24 November 2018

Speakers Who Extend Their Time - Amazing

A journalist friend recently wrote an interesting story about a speaker at a wedding who didn't know when to stop. I now forget the details of her story but it reminded me of a couple of occasions when I've witnessed similar excesses.

The first was at the funeral of a friend with whom I'd worked - he died quite soon after his retirement and some of his workmates and I turned up to pay our respects. I had been asked to speak and did my best to keep to the time allotted and to give due honour. His son also spoke, and then the officiating minister started. I'd worked with my friend for about 30 years and thought I knew something about his attitudes and beliefs. So I was somewhat surprised at the fervent content of the religious tribute. I threatened to walk out mid-speech but Catherine wasn't having any of that from me. Some did walk out. On and on it went.

Finally my workmate's son who was there supporting his mother, who was showing signs of distress, went up to the Minister and asked him to stop. No - on and on he went and the fire and damnation and soul saving became more inflamed. The son, after more time had passed, stood up again and asked him to stop. Finally after another round of religious fervour he stopped and eventually we all filed out of the church. The unfortunate minister was then verbally set upon by the widow, the son too. I went and had my say as well. The minister departed and never attended the function afterwards. I met my deceased friend's brother there and we shared a few laughs about the past.

The other story goes back a lot further to 1974 when I attended my first big international conference in Sydney. It was one of those special interest meetings that takes place every four years. I was stunned at the numbers present and in particular by the presence of opposing teams from the USA who seemed to take great delight in savaging one another's work. Quite intimidating for someone about to give his first overseas paper, albeit a very minor 'also ran' one on the last afternoon of the last day. But before that there was the German Professor. He was giving a leading paper on some aspect of ruminant dreaming (!) involving REM (rapid eye movement) and brain scans.

A friend from New Zealand was sitting next to me and he knew most of the main players at the conference. "See that scar" he said, directing his gaze at the German Professors face. "Sabre duelling scar" he informed me. I was duely (please excuse the pun) impressed. The professor spoke on and on, reviewed the subject, described the methodology, the results, discussed the findings and drew conclusions. But he went on beyond his allotted time. The bell was sounded. Then the Chairman rose and coughed politely. On the Professor went. After a few more minutes the Chairman moved across the stage to try and 'wrestle' back some control of the situation, The professor saw him coming. He paused and lowered his billiard cue pointer and adopted a fencer's pose. Leaping forward towards the Chairman and crying "Advance Mr Chairman - - - at your peril," He then proceeded to poke the Chairman back off the stage. The Chairman dutifully retreated to his chair, sat down stunned (as were the conference attendees), and the Professor continued for several more minutes wrapping up his lecture.

There was no time for questions and the rest of the session ran behind by some time. And morning tea was shortened to get the whole show back on time. Horrors.

25 October 2018

Epic Yachting from Auckland to Tahiti - Part Three "No Motor - No Power - No Steering - No Wind and the Reef"

Today was hopeless.  We just drifted all day.  Our progress was 5 nautical miles east all day!  Another swim – great.  About now Dave, who had been having trouble with disrupted sleep because his head poked out of his quarter berth into the main cabin, decided to sleep with his head up in the stern.  This was better for all of us, more sleep for Dave and less nightmares for the rest of us – we figured that  Dave’s feet were much more attractive than his other end.

Next day we got our first sight of human existence for 19 days.  A largish fishing boat appeared on the horizon and passed just astern of us.  As it approached I suggested turning on the VHF and onto the emergency channel, sure enough, we hear,  “Amigo, amigo” repeated a couple of times.  Must be South American we say to one another.  We reply.  They seem to have problems understanding us.  And they sound Oriental and confirm it with “we Chinese”.  Simone offers some mandarin phrases for “how are you” and “thanks”.  This invokes some laughter from the Chinese so we offer goodbye in Mandarin (they are now moving away behind us).  More laughter and finally “Bye,Bye – and laughter” and then silence, as should be the case on emergency channels.  But the VHF range is about 40km so we had no concerns about us blocking emergency calls out there!!

Chinese Ship Passes Astern

BLS dons his Vietnamese Army Cap to Deter the Chinese

The thirteenth of June was Simone’s 30th birthday and she seemed down.  We made her a birthday cake with three candles and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ out of tune.  We even added a tin of fruit salad but it doesn’t seem to buck her up much.  We found later that she’d been feeling lonely and was missing her family and friends.  Her attempt to call them on John’s satellite phone had failed and that hadn’t helped either.

We poled out the jib for today.  With the wind behind us though, and with the sails shielding the solar panels from the sun, power generation was a problem.

Today was the same as yesterday but today at dawn Simone was all smiles.  She had been the first to see land.  Up ahead off the starboard bow was the first of the Australe Islands, Rurutu.  It is all we could do to stop her from steering towards them.  Several reasons we told her, the main one being that we had no motor and wanted to keep our exposure to lee shores to a minimum.  The gannet like birds we had been seeing for a day were seen diving after fish and we saw a few flying fish scarpering between the waves.  More tropic birds too.

Yet another day of no progress and a flat ocean so all we did was have another swim.  Dave made a fish pie.

No Motor - No Power - No Steering - No Wind and the Reef

The wind picked up on the 17th June and we made good progress northwards.  The inactivity lead to a bout of cabin fever but after a little discussion it all calmed down.

Throughout the night the wind came and went in a frustrating manner but by the afternoon we are sailing among tropical downpours.  At this rate we expected to get to Papeete in a couple of days.  We only had about 160 nautical miles to go!!  More tropic birds were seen in the morning.  They were much more attractive that I remember from previous visits to the tropics.  They seemed attracted to and were interested in the yacht.  We could now see Tahiti – very impressive with its jagged skyline.

The nineteenth was John’s birthday.  I got up with the birds to bake the bread and we flew  along at about 6.3 knots on the auto helm, which was much easier and gave us more chance to talk together.  Our spirits were up now as our journeys end was near.  At 7.30pm we had only 60 miles to go but chose to head to the west of Moorea to avoid tacking up the channel to Papeete, which, with the present wind direction we would have had to do.  Throughout the night we keep well out from the coast  - not a lee shore then but we had no intention of allowing it to become a near one after a wind shift.  In the morning I become aware of John and Dave were having problems going about and getting going again.  Something seemed wrong.  We skirted along the north of Moorea and tried heading up the channel.  To no avail.  We just seemed to reach backwards and forwards across the north of the channel – almost seemed to go backwards rather than forwards.  It is almost as if a strong northern current from the channel was keeping us from making progress.  We tried all ideas, tacking on the Moorea side and tacking to and fro on the Tahiti side of the channel.  Finally I had a fiddle with the ‘non-functional’ self-steering rudder and lo, the sails begin to luff.  I tried centring the smaller rudder by lashing it in position.  On our next tack my adjustment was proved right as Tetega suddenly surged straight up the channel towards Papeete and we are on our last run.  A minor tack to get ourselves on course and we were soon in line with the Papeete markers and flew in with all colours flying – literally, the yellow Q flag, the French flag and the NZ flag all flying from the starboard spreaders.  

About a kilometre from the harbour markers, and without any warning the wind just suddenly stopped.  Stopped dead – from about eighteen knots to zero in about five seconds.  We gaped; we swore; and we were dumbfounded.  After about five minutes the most gentle of breezes started to blow from the other direction and we started to make pitiful progress towards the gap in the reef.  About half to one knot!  Finally it too gave up the ghost when we were about 200m from the reef. 

Darkness wasn’t far away and we were just sitting there.  Most of the last of the ferries from Moorea had gone past and a speedboat, but nothing that we thought could help.  We looked ashore for signs of smoke moving.  The only smoke we could see was going nowhere so with the breakers of the reef not far away we had to call up the harbour authorities and ask for help.  After some confusion the tug came out and towed us in at great speed.  I nearly fell overboard – that would have been the final ignominy.  I thought no one had noticed but later Dave had great delight in reminding me, and everyone else how close I’d been to going overboard.  Nothing gets unnoticed on a yacht.  A great vignette for me was in the gathering darkness when a group of three va’a (Tahitian wakas) powered past us as we were towed in.

The tug did a great job and tied us up on the main frontage with four lanes of traffic heading past at what seemed incredible speed.  After 27 days at sea  we staggered about on the roadside like drunks.  We were illegal immigrants but, undeterred, we zig-zagged across the road to a cold beer that was beckoning.  We compounded our sins even more by escaping into the back blocks of Papeete to have a slap-up meal.  This was all in our dirty smelly cloths but the restaurant turned out to be the best in Papeete.  The staff coped with us well but the clientele were seen to be averting their eyes.  Finally we behaved in an even more anti-social manner when we found a fresh water tap and hosed ourselves down within a couple of metres of the roaring traffic.  That night we slept like lambs in the stillness of the harbour; John asleep with a permanent grin on his face.

Next morning we were processed through customs and immigration and taxied out to the Royal Tahitian where Catherine was waiting with the starter motor and a big hug.

About this time John discovered that the jumper lead thickness wire that had been used to put the batteries in parallel was now a bare wire, the plastic covering having been melted off.  We assumed that this had happened during the starter motor melt down and felt rather lucky that this hadn’t shorted the bank of batteries and caused another fire. For a first long distance ocean voyage John had experienced more than the normal share of problems.  With a little help from us (Dave mainly) he’d battled through his baptism by fire and come out the other end with flying colours.  Two of the crew had a meltdown before we started and you might wonder how we had fared together.  Well, for such a shaky start we survived very well.  We had our moments as might be expected if you took four human beings and shook them all up in a small wet cabin (reality shows - there’s an idea) for 27 days.  However the very few little spats that occurred were quickly resolved by mature discussion.   Simone eventually opted to leave the yacht at Papeete – but after they had been to Pitcairn Island and John had broken his leg there! - her father in Holland was ill.  They eventually made it to Bristol in UK - and finally back to New Zealand.

04 October 2018

Epic Yachting from Auckland to Tahiti - Part Two "The Fire and a Gale"

In the evening a guardian angel dolphin leapt from the water besides the cockpit and a number of them played about the boat for some time.  We were surprised to find them so far from land, about 400km.

The next day we sailed in fair weather and diminishing wind and used the motor for a while to charge the batteries.  The light-mantled sooty albatrosses were still passing now and then.  Great sailing!

The wind diminished to below a sailing breeze the following day and we motored most of the day.  I took the opportunity to have a thorough bucket wash in the cockpit – great for the spirit.  At night a frustrating mixture of light sailing wind and motoring.

Fair Weather Sailing is Good for the Spirits

Day started by having breakfast with John in the cockpit with him on the Iridium phone discussing FoRST (Science) funding with one of his collaborators, who happened to be in Toronto.  More bread-making today – I’m developing a routine which doesn’t involve hunting for ingredients for about half an hour.  And the results aren’t too bad either.  Today we watched Blue Planet on Dave’s computer and Simone was embarrassed to find that she had chucked all our forks and most of our spoons overboard with the washing water.  We calculate that they will take at least 20 minutes to reach the bottom, which is about 4.5 km away!!  We make a note to get Catherine to bring some more when she meets us in Tahiti.  John reports our position on the satellite phone and we all send Emails to our friends.  There is never a dull moment with this modern sailing.

The Fire and the Gale

We are getting sick of the incessant noise of the diesel – if only we knew!!  I’d made a comment that I thought I could hear a sound in the motor – maybe a leak in the exhaust system?  Just as we were turning in John announced that he would have a quick look at the motor.  Dave shone a torch in and thought he could see a slight haze.  I didn’t take much notice and started to climb into my bunk.  Just as I was settling down Dave tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Have a look at this”.  I climbed out and looked.  Coming from the back of the motor was a definite trail of smoke that, as we watched, rapidly turned into a major smoke hazard.  Within moments the cabin was filled with smoke and breathing became difficult. Fire extinguishers were grabbed, but without a source point were not deployed.  I remember saying as the next breath promised to produce a coughing fit– “I’m getting out of here” and that seemed to start the general evacuation.  The motor was switched off, the life raft grabbed, Simone was rescued from the forward compartment by John and the grab-bag containing flares, handheld GPS, EPERB rescue beacon, satellite phone (images of Rob Hall), water – everything in fact except our life vests!!  Within moments we were all sitting on the transom readying the life raft and other things for deployment and watching the smoke billowing from the cabin.  In the depths of the cabin was an ominous dull orange glow.  We sat and shivered a little in the cold thanking ourselves that the sea was calm and getting into the life raft was not going to be a fraught affair.   We waited wondering what would eventuate and whether or not flames would appear through the smoke.  Over a period of about half an hour the smoke slowly lessened and dissipated and the dull glow turned out to be a torch that had been left behind and on.

When it was OK to put our heads back in the cabin, Dave and John wriggled in to the back of the motor and investigated the source of the smoke.  Here they discovered the burned out starter motor with molten leads attached.  Very close were plastic fuel containers with 50 litres of fuel.  We cast our agnostic eyes heavenwards.

Then came the discovery that a switch had been accidentally turned on in the cabin.  Just after the storm we had found that the cockpit starter switch for the motor wouldn’t work.  The only way we could start the motor was to hot wire it and we did this by wiring in a switch and circuit.  Somehow this had been turned on by accident – it could have been any of us so we didn’t go there.  The damage was done and we had to make the best of our situation.

We now had no reliable power source, as the motor was the main source of power.  We had a wind generator which was new and in good condition, and also a solar array (over a square metre), new and also in good condition.  But at night and in a calm these were not going to work – but hey, comes the dawn.  In the light of day we did our assessment – or rather John did – things were not so bad.  We wouldn’t need power for starting the motor again!  We could save battery power by eliminating all the non-essentials such as SSB radio, electronic steering and lights at night.  More energy could be created using the wind generator and the solar panels although the output of these was variable.  In the fine weather the sails tended to shade the solar panels.  The main problem was that our water consumption was much greater than it should have been from our calculations.  We wondered if we had a leak.  However John had a new desalination plant on board and, after an air lock problem at the start of the trip, this was now working; but it required power and its power demands over the next couple of weeks meant that when water needed to be topped up the desalinator had precedence over the self steering.  Hence we were in for a lot of hand steering for the rest of the journey.  We also had no idea of how long the journey would take, as we were totally dependent on wind.

Another minor problem was the compass light failing.  We managed this by strapping my headlamp back to front on the compass rose but at night I preferred to keep on course by the stars and found this very satisfying.

Anyway, after the fire we let our contacts know what had happened and to expect that no news or messages (due to loss of power) was good news.  On satellite phone we contacted Dave Giddens, a sail maker friend in Auckland and he arranged for a replacement starter motor to be couriered to Hamilton where Catherine would bring it to Tahiti.  It made the journey OK but somewhere along the way the wrong number or motor was sent and another had to be sent out.

A couple of nights later Simone reported that, on her watch, more dolphins had been alongside to check on our safety.  One had jumped just before they all left.  Late in the morning a group of whales passed us on our starboard side, their spouts being visible for some time almost right out to the horizon.  They were heading in a SW direction.

On the 8th June a very strong gale from the NW hit us.  We had to hand helm even though the battery situation was healthy.  We had been hand helming for three days, and throughout the gale, because the electronic steering seemed to have given up the ghost.  After the gale we found that the cut out switch in the cockpit (the switch which enables the helmsman in the cockpit to take over the steering) had been accidentally switched on.  We had been hand steering for three days for nothing!!  Ho ho, we have steering!

Anyway, although the final gale was not accompanied by a huge swell, we were just as discomforted by it as the first storm.  Its wind velocity was into the high forties (knots) but it didn’t last as long.  During its last blow we all clung on in the cabin, wincing as the boat shuddered with each gust and watching the blue water rush past our submarine windows!  We ate more chocolate.  

While we were reefing the sails during the build-up to the gale, Simone saw a whale sound just in front of the yacht.  She kept quite about it not wanting to distract us from the job in hand.

We discovered after the gale that the connection between the wind vane and the server had been broken and this seemed unrepairable at sea.  In addition the locking screw, which enabled us to centre the wind vane rudder, was stripped.  This was to cause problems later.  The next morning we were all ravenously hungry having hardly eaten the previous day.  In the morning we discovered that a hole in the sail, caused by a flogging strip from a now empty sail batten pocket, was enlarged so we lowered the sail and applied a patch.  Later on we spotted another dolphin pod head past at speed.  They took no notice of us.

Our next problem was a blocked toilet.  And it took considerable time and effort to clean it out.  The following day was calm and after we had drifted far enough away from the site of the blocked toilet in the now calm and motionless conditions we all went for a swim.  The ocean was glass calm and clear as spring water.  We kept a fender tied to a length of rope as we did not fancy the prospect of the boat drifting away from us with about 5 km of water underneath us and the nearest land about 300 km away.  We saw two tropic birds today – a sign of progress northwards.

So clear we wondered if we would see the bottom - 5 km away

26 September 2018

Epic Yachting from Auckland to Tahiti - Part One "The Storm"

We had a shakedown cruise about the Hauraki Gulf to become familiar with the yacht and with one another. The only near tragedy was when we made a dingy visit to the mussel harvesting crew and almost swamped our small boat when the mussel workers overdid their generosity when giving us some mussels to have a feed - and more.

But a few weeks later when I arrived from Hamilton to join ‘Tetega’ in Auckland the other two crew had already had a domestic, in, of all places, the local supermarket.  After the spat they settled for separate trolleys and stocks of food.  What sort of couple is this, the other shoppers must have wondered!  The other problems with leaving Auckland were all the well-wishers, bless them.  Each time we tried to get last minute things done the cell phones would ring or an alcoholic pudding would arrive.  We prevailed through their greetings and an invitation to dinner, which we wouldn’t have missed for anything, finally getting the last of our list crossed off.

Finally we sighed at the now empty marina finger, threw ashore the last of our mooring lines and motored over to customs.  Two other yachts were in front of us but neither of them took as long to clear as we did.  John, our skipper, had filled in his name as John when his passport showed him as James Jonathon – just the sort of thing terrorist conscientious government officials love to get their teeth into.  The crew grinned while the skipper squirmed.

We were cleared now and in answer to yet more phone calls from fans we motored a few ‘wave-pasts’ of the pre-advised pier and turned our faces towards the top of the Coromandel Peninsula.

Darkness fell as we entered the Colville Channel and headed to the right of the Cuvier light.  By dawn the land had gone and one of the watches reported us striking something in the night, a log we thought.  We headed east, the proposed route being to head east towards longitude 155W and then head northwards towards Tahiti.

After the first couple of days we discovered that the ‘house’ battery was not charging – we couldn’t determine why although there was much searching among the maze of wiring.  A good use was found for the satellite phone and John phoned a marine electrician in Auckland.  The result of this was that we wired all three batteries in parallel.  The downside of this was that we wouldn’t have a reserve battery for starting the motor and would have to constantly check that the batteries were being kept charged.

The watches were arranged so that we each rotated through three two- hour watches each day.  I did midnight to 2am; John (the skipper, scientist, mountaineer) did 2 – 4am, Dave (crew, from UK chef, diver and entrepreneur) 4 – 6am and Simone (crew, free lance documentary maker and amateur anthropologist) 6 – 8am and so on.  During the day the watches were somewhat informal but during darkness we strictly adhered to them.  At night and when alone in the cockpit we always kept attached by our harnesses to either a cockpit U-bolt or to a lifeline which ran from the bow to the transom.  No one fancied the idea of climbing up into the cockpit at night and finding one of us gone so we all disciplined one another on this score.

The Crew, Dave and Simone and the Skipper, John. (right)

Early in the trip a very annoying creak developed in the forward area of the boat.  It annoyed hell out of Simone who slept (or tried to) in the forward compartment and the noise eventually got under all our skins.  After us initially trying to pass it off as just another yacht noise John tracked it down to movement in a bulkhead ply sheet and after considerable effort with chisel and spanner managed to eliminate the beast.

The Storm

A swell from the south was building up and the signs were ominous.  That night we reefed the main.  I was still a little unsteady on the boat and this resulted in me taking a plunge across the cockpit, ending up spread-eagled with my head between (luckily) two winches and an arm with a large haematoma.  Luckily I was otherwise intact and able, except when I tried to rest the offending arm on something.  The wind and swell died and we did some motoring the next day.  When the wind returned from the SE we got in some good sailing but it strengthened throughout the night with us flying at 7.5 knots and having to ease the main and put away the headsail.

The next day the wind increased through 30 knots and into the 40s and we had wind gusts into the 50’s.  The swell reached large proportions with some tops breaking and spume spreading about the sea.  We estimated the swell to be about nine metres.  It was time to put out the drogue – the item I’d made and cluttered about our house prior to the trip.  It went out OK but with us experiencing some difficulty in arranging the yoke.  Once out it had a good slowing effect.  That night we just drifted and sheltered below.  We could tell by the sounds what was happening, and occasionally by the showers of water squirting through the hatchway boards.  In the middle of it Simone expressed some concern for our safety.  We did our best to reassure her with words of confidence and comfort food in the form of chocolate bars.  We hoped our nonchalant munching of chocolate would reassure her but the truth was that none of the males was going to leave any chocolate uneaten as we descended to join Davey Jones.

The morning revealed massive swells and some damage to the yacht.  One of the stanchions alongside the cockpit had been bent in.  The huge effort required to bend it back so we had access to the fore deck gave us some idea of the clout the yacht had received when the damage was done.  Later in the day we pulled in the drogue (with some difficulty, involving the winch) and started the drying process.  Throughout the storm everything inside the cabin had become wet to some degree and soon the boat looked like some sort of Chinese laundry on half price day.  As the wind decreased we eased out the genoa over the storm jib, which was on the inner forestay and eventually replaced the tri-sail with the main.  The clouds dissipated and the full moon rose in the early evening.

Starting with this storm, the radar reflector that had been hanging from the port spreaders gradually disintegrated.  The plastic protective corners on it began to work loose and after several attempts to stabilize it, and prevent it shredding the sails, it finally fell apart towards the end of the voyage.

Repairing a Sail

The wind eased throughout the next day and we made good sailing progress.  One of the benefits of this southerly storm was the appearance of albatrosses, in particular sooty and light-mantled sooty albatrosses – my favourites.  They resemble, but on a larger scale, the plentiful sooty shearwaters, which cannot be excelled for their amazing skills over and with the waves.  But nothing beats the albatrosses for sheer majesty.  Worth every second of the storm!

Next Episode  "The Fire and the Gale"

05 August 2018

Bottling the Wine - When things go wrong!

There was an occasion (back in the 1970s) when the wine section of the NZ Dept of Agriculture decided to dispose of some of its experimental wines by public tender. I thought it a great idea to form a syndicate and submit a tender. First, of a couple of us visited the winery at Te Kauwhata, and sampled the wine, it was good we thought - fruity and dry. So a group of us (about 12, I recall) formed a syndicate, submitted a tender and crossed our fingers. Some time later a letter arrived - our tender had been successful - we paid up - arranged a bottling party and collected the bulk wine.

The day arrived, everyone turned up with their cleaned bottles, siphons were organised, a corking station was established and the work streamlined. An appropriate couple of glasses each were consumed - everyone was happy and all departed homewards, each with a few dozen bottles containing a delicious white wine. All was well.

No - Not That Sort of Party

A few weeks late my phone started ringing. Several members of the syndicate reported that their bottles had started blowing their corks. Their wives were very unhappy at the free flowing wine in their cupboards. One even had their bottles exploding in the linen cupboard! It was soon established that there was something seriously wrong with the wine. I made inquiries and was told that we'd probably not sterilised our bottles properly. This information was relayed to the syndicate members but was not well received. Most of the syndicate were in the science industry and one had even sterilised his bottles in the institutions autoclaves. It was time for serious investigation. Some inquiry established the real cause of the problem. After our initial sampling had established the quality of the wine, some staff member had blended our wine with a sweet wine and established a secondary fermentation. So unbeknown to us we had been dealing with an early champagne - with ordinary bottles and corks. No wonder the bottles were exploding!

By good fortune one of our members wives had been a legal executive in Auckland during a previous incarnation and offered her skills. Over a glass of better wine we constructed (I thought) a very good letter. Made it look very legal too with the appropriate professional phraseology. It included the relevant facts regarding cause and effects, the effects on those who had sampled it - who it was said - suffered from 'borborygami' and concluded with a hardly veiled threat 'to take the matter further'.  We decided that recompense for damage done in the homes and damage done to the reputation of the syndicate factotum was taking it a bit far. It was later reported that the responsible Director, instructed his 'Mr Fixit' to deal with and resolve the issue in our favour. We were to return any unopened bottles and our payment would be returned.

I parked my trailer on the front lawn and asked the syndicate members to return their bottles into it at their convenience. A week or two later the trailer was half full of half-empty bottles, the lawn covered with wine corks and the neighbourhood smelled like an ill-kept winery. Our money was returned but I did wonder if the incident ever had any effect on my future chances of promotion. However the whole event was a great learning experience - and very memorable.

06 June 2018

Frugality 3

Yet a few more contributions on frugality from friends. As before I've cut out names to give the comments anonymity. And each contribution is a different colour - keep them coming - we will end up with a book!

Couple of memories of being ‘frugal or needs must’….G’s mum bought second hand jerseys, my mum too, and unravelled and washed the wool and re-knit one for their children.

We ate a lot of rice meals and if there was some rice left over, it was spread out on a tray and put outside in the sun, then baked in the oven. Sprinkle some salt on and was a tasty treat. My parents were in concentration camps for 3 and a half years so food was never wasted and we had to eat everything on our plate before we left the table. An orange was a luxury as was an egg ! Bought warm coats from ‘Op shop’ and made coats for the kids.

G’s mum was a twin and one of 11 in a 3 bedroom house on the farm. She slept all her life, until she was married, on the verandah with her twin. In winter they put down a canvas blind and in summer there was a creeper on the verandah which provided a bit of shade. At one time there were 3 in the bed. Didn’t feel deprived as there were many in the same boat.

Also made soap for many years.

I read your latest blog. I'm slightly older than Barry - I was 80 last year - and can remember some things from 1939, including clearly my father's enlistment in August 1940. He had Huguenot French ancestors and (my mother later said) was disgusted by the 'Fall of France' in June, so the Aussies (and Kiwis and Canadians) set off to stiffen the opposition to the Nazis.

   The thing about adversity (including economic stricture and consequent frugality) is that if everyone is in the same boat, nobody minds much. Being 'middle class' (in economic terms) is comfortable - we were all in it together. I've long held that you only need enough (money) - too little or too much makes you unhappy.

   Both my parents worked in banks (rival banks) during the Great Depression and both stressed on us the dangers of debt. Dad used to say "Don't let the wool firms get their hooks into you; don't let them get a lien over your livestock. Neither of my parents would borrow money, hence in 1948 when everyone was buying new Holdens, they bought a 1937 Plymouth.

   During the war, I remember stick-on soles for shoes and toe- and heel clips. Later I had hand-me-down uniforms for boarding school. We lived in a town from  1945 until 1950 and In 1947 my brother (older) got a paper round.  Father said he would pay half if my brother paid off the other half from his earnings, which he did. The newsagent was also the bike shop. I never had a new bike until my current family gave me one so I could ride with my teenage children. 
Comment from BarryS - I never had a new bike until I was 80 and purchased it myself so that I could keep up with a great-gandmother in my bike group.

I enjoyed reading about your experiences. D also had me turning collars and resewing sheets. I admit I no longer do either.

What your blog does remind me off is the housing shortage in Sydney after the war. Mum and Dad had a flat in Bondi Junction when I was born. The landlady did not like babies and, when I was about six weeks old, she relet the flat when Mum was out shopping. She put our belongings on the landing. Mum spent the day in the park waiting for Dad to come home from work. She had the cat in a string bag. We did not find a home for about a year. Instead we did what today they call surfcouching. At one friend’s home, I slept in a bottom drawer placed on the floor. Finally, a friend of Dad’s family rented them a sub

Comment from BarryS - I had a friend during my late teens. He and his wife were struggling financially and had their first baby sleeping in the bottom drawer - the family joke was that when the baby cried they shut the drawer!

Enjoy your blogs immensely and yes I too have a frugality story. My Grandfather was an engineer at the Manawatu Knitting Mills and maybe that is where I got my inventiveness. I still miss him and would love to have a chat now that I have been through life.

But during the depression as a Xmas gift my Grandfather received from his work a roll of navy coloured cloth. With this my Grandmother was able to sew an entire outfit for each of their 5 children at the time. Same pattern with variations for gender and of course to fit the 3 to 16 year olds.

Needless to say that clothing myself and siblings was always done by Mum to make us different. Mum (smallest) hated those ‘same same’ clothes.

This would have been taken about 1929 at a guess. Sadly now all gone – and all but one of the next five too.

I get the impression that some of the frugal habits of our forebears are still alive and well today. And I also wonder if the children of today could benefit from reading this series of blogs on making do. bls

13 May 2018

Music Critic Comments on Nudity at the Chamber Music Concert - a Vignette from the 80s


It was not often that we sat in the first few rows at the Founders Theatre in Hamilton, NZ.. That night back in the late 1980s a visiting Trio from the South Island was playing, three males, two young and the leader not so young, playing, and it seemed right to sit closer and our friends thought so too. So we all stretched out along a row about five back from the front.

The first item after the intermission was a melodious Schubert trio; we sat relaxed and in wonder. Until, for me that is, the leader turned a page of his music score during the second movement. Positioned slightly to the left of the leader it was possible to see the face of his score. I started slightly as he turned the page. A nude! Was I seeing correctly?

When the concert and the applause concluded at the end of the evening I leaned across towards Pat, a friend a couple of seats to my right. Had he seen the page in question? No, he hadn’t and what was it I was talking about. I told him. He snorted his derision. Had I been asleep dreaming or was I just obsessed with sex? This was all said within hearing of the surrounding people who were, by now, filing out of the concert. This was getting awkward and repeating my assertion was only going to make it worse. Catherine was looking daggers. Did I have to be embarrassing her too?

Just then I noticed the local music critic, Geoff Fairburn, making his way forward to the stage where the music stands still stood. “Come on,” I asserted, “Geoff Fairburn is going to look at the music.” There was no turning back now. Maybe I had been dreaming. What if I was to be proved wrong?

Geoff was a tall man and needed a walking stick to get about. He leaned across the orchestra pit and, with his walking stick, hooked the violinist's music stand towards the edge of the stage where he could reach the music scores. He turned to me. Was I interested in a particular score? What the hell was it? I made a stab for Schubert and he passed it to me. By now I was surrounded by several of my friends and others who similarly were interested. Like a well-thumbed bodice ripper the score fell open on the page in question. One side of the page had stuck to it a very alluring and full-frontal nude from some magazine. A schoolgirl in the surrounding group shrieked and I snapped it shut and passed it to Geoff to replace on the stand. By now, of course, he was examining the Beethoven score.

We all dispersed. Pat was in the crowd and I made sure that he knew that I hadn’t been dreaming. We discussed the purposes of these supplements to the musical score over coffee and headed to our respective homes and dreams.

A day or two later, Geoff reviewed the concert in the Waikato Times. I paraphrase him. It had been a good concert he maintained; good programme too. The high spot, he said, had been the sweet little bit in the second movement of the Schubert. Only in Hamilton.

05 April 2018

Easter Resurrection for Ancient Kayaker - Waikato River

On and off, we'd been discussing this project - kayaking from Hamilton to Port Waikato a journey down the Waikato River of some 110 kilometres. So this Easter two of my sons and I decided that it was all on. Dad's cunning plan was to use his downriver racer a fast but unstable kayak that he hadn't been in for about five years. It was a way of being able to keep up with the young ones - something that amused them, now in their fifties. I even tried to get used to balancing the craft a few times before Easter. The day before we started David and I located his car and my trailer at the mouth of the river in optimistic anticipation of getting that far!

From left David, Grandad and Warren readying to leave Hamilton (Photo: CatherineS)

Heading Off Downstream on the Waikato River (Photo: CatherineS)

On the morning of Good Friday we set off. Progress was good and within a few hours we were past Huntly having averaged about 8.5 kph and a maximum of over 12 kph on the faster parts of the river. I thought I was going well until I asked David if I could raft up beside him for a bite to eat and a rest - the signs were starting to show. But when we separated I wasn't a paddle width away from him when I turned upside down. Warren picked up my floating gear while David towed me and my kayak to shore - at least I'd done the kayaker thing and retained my paddle! Away we went again but somewhere just beyond Meremere I upended again. This time the rescue and landing was more difficult - willows everywhere. However we managed and afterwards David had a look into the Whangamarino wetland entrance while Warren and I made it to Mercer where we were well looked after in the local hotel/motel. They even made us a very welcome cuppa tea. And the woman there was soooo impressed when I told her I was ninety five. I did fess up to my real four score years but admitted that I was feeling more like ninety five that evening.

Next morning we set off again at about 0830 with me a bit nervously probing the water downstream. Progress was a little slower as the river was now slowing a bit.  Later we explored some of the delta islands and were fascinated by the array of structures that comprised whitebait stands, duck shooting maimai and residences - a hundred or more would not be an exaggeration. Some of the many channels were a bit narrow and some contained faster water as the tide was running out.  A combination of wind against tide made for some (smallish) waves. It was here that grandads problems began.The problem was that we had to cross several channels of the river and the waves and current had me doing more slap-support paddling than progressive paddling.

I managed to tip upside down five more times. So my cunning plan of the fast kayak failed me (or I failed it) but after the several rescues of grandad and his gear we eventually we made it across to the true left of the river and down to Port Waikato - and from there to home and the anxious Catherine who seemed pleased to see us safely home. I was pleased to have finished the job - not without some embarrassment though. The weather for the whole trip could not have been better. I couldn't blame the conditions for my tipping problems at all, just the loss of skill over the years. And the guys reckoned that I didn't have enough for breakfast either. It was a great expedition and great company. We saw lots of wildlife including many very large carp - fortunately none of them big enough to be man-eaters! The big tuna knew better than to try.

12 March 2018

Reunion of Octogenarian Mountaineers in the Southern Alps - Torlesse / Arthur's Pass / Waimakariri

After Dave died we decided to have a memorial get together in some of the old haunts. I arrived in Christchurch on the afternoon of the 1st March to be met by Jim Wilson in Babs and taken out to Monks Spur where Ann (known as Madame Marmalade) fed us and we mourned the earthquaked wreck of Shag Rock at the mouth of the estuary below, now known as the 'Shag Pile' - and watched the flocks of godwits below doing circuits of the estuary in preparation for their epic flight north.

Next morning we caught up with Mike White at Darfield where I sussed out the Selwyn Gallery for a possible exhibition next year - get in line with the rest seemed to be the advice. Mealtime was at Darfield too, although we had difficulty finding the right place for our desired fried wedges after standing in a queue for too long in the wrong shop.

We picked up the key to the Kowai River paddock gate from the Brookfield Station owner but soon found ourselves floundering in a ford just through the gate. After an hour of wheel spinning, pushing shoving and pulling in the cold calf deep water, then levering and probing with logs and branches, Mike finally found a length of sash cord and managed to make the difference to our efforts and get Babs out with a backwards tow - even if we did manage to snap the rope. A researcher from Canterbury University even waded in to help. Along the way to the Hayward Memorial hut we collected a bag of mushrooms and feasted on these at dinner, accompanied by a bottle of Torlesse Pinot Noir.

Torlesse wine - of course

The plan the next day was to traverse Red Peak, Back Peak and descend via Mt Torlesse. All went well until we had penetrated the scrub and reached the upper limits of the vegetation and our drive. Here we decided that to proceed (at our age - all 80+s) would be to risk another night out - we'd had enough of these over our years! And so we descended to the hut where we had a comfortable night again. We were unanimous in blaming the difficult route, the impenetrable scrub and ferocious bluffs for our defeat. Nothing to do with our age of course.
Mike , Jim and BLS

Red Peak (over the hut) from the Loo - we can say we climbed the Pyramid

On the way down valley the next morning we stopped for the obligatory riverstone hearth boiling of the billy and managed it without any disputes about whose fire it was. Once again we collected a generous bag of mushrooms for Jim and I at the Pass. At the notorious car-engulfing stream Mike departed for home to resume care of his visiting English relatives. Jim and I felt for him and the complexities of his life! At the Rough Creek Shambles (RCS) hut we partook of a hot outdoor bath and the local robin came inside and hopped about looking for a feed, even pecking at my feet as I was eating!

The Boiling of the Billy

Once again
on riverstone hearth
flood whitened
finger bones of trees
feed hot flames
about my black-skinned billy
rolling to a boil
in the smoke-blue air
of an empty valley.


The Traditional Brew - Jim and Mike

The morning of the 5th March had dubious weather but we managed to get over very foggy Arthur's Pass and down to Aitkens where it started to rain heavily. The mist and the fact that neither of us had been to Pfiefer Bivi before, made us choose to go back to the Canterbury side. Lets try the Crow Hut we thought. The mushrooms at Klondyke Corner were spectacular. Among the beech forest we counted groups of 50 and 60 Amanita muscaria. Valuing our lives we didn't collect any for eating. However we continued up the Waimak towards the Crow River. Along the way Jim wondered if he'd picked up any matches at the hut, the RCS. Don't worry I suggested - I had my emergency kit and it had a good supply of matches.

We spied the comfy little Anti-Crow Hut across the river and thought it might make a better place to stop - less likelihood of tourists too. So we crossed the Waimak to the hut where we decided that a brew was in order. Yes Jim hadn't brought any matches and yes I'd brought mine, but none of them would work. Terrible! No brew and, more importantly, no way to cook our food. And no tourist trampers to cadge a match from. So we packed up and headed back down the two hours to Klondyke. And so back to the RCS for another night of good food and after dinner goodies stretched out before the warm fireplace.

Mr Robin - inside

Amanita muscaria - a small group!

Jim and Ann's secret brewing spot

Toxicologist's Dream


More Fungi

And Yet More Fungi

Tuesday was our day for returning so after a poetry reading to recollect the 'good old days' we tidied up RCS and departed eastwards. At the Waimak bridge we walked upstream on O'Malley's Track to a special fireplace established by Jim and Ann for yet another brew. This was not so easy. Along the way there were hundreds more mushrooms - some of the magical variety and many others besides - most of which required the special attention of my camera.

Finally we called on Mike and Lyn at Mandeville where we re-lived the events of the past six days and Mike gifted us some of his harvested honey. Then on to Monk's Spur and the next day to my cancelled flight (lightning strike) back to Hamilton. Good old AirNZ managed to get me home to Catherine (Princess Plum) less than a couple of hours late.

14 January 2018

David Julian Elphick 1935-2018 - Recollections

Very early in 2018 an old climbing mate, Dave Elphick, from over 60 years ago, died in UK. His death set me musing about our past. I've cut and pasted it here as a tribute to him.

"Where to begin with you, Dave?  I've thought a bit about it and think it best to just start at the beginning.

After Pat Barcham mentioned that you, Jim Wilson and Mike White were looking for a climber to make a four – "Quartet" – you and I decided to do a familiarization trip together. The plan was to climb Rolleston and descend the Jellicoe Ridge as far as we could towards the Waimakariri River. We didn't quite make it to Mt Stewart (only Guinevere) and only just made our way down the bluffs into the lower Crow. In the dark we stumbled down the lower Waimak to Klondyke Corner and up to the Pass. It was a hell of a long day.

But we'd started before that. On the way to Arthurs Pass, at Springfield, while we waited for the train engine to shunt things about we went for a run – in our mountaineering boots. We both knew how to run and some 20 minutes later had the measure of each other. Back to the climb. 

Long Whisper
(for David Elphick)

We traverse the skyline
plunge down the last ridge

now cloud from the west
shuts down the stars

water from the last crossing
warms in our boots

brings a niggle of river gravel
even talk chafes at the edges

and the gravity of a long day
drags heavy on shutters of vision

we stumble moonless down valley
bump shoulders  again and again

feel the long whisper of water
the comfort of mountain talk.

Soon we were planning our first big trip into the Southern Alps. Preparing the gear and food we enthusiastically gave ourselves nicknames – after our heroes. There was Andre (.. Roche the French climber) – you, Dave; Jim was Willy after the German Himalayan climber, Willy Merkl; Mike became Heinrich after Heinrich Harrer – the Eiger climber; and I ended up as Herr Schmid after the Schmid brothers. The names have stuck for over sixty years!

Dave on Red Lion Traverse

Dave on Summit of Red Lion Peak

Our first long trip was into the Arrowsmiths and the Rakaia. There were many climbs but one with you stands out. You and I decided to climb Red Lion but, because of the big schrund below Red Lion Col decided to traverse to the col from Full Moon Saddle (ah, those place names) – we climbed both Red Lion peaks but the big memory is of that traverse – one of the steepest I remember – cutting steps all the way – even with crampons – and worst of all the flying rocks – the ones we heard and never saw. And then on the return was the schrund below Red Lion Col – we definitely didn't want to go back across the face beneath Pascoe's 'piece de resistance'. So we jumped the schrund! You went first and I followed onto the lower lip. It was quite a drop and you managed to get a chip of ice in the eye. I bandage you up and you managed to do the next few days – and eventually down the Evans Glacier with one eye – not easy.

Dave on the Crux of Hicks

Dave sussing the Crux on Hicks

Next year our big effort was up the La Perouse Glacier behind Mt Cook. We had some wonderful climbs there but the one that stands out for me was our first ascent of the North Face of Hicks (or David's Dome as it was called). You led the crux of the climb and, sharing the lead, we struggled on (in good weather) reaching the top in time to see the lights of the Hermitage down below in the evening gloom. All night we shivered side by side in the cold as a storm developed, and struck at dawn. It amazed me that we managed to get down. For days all of us had cursed your long length of rappelling line and then at the crux of the descent amid hail and wind you pulled it out of your pack and saved our lives. We just made it back to the snow cave before we expired! Our journey back over the main divide to the Hermitage and the waitress from Bondi Beach was an epic in itself.

Our next season was ambitious – we planned to pack our gear over Teichelmann and climb everything in the Balfour! It was not to be. We were chased out of the Linda by a frightening ice avalanche and then the weather closed in. Just as it was clearing many days later we were summoned to help rescue another climber from the bottom of a crevasse. You and I were lowered into it and there, on the bedrock of the glacier, you splinted his broken femur. It all ended well and you were mentioned in dispatches for the amazing job you'd done. We had even greater ambitions for the following year – everything was directed towards one climb – a traverse of Tasman to Cook. It was not to be – having traversed Lendenfeldt we were turned back by the huge schrund on the north shoulder of Tasman. There were other climbs Dave. We had a great climb with Jim and Ivan, climbing Aspiring in a two-day weekend from Christchurch – one of those crazy things we set ourselves.

Dave at Chancellor Hut

Terry and Dave in Christchurch - This Time Dave Was Stonkered
You really get to know people when you live with them. I got to know you in huts, in tents, shivering together on mountain-tops and glacial moraines – to say nothing of the ice faces, gorges, dry riverbeds and aspiring ridges. You were a great companion during all those formative times – organized - prepared - disciplined – safe – energetic – thorough – generous and always seeking and striving. I often thought it was your thoroughness and intensity that held you back in some ways – probably from a good career in medicine.  But these characteristics served you well in your distinguished career in male psychiatric nursing. Like the other members of our 'Quartet' I loved you like a brother – and then suddenly you had to leave your three brothers - and your sisters of course.  Great journey, Dave."