Aberdeen

I’ve been a wanderer all of my life, and many’s the sight I’ve seen…

There is no Aberdeen to which I long to return. My whole life has been spent moving on. There has never been anywhere for me to return to, because it was no longer there after I left.

I can remember two homes in England before I was five. We had five more homes in four towns in New Zealand before I was eleven.

The most stable period of my youth was my teenage years in West Auckland. After that I moved around a lot again, until I acquired a family and had a second, relatively stable, period with them in only three locations. And that didn’t last either. Not nearly as long as I wanted. It was not my choice. Which does not mean it was not my fault. I don’t know.

What I do know is there is nowhere to which I can return. No family seat, no family. Just scattered relatives. A few friends.

In the small hours I wonder “What if?” There is no answer except the soft early call of the magpie who roosts in the trees behind my caravan.

I ponder the events that led me here. Living with anyone is difficult. When does the effort become too much? Is the person wiser who decides “enough” or the one who keeps trying? Who is at fault, when someone calls enough? Perhaps the fault must always be borne by both.

I am trying to be more zen in my introspection and self-appraisal. I accept what is, but still can’t help wondering what if? I am the sum of my memories. I owe it to myself and the world to ensure my memories are honest and clear.

I was not a good son, I was not a good brother, I proved to be a poor husband, Twice. I truly don’t know any more what kind of father I was. I want to write accurately about my memories. Of what made me what I am. That will not always put me in a good light, but it also may not please those who get to see themselves as I saw them. They may see my perception of causality as blame. But one does not blame the sun for sunburn. It is what happens.

Well. Wow. I didn’t know that was where I was going when I started this post.

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Tupaia | New Zealand Geographic

No portraits exist of one of the most important people in Pacific history. Tupaia was a man of many talents: high priest, artist, diplomat, politician, orator and celestial navigator. After fleeing conflict on his home island of Ra’iātea for Tahiti, he befriended botanist Joseph Banks, and joined the onward voyage of James Cook’s Endeavour. Arriving in New Zealand in 1769, Tupaia discovered he could converse with Māori. He became an interpreter, cultural advisor and bringer of news from islands that Māori had left long ago.250 years on, we are barely beginning to know who he was.
— Read on www.nzgeo.com/stories/tupaia/

The Curragh of Kildare

JThe winter it has passed
And the summer’s come at last
The small birds are singing in the trees
And their little hearts are glad
Ah, but mine is very sad
Since my true love is far away from me

And straight I will repair
To the Curragh of Kildare
For it’s there I’ll finds tidings of my dear

The rose upon the briar
By the water’s running clear
Brings joy to the linnet and the bee
And their little hearts are blessed
But mine can know no rest
Since my true love is far away from me

A livery I’ll wear
And I’ll comb back my hair
And in velvet so green I will appear
And straight I will repair
To the Curragh of Kildare
For its there I’ll find tidings of my dear

All you who are in love
Aye and cannot it remove
I pity the pain that you endure
For experience lets me know
That your hearts are filled with woe
It’s a woe that no mortal can cure

Songwriters: CHRISTY MOORE / DOMINIC BEHAN / HAROLD SHAMPAN

The Wrens of the Curragh’

In 1856 The Curragh Military Camp had been established on the plains of Kildare, and attracted a community of Irish destitute women. The women, mostly in their twenties, lived on the plains about a mile from the camp. Outcast by society, they supported each other within their community and lived difficult lives in furze-covered shelters dug in the ground using any protection from the weather they could find.

Because they mostly iced in ‘nests’ in the ground the women became known as The Wrens. Their choices were limited to either living rough on the Plains of Kildare or in the workhouse where they would have no control and no dignity whatsoever.

Their only means of income was the oldest profession. They sold their bodies to the soldiers of the camp.

The women were ostracised by society, the church, and the local communities. Many had young children living with them but such was the nature of society at the time that they received little compassion. They were beyond the pale of so called ‘respectable society’. They were stoned, spat at, and beaten in the the local communities. Shopkeepers refused them service. Only one business, run by a widow, would allow them to enter and be served.

The army permitted them to buy necessities twice weekly at the camp store and sent water wagons out to the ‘nests’ twice weekly.

There are accounts of gangs of local men who considered it sport to terrify the women and burn down their nests.

There are accounts of incidences of gang rape by groups of soldiers. An incident reported in the town of Newbridge concerns a local priest who attacked one of the Wrens, tore the thin shawl and gown from her shoulders and beat her with his riding crop until her blood splashed all over his riding boots. Though witnessed by many locals, no one voiced any protest.

Another priest was known to attack any Wren he encountered with scissors he carried for the purpose. He would cut off their hair, marking them with the “shame” of the Corinthian prostitutes. No one ever objected or tried to help.

For fifty years, until the end of the nineteen century, the Wrens of the Curragh lived in the ditches of the Plains of Kildare and died there of from disease and exposure. When they fell ill the workhouse usually refused to take them in and those few they did were kept away from sight in conditions no better than those they had left on the plains.

Because of the hypocrisy of religion we Irish, usually renown for generosity, could be just as uncharitable as anyone else.

THE CAMP, C 1860

Architeuthis dux

I remember well my one and only encounter with the great giant squid, Architeuthis dux.

It was long ago, when I was young. So long ago, in fact, it was back in the days of pounds, shillings and pence. If you youngsters know what that means.

I was swimming in the sea near Goat Island when I encountered the huge squid, almost 10 metres long. That’s 32 feet as we called it back then. Huge.

Well this was a deep sea creature and was clearly unwell being washed around in the waves and surface currents. I grabbed a couple of its tentacles and dragged it towards the shore.

With a lot of heaving and hefting I managed to get it into the back of my beach buggy. It was pretty flexible.

I knew what to do. I drove straight to my friend John’s place. Luckily he was home.

I knocked on his door. “John!” I called.

“I’ve got that six quid I owe you”.

Pain

The return of pain brought me to a greater appreciation of the fact I had not been experiencing it so much lately. I still walk with a straight-legged limp because my knees do not support me well when bent and I have to be very careful not to twist on them, or to let them lock when standing still. Then they really hurt. Waiting at the checkout is when that is most likely to happen.

But lately, my legs had not been hurting so much. I don’t even experience the pain I did when I first started pedalling the bicycle, as long as I keep my legs from splaying while I ride. The ache in my thighs and calves after a ride is a different category of discomfort, signifying the development of the muscles that will, hopefully, start giving my knees more support.

However, the pain I’m experiencing now after a fall and a sideways knock on my left knee has reminded me of my vulnerability and reinforces my desire to shed weight and get fitter. It seems there is more than just arthritis involved here. In my depression in the Kimberley I allowed myself to become physically lazy as well as overweight. I have only myself to blame for the weak muscles that resulted. I believe strengthening them again will go a long way towards returning me to stability.

I think the swimming and cycling has been even better for me than I had realised. It occurred to me, for instance, that for some time I had not been suffering the excruciating discomfort caused by the spondylosis damage in my spine which manifests as pain down my thighs and calves. It is nothing like the ache of tired muscles, which seems almost pleasant in comparison. And the spondylosis pain seems to be gone. Does this mean I can stop taking the daily dose of pregabalin? I must discuss this with Doctor Mehdi.

Today I kept quiet, walking only as far as I had to and otherwise resting or sleeping in the caravan. The swelling has gone down, but my knee is still hot. This is odd because one thing I had noticed before was that my knees always felt cold to the touch, as if the circulation there was poor. My right knee feels normal at the moment. Has something changed or am I imagining it?

This current increase in my disability has been good for my dietary goals. I cant stand long enough to cook and prepare food. I managed my breakfast coffee and for lunch I prepared a rather tasty scrambled eggs with wilted spinach but it was not fun. This evening I think I shall settle for a cup o’ soup and a stick of celery with a slice of sunflower seed bread.

With luck I’ll be better tomorrow.

Timeline

I’ve posted this before, but it is worth repeating. Maybe some people will take it more seriously 3 years later.

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Zen and Now

If anyone told me a year ago that I would be cycling ten to fifteen kilometres a day, and enjoying it, I’d have laughed heartily. Yet here I am, admittedly assisted by technology, doing just that. I have set the bike to minimum assist, with no accelerator boost. So it only helps when I’m actually pedalling. I have to give it some effort all the time, especially on the hills, where I must use the gears.

I know I’m putting in the exercise, because I can feel it in my muscles at day’s end. Also, despite faithfully following my dietary guidelines I have actually gained a little weight in the last few days. The evidence of my shrinking waistline and the need to periodically tighten the drawstring in my elastic waistband suggests this extra weight might be accounted for by increased muscle mass. I think it’s likely. Even so the general graph of my weight is trending nicely downwards, despite fluctuations.

Today I took a different approach to my swimming session. Instead of setting a time to achieve, or a number of laps to complete, I decided to count nothing, measure nothing, and just swim until I was tired, or until I decided I’d had enough. So I turned my watch around on my wrist so I could not see its face. I Resolved not to look at it until I got out of the water. I put my mask and snorkel on, put my head down, and swam, resolving also not to look up at the big clock on a post near the corner of the pool.

At the end of the lane I turned around and kicked off again without touching bottom, and without raising my head. I breathed in time to my strokes and as I swam, admired the patterns of light on the pool floor. They dappled and rippled in a dancing display of symmetrical chaos created by the interactions of wind, water, light and me. From time to time I was aware of someone swimming in the adjacent lanes. Most of them swam faster than me. Some did three laps to my one. I just kept swimming, after a while they were gone and I was once again swimming alone.

It was hard at first not to count. It is an ingrained and annoying habit I’ve had for decades. To obliterate the counting I started a mantra in time to the rhythm of my strokes. “Just keep swimming”. To maintain the cadence I shortened it to “keep swimming”. This led, by word and memory association, to me imagining I was a turtle, slowly, steadily swimming across the Pacific. I remembered the times I had swum out past the reef drop off, in clear tropical waters, where the bottomless blue seems to go on forever, it was like swimming in space, and staring into infinity. I held that image in my mind and swam into the blue.

Out of the blue, like a stealthy phantom, came the memory of my first and only close encounter with a Tiger shark. Somewhere between four and five metres in length it had come straight towards me until we were eye to eye. Then it turned and swam away.

Other treasured, yet rarely remembered memories washed in. The school of Mako sharks and Bronze Whalers at the Poor Knights, my first, and only hammerhead at Mayor Island, schools of huge kingfish at Cape Brett, the time we played tag with dolphins, the huge packhorse crayfish I caught at Cape Wiwiki. The school of small squid that spoke to me in a language I did not understand off Caqalai island in Fiji, the clear waters and corals of the Rock Islands in Palau. The wreck of the Toa Maru. Other shipwrecks I logged dives on long ago, and whose names I’ve forgotten. Caves we dived into. Moray and Conger eels and octopuses that startled us. The time I fought and lost to an octopus that wanted the crayfish I had just caught. Holding on to a ray’s tail with gloved hands, and being taken for a ride.

Surrounded by memories and rippling light, I realised I was in a Zen moment. This swim was a metaphor for my life. There was no future, for I had set no goals, there was no past except for these memories, because I was not counting anything. I was no longer counting costs, or losses, or slights, or pain. There was only the Now and what I brought to it. What I chose to carry with me.

I just kept swimming.

I truly lost track of time in my reverie. I did not get tired. I just swam. Finally I noticed the shadow of the floating lane divider. When I got into the water the shadow had been right under the lane divider. Now it ran along the line of blue tiles along the centre of the lane. The tiles I had been staring into, and past, for – how long? I guessed maybe two hours or so.

I wanted to know. I had jumped in at exactly seven minutes past twelve. What time was it now? I turned my watch around, read the time. Just past three thirty. The spell was broken.

Time to get out, shower, cycle to Aldi for eggs and bread, then head home.

Outside the pool I saw that someone had added an extra flag to the flagpole of my bike trailer.

One of the ladies working at the pool had commented when I arrived how she liked my pirate flag, and from now on she would call me Pirate Al.

While I was swimming, she had been busy. She printed and laminated me a personal flag. How cool is that? I think that has earned her and her colleagues a cake.