30 June 2012


My trip to Yap from January to March, 1972, had produced a recommended orthography - a systematic way of spelling words in the language.  That had, of course, been the reason that the Yap Department of Education had brought me there for those three months.

The system that I produced - we, actually, since it was, officially, the work of something called the Orthography Committee - was well-adapted to the phonological facts of the Yapese language.  It is a pity that it was not as well-adapted to the practical realities of Yapese people who would be writing their language.

This is not the place for the details of the difficulties - which, in 1972, I dimly felt might end up causing problems - but by 1974, it was apparent to the people in Yap in the Education Department that they were not going to be able, without assistance, to implement the system in schoolbooks.  They wrote to me, sometime in that year, asking if I could come to Yap in the (southern hemisphere) summer for two weeks to train their people in the use of the orthography.  In, I think, January of 1975 I went to Yap for the purpose.

I think that, despite its problems, the orthography could have been used, had I been a better teacher.  I am, as those who know me will testify, a very poor teacher.  I spent those two weeks in Yap trying to explain to the Yapese teachers how to use and to teach the system.  They were very polite, and friendly - and clearly did not get it.

Both going to Yap and coming home I had spent time with Greg Trifonovitch in Honolulu.  I talked with Greg about the problems here, and asked his advice.  What should I do to help them?

"You should tell them to hire you to come there longer-term to oversee the implementation of the system."

I was stunned by the implications of this!  Nevertheless, I thought deeply about it.  When I came home, I talked with Susan about it.

The end of my lecturing contract was 31 January, 1976.  There was another three-year contract available - and there were two of us there who might have applied for it: myself, and Ross Clark.  Ross was on a three-year contract; mine had been a swap with Andy Pawley, who was coming back, so only one of us could have the job.

To the very great benefit of future linguistic students, Ross got the job (and still lectures here in linguistics).  Note my comment above about how bad a teacher I am.

I wrote to Yap with my proposal.  I did also apply for a linguistics lectureship in Perth, although I didn't think it likely I would be offered the job (I wasn't).

The Yap Department of Education wrote back saying they wanted me to come, initially for two years.

23 June 2012

Loose ends

Sue and I were up in Auckland this morning for the anniversary Mass of St Josemaría.  The Mass was at the Auckland Cathedral; afterwards we went to lunch together, in Mt Eden - a location that brought back to us memories from our three years living there.  As the next two or three posts will bring that period to a close, I thought, this morning, at just how very many details of our first three years in New Zealand have had to be missed out in such a series of brief memoirs like this:

  • Raewyn and Bronwyn - I don't know when or how we got the two white cats, whom we named with those names. Did we have other cats? Probably. We have had cats almost all of our married life.
  • Our two cars! Well, really we only had the Morris Minor for a very short time:
  • Sue and I were going to go somewhere for a short holiday, I think, and we lent it to Ross Jackson - who had the misfortune to be rear-ended by someone.  This turned out to be responsible for the only car I made a profit on.  As I recall, we paid $50 for it - and the wrecker gave me $65 for it for the parts.

    The other care was the Morris (or Austin - same thing, really, I think) Mini-Minor:

    (I hasten to add that neither of the above photos is of our actual cars; they are just random ones I have grabbed off the web).

    We got a car because it seemed impractical to try to transport Johnny around with us on our motorbike.
    • My fairly extensive involvement with computers at the University of Auckland.
    I was hired to teach linguistics.  Nevertheless, it was far from accidental that I had been Bruce Biggs's programmer in Honolulu - and I was that in Auckland as well.  For the whole three years that I was a lecturer there, I carried out a variety of programming tasks for Bruce, including the programming part of producing an English-Maori version of Herbert Williams's Dictionary of the Maori Language.  At the time the University had one computer: a Burroughs B6700 - which was, in fact, an amazing machine for its time.  It was a programmer's dream - the processor executed a modified form of the ALGOL programming language.  It was very fast and efficient (for its day :-)).  During those three years working with the computer centre people, I became friends with two persons in particular who have been very important to me, in various ways, since: Nevil Brownlee - now a lecturer in computer science at the University, and Alan Creak - my teacher when, later, I finally did the only formal study I have ever done in computing (my Diploma in Computer Science), and my friend now, though I see him far too seldom.

    • Yapese!
    Yes, I worked continually on Yapese through the whole time.  This (finally) produced the two books I have mentioned.  It also resulted in our moving to Yap in 1976.

    17 June 2012


    Toxaemia is a potentially very serious condition - much more serious than I think either Susan or I realised at the time.  There is a great danger of losing the baby - or the child's being born with severe disorders including brain damage.  It is a name for a syndrome of symptoms rather than the name of a disease.  The symptoms include, especially, high blood pressure.  This threatens the baby's supply of oxygen and nutrients.  Toxaemia may become eclampsia, with maternal convulsions and the danger of death for both mother and child.

    Dr Conyngham (properly called "Mr Conyngham" because he was a surgeon, not just a plain-or-garden doctor) put Susan immediately onto anti-hypertensive (anti-high-blood pressure) medication.  She quit her job at World Vision - fortunately she had done a good job of preparing Pat, her successor, to take over - and, in good Victorian fashion, went straight to bed and stayed there.  Her due date was 12 July.  Each week her regular doctor, Dr Blaiklock, whom we had known from Hillsborough Baptist, saw her and monitored her condition.

    On Thursday 10 July Dr Conyngham said that Susan must go into hospital to be induced.  Her health was becoming worse and worse.  In the normal course of things, Sue would have gone into "National Women's" - connected with Greenlane Hospital - but Dr Conyngham insisted she must go into "The Mater" - Mater Misericordiae Hospital, now called Mercy Hospital.  This was a little shocking to me.  The Mater was, of course, Catholic.  Dr Conyngham said that that hospital was superior for what he wanted.  We were told by those who knew him that the real reason was because he lived across the street from it - his convenience was what was driving the decision :-)  Well, at least it meant that when he was needed for Susan, there wouldn't be a half-hour drive!

    In she went, on Thursday the 10th.  They began injections that morning.  By evening, nothing much had happened.  Friday was when things began to get sticky.  Susan had not really started labour, so they put her on an intravenous drip of some sort - and she spent all day in this situation.

    And all night.  The nurses told Susan, after all was over, that she ought to have had a Caeserean section on Friday - but that Dr Conyngham was tied up, giving a party at his house.  Whether this is so or not, it is certainly the case that Sue spent all that time in labour, but without giving birth.  She endured, during most of the Friday (when I was not at the University) my reading aloud to her from a book - one of James Herriot's delightful books about his time as a veterinary surgeon.  I say 'endured' - it is even possible that she enjoyed the reading, as much as was possible under the circumstances.  I think if the roles had been reversed, I would have wanted to kill the reader.  Susan is more patient.

    On Saturday morning, the 12th July, Dr Conyngham came in - and immediately told Susan that her baby would be born in an hour and a half.  She did not understand immediately that he intended to deliver the child by Caeserean.
    Delivered he was - and none too soon.  He was seriously oxygen-starved.  The nurses had to use oxygen and do other things to keep him breathing for something like 15-20 minutes after delivery, before he could breathe by himself.  Poor Johnny had a hard time coming into the world.

    Susan herself was pretty knocked by the experience as well.  A week or two after Johnny was born, she was sent, by Dr Blaiklock, to spend a week at the Auckland Karitane Hospital.  She found that demanding as well.  It was very cold, and the nurses there seemed, she thought, not to think that she really needed to be there.  But at least it gave her a much-needed rest.

    It was only some twenty years later that Susan told me about the real strength that bore her up through her ordeal at The Mater.  Perhaps she hadn't liked to mention anything so Catholic to me before, but she says that in fact she fairly quickly forgot about it.

    On the Friday morning, when she had already been there for 24 hours, she thought that she was going to die.  So she prayed.  She asked Jesus to take care of her.

    He did.  All that day, she tells me, and perhaps all Friday night as well, she saw Him standing in the corner of the room.  The image she had of Him was one with the Lord wearing something on His head, rather like this:

    His head was covered, she said He told her, so that only she could see Him.

    She asked Him what was going to happen to her.  "You are going to be all right" He said.  I have questioned her moderately closely about this.  It appears that the vision was the sort known as an imaginative vision - not meaning 'not real' but rather 'involving images' - but images in the mind, not ones that independent observers can see, but by contrast with intellectual visions - a certain knowledge of the presence of something.

    Susan was never surprised at this happening to her.  She had asked Jesus to help her and he had.  What was there to be surprised at?

    09 June 2012

    The Pace Quickens

    My lecturing contract was for three years, beginning from 1 February, 1973.  When you start a three-year contract - and particularly when you are only 30 - the end does seem very far away. Now in 1975 I was in my last year of it. I was already beginning to think about the future.

    During those first two years of my contract I had been working on finishing the two Yapese books.  I did not know what would happen at the end of 1975, but I knew that I might not have a job, so I had to finish these books.  Intense work was necessary now.  (Lucky all of you moderns with word-processors - in 1975 it was type and carbon copy and retype - very laborious). 

    The first few months of 1975 were straightforward in other respects, I suppose.  We were now in our new church.  I was learning more and more of my Reformed faith.  I was, by now, heavily involved in reading the writings of what I think of as the Tyler Group - writers on economics (Gary North), and theology (Jim Jordan, R. J. Rushdoony).  Gary and Jim lived in Tyler, Texas.  Rushdoony did not, but Gary was married to his daughter - and they were writing on much of the same themes: Reformed theology, Reconstructionism, Theonomy, and political conservatism.  And Susan - willy-nilly - was having all these things explained to her in sometimes painful detail by me.

    Susan's principle task, however, was different.  She had a deadline as well.  Our first child was due in mid-July.  Susan had never had a child.  I was Kathleen's father, but was not much use in that respect - nor, I'm afraid, had I been to Edna.  Sue went to pre-natal classes; went to La Leche League meetings; bought things.  Our friend from Hillsborough Baptist, Dr Blaiklock, had recommended an obstetrician, Dr Bruce Conyngham - a bit extravagant for us to go to a specialist, but it seemed a good idea - and as things turned out, it definitely was.

    Sue was preparing to hand over her job at World Vision as Sponsorship Manager to her successor.  This was a major task as the organisation in New Zealand had grown from barely started in 1973 to a large and flourishing operation now with, I suppose, some thousands of sponsors throughout the country.

    Liz would have to move.  And was it during this time that we painted - I think! - the bedroom that would be the nursery.  It may have been.

    On 20th May - our third wedding anniversary - we took Liz to what I think must be one of Auckland's very best restaurants (Antoine's - we almost went this year for our fortieth, but timing didn't work out), and had a wonderful time.

    Within a very short time - perhaps a couple of weeks - Susan was quite ill with toxaemia.

    04 June 2012


    I do not think that we had thought, really, about having children.  I suppose we assumed it would happen - happen! - one day but, showing how modern we were, it would be 'when we were ready.'

    Nature, however, has a way of taking its course.  Perhaps it was sometime in November, 1974, when we discovered that Susan was pregnant.

    I remember very little about our experience - and particularly about Susan's experience - during those first six months of her pregnancy.  I just talked with Susan, because, I said, I assumed my own lack of recollection was simply typical male self-centredness - and that she would be able to give me a detailed rundown of what it was like for her - morning sickness?  swelling of ankles?

    She says she remembers little about it herself.

    She does recall that she spoke to her boss at World Vision about it - and that he was very positive.  This encouraged her greatly.

    Sue's pregnancy pushed forward the religious question: were we Baptists - and thus did not believe in infant baptism - or were we Reformed - and did?

    The ferment that all of this produced is something I recall without much emotion - by great contrast with my initial conversion to Christ and my becoming a Catholic.  Yet I know that at the time I was in considerable distress over the matter.

    By now - the end of 1974 - I had been a Christian for five years.  I have a considerable tendency - as those who know me can testify - to leap into things very rapidly - at times too rapidly.  So by this time I had digested a great many books about Christianity - including having read the Bible several times, and by now quite comfortable with the Greek New Testament.  I had started where I was - in a Baptist church.  Thus I read Baptists and those sympathetic with them, the dispensationalists in particular.  There was a system implicit - and often explicit - with these writers.  I had at one point in this been sure that I now understood all the outline of Christianity.

    But my reading did not stop with them.  My reading branched out.  It branched out, as I have said, to Reformed writers - to writers of what is sometimes called the magisterial Reformed churches (basically Lutheran and paedo-baptist churches of the Calvinist flavour).  And I was seeing that the Reformed viewpoint did, indeed, embrace all that I was certain was good and true in the Baptist - but that it was fuller.  In particular, the dispensationalist view specifically made much of the Gospels and much of the Old Testament to be irrelevant - or only tangentially relevant - to our lives in what was called the Church Age.  I think, also, there was an attraction in the Reformed spiritual genealogy, as it were, being longer than that of the Baptists - and particularly of the dispensationalists, which stems from the early Nineteenth Century.

    The Reformed writers believed in baptising infants.  Here was an example of viewing the New Testament and the Church not as radical changes from the Old, but as its completion.  They pointed out that male infants were marked with the sign of the Covenant in the Old Testament - on the eighth day of life.  They reminded me that St Paul calls the Church the 'Israel of God' (Galatians 6:16).

    And Sue and I had a child coming.  A decision would be forced on us, positively or negatively.

    Making the change to being Reformed was painful.  We felt disloyal to our friends at Hillsborough Baptist.  Especially upset was my dear friend Ross Jackson (now Reformed himself, however!), who was very unhappy with our changing views.

    Change we did, however.  At some point - perhaps January or February of 1975 - we asked to be made members of Avondale Reformed Church.  Seeing the photo on that page is nostalgic for me.  The members of that church were very close and dear to us.  It was our church home not only in 1975, but officially - and in a very practical way, as will appear - during our eight years in Yap, 1976-84.  Our membership in a church of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand governed our lives from that time, the beginning of 1975, until the time, both painful and yet intensely joyful, at the beginning of 1995, when we left the Reformed Churches of New Zealand for the Church in which subsists the fulness of Christ: the Catholic Church.