Archive for February, 2011

I’m going camping! In a tent! A small tent for just two people!

Will I be able to help put the tent up? No, I need both my hands to hold my crutches and stand up on uneven ground. But I will be able to help blow up the airbed. ūüôā

Will I be comfortable? Heck no! But I’ll be able to crawl in and out the tent on my hands and knees. In fact, like any other camper I’ll spend most of my time on my knees, squatting, sitting, lying down. If it’s sunny I’ll be able to crawl out of the tent and lie down in the sun to read my book. If it’s wet, I’ll be able to lie down in the tent and read my book.

Across the road is a long, long , long beach. I’ll need help to walk on the soft sand to get to firmer sand, then I’ll be able to paddle in the shallows, until a tiny wave takes my crutches out from underneath me!

At 2am I may need help to get to the ablution block. That’s a small price to pay – I’ll see the moon and the stars on a cloudless night, and I’ll see the dew sparkling on the grass, smell the fresh smells that you can only smell at night when you’re camping. I’ll hear the waves roaring in the quiet of the night.

And I’ll enjoy every moment that I struggle with my crutches on the sand, round the camp ground, and getting from my knees to standing beside the tent. For once I won’t mind asking for help, compromising my independence. ¬†Because I don’t know which year will be the last year I am sufficiently mobile to sleep in a tent.

The only sad moments will be those times when looking at our tent I’m reminded that people in Christchurch are sleeping in tents, not because it’s fun and they choose to, but because they have nowhere else to sleep. It’s like we’re living in two worlds. The world where we can flush the toilet, go to work, walk down Lambton Quay, grab something to eat from a cafe, and know that we’re going back to a home that’s intact with food and water and a warm bed. Then there’s this other world not far away where we have friends and family and where the stories are horrific and surreal. And it should have been Wellington that’s been shaken to bits.

Still, guilt aside, since damaging my spinal cord I’ve learnt that the greatest pleasures are the simple ones. Living in our simple little tent without luxuries or amenities, sharing a communal kitchen, brushing our teeth in front of strangers and chatting to ¬†people from all over the world ¬†is a pleasure that I’ll enjoy¬†for a few days each year¬†for as long as I possibly can.


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Peter had two meetings in Christchurch yesterday morning and flew down for a quick morning’s work. He was at the airport waiting for his 1.30pm flight back to Wellington when the earthquake struck.

His work colleague who lives in Christchurch was in Queenstown at the time and began a long drive home. Peter managed to get a rental car and returned to Christchurch to make sure that his colleague’s wife and children were ok. He stayed the night with the family to make sure they were ok during the aftershocks. Their home has water and power returned about 9pm.

Knowing that Peter was ok, I spent the night watching the story unfold on TV. It is awful.

This morning Peter is still not sure how he will get home. Flights are full, and he’s unlikely to get a seat on standby. It looks like he will have to drive to Picton and catch a ferry to Wellington. That is, if he can get a sailing – apparently most people in his situation have the same idea.

At least he wasn’t in the CBD at the time of the quake, and he will eventually get home somehow. Unlike many people who will never get home, or those who have had to limbs amputated to be rescued from the rubble, or have other horrific injuries.

Still, I’ll feel better about it all when I know that he is out of Christchurch.


Peter made it home. best summed up in his own words.¬†Peter’s text: “overwhelming sense of relief as plane doors closed”

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Who was Maud Blacklidge? Sadly, only the women in my family may remember her. Like many others who risked their families’ and societies disapproval and wrath, Maud was one of many suffragettes in England who are now forgotten, but whose efforts began the fight for women’s right to vote. She is my mother’s mother. I know little of my grandmother’s activities as a suffragette, but she was clearly a strong, stroppy, independent woman who made choices with little regard for what society thought.

I was reminded of her story when I read what a friend wrote in her post Everyday Feminism and Knitting. This struck a chord for me Рthat feminism is about autonomy, being able to make choices and living with the consequences of those choices.  I have always thought of my very self-sufficient grandmother as a feminist, and this is one reason why I want to share her story.

Not all feminists in the first half of the twentieth century were trailblazing doctors, lawyers or professors, some, like my grandmother, were women struggling to survive.  Being a suffragette was not what made Maud a feminist, although the qualities that motivated her to protest were the same qualities that made her rebel against her family, then become determinedly independent and resilient in hard times.

Born around 1877 my grandmother was from a middle class Yorkshire family. The suffragette movement in England peaked at around 1912, but by then Maud had been banished by her family, turned out for choosing to marry a man the family deemed unsuitable. As it turned out, the family was right, but still, it seems harsh that she and her three children had no contact and no help from them, despite becoming destitute. Maud and her husband must have moved to London because my mother grew up in Isleworth. ¬†She recalls secret visits from Maud’s sister to show off her new clothes. (This must have had a tremendous impact on my mother who always managed to dress elegantly all her life, even when our family was living on almost nothing.) As an aside, Maud’s sister became a mannequin, as models were known then, moved to Paris in the thirties and was never heard from again, presumably a victim of the war.

By the time my mother was eleven or twelve my grandmother was supporting the family. With no social benefits, Maud turned the front room of their rented home into “tea rooms” where working men could buy their midday meal. My mother recalls the business as thriving and that Maud had established good business contacts. She must have been perceived by men as an astute businesswoman because she seemed to have no trouble securing credit, for example from the butcher who supplied her meat. For some reason Maud changed tack, and went into “textiles”. In the morning she would go into the poorer areas of London where the markets were, buy up bundles of fabric, then go to the wealthier areas and sell her fabrics to up-market haberdasheries.

In 1941 my mother accepted a marriage proposal from my father, a New Zealand soldier, and in 1943 sailed to New Zealand on the assisted passage programme. (From what I can make out, the colony was still short of women and the NZ government “bought” them in.) I’m not sure how my grandmother continued to support herself because the few letters I saw from her simply asked after my mother’s welfare. However, she must have done fairly well because she managed to make two trips to New Zealand over the next decade.

The second visit in the fifties must have been an interesting one, because despite being eighty or so, Maud was accused of taking away another woman’s husband. That is, until the accuser confronted my mother and realised that her husband was less than half Maud’s age. The farmer/businessman had been taking Maud around New Zealand, no doubt enjoying her stories and admiring her business acumen. She could not be persuaded to stay in New Zealand, finding it too quiet and having no cities.

There must have been other women like Maud who during the Great Depression had to be both nurturer and provider. The celebration of her story lies, for me, in her utter self sufficiency, and her ability to develop and use entrepreneurial and business skills at a time when English society would have been reluctant to accept this possibility. But then, as my mother admits, Maud was an intimidating woman.

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Every now and then my daughter sends me something that she has read or heard that she thinks I’ll appreciate. I love this quote she sent me last week. I love it for several reasons:

Reason#1 ¬† It’s a very powerful image, expressed succinctly and beautifully. Hmmm … diamonds … beautiful, light defracting gems that do more than sparkle, they create optical magic. Ummm … coal … dirty, product of decaying plants, pollutant. Apply pressure to coal, wow, extraordinary transformation! Who wouldn’t want to be transformed from coal to diamond? Someone who’s afraid of hard work, that’s who!

Reason#2 ¬†To quote from one of my daughter’s essays ¬†”¬†A diamond is one of the most expensive and coveted of all gem stones, yet it is abundant in nature. The material value of a diamond stems from an illusion of scarcity created by strategies of production and supply control, and the successful marketing of diamonds as symbols of desire, love and wealth.” And why do we not care about being duped by de Beers? Because diamonds are BEAUTIFUL and we’d pay anything (or want someone else to pay anything on our behalf) to have one. In fact we want de Beers and the rest of the diamond industry to maintain the illusion, thank you very much. We don’t want diamonds to be a commodity, we want them to be luxury items.

Reason #3 The reason we’ve bought into the best darn marketing ever (with our eyes wide open) is because we want to. The advertising phrase “diamonds are forever” may have been a cynical manipulation to persuade men to buy diamond engagement rings, but it worked because diamonds are the most beautiful of all gems and we women don’t want a second hand one, or an emerald or sapphire one … “Diamond’s are a girl’s best friend” … Recent advertising campaigns suggest the diamond right hand ring is now the independent woman’s best friend.

So yes, with or without the aid of marketing, a diamond is merely a lump of coal that did well under pressure.

However, on a more serious note, the beauty of diamonds and the material value attached to them may have given rise to prosperity and development in parts of Africa, but the illicit sales of rough diamonds, known as conflict or blood diamonds, have been crucial in prolonging brutal wars in Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Angola. Diamonds from Zimbabwe are also classified as conflict diamonds; although not used to fund civil war, mining of diamonds there has given rise to terrible abuses of human rights. Efforts to block conflict diamonds from reaching the market have included steps taken by the World Diamond Congress in 2000, but more recently and with greater effect, the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme requires participating governments to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are conflict-free. As of 2010, there were 75 governments participating in the KP,  however, member governments have repeatedly failed to deal effectively with problem cases such as Zimbabwe, the Ivory Coast and Venezuela, despite estimates of the total percentage of conflict diamonds being just 0.2%.

Many retail stores, including Michael Hill, require the provenance of diamonds before agreeing to purchase.

Global Witness, an organisation that advocates against the trade of conflict resources and played a big role in setting up the Kimberly process, has recently withdrawn as an official observer. The reason? Late last year the Kimberly Process lifted the ban on Zimbabwe trading its conflict diamonds despite evidence that the military and government were using the diamonds to fund illegal activities. Incredible. See my post “Blood Diamonds – Not Al Diamonds Are The Same

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A friend lent me “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. It took me a while to read it because I needed time to think about each piece that I chewed off. It’s a remarkable story told in a very unusual way and I think that it’s the way that it’s told that has made it difficult for me to stop thinking about it. To borrow a word from the book it is “haunting”. It’s set in Nazi Germany. The extraordinary is ordinary and the ordinary is extraordinary. There is triumph in death, despair in life, and the converse. It confirms the universality of human relationships and experiences. A great read.

“The Book Thief” is not your typical war story but, ¬†even though it was set in Munich, I found myself constantly reminded of stories told by my mother who in 1939 was twenty (ten years older than the book thief) and living in London. Some of my mother’s stories I didn’t hear until she was telling them to my daughter. I think that it may have taken decades for my mother to accept that there is no sense to be made of war, only stories. My father was typical of his generation and never spoke at all of his experiences as a soldier. He had taken many photos while he was in North Africa, and had kept a diary. I recently electronically scanned his photos and as I did so I looked through them seeing for the first time a young man thoroughly enjoying being in an exotic world full of pyramids, camels and sand. He was a despatch rider and when he came off his motor bike he spent time first in hospital, then with an Egyptian family. The youngest daughter, only a few years old, apparently was already able to speak several languages. ¬†This is the only story I remember him telling of his time in the war. My mother was considered part of an essential work force and so was kept in London. She sewed surgical dressings and had done so since she left school at thirteen. During the “blitz” she was a fire warden and was required to take shifts staying nights in warehouses and buildings watching out for fires from the bombings. My mother has always been shy and she said that at the time she was also timid and absolutely terrified of the rats that lived in these old buildings – far more scared of the rats than any fire hazards or bombs. She recalls when everyone was first given gas masks which they were required to wear during air raids. At first these masks were diligently worn, despite being horribly uncomfortable. Similarly, everyone went to the air raid shelters when the sirens went off. She said that it wasn’t long before the masks weren’t worn, and many people stopped going to the shelters, some of which were simply the underground railway stations. Food was rationed and my mother recalls always being hungry, yet it seems that the English government did a far better job of keeping food supplied to the people than the Germans did.

While reading “The Book Thief” I was constantly reminded of the ordinariness of people, and that we are at times little more than tools of governments. We have only to look at America in the last decade (and before) to be cynically and sickeningly reminded of this.

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Last year I visited an osteopath who has a very fine reputation, writes text books and thinks outside the box. As soon as he met me he was keen to show me his kitchen floor. His office is in the ground floor of his apartment, but still it was an interesting and unusual invitation. My feet were bare and I had to climb a few flights of stairs so his kitchen floor had to have been something he was sure would inspire me. I assumed it had nothing to do with a “House and Garden” look so I was intrigued.

Wow! His kitchen floor was the most remarkable walking surface and I knew I had to check it out immediately, so I glanced at him as I swung myself onto it, just to be polite and confirm that it was ok to do so. Now, I have no real sensation in my feet but as soon as I touched this surface with my barefeet it “felt” glorious. The osteopath had covered his kitchen floor with stones and rocks that offered all sorts of textures that massaged and stimulated every possible part of your feet. I must have stood, and rocked, and stepped on those stones for ten minutes or more, with ¬†a silly smile on my face, I’m sure.

With the help of my husband I immediately set about making my own “stone walk”. I wasn’t going to be able to cover the kitchen floor because it wouldn’t be at all safe for me to using knives, or carrying hot things while I walked on stones that really required my entire attention to do so. We collected bucket loads of stones of different sizes, shapes and textures and we glued them to a board that was placed in the hallway so that every time I walk to the bathroom or bedroom I can walk on these stones. So successful was this stone walk that we built another one beside the entrance to the kitchen. The first one had areas of stones that stretch my arches, stones that gently stimulate my feet and stones that are more textured. The second board has larger areas that I can move my feet around, as well as areas that I can sit on to massage my glutes, or lie on to roll my legs over.

I had decided that these stone walks needn’t only be functional, but could be aesthetically pleasing as well. So I laid the stones out in patterns that flow into each other, that represent rivers flowing between mountains, or might be symbols of the areas I had borrowed the stones from. I think the results are art as well as aids to mobility, and I like the parallels that exist between the way in which touching the stones stimulates the brain and makes connections, and looking at the stone images makes connections in my mind with places I’ve been and memories I have from other times. The stone walk near the kitchen reminds me very much of a beach I visited as a child.

This stone walk is effectively in our living area because our home is open plan, so it’s highly visible and intrusive – it’s not unusual for people to stub their toes on it as they walk past it. I always invite others to take their shoes off and try walking on the stones. I’m excited about it and I like to share the experience with others. Surprisingly, quite a few people find that their feet are too sensitive. They so rarely walk in bare feet that they can’t tolerate the sensation. I find this sad because some of the things I really miss about having no sensation is the feeling of sand between my toes, or the feeling of grass under bare feet, walking with no shoes on warm asphalt or on pine needles …

I would recommend a stone walk to anyone who has limited mobility or reduced sensation, or to anybody who hasn’t. It’s a bit like having a foot massage, and a bit like reflexology. It probably has all the benefits of both. And they don’t have to be ugly chunks of rock. A stone walk can be a beautiful work of art, and a wonderful expression of creativity. Even if it might seem a bit weird to have in your home!

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