Hobbit Spotting

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We began retreat last weekend with a crowd breaker exercise.  Everyone wrote down one thing the rest of the group didn’t know about them.  I wondered what I wanted to share about myself.  I wrote ‘father was a linesman’.  They were read out and we guessed which one around the circle.  Mine was one of the last.  I was asked if he fell from grace.  Yes, he did.  He had a stroke, or something similar, while up a ladder and fell to his death.  This was back in the 1980s when I was still at school.  I did not regret sharing it.  As I have said elsewhere I do not mourn my dead as much as I take joy in remembering them.  I was happy to talk about dad and would have said more.  An honoured memory.

On the book front, I have finished Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch.  It was an entertaining read, a diversion about the police department that deals with the magic side of the city of London.  I will look out for Moon over Soho, the next in the series.  Currently I’m reading London Falling, a darker book by Paul Cornell, again about London police, and a much darker occult.  For the first 80 pages the characters seemed to blur and slide in my reading, they didn’t have distinct voices in my head.  Now the story has kicked in and the magic begins to get more interesting.

I’m currently working on translating some sentences from Maori Language Week into Brithenig.  While it is topical I want to have a go at the poem Home, by Warsan Shire.

Advent II: Jesus is coming, look busy!

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Thoughts on the Death of a Gentleman

He had been an interior decorator.  The four principles of his career had been: Colour! Comfort! Cosiness! and above all, Suitability!

Advice for living after a death:

  1. Grieve wisely
  2. Say Yes when friends and those who want to help ask.   They usually mean it.
  3. Nurture hope

Mai i Rangiatea

Maybe we can learn something about how native people use mythology.  Is it useful?  How can we use it?  Our tikanga (practice of culture) rises out of our mythology, or theology as we call it in tikanga Perehipiteriana.  Story-telling will change the world.

Requiem

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I had the opportunity to attend a Requiem Mass yesterday.  It was at a high-church Anglican parish.  It was a service for an Anglican priest whom I had known.  It was the first time I had attended a requiem.  Quite literally it involved bells and smells.  When the priest and the censor circled the altar I imagined the Benny Hill theme song in my head.  It was my first time in a service with incense.  Is this what it’s going to be like in heaven?

All Christians in the congregation who were in good communicant standing with their church were invited to participate.   I decided against going forward.  It is not my practice, at least at funerals.  I felt it was an invitation for the local faithful to eat and drink with a beloved friend one last time.  It was their moment, not mine.

Whenever I attend a funeral I reconsider how I would like  the arrangements to celebrate my departure from the planet.  Not high-church for me I think, and I should avoid the weepy funeral hymns.  Something lively and upbeat.  What a Wonderful World is still on my list, and Rainbow People by Colin Gibson.  Suggestions welcome!

Advent 1: Be alert! God loves lerts!

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We marked today the death of a member at Opoho Church making a cairn of stones in a clay bowl out of memories.  There was no water.  I would have liked to add water.  It would seem incomplete to cast a person off into the afterlife with only dry stones.

She who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst the rock one cannot stop and think

T. S. Eliot, adapted

Perhaps I can add this prayer from the office of Celtic Night Prayer from the Northumbrian Community.  I find it useful.

Do not hurry
as you walk with grief;
it does not help the journey.

Walk slowly,
pausing often;
do not hurry
as you walk with grief.

Be not disturbed
by memories that come unbidden.
Swiftly forgive;
and let Christ speak for you
unspoken words.
Unfinished conversation
will be resolved in Him.
Be not disturbed.

Be gentle with the one who walks with grief.
If it is you,
be gentle with yourself.
Swiftly forgive;
walk slowly,
pausing often.

Take time, be gentle
as you walk with grief.

Global Ireland: The 19th Australasian Irish Studies Conference

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This has been my diversion for the last three days..  It turned up in my email at work a couple of months ago from the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies.  It felt like something I could attend to hold the side up for the Presbyterian Archives Research Centre, so I subscribed to attend.

I don’t particularly identify myself as Irish, or Celtic, or Anglo-Celtic.  If anything my quotidian identity is Pakeha, New Zealand European for people who object to the term.  I felt a bit of an outsider, especially since I’m a introspective non-mingling person.  Nevertheless there were a handful of family historians and genealogists present who were happy to discover we existed and we have material into which they haven’t delved: baptismal records, marriage registers, and occasionally ancestors turn up in minutes.

The catering at these events tend towards fried, salty and rice-based.  I don’t think that reflects Irish cuisine which I would suspect tends to potatoes and whiskey.  The latter I missed without regret.  It has an aroma like furniture cleaner to my palate.

The first keynote lecture from Professor Graham Walker reviewed the history of the Irelands and Scotland from partition until the current referendum discussions.  There’s some interesting comparisons between the Republic of Ireland and the Kingdoms of Northern Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand.  The loss of young skilled workers from Scotland in the 1920s sounds comparable to the anguish in New Zealand as our brightest and best emigrate to Australia for work.  And the description of society in the Republic of Ireland with an entrenched rural class, minimal industrialization and the Celtic tiger is sleeping sounds disturbingly familiar.

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air

Darkness, by Lord Byron

Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!
Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,
Caverned in night under the drifted snow,
Or where that snow and winter’s dreadful blast
Beat down upon their naked bodies, know
That day brings round the night, that before dawn
His glory and his monuments are gone.

Meru, by W. B. Yeats

…and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.

Lapis Lazuli, by W. B. Yeats

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

The Stolen Child, by W. B. Yeats

The changeling is a person who can cross boundaries, a third-culture person, someone from one cultural group raised in a second culture, neither finally at home in either.  The half-caste is a changeling.  The sea is a liminal transition between worlds, the migrant’s passage.

Being colonial, a mode of being that is discontinuous with its past — Stephen Turner

There was a presentation on shamans which I found bunk.  It could have come out of a book in the popular spirituality section.  Apparently there is an apostolic succession, a spiritual esoterica, that goes back to the neolithic when druids worshipped the moon goddess.  No mention seemed to be made that this corpus was violently interrupted in the Common Era.  This shamanic tradition is hermetic, separate from observed practice.  No example of exchange between Maori and Irish in New Zealand was provided.  I did think that there was an interesting comparison between this tradition and the Yoruba religion that Stephen Prothero described in God Is Not One.  Maybe the shamans are looking in the wrong direction.  I’m skeptical.

New Zealanders turn up at the pub in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.  Once a jolly swagman they are domesticated wildmen and pirates.  Up from the grave he arose!  I should read this, probably I will have to read it aloud just to understand it.  It sounds like a delightful fantasy novel.

Professor Ronan McDonald from Sydney talked about disciplinity in Irish Studies.  It sounds like that Irish Studies needs to be multi-disciplinary, and not overlook the sciences!  At least Wang Zhanpeng from Beijing was also talking about multi-disciplinary too.  And Professor of Sociology Louise Ryan from London talked about creating a corpus for doing a comparison between migrant groups into Britain.  That was interesting.  I wish I took the chance to thank her.  Our identity is within and against the dominant society.  Anyone who calls themselves an expat is themselves a migrant.  This includes managerial types who can cross half the world to take up a position.  They are often overlooked as they are expected to be affluent and wealthy, and not refugees.

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Among School Children VIII by W. B. Yeats

I managed to get a chortle out of my neighbour when Lyndon Fraser asked the rhetorical question Why should we study death? and I murmured ‘Cause it’s cool!  Yet again studies on Post-mortem practice and observances is another field where comparative studies is coming useful.

Well maybe all that was fun, and maybe I did connect.  I’m back home again, come the long way.  The next conference will be in Sydney in 2013.  I don’t intend to get there as it’s too far to walk.  I wish them well!

Andrew Smith
Every Number Upper Brimstone Walk
Newer Aland

After the Weekend

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Saturday was busy.  I went into work and sat down with the former curator of photographs who showed me how to enter stuff.  We got halfway through all the things I needed to know in a morning.  At midday I left to meet with people to take me out to Karitane for a memorial service for Grace Gardner.

I travelled with members of the Khamzin Tribe.  There was a simple service for Grace in the Karitane Community Hall.  Several people who knew her in the last year spoke, including her partner.  The Khamzin Tribe danced, photos were shared and we ate together.  We walked around the Huriwa Historic Reserve as she had once done with her partner, following its story, stopping to watch the gannets dive into the sea.  We laid flowers around a native tree that they had planted together on the reserve.   As we came home I learned about her death from the Tribe.

After church on Sunday I caught up with the little tasks for which I use the weekend.  The season is getting colder and it has reached the point that I can air clothing outside, but I cannot get them dry.  Now the weekend is over I can set my mind to little projects.  The time to do them becomes limited as winter gets colder.

Hobbit-Spotting

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It’s the end of the week, and I did things.

It’s Archives Week and we went to Archives New Zealand on George Street in Dunedin to see the displays the local archives had put out there.  The theme was on Scandal.  The Settlers Museum put on a display about the Vauxhall Gardens, which was family fun to visit during daylight hours and a meeting place for those of negotiable virtue after dark.  Yvonne prepared a display on the Scandal of Neglect for the Presbyterian Archives, what happens to records left forgotten to vermin, in ceilings under the heat of iron-clad roofs, and wrapped in moisture-holding plastic in damp vaults.  National Archives prepared two displays, one about Amy Bock, who scandalised conservative nineteenth-century society for disguising herself as a man, even marrying another woman; and about Superintendent Macandrew, the provincial governor of old Otago, who when sentenced to gaol for debt, managed to have his own house declared his prison for a while, the first case of home detention.

I was told on Wednesday that the Department of Anatomy had organised a memorial for Grace that afternoon.  She did not want a funeral.  Most of the people there were from her workplace and were not familiar to me.  I drank a cup of excellent coffee and listened as others spoke to her memory.  I don’t mingle willingly and left after half an hour when the speeches ended.  It was an unfulfilling occasion.  I am determined not to do the same to those who remember me after my death.

Currently reading Streetlife by Leif Jerram.  It’s a social history of European cities written from the perspective that great men do not begin events, it is in the movement and motives of people on the street that history happens.  What an exciting book!  It is bursting with ideas.  I’m loving reading it!  I was inspired to get out of the library because I had seen it in the University Book Shop window and I wondered what it could tell me about the life of cities.  Now that I have started reading it I am considering buying my own copy.  I think it is an important book.

Saying Good-bye to Grace

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I have been waiting for the news to be announced before writing this entry.  It was confirmed by police that one of my long-time friendships has come to an end in this life.  The body found in Karitane was identified as my friend Grace Gardner.  The police contacted me last Monday to see if I knew anything of her whereabouts.  We had not spoken directly for some months.  I travelled with her regularly to support her at Khamzin Tribe’s haflas.  Then, as far as I can tell, she pulled out of that to start a new relationship.  We passed occasionally on the street, going in opposite directions to our workplaces.  There was never time to stop and talk.

As the week progressed a body was found at Karitane.  I heard through other sources that she was dead.  The final announcement was by the police on Saturday in the local paper.  Her death is unusual and the police are awaiting further tests.  I expect to hear that there will be a memorial service for her.  So ends her life.  I had hoped to meet up with her again.  This is not to be.

I first met Grace at a bible study camp years ago.  She was a convert to Christianity in a country town.  We met years later when we both joined the Otago Mediaeval Society.  By that stage we had both moved into new places in our lives.  I was becoming more broad church; she had left Christianity behind.  I don’t think she could reconcile it with her life and education.  While at university she was introduced into neo-paganism and Islam.  While I did not press on her spiritual life I think maintained a tolerant magical practice to the end.

She worked at the Anatomy Department.  Her life was adventurous.  She married briefly, and after they separated amicably she had partners.  When she could she was consciously created places of sanctuary.  While I’m not a social extrovert I remember attending gothic parties in a big flat on Queen Street with some fondness that she organized.  She was a coeliac and everyday was a blessing for her.

Then she left her belly dancing group and began a new relationship which took her out to winter in Karitane.  I was tolerant of these changes as I knew we would catch up with each other again.  Her life was her own affair.  Indeed her name wasn’t the first one I meet her by.  She valued her privacy.

This makes her death all the more startling.  It turns out we will not catch up with each other again.  I do not understand what happened.  She left a note and disappeared from a relationship.  It sounded too similar to a suicide of another friend of the Archives that took place earlier this year.  Grace was extremely sensitive to the cold.  I accused her once of being an exotherm and she did not deny it.  To disappear without taking anything with her was irregular.  This is not yet a closed case.  I will await further news, and also hope to join with others to honour her memory.

She followed this blog.  There is a good chance that this entry will still arrive in her inbox.  Sadly she will not reply.  Whatever aspect awaits to receive her across the other lands I hope will receive her with kindness.

A conversation we need to have: Euthanasia in New Zealand

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This was a mightily attended forum held by the Centre for Theology and Public Issues in the Colquhon Lecture Theatre in the Dunedin Public Hospital.  The theatre was packed nearly full.  I estimate at least 500 people.  As always, what follows is my notes:

What is at stake?  The arguments for euthanasia are based on compassion, dignity or autonomy, and secularism.  I didn’t write down the details of these arguments which were summarised from a thesis done under the Centre for Theology and Public Issues.  Instead I noted two questions.  Can we die with meaning?  To die pointlessly and painfully seems to me one of the most horrible fates to end a life.  My second thought was, Is this part of the triumph of the individual over the social contract?  There is no one answer.

Listening to Sean Davison speak I became concerned, Is euthanasia the end of life choice for people who have lived with no regrets.  He described the life of his mother as an ex-doctor, well travelled, well-loved, living in a beautiful home and garden with a view of the harbour from Broad Bay.  I can’t claim to enjoy a life like that.  It belongs to a tax bracket above mine.  The kind of person who came out to support him seemed to be representatives of the same kind of people.  I wondered if classicism is one of the elephants in the room in the discussion about euthanasia.

At the same time I did keep vigil with a dying aunt.  It marked out several long days and when she was awake I did not find her coherent.  If I was in the similar situation I would willingly consider the option to accept the pill to end my life.

The decision is made in the moment.  At the same time the decision made in the moment is not objective.  The person making the decision can make a mistake.  Human life has a value.  Putting down a life is a tragedy.

This will be a conscience vote for parliament.  The first time a euthanasia bill was put before parliament the vote was two to one against.  The most recent time a similar bill was put before parliament it was almost balanced.  Whether it passes this time is speculation.

The quality and funding for palliative care in New Zealand is not consistant, and it needs to be before such a bill can be passed by parliament.  Safeguards need to be ensured.  If euthanasia is provided for the terminally ill will it be provided eventually for the non-terminally ill, or for disabled dependents?  There are troubling questions that follow on passing such a law.

Euthanasia is not a crime in New Zealand.  Instead we have laws for taking a human life: homocide, manslaughter, and assisted suicide.

I always look forward to question time after a lecture.  It is like ice cream after a meal.  Sadly this time I felt disappointed.  The questions did not provide me with more insight.

Stuff has its own report on the debate, which I found selective in what it reports.  It just goes to show that you can’t believe everything in the news.  The Otago Daily Times has its report here.  The forum itself will  available as a podcast from the Centre for Theology and Public Issues website.

Anzac Day musings

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It’s Anzac Day.  I’m spending the day at home.  For those who attended dawn services and other services to honour Australia and New Zealand’s war dead then I hope that Father Anzac brings you lots of presents.  I did not attend a service for the day.  It feels like ancestor worship to me, to honour the fallen in battle, those who went out on life’s great adventure, to secure their place in empire, and came back changed men and women.  New Zealand was not born as a nation in those fields of battle.  I am ambivalent to that debt.

In the meantime I am waiting for the news report that will officially confirm the death of a friend in unusual circumstances at Karitane.  I expect to write on that at length in the next few days.

I’m interested to see that there have been a couple of hits looking for my Lamborough project.  I was keeping the details of that to myself at the moment.  I hope to spend some time today continuing my documentation on the city.  Leave a comment, or contact me, if you want to hear more on that project.

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