Fleming Street

What I remember most about the house at 5 Fleming Street, Onehunga, is that it was so small.  It was tiny compared to the large bungalow we’d lived in in Christchurch.  The house was cheap, but it took all the money my mother could afford.  On the day the purchase was settled she took me out of school so I could empty my meagre Post Office Savings account to augment the cash she’d managed to scrape together.  This was the first home my mother had owned.  Previously the family had always lived in rented accommodation, the house in Christchurch having been rented for at least fifteen years.

The walls at Fleming Street were made of fibrolite, and the situation was on the edge of an industrial area.  There was just one bedroom which we shared, as we’d always shared in the six years since my father died.  There was a hedge at one side and my mother planted sweet peas in front of it.  When these flowered I was suddenly assailed by hay fever, something I’d never experienced before.

House at 5 Fleming Street. Note Sandy the cat in the letter box

Soon after we moved in it was the long summer holiday and I was left mainly to my own devices while mother worked.  In early January we flew back to Christchurch for my brother’s wedding, and I stayed there with friends for a few weeks.

I was glad to avail myself of the Onehunga Carnegie Library and remember discovering books by Janet Frame at that time.  I made friends with a younger girl who lived next door and we spent time together.  Mother and I also met other neighbours, and when school started again I took the bus daily to Manukau Intermediate School near Royal Oak.  The small house was adequate for our needs and especially convenient when mother got a new job as Accountant at Rickstan, a firm just around the corner which made formica furniture.  When a new pattern of formica was launched Mother was delighted that the name she suggested for it Spindrift was chosen.  We had a radiogram and played records, but there was no television in those days and both of us spent hours reading our library books.

Each Friday afternoon we would take a bus into the city, have a meal at a cheap café, and go to a movie.  There was a movie theatre in Onehunga as well, plus a range of shops.  At Intermediate School I made a close friend, Dianne, who lived in Te Papapa, a short bus ride away.  Sometimes I would stay the night with her and we would go to the local cinema there.  This was in an old hall, where locals threw stones which clattered on the roof during the film.  My Intermediate School years were happy ones, especially Form Two where Dianne and I were the pets of our teacher Mr Bush who took us out one weekend to introduce us to his daughter who was a similar age but went to a different school.

During this time my mother negotiated to build a home in the Theosophical Society enclave at Mt St John in Epsom.  At the end of my Form Two year, encouraged by Mr Bush, I won a scholarship to St Cuthbert’s College, but while fees were covered there were extra expenses which my mother would have had difficulty meeting, so we declined.  I would have been happy to go to Onehunga High School, as many of my classmates did, but my brother, by now a secondary teacher in Christchurch, persuaded Mother that I should be enrolled at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School (EGGS), near where we would soon be living.  My application for an out-of-zone place was declined, so Mother briefly rented a flat in the EGGS zone, and I was duly enrolled.  At an early assembly the headmistress noted the roll was overfull because of people who’d unexpectedly moved into the zone, and I knew she meant me.

Our new Epsom home was being built and we went to the site at weekends.  Mother collected foil milk bottle tops which she fastened inside the walls as a form of insulation, this being in the era before pink Batts were available.  This house consisted of two units, the idea being that one would be rented out to provide Mother with an income when she retired.

It was an exciting day when we moved in, and at age 13, I finally had my own bedroom. Did you share a bedroom as a child?

The early Onehunga house
where cat ensured there was no mouse

Best Beds

My childhood bed was made of iron.  My parents ran a Convalescent Home, and all our beds were hospital issue, high, and painted lettuce green.  I could hang upside down off the end of my bed, as though it was monkey bars.  I never worried about something being under my bed because it was so high up you could see clearly beneath it.   If a friend came to stay a mattress would be put on the floor underneath for them to sleep on.

From the age of five, when my father died, I shared a bedroom with my mother.  She used to come to bed late when I was asleep.  I don’t remember being read to at night, but I do my mother telling me stories she’d made up.  These often featured Peter Rabbit and Mr McGregor.

When Stephen and I moved to our small Christchurch cottage in 1987 we had a double bed which seemed enough for a small bedroom.  Later we got cupboards built in so we no longer needed free standing dressing tables.  After the earthquakes we decided we could fit in a queen size bed and relished the extra sleeping space.  Around this time we adopted a cat who was an earthquake refugee, and his previous owner used to joke that we’d bought a bigger bed to accommodate the cat.

We now have a different cat who has white hair with silver streaks.  When he sleeps on the pillow next to my head Stephen has been known to suggest that it’s hard to tell us apart.  I’m often awake in the wee small hours, so always have a radio beside the bed.  I listen with headphones so as not to disturb Stephen, and especially enjoy programmes from BBC World Service.

I used to think I would like to have a four-poster bed with drapes – not really practical in a small cottage.  In 2013 I finally slept in a four-poster.  This was in Bridport in the U.K.  The reality was fun, but I realised I no longer hankered for a four-poster.  The bed we have now suits us well and I don’t expect to change it.  It’s likely it will always be shared with a cat. 

I’ve sometimes thought it might be good to have a television on the bedroom wall so I could watch programmes in bed.  We once stayed in a luxurious hotel where there was a television in the bathroom, but I think that’s a bit much!  All I really need is a good bed light so I can read a book before I go to sleep.

Ruth in a four-poster bed at Bridport

I’m quite contented with my bed
a cosy place to lay my head

Death and Dying are subjects of particular interest to those of us who have reached our three score years and ten. Ruth McManus, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Canterbury, researches the social aspects of death and dying with a particular focus on how death can be sustainable. Ruth said that death and dying are some of the hardest things for the living to get their heads around. She has just published a book called The Sustainable Dead (not yet available at Christchurch City Libraries, but I’ve requested that they buy it).

Most of the world now lives in an urban environment, and cemeteries were one of the first planned parts of the urban environment. We have funerals and memorials because we want to remember, and it’s important that what we do with the dead fits our values. We want our beliefs to be visible in what we do with our dead, but since the 1970s there has been pressure on what is possible. In many cities, including Christchurch, cemeteries are filling up and we can no longer set land aside for cemeteries because the land is needed for the living. In Gisborne a hold has been put on burials in the main cemetery because of groundwater issues since the cyclone.

Our ageing population is increasing the demand for burials, and this is expected to spike in the next thirty years. There is a growing political awareness of our environmental footprint, together with growing global interest in heritage and genealogy. It’s important to leave a mark for future generations, yet we want to do death in a way that matches our life. Doing things in a modern way need not mean leaving cultural expectations behind. Ruth showed a photo of the Victoria Road Chinese Christian Cemetery in Hong Kong, where the historic graveyard is now overlooked by a cluster of high rise columbaria. Both of these have a view over the water which is important for feng shui.

In some places in Europe graves are no longer held in perpetuity, and recycling the space is an acceptable practice. In London City Cemetery some of the graves are now marked for possible reclamation, and new bodies may be placed in an existing grave.

The first eco-burial ground in the U.K. was in Sheffield. Here bodies are buried shallowly so they decompose quickly. Although the idea is that the ground is left in a natural state, people are still inclined to leave markers, such as trees that are not native to the area, and plastic items.

In Aotearoa 85 people die each day, and their bodies need to be disposed of. Our perception of acceptable land use is changing, and concerns are ecological sustainability, cultural recognition, and heritage. The biggest tension in the area of bodily disposal is between hi tech and low tech. There are now ten sites for eco-burial in Aotearoa. One of these is in Diamond Harbour on Banks Peninsula. This opened in November 2017 with just twelve burial sites. By June 2019 more than half of these had been filled. Eco or natural burial means the body is wrapped in a shroud, and placed in a shallow plot, within the depth of living soil, which leads to quick decomposition.

An eco-funeral is NOT the same as eco-burial. In an eco-funeral people may be encouraged to attend by Zoom (rather than using fossil fuels). The coffin may be made from recycled wood, with natural fabrics used.

Lobbyists for alternative models of disposal are split, not along lines of sustainability but the technological path to it. The Co-operative Society in U.K. says: The natural burial lobby have already lost the argument because what they propose isn’t demographically viable.

Low tech solutions such as eco-burial are a niche market solution, suitable for people who are wealthy, need to be well planned and organised, and often have a hi tech component (e.g. GPS identification of plots). The large providers understand this. The focus needs to be on the high tech end of sustainable bodily disposal as hi tech solutions are often more sustainable.

Cryomation uses liquid nitrogen and vibration to freeze body parts, then break them into fragments which can be absorbed in the microbe layer, but this has never been a practical solution.

Resomation or Alkaline Hydrolysis where the body is dissolved in lime and heated, has zero environmental impact. It was patented in 1888 in the U.S. where it was originally used to dispose of typhoid and cholera corpses. During the U.K. epidemic of mad cow disease it was brought in to deal with the toxicity of infected animals. A local council in West Yorkshire has started legislation to allow Resomation for humans. Currently it is legal in some parts of the U.S. for medical purposes. It is also legally used on the Gold Coast of Australia. The process which is non-polluting leaves cremation-like ash and a nutrient fluid which is good for plants. (Ruth noted that the ash from cremations is not a fertiliser.) Items such as artificial joints, heart valves, screws, and stents emerge cleanly and can be re-used. There are two organisations, including one in Christchurch, who would like to do this in Aotearoa, but a law change is required first, and the Ministry of Health has been slow to progress this. Once the law is changed Alkaline Hydrolysis could be brought in quickly. I have requested it in my Advance Care Plan, and hope it may be available when my time comes. Have you thought about what might happen to your body when you no longer need it?

While the popular and media focus is on eco or green burial, the real trend is to hi tech sustainable solutions such as Alkaline Hydrolysis.

This zero impact would suit me
with fluid that might feed a tree

Telling Time

The big hand is on the 12
little hand is on the five
it must be five o’clock
but we’ve gone digital
display says 1700
someone needs to translate
important words are lost
have they gone clockwise?

Autumn Equinox

The actual Equinox is on Tuesday at 10.24am, but we celebrated yesterday (Sunday). There were twelve people at a ritual led by Christine and me where we looked at how we could balance outgoing energy with inner nurturing. We crumbled up dead leaves and twigs to symbolise the aspects of our character we wanted to do way with, then took pieces of raffia and wove them into a card to symbolise the parts of ourselves that we want to nurture through the winter. The ritual was enhanced by the involvement of two musicians.

Autumn Equinox Altar

We finished with an Equinox Prayer. I’m uncertain who wrote this, so am not able to acknowledge the creator.

Equal hours of light and darkness
We celebrate the balance of the Equinox,
and ask the goddess to bless us.
For all that is bad, there is good.
For that which is despair, there is hope.
For the moments of pain, there are moments of love.
For all that falls, there is the chance to rise again.
May we find balance in our lives
as we find it in our hearts.

Blessed Be

Do you plan to celebrate the equinox?

This is a truly delightful book, dealing with relationships between mothers and daughters, and the importance of female friendships. The central character is a woman who becomes a single mother at seventeen and devotes herself to caring for her daughter until she realises there are other possibilities for her life. Prior to being pregnant she’d been a keen student and she now sees it might be possible to realise the dreams she’d set aside. The action is set in the present, but there are flashbacks to the past, explaining changes in her life. This is a warmly crafted story which kept me enthralled all the way through.

This narrative of Her and Em
is truly a delightful gem

Another Day

Recent Facebook Memories have reminded me of when my daughter visited three years ago, and this poem recalls that time:

Tomorrow she will be gone
to the other side of the world
will we ever meet again?

But today we are together
sharing the chores
with precious memories
laughing at old jokes
everything so familiar
it might always have been thus

More Murals

Yesterday I discovered two new murals in Gloucester Street beside Turanga. I gather they are part of this year’s Mini Flare Street Art Festival. The first is an attractive picture of a bird:

I’m not sure what kind of bird it is, but it could almost be a phoenix rising from the fire and I think it’s possibly by Dcypher.

On the adjacent wall someone was working on an image of three faces. The festival runs until 22 March, so it should be finished within a week.

I think it was a woman in the scissor-lift, so suspect this is by Kophie aka Meep. There’s nothing up yet to identify the artists. This year’s festival also features a new mural by Owen Dippie (of the adorable elephants and the ballerina), and I look forward to finding out where that is.

It’s great to have these additions to our inner city – thank you, Flare.

I always love to see a mural
and in this corner they are plural

Feline Fluctuations

Ziggy went to The Cat Vet for his regular vaccination and check-up. At this clinic they have signs on tables to indicate where you can put your cat carrier. Apparently cats prefer to be raised up off the floor.

Cat parking spot

We met a new vet, Delwyn, and were impressed that she was wearing a top with cats printed on it. After a thorough check Delwyn told us she had found that Ziggy had heart arrhythmia and a heart murmur. She advised that if we wanted to understand the cause of these heart abnormalities we should arrange for Ziggy to have an ultrasound of the heart. After careful consideration we decided to go ahead with this, because Ziggy is an important member of our family. We are aware that Stephen has had the necessary treatment for his heart problems, and thought Ziggy should too (at least up to a financial point).

There is only one place in Christchurch where cat ultrasounds are done, and that is at McMaster & Heap in Hoon Hay, where the specialist is Dr Richard Lucy. We dropped Ziggy there in the morning, and signed a consent form for the procedure.

In the afternoon Richard phoned and said that Ziggy was a star! There had been no need for sedation (which saved us $150) and his cardiac parameters were within normal limits. Richard had observed a period of bigeminy/arrhythmia, but this was not associated with cardiac disease, and could be due to thyroid or high blood pressure. Concerning the heart murmur he had observed a small leak, but this was not something to worry about in a cat of Ziggy’s age (ten years).

Once Delwyn got Richard’s report she phoned us, and we’ve arranged to take Ziggy in next month to get his blood pressure checked. If this is not the cause of the problem he will need to have a blood test to check his thyroid. We’re just pleased to have him home and know his heart is in good shape. He was beautifully brushed by the vet nurses, who obviously have more grooming skills than I do.

We’re glad to know his heart’s okay
although the rhythm’s gone astray

Ziggy – the star!

Healthy Ageing

We were given a thorough review of ageing, by Dick Sainsbury, Emeritus Professor of Geriatric Medicine at Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He did his M.A. thesis on Older People and Ageing in the fiction of Thomas Hardy.

Dick started with a quote from Henry Ford: Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. This was encouraging for his audience who were there because they want to keep learning. He said that older years are a bonus, and can be considered a time of productivity, rather than being in the departure lounge of life. It’s important to maintain physical, psychological, and social functions in old age. There are several forces that can affect older people:

Chronological – the number of years lived
Biological – genetics and disease
Sociological – you may be as old as others (society) make you
Psychological – as old as you make yourself

To age healthily (or to be healthy at any time) requires the maintenance of good health, and the reduction of risks, but there are no cast iron guarantees. There are some myths about old age which can lead to a tendency not to seek help, because we think problems are caused by age. Dick told of the 99 year old who had a bad knee, and whose doctor said it could be expected at his age. The man replied that his other knee was also 99 but fit and well.

Ageing well requires a positive attitude to ageing, which can improve health outcomes. We need to eat well and maintain a healthy body weight. Regular physical exercise is important, e.g resistance exercise. (I detest those sit to stand exercises, but do them at least weekly.) It’s important to remain socially connected, to get plenty of sleep, and to find meaning and joy in your life. Dick suggested writing your memoirs as a way of doing the latter. He didn’t specifically mention the Five Ways to Wellbeing, but they would fit in here too.

Tennyson wrote: Old age hath yet his honour and his toil; Death closes all: but something ere the end, Some work of noble note, may yet be done . . .

Memory loss is not an inevitable consequence of ageing. 65% of 85 year olds have no memory loss. Some of us may have Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) which is different from dementia. Personally, I have for years been inclined to write things down rather than rely solely on my memory – not sure if that counts as MCI? MCI is a self-reported lapse of memory, whereas dementia is often reported by others. 50% of those with MCI will not progress to dementia, but it is important to have early assessment to enable future planning, and to maintain physical and mental activity. There is active research on MCI in Aotearoa, and more info on this can be obtained from Alzheimer’s Canterbury.

An interesting article on ageing in Aotearoa was published in the Australian Women’s Weekly in 2015. So, why are populations ageing? In 1850, 50% of people in Manchester, England died before the age of 12. During the later Victorian period people started to live longer because of improved sanitation, housing, and food, together with less disease. Although we are living longer, the age to which we are likely to live in good health without disability is not increasing at the same rate as life expectancy.

As well as having a regular medical review, it’s important to plan ahead, and have an Enduring Power of Attorney and Advance Care Plan.

Asked about whether Joe Biden reflects the United States’ attitude to ageing, Dick said he hopes Joe is being carefully assessed, and that his gait can sometimes be worrying. Recommended readings are In Sickness and in Power by David Owen, and The Pathology of Leadership by Hugh L’Etang, both of which consider medical problems in leadership.

Asked whether romance is okay in the late 80s, Dick said it’s important at any age, and too good to be wasted on the young. He quoted Alex Comfort who said: The things that stop you having sex with age are exactly the same as those that stop you riding a bicycle.

This was a comprehensive talk which affirmed for me that although I live more slowly these days I’m doing plenty of things that will help me stay healthy as I age. I hope you are too?

I like this card sent to me by an ‘old’ friend