Posts Tagged ‘Ruth Gardner’

An exciting addition to the east of the central city is The Art Shop gallery, located in the lovely old art deco M.E.D. building in Armagh Street, opposite the Margaret Mahy Family Playground.

The Art Shop – outside
The Art Shop – inside

They have a great selection of paintings and sculpture, and everything is for sale. It reminded me a little of COCA gallery years ago.

The first item that caught my eye was Phoenix by Christian Vee, with wings that move up and down.

Phoenix by Christian Vee

A striking portrait of John Lennon in Ukrainian colours was called Give Peace a Chance. The Beatles seem to be topical at the moment. I enjoyed a documentary about them on Maori TV a couple of weeks ago, and I see that their music is coming to the Town Hall next month.

Give Peace a Chance by Liam Downes

Lovely mosaics by Jane Santos featured Wellington buildings.

Mosaics by Jane Santos

I coveted the Quail Family, but the price of $950 was outside my budget, and I don’t have a suitable place to display it.

Quail Family by Elisha Jordan

There’s lots more to see, and I shall certainly go again. It will be interesting to see how the stock changes as items are sold. There are plans for a wine and coffee bar too.

I’m pleased to see this new art shop
with works that I thought were tiptop.

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Winter Woollies

It was five degrees when I left home at 9.30am this morning. I was well bundled up with warm jacket and hat. Recently I’ve noticed my feet sometimes feel cold when I’m walking, so today I put on possy-wool socks.

Warm socks – well-darned

Walking down New Regent Street I was surprised and slightly horrified to see a young woman with a bare midriff and bare ankles. Some young people don’t seem to feel the cold, but it seems foolish to have bare skin on such a cold day. Maybe she was heading to a warm environment. What do you think?

I think it’s best to wrap up warm
and be prepared for winter’s storm

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Walking among trees is a particular pleasure on these sunny autumn days. I try to walk for 20-30 minutes every day, and it’s always good to have a destination such as the library, the postbox, or the Art Gallery. On days when none of these is required I walk beside the river, around the Avon Loop, on what used to be Oxford Terrace. If I have plenty of energy and time I return along the Cambridge Terrace side of the river. When I need to have a shorter walk I come home along Kilmore Street.

There are usually other people on the river path. Some are running, some pushing baby buggies, some accompanied by dogs. I always give a greeting, except to those who are concentrating on phones. Most respond, and some stop to make conversation.

If it’s a weekday there will be the happy sound of small children playing in the pre-school at the south-east end of the Loop. There’s usually litter to be collected and deposited in the nearest bin. Lately I’ve contemplated the idea of wearing gloves and carrying a rubbish bag for the more objectionable items, but haven’t yet done so. Today there were several shot glasses on the roadside (which I didn’t pick up) and it occurred to me to wonder whether the litterers could be identified by their DNA.

It’s always a delight to admire the trees and the birds (except perhaps the Canada Geese who leave unpleasant deposits on the path).

Willow tree in the sun
Autumn leaves

Today there was a sleeping bag wedged under the arm of a bench and I wondered whether someone had slept outside last night when the temperature went down to a freezing 0 degrees.

Sleeping bag

When I arrive home I reward my exercise by doing the daily Wordle. Today I failed to guess it within the allotted six tries. A couple of other times I’ve needed to ask a friend to give me a clue, but this is the first time I’ve failed completely, and I realised I hadn’t been concentrating hard enough on the letters I’d already confirmed. Maybe I’ll do better tomorrow.

Do you have a favourite place to walk where there are trees?

The Loop’s a pleasant place to walk,
admire the trees, and sometimes talk

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Our very first narcissus for this year is flowering.

Actually it’s not the very first. There was another dead head beside it on the plant, but the flowers are outside the fence, and these last few weeks have been so busy I haven’t walked along that part of the fence, so hadn’t seen it.

The name Narcissus comes from a character in Greek mythology who was extremely handsome. It was said that he would live to old age, if he never looked at himself. Many female admirers were entranced by his beauty, but he rejected them all. One of them, Echo, was so upset by his rejection that she withdrew from the world to waste away. All that was left of her was a whisper. This was heard by the goddess Nemesis, who, in response, made Narcissus fall in love with his own reflection in a pool. He stared at this reflection until he died and was replaced by a narcissus flower.

His self-absorption was complete
but the result was bittersweet

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DNA and Diseases

Understanding genetic diseases was the subject for this week’s talk given by Stephen Robertson, the Curekids Professor of Paediatric Genetics at the University of Otago. Stephen said that genetics are the blueprint of human beings and need to be at the centre of medicine. As a species humans are genetically very homogeneous, we have become inbred through our ‘profligate reproduction’, and it’s important to understand any ‘variations from normal’.

Stephen gave several case studies where genetics have been vital in diagnosis and treatment. One of these was two sisters who had Ataxia and failed to thrive. After 10 years the genetic basis was discovered, they were treated with CoQ10, and made dramatic improvements.

Ground-breaking research revealed a genetic mutation which was causing Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer, leading to deaths in a particular Maori whanau, of which musician Stan Walker was a member.

In one family seven baby boys died, most living only a few hours after birth. Stephen was eventually able to locate the gene that caused this and family members can now be tested to see whether they carry the mutant gene. A film documenting this is available.

Curekids is helping to fund research into genetic malformations in Aotearoa. Genomic variety is mainly found in Africa, and equity can be a challenge. Many countries around the world are studying the genetics of their indigenous people, but Aotearoa is the first to have a project which is indigenous-led. Maori are ideal for this research because they undertook the longest migrational journey on earth, and their oral history informs the understanding of researchers.

If tested, 2-3% of all citizens will have an actionable genetic factor identified, e.g for cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, or predisposition to cancer. All of these are actionable through treatment and surveillance, but it’s also important to approach disease with optimism. We don’t necessarily understand the role of the immune system in response to cancer. Attitude and positivism are always important and may have a biological basis. As Stephen said: “Hope beats helplessness.”

Gene editing can sometimes assist in curing a disease. The first trial in the world has been carried out in Aotearoa, to treat liver disease and has proved efficacious. When asked how such a small country can make a contribution Stephen replied that we have exceptional scientists who are world-leading and outward looking, well-linked, and highly collaborative. Having a common national health identifier is helpful when running trials, and the Maori link is something we can all be proud of.

An audience member asked whether all this might be leading to immortality and Stephen replied that it gives us tools to equip our decision-making. Default paths of behaviour bring limitations, but our health may be enhanced if we understand our resilience and susceptibility factors. It’s important to have critical and imaginative engagement with the science.

There’s so much info in our genes
but we don’t know just what it means

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Community Energy Action did a full energy check of our home. This was very thorough and included checking shower pressure, hot water temperature, ventilation, and lighting. As a priority they identified the need to top up our 30-year-old ceiling insulation, and yesterday two young men arrived with a load of pink Batts which they installed.

Because we are older and on a limited income this service was free under the Government’s Warmer Kiwi Homes programme.

All this reminded me of an event in the 1970s when we were living in Auckland. We went to the Easter Show and one exhibit had a competition to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar. The prize was a houseful of pink Batts. Later a woman phoned to say that the prize had been won by our younger daughter, eight years old at the time. I expressed our gratitude and remarked that the daughter would probably have preferred to get the jar of jelly beans.

The Batts were duly delivered, accompanied by jelly beans, and we were delighted to have this free insulation for our old villa. Today it kind of feels like we’ve won the competition again.

It’s great to have the extra Batts
to help our power usage stat’s

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In the operating theatre last week Alison held my hand. I’d never met Alison before but I was glad to hold her hand. She told me if I was uncomfortable or needed the surgeon to stop I should squeeze her hand. I didn’t need to squeeze, but it was comforting to know I could. This reminded me of my Advance Care Plan where I have requested to have someone with me to hold my hand when I am dying.

When I had my previous cataract operation (privately at Christchurch Eye Surgery) I was sedated. This time (at St George’s Hospital under a public CDHB contract) I had just a local anaesthetic and I was conscious and aware of what was going on in the theatre. I heard a sound like a dentist’s drill and knew they were cutting into my eye, but didn’t feel anything. Every now and then a disembodied voice would say “irrigation on” and I was aware of liquid movement. I knew this was a machine talking, perhaps a form of Artificial Intelligence.

I hope I don’t need more operations because the allied health workers are working to rule, and sometimes going on strike. I’ve been in an operating theatre twice in recent weeks and each time they put plastic booties over my shoes. I very much doubt that these get washed and re-used. So much waste!

The next day I went for a follow-up consultation and the surgeon said my new lens was not working in the expected way. Apparently my distance sight has improved, but not my short sight which was the intention. He suggested this effect may reverse in a few days. I wondered whether he might suggest my coming back sooner for a re-test, but no. My next appointment is for four weeks time.

My eye shield

I went home with an eye shield and instructions to leave it on overnight, then wear it in bed for five nights. I did this for the first two nights, but found it kept slipping so haven’t bothered after that. As before, I was given drops to be put regularly into my eye. Last time this was 4X daily for four weeks. This time it’s 4X daily for two weeks, then 2X daily for another fortnight. Last time I was told I needed to lie still for two minutes after each drop. This time I was told to just close my eye for a moment, which is so much easier!

At the follow-up appointment the nurse said I must avoid anything strenuous such as lifting heavy washing baskets. I told her she was too late as I’d already hung out the washing that morning. However I did avoid doing my usual daily exercises for four days.

My eye is still red and the eyelid inclined to droop. It’s hard to focus on the jigsaw I enjoy doing during The Panel each afternoon, but reading is fine – probably I’m using only one eye for this.

I’m waiting for my improved vision
now I’ve had cataract incision

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A workshop with a group of strong young feminists was stimulating, satisfying, and exactly what I needed after several weeks of dealing with various health issues.

Most of the participants had been motivated to come after attending recent local shows by the facilitators Carrie Rudzinski and Olivia Hall, of the HWS Poetry Collective. I had hoped to go to one of their shows, but my recent eye operation precluded that. The fact that the workshop venue was our nearby Community Cottage was an added incentive to venture out on a drizzly Sunday afternoon.

The group was open and trusting. A bonus for me was that after I introduced myself as being a blogger another woman asked if I was Ruth’s Reflections and said she follows my blog. It’s always a thrill to meet someone who reads and comments on this blog.

We were all spurred to write freely, sometimes just a few words or a stream of consciousness which may later transform into a poem. Two poems were offered as examples. Calling all Grand Mothers by Alice Walker was an inspiring call to action. I found the second poem Backpedal by Olivia Gatwood hard to relate to, but am always curious to see what new poets are creating.

We were given excellent prompts and useful advice, e.g. to include concrete specific details, and to move while memorising. One prompt asked us to consider how we would like the world to change and to write an Epistle that might change someone’s mind. I was focussed on the war in Ukraine for this exercise, and found myself advocating violence. This is totally out of character for me, so may constitute a debut – useful as debut is the theme for my next poetry group meeting.

I’m grateful to Carrie and Olivia for sparking my latterly dormant muse. Here is my Epistle:

Dear Mrs Putin
your man has gone mad
it’s unbearable to watch him
killing indiscriminately
bombing schools
obliterating hospitals
children are dying
you have children of your own
can you make him stop?
I don’t condone violence
but I think the time has come
for the sake of the world
he has to go
assassination an option
a suicide mission
we need a hero
could that be you?

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This is an absorbing story of Juliet’s adjustment to getting older. We all eventually face old age, except for those whose lives are cut short. I learned recently that our age can be estimated from our DNA because our chromosomes get shorter as we age.

Juliet suggests that the simple pleasure of being in the moment can be more frequent as we age. She also advocates the need to surrender to fatigue and allow ourselves a rest day when required. I like her idea that we can have rest days and test days, and I’ve had both of those recently. I can also relate to the idea that the limb that opens childproof lids and cans may drop off as we get older. Mine went some time ago.

The links and tendrils of connection are important, like the fungi that communicate beneath the earth through the roots of trees, creating a thriving ecosystem. This reminded me of my recent pleasure in meeting an old friend, unseen for years, who suggested a lunch date next week. Spirituality is another important support as we grow older.

I found it hard to read of Juliet experiencing continual pain, and am grateful not to be dealing with that, although over the last few weeks Stephen and I (and Ziggy) have all had hospital appointments in preparation and follow-up for various surgeries. While I don’t have chronic pain I’m aware that parts of me no longer work the way they used to and anything strained or damaged takes longer to heal.

Juliet’s few poems had an inspiring resonance for me. In her last chapter Juliet invites us to keep a reflective journal, writing about the challenges of life. I used to write Morning Pages, but rarely do these days. This blog has become my journal, although I avoid sharing anything too personal here.

We learn just how this author copes
and gently cultivates her hopes

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“The role of DNA evidence in the Criminal Law” was the subject of today’s talk by Dr Debra Wilson. Debra specialises in criminal and medical law and is a passionate researcher and campaigner around the issue of surrogacy.

It was in 1986 that DNA was first used in criminal investigation in the U.K., where it resulted in a murderer being found and a previous suspect being exonerated. By 1995 the U.K. had a DNA data bank, and Aotearoa followed in 1996. Our law has not changed since that time, but the science has evolved, and the N.Z. Law Commission has been looking at what our law could be.

Matching DNAs can prove the likelihood of someone being the offender sought, e.g. that the chance of a match is 5 out of 10,000. Despite what we see in television programmes such as CSI, DNA is found in less than 1% of crime scenes, and it is not always 100% reliable. Debra mentioned the Phantom of Heilbronn, where the DNA of a specific woman turned up in multiple crime scenes in Europe between 1993 and 2009. It was later discovered that the source of the DNA was a cleaner who had contaminated the swabs with which the DNA was taken.

Our Law Commission reported in 2020 that the collection and use of DNA in crime investigations will always require the consideration of the clash of two rights or competing interests. These are:

  • The right of society to be free from crime and/or to have crimes investigated and the criminals punished
  • The right of people to genetic privacy

One form of DNA use is Familial Testing which can identify family members of the offender. Some issues with this are:

  • False positives
  • Invasion of privacy of those on the data bank
  • Invasion of privacy of family members of those on the data bank

In the U.K. anyone who is arrested has their DNA added to the data bank. In Aotearoa our current legislation does not specifically consider or permit familial testing. Half of the people on the N.Z. data bank gave samples voluntarily (e.g. to be excluded from a particular investigation) and did not consent to their wider use. The Law Commission has suggested that any familial testing should be heavily regulated, requiring something similar to a search warrant.

Another form of DNA use is Phenotyping, where DNA can be used to draw a picture of the suspect. Currently DNA can provide a person’s sex, race, eye and hair colour, and age. (As we age our chromosomes get shorter which means our age can be identified within five years.) In future it’s possible that DNA could show our dominant hand, height, and build, maybe even our medical condition and behaviour. Some of the issues with phenotyping are:

  • Most physical traits do not stem from one particular gene
  • Results may not always provide useful information
  • There are racial implications
  • Results may be affected by environmental factors, e.g. height is genetic, but diet is also an important factor

Phenotyping is illegal in Aotearoa, but Debra said it has been used at least eleven times since 2007.

So, where should the line be drawn between catching criminals, and respecting people’s genetic privacy? Younger people, who are used to sharing personal information on social media, are much less likely to care about genetic privacy than their elders. Debra suggested we see DNA as being owned by the entire family, as any analysis may apply to siblings and parents as well as the person being tested. For instance we may not want to know if there is genetic alcoholism in our family, especially as there may be an obligation to disclose such information to an insurer or a prospective employer. When asked about the use of information from Ancestry.com DNA database she said it has been used many times, which appeared to contradict the information given by genealogist Fiona Brooker the previous week . However we were assured that local genealogy databases cannot give DNA information to the police.

We need to consider how we can safely use genetic information without enabling the possibility of eugenics. There are ethical concerns over the possibility of dragnet testing where whole communities are asked to supply DNA samples. If this happens and people refuse, they may be put under pressure, and stigmatised. If the Government asked for everyone to supply a DNA sample, e.g. for Covid testing, how many of us would comply without question?

If you have ever been arrested
your DNA may have been tested

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