26 August 2011


The day before the concert - but I have a little time, after all, so ...

We went to Pa'auilo.

I don't recall much about our travel there, but I do remember leaving Hilo and heading up the coast.  I hardly know how to express the feeling of having entered a kind of Paradise.  I think I felt I had never known such beauty, not only in the sight of things, but the smell, the feeling on the skin, the very sounds.  This is, perhaps, peculiar to me.  I know that others have told me how much they dislike the warm, humid air that strikes them when the leave an aeroplane for a tropical climate.  I can only say that, for me, even landing in such an urbanised setting as Honolulu airport produces the same magic in me.  And as for Hilo...

And it is repeatable.  When I landed there in 2002, the sense of a deep home-coming - not to a personal home, but somehow to the Home we all, consciously or unconsciously, hope for in Heaven, was just as powerful.

The time we had in Pa'auilo was, or ought to have been, idyllic (excluding the matter of Judy the Jaguarundi :-).

It was so - but, particularly for Edna, it was too much so.

At that time my father and mother had lived in Hawai'i only for about a year, I think.  My dad was building a house on his farmland, and had rented a house nearby for the time being.  Edna, Kathleen, and I lived there.

It was very isolated.  To the nearest small town - Honoka'a - was something like a 20-minute trip.  To Hilo was most of an hour - and, particularly to Edna, who had grown up in San Francisco, Hilo was a very small town, indeed.

At the house we had a telephone, radio, television.  In 1964 there was no Internet.  Telephone calls, except in case of serious situations, were local.  Edna had no friends, no family.  I, my father, and my mother were away during the day - well, perhaps my mother was not.  Peter and Robin were - where? - University?  I think Robin should have been still at home, but I don't recall her being.

I helped my father around his farm that summer.  There is a large windrow of Casuarina that we planted.  There are some fenceposts I helped to place.  That was about the limit of my farming help.

I don't remember when Edna talked to me about her loneliness, but when we had been there some time, she said that she couldn't stand the isolation.  She was very distressed about the fact, but I knew the reason was real.

If I had had any real belief that I might be a farmer one day, perhaps my response might have been different.  I don't know that I consciously doubted my calling to the land, but it was in fact easy to respond that, since I had no job, if we were to leave, I thought I would have to return to the University.

It did not take much discussion to decide that I would do this.  I pointed out that she would have to work to support us - I would, in fact, work part-time as a student, as well.  Since I was already matriculated as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, admission was no problem.  I hoped I would qualify for scholarships, as my marks were good, and I did.  What with one thing and another, this seemed the right thing to do.

But there was one thing ... I did not want to go back to astronomy.

This seems odd.  It was surely partly a self-perception that, just as I didn't have farming in my bones, neither had I the ability for the advanced mathematics that astronomy required.  I recalled my last semester as an astronomy student being rather horrified at having received a B mark for my advanced calculus course.  A B, you ask?  But I was an undergraduate, in my third year of a four-year course.  To be of any use as an astronomer, I must finish my Bachelor's degree, then my Master's, and finally my PhD - and this was a bad omen.

These thoughts were surely part of my decision to change.  But consciously - and I think this of some importance - I thought of myself as abandoning cold, impersonal scientific pursuits for warm, human ones - linguistics in my case.

I think of my decisions during my life as being strictly individual.  I believe that is seldom the reality for most of us.  I do not suggest that we are not individuals, making individual decisions.  We certainly are.  We are not simply unconscious ciphers being manipulated by social forces.

Nevertheless, those social forces are very real, as well.  In my decision rather to drop out, after my and Edna's separation, in my decision to become a Christian in 1969, in my decision to become a Catholic in 1993, I have been acting as a part of much larger social movements.

So in this.  Though I was scarcely conscious of it, "science is out, humanities are in" was a wave building to a peak - a peak that crashed with great power in the social changes of the 1960s, sweeping many things away - and bringing many hidden things to light.

So I said I would major in linguistics.  We moved back to Berkeley - my second trans-oceanic removal - rented a two-bedroom apartment - was it in Shattuck Avenue? - and I enrolled and began attending classes - right in the middle of the Free Speech Movement

21 August 2011

Busy, busy...

After the astonishing outpouring of comments on last week-end's post - most of them eager to find work for the vast numbers of empty, idle hours at my disposal - I suppose it right to explain that there will be no real post this week-end, nor next.  Concert next Saturday, rehearsals this week-end, next week Thursday and Friday evening, then concert Saturday.

And - you will say - "lazy blighter, he has Sunday off - he can jolly well come up with something then!" - but, no, I have not got Sunday off.  Sunday Sue and will make our way up to see Eddie and Eveline.

OK, but some of you know that I have Mondays off after the concert week-end.  Yes, and Sue and I have an errand in Auckland - and I will try to catch up some of my paperwork.

I'm sure the world will survive no jj post for a couple of weeks!


17 August 2011

The 'People' demand a book

JJ has obviously come under some pressure to write a book. I would like to just take a poll of everyone and anyone who reads this blog. If you want him to write a book, please add a comment saying what kind of book and why. I've already said why, as to what kind of book: I think he could write many different styles of book but what I'd really like to see is a collection of short stories, fictional or otherwise. That way irrelevant so called 'problems' like not enough time or lack of publishing facility would be out of the picture. This is because short stories are... short :) and therefore require a lot less time to write than novel sized manuscripts. Also, there's no need to get them published in book form until there's a collection of work and a fan base screaming for the volume... stardom awaits the bearded one Plus uncle Peter said he'd pay for it so the excuses are looking a little thin :) JJ I dont want you to feel like your getting picked on, I know your already putting in a lot of time doing the blog. But when I heard Marko say you should write a book I suddenly realised I agreed with him very much, it would be something that many people would appreciate. So maybe you could think about it, and if lots of people respond to this and suggest you write a book of some kind, maybe you might consider doing it :)

13 August 2011

The end of El Monte

I am told that everyone who was an adult at the time can tell you what they were doing, where they were, when they heard The News.  As is, perhaps, the case in other respects, I am the exception.

Well, partly so, anyway.  I was at work - must have been as it was 10:30 California time Friday the 22nd November.  I do think I recall, vaguely, someone saying this had happened and my not really believing it.

It was not many months before I not only believed it, but felt it.

I am the least political person I know (sometime I must tell the story about Edna's and my, with Harry Frank and ... Roberta? - fleeing Berkeley during the Cuban Missile Crisis), so I am only passing on what I heard.  Lyndon Johnson became president - and de-emphasised space, and re-emphasised social welfare.  This is what I have heard as the explanation for what happened.

What happened in the space industry in Los Angeles is that government contracts - what?  were cancelled?  not renewed?  Can even the government just 'cancel' a contract?  I don't know, but thousands of men - mostly men, I think - were out of jobs.

Some of the horror stories I have heard included suicides - the boss walking into a room full of engineers bent over drawing boards and announcing that they need not come back after lunch - that sort of thing.  Some of these men - like my friend Phil Sollow - were pretty deeply in debt.  After all, everything was booming.  Salaries were rising regularly.  Jobs went begging.  Prices were rising.  Buy now, with borrowed money.  Houses will never be cheaper.

Space-General was very good to me.  I was a very junior employee.  They kept me on until February, 1964.  Then - sorry, John, but we can do nothing else.  Here is a month's salary - I think they only owed me two weeks as severance - as separation money.

In Oroville our telephone number was 1552-J (I think; Peter may correct me on this).  Our telephone didn't have a dial on it.  To call us - or to call any other number in Oroville - you lifted up the telephone (it was, at least, powered from the Exchange; you didn't have to crank a hand-generator to signal the operator).  The operator said "Number, please!"  You gave her (it was always 'her') the number, and I suppose she plugged in your line to someone else's line - or perhaps she dialled a number.  Anyway, you were connected.

In 1963, in El Monte, we had a dial telephone - for local calls.  Toll calls?  Dial '0' and - guess what! - a lady asked "Number, please!"

Edna became a telephone operator - night shift, I think, or 'swing shift' - switching long-distance calls.  She could tell us more about the job, I am sure.

And I started job-hunting.

Early 1964 in Los Angeles in the space industry was not a good place for a very junior techie, with two and a bit years' University education, to be looking for a job.  There were thousands of more-qualified men doing the same.

I do not remember how the suggestion came about that - don't laugh! - I might successfully become a farmer.  I presume I wrote to my father - perhaps even spent what would have seemed extravagant money at the time - on a toll call to him (or maybe I called collect :-)).  Perhaps I suggested it to him, or he to me.  In any case, in May we packed most of our belongings - not, perhaps, a great deal compared to now, but enough to be a significant undertaking - and flew to Honolulu (leaving Judy the Jaguarundi in the good graces of Pan American Airways - and to her doom), transplaned to Hilo, where we were picked up by my family, and taken to the house they rented mauka (away from the sea - as opposed to makai - seaward - the two most important directions in Hawai'i) from Pa'auilo.  There we were to learn the ways of farming in the Big Island.

06 August 2011

Kathleen Marie Jensen

I am embarrassed to write about the birth of our daughter, because I am so certain that I am going to remember things incorrectly - and both Edna and Kathleen - 'Kathy' as we always called her, but I am told that she now prefers her full name - both Edna and Kathleen read this blog, and will, I hope, correct me.  Humility is good for the soul, I know.  If I were already humble, I wouldn't be embarrassed, either at my poor memory, or at - what is more to the point - my self-centred attitude at the time that means I didn't really take things to heart as I ought.

Nonetheless, this is how I remember it.

Edna suffered, in her pregnancy, from toxaemia.  It is a condition, I think, quite common in first pregnancies, and can lead to eclampsia - which is often fatal, both to mother and child.  Susan was in the same situation with Johnny.  In both cases, they attempted to induce labour; in both cases this failed and a Caeserean was the result.

All this was very distressing to me, both times, and in the case of Edna - because both of my self-centredness, selfishness, and brash youthful confidence, I think I was tempted to write all this off as womanish vapours - though I did not say so to anyone, being at least sensible enough to know this wouldn't be either well-received or useful.

Edna's mother, Peggy McVey, came down to stay with us.  Peggy was a nurse - a recovery-room nurse, in fact - and was a brick.  I think my own behaviour must have been an extra burden for her, with the worry about Edna, but she stayed and had she not, I suppose it possible Kathleen might not have been born alive - possibly Edna might not have survived.  Peggy was very clear about when and how help was needed, and was essential to Edna's care afterwards.

Kathleen was born ... oh, dear, here is where I get in trouble again! ... in what I think of as Arcadia Hospital - though the web appears to refer to it as the Methodist Hospital of Southern California.  And I can't find any other hospital around there that seems to meet the requirement, so I trust that Edna will gently point out to the old man where she was, in fact, in surgery to deliver our daughter.

She was - and here I am absolutely confident! - born 14 August, 1963 - which means, darling, that I have now told everyone how old you will be tomorrow week (for I write on 6 August) - I hope you will forgive me, but these dates are more or less integral to any sort of chronicle.

I remember considerable difficulties of the ensuing weeks - but much harder for Edna than for me, I am sure.  Her milk had to be stopped, which is painful and difficult.  She had to recover from the surgery.  She had the primary responsibility of caring for Kathleen.  I have never been a soldier, never fought anyone for anything more serious than childhood pride, never worked in a dangerous factory.  Some men do, indeed, risk their lives in these ways.  Every woman who becomes a mother goes in danger of death for every child born.

I hinted in my last post that things changed radically when Kathleen was born.  It must have been so, yet in reality the changes were not so very great.  We certainly must have stopped ice-skating; I do not think we stopped going to the Arboretum - with Kathleen in a push-chair.

But we were now a family.  I had inherited from my father's step-father Porter an old Cine-8 8mm silent film movie camera.  Somewhere there are still reels of film that we took at the time.  I have wanted to dig them out and have them converted to .wav or .mpeg or other digital format.  I may, one day.  Time - and money - are limitations, but it would be lovely to see some of the past come back.

Kathleen was born, as I said, on 14 August, 1963.  At 10:30AM on 22 November, 1963 an event of world-wide importance occurred that was to change our lives far more radically.  John F. Kennedy was assassinated.