Tag Archives: Memoir

The Rhythm of the Crosscut Saw

Day Whatever + 4

Daylight saving over. Woke up an hour early. Or was that actually the same time but earlier. Time. An invention of humankind that doesn’t have much use in lockdown, except to drag out the boredom, if you’re inclined to boredom. As a septuagenarian I’m inclined to measure life by the passing of the seasons, this being the season of lockdown, although my garden says it’s Autumn.

But if you look across the millennia you’ll see that the seasons of Plague and Pestilence have long been with us, only not as regular and predictable as Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

Today in the Coronavirus Chronicles. Musings on rhythm. No, not the rhythm family planning method. But the rhythm of lockdown. Mind you, the lockdown might require some careful family planning. It’s like living next to the railway isn’t it.

52 cars in the New World carpark this morning. A short queue. Sunday. Dairy closed. I might have been a bit early. Pharmacy closed. No cars at the petrol stations. Street signs intact. All’s well in Dannevirke.

Grandfather Fred, he who brought home the power walking war bride, was a bushman. Before and after WW1 he cut down trees for a living. He was a master of the crosscut saw. He taught me the rhythm of the crosscut saw, and the rhythm of the scythe. I was far too young to be of any use on my end of the saw, and dwarfed by the scythe, but he taught me that rhythm was the key, not muscle.

One day, when he was well into his 70’s, he arrived at my aunt’s place on his bicycle with his crosscut saw and axe, ready to help the son-in-law cut down and turn a big old tree into firewood. The uncle-in-law muttered under his breath that the old bugger would just be getting in the way, but they got to work.

At the end of the day the uncle-in-law was stuffed. Grandfather Fred had hardly raised a sweat, and he stood leaning on his crosscut saw in the middle of piles of firewood, with a wicked smile in his eye. He’d delivered to the son-in-law the same lesson he’d taught me years earlier. Rhythm, and a few other things besides.

Later I was to witness and learn the rhythm of other forms of labour. In the shearing shed, out on the fenceline, on the chain at the freezing works. Rhythm rather than muscle made the work easier and the working day flow on by. There was rhythm and harmony in the whole way our whanau shearing gang worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. But a few shearers in our gang were inclined to muscle their way through the long day. The best of them flowed through the day.

The crosscut saw and the shearing gang as metaphors for life.

There is rhythm in everything. The athlete in the zone has found her rhythm. The artist in the act of creation has found his rhythm. There is rhythm in the way of the soldier, the merchant, and the artisan. There is rhythm in the whole of life, and there is rhythm in the Void. Rhythm is everything. Disturbances in the rhythm are the source of much of the chaos in society.

We have been advised to establish routines in the lockdown. But more than that we need to find rhythm in the lockdown. The unconscious mind is hardwired to fiercely resist change and shifting from the rhythm of before COVID-19 and finding rhythm in the lockdown may not be easy for those inclined to muscle their way through life. It will not be easy for them after Lockdown either. The whole world is changing and we will need to change with it.

The pathogens are showing us that humankind is not the only musician in the band. We resisted that truth in our collective denial of climate change. There is no resisting the virus.The rhythm of our lives is being changed for us. Best we use the lockdown to find that rhythm.

An American colonel of my acquaintance once observed that I march like a drummer in a rock band.

Coronavirus and Street Sign Vandalism

Day Whatever + 3

First thing in the morning before making that decision to walk out the door I attend to my Te Karere Ipurangi (Maori News Online) Twitter feed (@Karere). It’s been going for 11 years and amalgamates news about and for Maori. As at today there are 3,747 followers, mostly in New Zealand but with quite a few international TwitterFolk.

This morning I noticed a new follower; a new member of my TwitterVolk. Magenta Gutenberg (@SnapperQuota). She (I think) describes herself (I think again) as a “German Kiwi” who is learning Te Reo, ” Kei te ako tonu au i te reo Māori”. But the thing that really caught my attention was the hashtag, #LandOfTheLongWhiteKraut. That brought a broad smile to the dial, and set me up for the rest of my day.

47 cars in the New World carpark this morning, and no queue outside. Not so many people on the streets.

Some time back, around the time that COVID-19 first appeared in New Zealand, I noticed that the street sign on the corner of Waterloo Street and McPhee Street had been vandalised and pulled out of the ground. The next day it had been moved a couple of blocks and left on the footpath. A few days later it was replaced and then later sawn down. It was erected again. This morning one of the street signs had been partially wrenched off the post and left danglng.

Which set me to wondering. Being well aware of course (unlike many of the instant COVID-19 experts) that scientifically speaking, correlation is not causation, I nevertheless wondered whether street sign vandalism might be a yet to be identified symptom of coronavirus infection. After all, it is no more ridiculous than most of the fake stuff and conspiracy theories on social media.

If so, there is as yet no evidence of community transmission, given that all the other street signs on my daily quest for health and fitness are still intact.

So it must have arrived from beyond our borders at Dannevirke, from Woodville or Norsewood perhaps. Maybe even from overseas, like the United States of Amerika. Which is a reasonable assumption. Over the last 30 or 40 years the world has been infected by many dangerous and ridiculous viral-like ideas that germinated in the USA. Like neoliberal dogma and practice. Like the quest to democratise the Middle East by creating ISIS. Like the Tii Paati virus that mutated into a Cockwomble-in-Chief in the White House. The Virus-in-Chief as it were.

But this COVID-19 virus is more powerful than any of the stuff that has come out of the USA and just goes to show that Trump’s Amerika is never going to be as great as the viruses and bacteria that really rule the world.

And while we wait patiently for relief from the grip of the virus I carefully inspect all the street signs for any indication of community transmission.

You all think I’ve come down with cabin fever don’t you.

Healthy Lungs, Healthy Hearts and Kapa Haka

Day Whatever + 2

I reckon if you don’t keep count of the days in lockdown the days pass much faster.

57 cars in the New World carpark this morning. No one at the pharmacy. No one at the dairy that has reopened on High Street. A few more walkers this morning including a few mothers walking the excess energy off their children. Fathers probably on the couch watching rugby replays.

So what was I thinking about on this morning’s constitutional? Healthy heart, healthy lungs and kapa haka.

On Day Whatever of these musings-in-public my (real) friend Robin Payne commented that I still need to write about Borneo. I’ll get to that Robin. Soon.

Robin was the Director of Toi Whakaari / NZ Drama School when I joined the board back in the 1990s sometime. Among her many dramatic talents is that of voice tutor. She is an outstanding voice tutor.

Watching her work, I remember back then being reminded of my own voice training in the military; being trained to throw our voices the length of a parade ground, and to pitch the voice above the noise of battle. You need strong healthy lungs to do that.

A few months ago I reconnected with Toi Whakaari at the invitation of the new director Tanea Heke. Tanea was a student when Robin & I were at Toi Whakaari. I was overjoyed to see her become Director. I spoke to her about kapa haka.

COVID-19 has put a stop to kapa haka regionals and has probably postponed the national competition, Te Matatini. But have you noticed that most performers at regionals and nationals have not been voice trained. Some of those groups are almost screeching. Quite a lot of those groups actually. They need professional voice training. It would make a tremendous difference – to borrow a superlative from the Cockwomble-in-Chief in the White House.

I remember once being blessed to be in an ope with Keri Kaa, Rose Pere and Tungia Baker as our kaikaranga. Those three deliberately started the karanga a good 500 metres before any others would, such was the power of their voices, coming from deep down in the puku, off the top of powerful diaphragms. It was an awe inspiring performance that I will remember for the rest of my days.

So I talked to Tanea about how she might become involved in kapa haka. Another string to the Toi Whakaari bow. By working with one or two kapa haka to train all of their voices to the same high standard achieved by our acting graduates. From such small beginnings the impact on performance at Te Matatini could be quite dramatic.

But the best results are gained by those with healthy lungs and healthy hearts. The best defences against COVID-19 and any future viral pandemic are healthy lungs and healthy hearts. Which finally explains the connection between my daily constitutional and random thoughts about Toi Whakaari and kapa haka.

And a wistful thought that maybe kapa haka could become the main health promoting vehicle for our people. Most everything else that has been tried hasn’t lived up to expectations. With our Pasifika cousins we’re still most at risk of death by virus.

Advice from my Grandmother about COVID-19 Bullshit

Day Whatever + 1

56 cars in the New World carpark this morning. You’ve discerned by now that one of my strange little lockdown routines is counting cars at the supermarket. Don’t scoff. We all have these odd little rituals and routines in our lives. You too. It’s an intrinsic part of the human condition.

The 10k walk you know is not only about exercise and health. Quite often i will arrive home with an essay or article fully composed and ready to be written. Like this morning. And yesterday of course.

Anyway. In July 2016 I presented testimony at a Waitangi Tribunal hearing concerning Maori and war service. I was debunking some of the mythology about our Vietnam service, mainly about Agent Orange. I mentioned in passing that I did not myself at that time have any medical, physical or mental ailments that could be attributed to Vietnam. Except for one.

The many Vietnam veterans present had read my Brief of Evidence and had unanimously diagnosed me as a pain in the arse. Tribunal member Dr Angela Ballara then suggested that I apply for a veteran’s disablement pension for the condition.

Over three years later I’m still seriously considering doing just that.

I’ve always been a pain in the arse, one way or another, and I blame it on my grandmother Galloping Gertie.

You see, when I lived with her in 1948/49 she told me lots of her stories and histories. Even at that young age I worked out that some of them were pure fantasy and were meant to entertain rather than educate, but mixed up in it were some serious lessons.

One that has stuck with me for the whole of my life is about bullshit. She told me that I should never believe anything I read in the newspapers, or heard on the radio, and that I should only believe half of that which I witnessed myself. It has led to a lifetime of fact checking, long before the era of the Cockwomble-in-Chief in the White House. Google it – go on !!!

I challenge opinions and beliefs and debunk mythologies, ancient and modern. I have variously been labelled a smartarse, a pain in the arse, a contrarian, a dissident, a sceptic, a non-conformist, and an iconoclast, among other not-so-nice things. Sir Wira Gardiner once called me the Thomas Paine of Maoridom, which says as much about his obsession with military history as it does about my obsession with knocking over icons. And other peoples’ opinions and beliefs.

It is said that opinions are like arseholes in that everyone has one. Some wit added however that unlike arseholes our opinions should be taken out regularly and subjected to close scrutiny. Changing our own opinions and beliefs in the light of new evidence is a tough call, but if one is inclined to challenge the opinions and beliefs of others then one ought to regularly inspect one’s own metaphorical arsehole.

Which finally leads me to the point of these musings.

Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, Tik Tok, Telegram, and every social media platform, are all being inundated with instant experts, false prophets, conspiracy theorists, confabulating commentators, meme generators, and just ordinary people who pick up on it and pass it around. I take my advice from Jacinda Adern and Dr Ashley Bloomfield, who take their advice from their teams of experts, and in the face of every instant expert demanding more of this and more of that, have to balance what is desirable with what is possible, and to determine how to do it within what timeframe.

As Galloping Gertie taught, we should not believe anything we read in the newspapers, or hear on the radio, and only believe half of that which we witness ourselves. Without checking the facts. She would have added TV and social media of course.

By the way. I neglected to tell you that Grandmother Gert lived by the sea. and that over the Ditch the West Islanders have memorialised her in a little song that they sing all the time. Listen carefully. to my grandmother’s song.

Power Walking the Lockdown With Galloping Gertie

Day Whatever.

They say we need to adopt a lockdown routine. I patrol the neighbourhood.

So. At 7.30 each morning I’m out the door for my 10k power walk around the neighbourhood. Walking out the door is the hardest part of a 10k power walk. Our grandmother Gertrude was a power walker. Walked everywhere. She would stride off to the shops about two miles away at a great rate of knots. She was known affectionately to everyone in her Hawke’s Bay village as “Galloping Gertie” or “Goldrush Gert”. I must have inherited my power walking from her.

Along with a bit of hayfever. The whole Nicholls/Kemsley clan inherited asthma, eczema or hayfever from Gertrude’s father Frederick Kemsley in England. Called in at the Pharmacy on my way home this morning to get some anti-histamine.

So. Out walking, cops on patrol don’t seem concerned that a Septuagenarian is loose on the streets. Streets are mostly deserted. Seems that Dannevirkians are studiously avoiding the Exercise bug as well as the Covid-19 virus.

I caught the Health bug from my grandmother as well. Touch wood. She instilled in me from the tender age of 5 that my most precious asset would always be my health. She grew up in England in the perilous times before disinfectants, antiseptics, antibiotics and vaccines. And hand washing and social distancing.

50 cars in the New World carpark at 8.30 this morning. Long queue waiting outside. Ordered my food and groceries online yesterday. Long lead times though. Delivery about 9 days. Pickup about 6 days. Opted for pickup with mask and gloves between 5 and 6pm on Monday 6th.

Not urgent anyway. Got plenty of vegan kai in my pantry.

Onwards. Old folk in their cars queueing at the hospital for their influenza vaccination. Better get mine soon.

April 1st. Not long before ANZAC Day. Maybe on April 25th I’ll put on the medals and beret and power march the daily 10k. Stop on the way at the Cenotaph to lay a poppy in remembrance of the grandfather who came home from the Great War with a war bride – Galloping Gertie.