indeed memories and not some sort of imagination - that must, if they are real, date from before I was five.

I recall lying in what I think was a cot (what Americans call a 'crib') rocking rhythmically back and forth on my hands and knees, banging my head into the pillow, humming the tune to the children's song "Go Tell Aunt Rhoda (the Old Grey Goose is Dead" - only for some reason I thought of it as "Go Tell Aunt Chloe." (Actually almost everyone's aunt appears to have got into the act according to this

But some of my children - was it Edna and my daughter Kathleen? Susan and my daughter Helen? - used to do the same, though not, as I recall, with humming. So am I projecting a memory into my own past? Or did I do it and they also because it is common behaviour for children?

I remember - or think I do - one Christmas when, as I recall, both Peter and I were given toy revolvers - 'cap guns' - paired ones, with right and left hip holsters. And I recall tears connected with this gift - no idea why.

Nor, of course, whether the memories themselves are even accurate.

But perhaps there is a more sinister - or more negative - cause for my memory blackout.

At some time - and it was certainly after the age of five, but perhaps not older than eight - I was sent for therapy to a psychiatrist. And the reason was, as my mother told me years later when I was a teenager or perhaps a young adult, that she and I used to fight all the time.

I have no recollection of any of that.

Thus it is, I suppose, that psychologists whose speciality is helping you recover repressed memories make their living.

I do remember the psychiatrist very well indeed. His name was Doctor Prosser. I liked him immensely. He taught me two things:

  • the basic rules of chess
  • how to spell 'psychiatrist'

For some days I went around demonstrating to others my ability to spell that word, and announced my intention to become a psychiatrist one day. I knew that that word was quite beyond my normal ability, but still I understood spelling, so I suppose I was about eight years old at the time. American children start school at age six, rather than the five which is standard in New Zealand. Still I must have been at least seven.

Nothing much else came of those sessions and I don't think I went for long. Years later my mother told me that Dr Prosser said to her something along the lines of "there is nothing wrong with your son. However, I would definitely like to spend some time with you..."

But it is odd that I remember no real strife with my mother. Maybe the memories are too painful. Or maybe I demonstrate once more how little external matters affect me.

I certainly remember one thing very vividly - but I was almost ten at the time. I remember both the big earthquake in July 1952 and its major aftershock in August.


It is Sunday afternoon and we have returned from Helensville. Eddie will be 29 on 14 March and we went up there to have an early birthday party with him and his family. We had a good time and I got to hold their new dog for as long as I liked.

Eddie's job is going really well and is not affected by the current economic trouble.

We had a BBQ and sat around talking and telling stories. No one in the family is really "shy or retiring", so it can get pretty loud....a lot of fun.

Helensville is a small town with a lot of history. It is located on the Kaipara Harbour and was important during the kauri milling many years ago. The past twenty years have seen it dip low in jobs but it is certainly making a come-back. The main street has been improved and the train from Auckland is currently running four (?) times a day which makes it possible for commuters to work in town.

I love the place. There are many old homes on the hillside and Eveline (Eddie's wife) and I often get in her car and drive around town looking at them. There are also shops to visit and we have fun.

Eveline's parents own a Bed and Breakfast inn on the mainstreet. It was originally the first hospital in Helensville. The building is very old and her parents have fixed it up - it is wonderful. There are two main bedrooms with private bathrooms and also a wing that has smaller, single rooms and two rooms for backpackers - The BB overlooks the harbour.

Eveline works at the BB for her parents when they need her. They can be very busy at times.