“It is not how old you are but how you are old”

On Friday I will celebrate my father reaching his 88th birthday.

He is old. At 80 he still skied and played tennis, lived on his own and was active and alive.

Eight years on and he no longer participates in the skiing and tennis which he loves. He occasionally wander around a few holes on the golf course. And he no longer lives alone. He has a younger woman. She turns 88 in September!

Dad stoops now, his once tall six foot height a youthful memory. His hearing, always questionable, is appalling. Which means he misses out on a lot of life around him. But he still gardens, drives himself, attends U3A meetings, sings in the Cathedral choir, serves on the odd committee, and goes to concerts.

At 88 he is old, but still living.

Three months ago my 86 year old mother-in-law was old but still living. She too drove herself to the Cathedral where she also volunteered once a week. She pottered around in her garden and cooked all her own meals. She attended book group meetings and a music appreciation group, as well as being keen to keep up with her family and friends.

In May she had a heart attack. It was decided she needed an operation to insert a new valve into her heart via an artery. While waiting for the surgery the family cared for her at home. Someone slept over every night, made her dinner and then breakfast in the morning. We did her shopping and laundry. A cleaner was provided.

In June she had her surgery and it went remarkably well. She was discharged and sent home. Nurses were provided to shower her but the family committed to up to six weeks of convalescent care.

Except things did not go according to plan. The valve operation was a brilliant success and her new valve allows her heart to pump the right amount if oxygenated blood around her body.

However being 86 years old and having been brought up not to discuss such issues my mother in law failed to mention that she was not pooping. At all.

Severe constipation impacted on her whole well-being. The compacted bowel put pressure on the spine which gave her intense back pain. She began to need more drugs. Morphine which slows the bowel down more. Her bowel movements were discussed far and wide. She had to drink laxatives, eat kiwifruit and prunes. She didn’t like it.

Her nursing care was increased with the family staying over each night and visiting each afternoon to make sure medication was taken. We organised Meals on Wheels. Nurse called three or four times a day.

Pam got grumpier. Always a Pollyanna sort of person now she complained about everything.

“I am sick of blancmange for dessert.”

“I can’t/won’t get up for breakfast.”

“I don’t want to go outside and sit in the sun.”

The family were getting tired. It was three months and Pam’s health was deteriorating. Then she fell. Another visit to hospital.

More pain, this time in her groin. Doctors diagnosed sciatica. It was eventually discovered she had cracked her pubis bone and finally admitted to hospital for 10 days of bed rest.

“I have nothing to look at.”

Once a day she was taken to the physio gym and made to “work out”.

“The physios are mean to me.”

Today she is being discharged back to home. Back to nurses visiting and family picking up the slack.

Yesterday I was with her as the occupational therapist went around her house advising us what to do to minimise fall risk. I was chosen as being “the nice daughter in law”. Move unnecessary furniture to allow more room for the walker frame. Taking away piles of magazines or boxes of apples and potatoes. Making room in her bedroom for a commode for night time use. Installing extra grab handles. Taking away floor mats and rugs.

Pam was unhappy. She sat on her kitchen chair, slumped.

“I don’t want to sleep in a different room/take away the pot plants at the front door. I need the chair in my bedroom/mats at the back door.”

I was reminded of another girl in my family. My daughter. Sulking because as a toddler she wasn’t getting her own way. Stubbornly refusing something even though she must have known she was wrong. Hating change.

We used to have almighty rows with her. My mother-in-law thought we were soft – until she had to care for Juliet for a week while her younger brother was ill in hospital one Christmas. Then she said, “Sometimes that girl just wants the bottom brick off the chimney.”

So yesterday I said to Pam, “You want to live at home so you need to compromise on a few things to make it happen. It sounds as though you are wanting the bottom brick off the chimney.”

I think I just lost my status as the nice daughter in law.

The circle of life

Today as the world mourns the loss of Robin Williams, my family welcomes the next generation. Baby Boy Sewell was born today, a big cuddly 4.2kgs following an arduous three days. Last I heard he was still not officially named. I imagine his parents are still a bit overwhelmed. It was definitely labour!

He is my great-nephew. His proud great-grandmother rang us from a different hospital just after 9pm with the news. Her life is also waning. At 86 years of age things are beginning to fail at an alarming rate. And each malfunction triggers another event. At present she is in hospital on almost total bedrest to heal a fracture in her pubis bone.

The circle of life.

There is a lot of death in the world today. And much of it seems to be the result of people’s actions The Israel-Gaza conflict, Syria, planes being shot out of the sky.

And then then are people who decide to end their lives by their own actions. Like Robin Williams. Everyone is talking about Robin. About his depression. His addictions. And so I won’t.

I am going to hope Baby Boy Sewell gets the chance to grow old. I hope he never feels the need to take another person’s life. I hope he never feels the need to take his own. For all those jihadists, terroists, Isis-ists were once newborn babies filled with hope and promise. Robin Williams was once a newborn baby whose only worry or fear concerned food.

The circle of life. Let nature take its course.

The Lord is my shepherd

Goodbye. Haere ra. God bless. Peace be with you.

I and a whole host of others said these words today in a packed to standing room only Christchurch Transitional Cathedral.

It was the Christchurch funeral service for Lynda, our Dean. A vibrant young woman who had come to Christchurch from Ireland and decided to make our city her home, to make our cathedral and its people her people. She is actually going back to be buried amongst family in Northern Ireland.

It was a really grand service. All the pomp and ceremony. Two hundred robed clergy formed a guard of honour as her coffin was carried out by friends and colleagues who struggled with Lynda’s deadweight. For it was true that she was larger than life. And perhaps that contributed to her early death. She was 40 years old.

Funerals bring out more than just hankies. Cliches abound. “Gone too soon.” “Too good to die.” “Such a lovely person, God wanted her for his own.” Somehow I think that although these may be true, Lynda would have scoffed at them. Lynda had more than God’s spirit with her, she had her own spirit.

Lynda had planned her service back in 2010, possibly after our first earthquake when many of us wondered if this was the end. For those earthquakes struck everyone – even those with the purest of hearts.

The first reading, which I admit was so obscure I had never heard reference to it, was Lynda’s joke. Apparently when clergy would ring and ask advice on what to talk about when the bishop visited, Lynda would point them to these passages and suggest they discussed what they meant to them.

The Bishop, also an immigrant to our country and also Lynda’s flatmate, spoke. I thought it a lovely tribute to a warm and generous soul, a woman who might live, breathe, and be all things religious, theological, Christian, but who also had a wicked sense of humour and fun. My children Juliet and Robert, who were both serving at the service, said it was a long list of things which may have killed her. For Lynda had not been well for some time. For many her death was not unexpected. But it still came too soon.

So more than 500 people gathered this afternoon to pay their last respects to someone who will be missed. Her sermons always began with a joke or anecdote and then segued into the more serious stuff. But by then you were so interested you carried on listening.

We sang heartily to the hymns Lynda had picked four years earlier for whatever reason. They were happy hymns. And the thing about a congregation at ease with church protocol, people sing with gusto, supported brilliantly by the Choir. It was a pleasant way to give tribute.

And when her coffin had been farewelled with a karakia, and the congregation filed out to an organ voluntary normally heard at weddings (another joke, Lynda?), there were many high clergy and sombre business stalwarts scratching at things in their eyes.

Lynda, kia tau te rangimārie. You will be missed.

Dirty girls

I like it rough. I like it dirty.

And that is why I like cross-country running.

Yesterday’s race was muddy. I had run on the course a few weeks ago and it was wet. I ran again on Wednesday, doing a quick lap in spikes. It was muddy.

And then it rained. For two days straight.

I took my 6mm spikes out and replaced them with longer 9mm ones. A good move.

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling queasy. I actually think it was nerves. Twice now this has happened before a championship race. I had my horse trough sized bowl of porridge, with natural yoghurt and sliced banana on top. And I pottered around. I went to Merivale Mall which was hosting a food tasting market. So many things to try and buy. I had none. Discipline is knowing what you want more than what you want now. I wanted a good race.

Start time was 2:05. Andrew dropped me off just after 1pm and I trudged across the park to our tent. Underneath my puffer jacket, my club fleece, my club dryfit, my merino and my thermal. Beneath the trackpants and running tights there was a lean mean running machine. I kept some of the outerlayers on and did my warm up routine. I ran the course working out the best lines for harer ground. Going wide was the better option as the inside corners were churned mud. The juniors race first.

I did have a momentary panic when using a portaloo and it lurched violently. I thought I was over earthquake stress, but at that moment if I hadn’t just been, I would have crapped myself. I thought there had been a massive earthquake and I was going to die, trapped in a portaloo, drowned in yucky stuff. But no, it was just off its rocker. Freaked me out big time.

It was cold but not as cold as was predicted. There were intermittent rain showers which were better than the snow flurries predicted. And it was time to strip down and check. Singlet. Number. Timing chip. Shoes laced extra tight.

Start time. A big crowd as every woman from 15 years up was running together. Under 20s were running 2 laps of 2k, senior women 4 laps and us oldies were running 6k.

And we were off. I was in the middle of the pack. The first 150m is downhill and I passed a lot of people. I tried to remember not to go out too fast as three laps could be tough. Across the bridge and the first uphill slog. It doesn’t look much but it is deceivingly tough. This year because of the wet conditions the start finish area had moved. This uphill is usually our finishing straight. It was very soft and very wet. I ploughed through and passed a few more. I could see easily I was in third position for masters women. It was where I expected to be. Just hold that spot. Round the bend and downhill for a bit. Use these straights to keep strong but recover. The long two part uphill is coming. Andrew called out “Go Robyn”. Lots of people were calling out to me. Telling me I looked strong. I felt good. I felt strong.

The next uphill. Again sodden and soft. Quite muddy. I picked off a few more runners. Younger girls. A sharp s bend and then the real hill. Thick thick mud. I kept to the left and dug in. This is a strength of mine. I am strong in these conditions. I passed another couple. Round the corner and down hill. Keeping it strong but easy. Across a gravel path and then we weaved through the flax bushes. The choice was slippery mud or slippery mud. It was 100 m of a muddy path. It could all turn belly-up here. I was through. Across the water course, round the corner, the second water course, round the corner and first lap done.

We set off again. I am feeling good. Just keep going. I see Fiona ahead of me. Fiona is five foot nothing of pure running machine. But lately she hasn’t been running as well as previously. I have been hot on her tail a lot recently. I passed her at about 2.5ks. I felt like apologising. She said go girl.

I attacked that second hill again. There were a couple of blue and orange singlets ahead of me. Our junior girls. Again I don’t like to pass them. I think it must be demoralising to be passed by someone older than your mum!

But I did. Sorry, girls. I am having a great day.

Second lap done. Everyone is really cheering me. Giving me good advice. Telling me I was looking strong. Looking awesome. I felt it too.

That last hill though. It was tough. I try not to look behind me in a race but I do use the corners to see who is where. Fiona was coming back. Could I hold her? I dug a little deeper even though my kegs were a bit tired. Less than 1k to go. I glanced back as I crested the hill and rounded the bend. She was about 80m back. I had this. I flew.

Across the line. Second masters woman (over 35) and first over 50. A nice visit to the top of the podium. I am beginning to like the view from up there.

But I felt good. I have a training plan. I have an eating plan. I had a race plan. And they all came together.

My legs were caked mud from top of my socks to bottom of my shorts. It took some scrubbing to get them clean. I imagine my shoes and race gear will take some scrubbing too.

Now it is Sunday. My medals are hung. My day of glory gone. Back to the training plan, and even though it is dark, cold and I hear rain, the plan says 25k.

So be off.

I-runner

Tonight (Wednesday) I committed to a race, the Winter Warm Up. A 10k hilly trail run in the limestone hills of North Canterbury. Sponsored by Waipara Springs Winery

For me it is a race with a difference. I am going to subdue my competitive nature and support Mike instead. Mike is blind. I met him a couple of months ago through Achilles International. In Achilles there is no political correctness. Mike suffers from a congenital condition. He can see light and shapes well enough to run unleashed but his peripheral vision is non existent. He also struggles with depth and perception, unable to judge distant or speed of other people.

We run well together. My brain gets very tired as I struggle with my left and right. I can’t use the fall-back of pointing in the direction I mean. Mike gets very tired as during winter he can only run during the weekends. It is too dark before and after work for someone with limited sight.

The weather forecast is foul. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is someone like Mike gets to run in an event just like so many other people.

It is Sunday afternoon now. We ran this morning. It could not have been a better morning for it. The frost was hard and heavy but it morphed into a brilliantly sunny day with no wind. That is the thing about weather – it just does what it does regardless of what the forecasters predict!

A group of six congregated at the Foundation for the Blind and we car pooled from there. I love driving through Canterbury with the snowy alps outlining the western horizon. We live in a special place.

Wrapped up warm in layers of hats and gloves and puffer jackets we joined the many other runners and walkers registering, and queuing for the toilets. My feet were frozen solid but as the sun slowly rose the frost was melting. I made the brave choice to discard my thermal long sleeve, beanie and gloves for the actual run.

It was time for us to go. Mike had decided we did not need to be attached. He was a little anxious about running with a large group of people so we set off at the back. We agreed he was to set the pace, I would run to his left, unless it got tricky in which case he would pop in behind me and follow.

Our plan worked brilliantly except when Mike was diligently following me to allow faster runners to pass on the first uphill. I forgot to mention the fence had a top strand of barbed wire. He jokes about gashing open his arm and haemorrhaging profusely but in actuality he snagged his tee shirt.

We walked most of the uphills and quite a few of the alongs. About 3k from the end I pointed out some distance shiny reflections which he could just see. That was the finish. I also said there were a group of women wearing matching fluro tops calling themselves the cupcakes. We were not going to be beaten by them.

With a bit of final motivation and the threat of a cupcake closing in on us we crossed the finish line in 1:13.

Mike, you’re a bloody legend.

It was fun. Mike will be sore and stiff tomorrow. There were some good uphills. The course description said three and there were three decent sized hills, but another half dozen or so smaller or sharper ascents. Each of those was followed by a matching descent which kills the quads if you are not used to it. The scenery was stunning with long vistas of farmland dotted with sheep, pitted with limestone quarries, traversed by a freight train. Blue sky. Snowy hills and mountains. If we could have seen the coast my day would be perfect.

The race pack included a lovely lunch put on by the Amberley Rugby Club – hamburgers, sausages, hot soup and baked spuds. Sitting in the sun with a group of people celebrating their achievements, eating scrummy hot food. What a way to spend a Sunday.

Thanks to Barb Millar, from Events with a Purpose who allowed me (and Donna who guided Petronella with Fletcher the guide dog on the 10k) to run for free. Awesome event. Awesome day. Might have to come back and tackle the 20k next year. Mike, you have been warned!

(Unfortunately I am having trouble linking websites today. So no links to Events with Purpose, Waipara Springs Winery, or the Winter Warm-up Run.)

Falling from Grace

“Try and spread a lot of love and affection around the world. The most important thing is not to ‘con’ the public. Be real.”
— Rolf Harris in 2009

When I was young we would sit down on a Sunday evening with a light meal and watch our black and white television as a family. Good wholesome shows. Disneyworld. The Osmonds. And Rolf Harris with his quirky songs, his splashing of paint brush, and his wobble board.

I grew up with those classic tunes and words cemented in my memory. Six White Boomers. Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport. Two Little Boys. Jake the Peg. And the Court of King Caractacus.

Those memories seemed tarnished now with Rolf Harris being found guilty of sexual abuse against women, many of them young. And trusting.

I feel sickened. Sickened at the thought that someone I admired and beleived in as a child is just another dirty old man who can’t keep his hands to himself, who didn’t see what he was doing was wrong. He abused women, he abused children, he abused his mana in the entertainment industry.

I played those songs to my children too. I am not sure I will ever be able to listen to them again. Which is a shame. Because they were good happy songs. Now I just see sleazy connotations in every lyric.

Shame on you, Rolf Harris. Shame on you!

Bob the Builder

10 weeks ago I had a plan, a slate roof tile off the Christchurch Cathedral and four lengths of manky 4×2.

I was standing in this dusty shabby room with six other newbies while a couple of “experts”, looking highly competent and able, industriously worked on wine racks and drawer units.

Somehow today I brought home this. A coffee table featuring my slate tile as an inset centrepiece.

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The roof tile was a gift to Andrew and me about five years ago. The Cathedral Chapter had to re-roof the cathedral and decided to sell the tiles to recover some of the costs. Post earthquake the ruined Cathedral crumbles away in the square. I found the slate tile when sorting out a cupboard. It needed to be used somewhat significantly.

The timber has been recycled from someone’s house. Someone’s home. Destroyed by the earthquake. Demolished by Cera. I don’t know where it came from but I am pleased to give it another life.

When I first cut it to length and fed it through the thickness planer I loved how the mankiness was stripped away to reveal the hidden beauty of rimu and kauri. I used the rimu laminated together for the table top. The sturdy kauri became the four legs.

I feel quite confident myself using a variety of powertools, though the skill saws still scare me slightly. But the planers, the router and the sanding machines, even the biscuit joiner – no worries, mate.

Yes, there were cock ups along the way. But they are how only visible to my own critical eye. And actually I think they add to the rustic charm.

I still need to glue the slate down in the recess. The legs need to be unscrewed and then glued and using longer screws re-attached to the table top. Finally I need to seal and finish it so we can use it as it was designed to be used. A coffee table. Not evidence that Bob (what my boys call me) is having a mid-life crisis.

My course ended tonight. I said good bye to Bruce the tutor. Some people will have to return next term to finish their projects. But my father is really looking forward to helping me finish mine. He has made a couple of pieces of furniture in our lounge. I can’t wait to add my own creation to the collection.

I am feeling pretty chuffed. And so relieved it sits flat and solid on the floor!