Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hagley Park helps me fight diabetes - and - cicada & the english language

My mind is eclectic.  Just as when I meditate it's sometimes hard to keep my mind on one topic - a monkey mind it was called when I studied Theravada Buddhism at Wat Suan Mohk in Sthn Thailand. Well, so it is too when I go walking in Hagley Park - which is right on my doorstep and is a powerful tool in my 'getting fitter-losing weight-fighting-diabetes' regime.

This morning was no different. MP3 plugged in, I headed off for an hour walk and this time I was thinking about cicada. Its only been in the past few days that the ground (in Christchurch, NZ) has been warm enough for the cicada to emerge from the ground and start making a noise to attract mates - and of course being in  a park I had suround sound of cicada's singing. So, what my mind was thinking, is it the temperature that made them emerge? Or was it the good rainfall we had a week ago that allowed the ground be soft enough for them to dig their way out and up the tree trunks overnight, shed their skin, and fly off. I need to google all these questions and follow-up these thoughts! (I have added these links so you too can find out - if you want to - however maybe I'm the only one who has such a monkey, questioning, mind!)

As well as these thoughts I was also listening to Radio New Zealand (National) which had a fascinating programme on the English language .. the progrmme describes it as Julian Burnside talks to Chris Laidlaw about 'Wordwatching: field notes from an amateur philologist' (Scribe Publications), and the need to be aware of the misuse of language in the service of sinister purposes - whether political, ideological, social, or personal. Julian Burnside, QC, is an Australian barrister who specialises in commercial litigation and is also deeply involved in human rights work, in particular in relation to refugees. Go to the Radio NZ website to listen to the interview here  - or on the link above for any of the many great interviews that happen daily via podcast.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Week 9 in the weight loss- get healthy stakes

Well this week I put on 500 grams (just over a pound for those of you in the old imperial system)

So despite doing some aqua-cise in the form of walking against the strong current in the 'river' at the swimming pool and some walking, I didn't do enough to compensate for the half dozen very yummy dark chocolate kisses (I forget the Italian name for them). Seems I also didn't eat as well  - having guests is not a good enough excuse! Anyway I am taking myself in hand and will have a better figure to report next week, of that I'm sure.

The World Buskers festival is on here in Chch .. my favourite so far is Pete Sweet who is from California.  In a very Forrest Gump, a-little-simple style he delights all, from the very young to the adult who see and hear things on a different level. His bowtie, and too-short pants, add to the visual enjoyment as he performs on a loose 'highwire'.

See more about the WBF here

                     my grandsons favourite was "The Stewardess"

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rooms with views, bungee, diabetes and loosing weight.

 I wrote this from a room with a view. A  room in which various national and international ‘artists in residence’ have used to relax , sleep, or work.

I am supposed to be blogging about diabetes and weight .. but that all seems boring: nevertheless I can happily report  - after 7 weeks - my blood pressure is normal and I have lost over 5% of my body weight. Now back to writing a blog, or rather re-publishng a column I wrote when I was travel editor for a local newspaper.

As I sit and await the muse to visit (surely there must be some residual energy from those other writers) I gaze out the window at the view.

The Peacock Fountain, set in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, was built in cast iron in 1911, and is the background to many photographs travelling to all points of the compass. As people pose, it sprays it’s water regularly from the dolphins, and is well decorated with herons, lily leaves, and other undefined foliage.

I think of other views, other places: some from on high, others just a glimpse through a door or window.

  • A palm-roofed hut, just large enough to place a double-sized bed and still walk around it, produced a romantic view of white sands, palm trees, and blue skies. Idyllic - a genuine travel brochure scene.
  • The view from my downtown Manhattan hostel window - taxis abandoned in the middle of the street and only the top of the yellow-cabs roof showing through the snow.
  • The view from  a tower in Istanbul may have been amazing but I was too busy clinging to the building to appreciate it. It is hard to be a tourist/traveller with a  fear of heights. Nevertheless I do recall seeing the busy Bosphorus and the skyline of minarets through adrenaline-impaired-vision.
Once I nearly got over my fear enough to inwardly consider urban rap-jumping from the Novotel in Auckland. I am pleased to report I recovered my senses enough to keep those thoughts to myself and remained firmly on top of the hotel and did not walk down the side of the building- face forward - and now own a Tee shirt that says; I wouldn’t dream of urban rap jumping. The view of downtown Auckland and the harbour was great, however I was not really appreciating it right then.

With these confessions of fears, you will be surprised to know that I have done a bungee jump - right in the heart of Wellington. I was really fearful as they tied my ankles, the soft towel to prevent ropeburn did not reassure me. I must be crazy I think. Ropes tied and tested I am under starters orders.

“Move to the edge of the platform” he tells me and I shuffle forward, “A little more” I move almost imperceptibly more, my heart beating at an uncontrollable speed. The view is now clearly in front of me, the water is fast, cold looking and a long long way down. I still have time to back out of this but my pride won’t allow it. The countdown starts. Three. Two. One. Bungee! Over the edge I go, plummeting downwards, waterwards, my heart undecided if to climb out my throat  or smash through my ribs, I’m screaming. I bounce, up and down, down and up again swinging side-ways and slowly come to a gentle halt.

They untie my legs as I wonder did I wet my pants? I slowly walk away, my legs shaking. That may have only been virtual bungee at Te Papa but it was real enough for me!
  • Another memorable view from the top was in Scotland. Inveraray, a village built by the head of the powerful Campbell Clan in 1745, has a bell-tower built, on top of a hill, as a memorial to the Campbell’s who have died in battle. I climbed, sometimes crawling on my knees, to the top for a fantastic view of the village below, the Clan Campbell castle (Inveraray Castle) and the beautiful Loch Fyne and the tiny village. It seems amazing that such a calm, peaceful setting was the training ground for some half a million troops prior to the D-Day landings in WW2.
My journal, written on top of that hill, notes my grief at my sons death some five years earlier, and how I had then thought I would die from the pain, yet now, on the date of his birth, I was enjoying the view from a hill in Scotland. Grief produces such paradoxes, out of pain, or perhaps because of it, growth and life and laughter happens. Just as Buddhists explain the lotus flower and how its’ beauty grows from mud.

Maybe the muse that was left in this room is a reflective one. One that looks out windows and wonders what’s it all about. I certainly don’t know, all I know is the more I know, the less I know, the less I need to know.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Te Ara Kakariki --- the greening of Canterbury

This is a piece I wrote for an Ecan (canterbury NZ) magazine some time ago - 2010 is the year of biodiversity so seemed appropriate to reproduce it here

‘It’s clean and green but not a native to be seen?’

‘Canterbury plains are one of the worst examples of the loss of native plants in New Zealand’ Professor Ian Spellerberg tells me. ‘Less than 0.5% of native vegetation remains on our plains.’

When colleagues from Europe ask, as he drives them from the airport to Lincoln University, 'where are your native plants’ he understands their surprise. Returning to Canterbury, he too was disappointed. Spellerberg had become used to UK landscapes with their hedgerows making great use of native plants and which are now some of the last bastions of habitat for wildlife.

However, there is good news about our plains: the Te Ara Kakariki Greenway Canterbury Trust has been formed and is encouraging us to increase native plant communities for all reasons – not just restoration, or beautification as some critics suggest, but for boundaries, shelter belts, crops, tourism, and ideas that we haven’t yet thought of. Its long-term vision, maybe taking hundreds of years, is to make connections between the mountains and sea by using corridors and stepping stones of native plant communities – and connecting existing patches. Another goal is a one-stop-shop for information: cost, availability, economic benefits, where to get natives, after-planting care and research – perhaps leading onto field days. Encouragingly, Motukarara Conservation Nursery says they can’t keep up with the demand for native plants.

The land between the Waimakariri and Rakaia Rivers gives the project an identity and all Cantabrians can be involved: country or city; on public and private land; for economic and ecological reasons, alongside roadsides, railway lines and rivers.

This year, in conjunction with Southern Woods Nursery, has seen 25 Selwyn schools being invited to design and plant a native plant community for their school. Judging (November 08) will be around the knowledge pupils gained, not just the design. (Good luck to Southbridge, Templeton and Ladbrooks schools, and others, who Robyne Hyndman tells me have signed-up).

Spellerberg’s enthusiastic. ‘I have this dream of tourists coming to see Te Ara Kakariki, a Canterbury icon! Imagine native plant hedgerows on those long stretches of road. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? It’s the loss of associated native wildlife too: maybe we could re-introduce the Kakariki back to Canterbury.’

‘We underestimate the value of natives in an uncertain future. What’s the environment going to be in ten years? What about land use? Changes in weather? We have to think about what roles native plants will play then. It might be crops, better shelter belts – after all, these plants evolved to live in dry windy conditions.’

‘Why aren’t we proud of our native heritage of plants?’ he continues. ‘We owe an apology to nature for the devastation of our native plant communities. We should be celebrating them, they are our wealth.’

‘I’m putting my money on Te Ara Kakariki becoming an icon for Canterbury.’ I see tourists coming to see this landscape project which communities, schools, and other groups have created. A wonderful greenway of native plants and native plant communities.’

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Love and food and a movie title

 My computer keeps reminding me I haven't done a blog re 'my life in the day of a newly diagnosed diabetic' so to make my electronic memory shut up I'm reproducing this letter to the charactor in the movie 'Shirley Valentine.' the blog should have been entitled "I like to eat food that reflects the place I'm at' but that can wait until tommorrow - after all, it's weigh-in day so should have something to report! - here is the letter:
"Dear Shirley Valentine, Greece is not the only island with places in which to fall in love . . . with life. I could have stayed longer but other places beckon and this was a nice interlude along the way. Okay, more than nice. Research for my writing I could call it, justify it. But I won't. It was, 'why not?' Good for the ego too. But Shirley, I have to tell you - different races, religions and different islands, same talk. No surprise really, is it. Our stories are so similar - I didn't leave a husband at home but once I arrived at this island, maybe with your story in mind, after all parts of our lives followed similar paths.

White sands, blue skies, charming restaurant / resort owner and voila! Late one night, a knock on my door. Are you awake? Blah blah lady, only talk, blah, blah, friends, blah, blah, I never did this before, blah, blah, I don't know what's happening to me, blah, blah. And so the story goes - you fill in the gaps, I know you know the words 'they' say.

I just smiled and enjoyed myself knowing tomorrow or the day after or next week I'd stay ciao and carry on my journey. Islands are seductive. So my soul sister, I too fell in love, again, with life, on an island - A great way to start a New Year."

PS these birds fell in love too: in love with freedom when they were released.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A happy new year - and peaceful travel - to all who read this .. and to those who dont!

Have  you read the credo to be a peaceful travel - I found it on a website dedicated to promoting peace through tourism ( and thought it well worth reproducing.

"Grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the world and because peace begins with the individual, I affirm my personal responsibility and commitment to:

• Journey with an open mind and gentle heart

• Accept with grace and gratitude the diversity I encounter
• Revere and protect the natural environment which sustains life
• Appreciate all cultures I discover
• Respect and thank my hosts for their welcome
• Offer my hand in friendship to everyone I meet
• Support travel service that share these views and act upon them and,
• By my spirit, words and actions, encourage others to travel the world in peace.

How easy it is to say.

Sometimes diversity is hard to understand, so hard to appreciate - after all I see the world through my eyes, coloured as they are by heritage, education and experiences. People - whether a fellow traveller or someone whose country is being travelled to - see me with their eyes, coloured by the same things. it is no wonder we see and talk past each other at times.
But now maybe its even more important for those of us travelling to follow the creed and spread it as far as possible.

My old reaction would have been, rubbish, I am only one person what can I do?

Well that’s exactly what I have, one person who can do one thing to make the world a better place. Working on the principle of what I can’t do alone, we can together.

There is little I can do about airlines flying or not flying; there is little I can do about the costs of security; however there is a lot I can do as a ‘peaceful traveler’ and so will attempt to follow the above creed as I am ‘grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the world.’

Pohutukawa: the New Zealand Christmas tree .. isn't it fabulous!

PS: and an update for those of you  following my weight loss (for health reasons /diabetes).
 I still lost some weight over the holidays and today I'm off for an hour-long walk in my local park - Hagley Park  - NZ's largest city park right here int he centre of my city, Christchurch, and right on my doorstep.