Tuesday 26 July 2022

Brain Storm

It is a crispy-cold but sunny Winter's day and our Michelia Doltsopa is in full blossom against a bright blue sky.  A cloud of white petals, like crumple-winged butterflies, sends out an intoxicating perfume so sweet and beautiful that really, it's a shame a wedding isn't happening right here and now.

I did chores today like vacuuming the floor and prodding a long feather duster into high corners to evict daddy-long-legs.  I carried a box of firewood from the back porch to the fireplace and also hung out two loads of washing.  

Then I drove my car to a friend's house and leapt out like a crazed monkey to get a double-shot latte into my desperate body. 

Yeah, so what?  These rather mundane details are worth mentioning, um, why?  

Because never ever again will I take it for granted that I can vacuum and carry firewood and leap like a monkey. 

You see, my sister was doing all those things without considering how her brain engages her legs and arms to perform so-called simple tasks. 

Few of us give this miracle of movement much thought. 

Robyn is super fit. All her weekends were spent climbing mountains, hiking through the bush and swimming in cold lakes, posting a photo of her wildly splashing feet above the water-line to prove each episode of madness. 

She prefers to wear sturdy boots in the outdoors to high-heels at a cocktail party.  Nights curled up in a sleeping bag in a tent to luxury sheets at the Hilton Hotel. A dehydrated Spaghetti Bolognese in a tramping hut to a fine meal in a flash restaurant where they really should provide a magnifying glass to find your steak, shitake mushroom and a carrot that has been carved into a lotus flower without your consent.

But now, and how unfair is this, my sister has been in hospital for a month after a sudden brain-bleed struck her down and paralysed her left side.  We all wondered if this was a temporary or permanent goodbye to her fit-as-a-fiddle agility and "Hello" to a "new normal", where ordinary daily tasks are  performed very slowly with huge frustration. Sheer determination and a gritty fight to re-claim some of her former life?

Physiotherapy sessions consist of learning to stand again while holding a rail. Taking scary tentative steps while not knowing where her left hip is placed because she cannot feel it. Shuffling her bottom from a wheelchair to bed.  Learning to grasp a green plastic cone and pass it from one physiotherapist to another. Then a yellow one. Then a blue one. 

It's all ridiculously simple to me, the onlooker, but a major effort for Robyn. She is cheerful one minutes and in tears the next. Energetic but quickly exhausted. Impressively decisive an hour ago but then then so brain-foggy she can't decide what track-pants to wear that day let alone where and how to live after she is discharged from hospital.

A stroke or brain-bleed is not only a medical trauma to the body. It is a mental and emotional trauma to the mind. 

What will my sister be able to do in a year's time? Or not do? Will she ever sleep in a tent again or jump into a fern-fringed waterfall?  Will she be able to peel potatoes for dinner? Drive her camper-van? 

My sister is a tough and inspirational person and I believe she will do better than what the doctors told her after tests and scans. That her brain-bleed was a bad one and inoperable. That she was "unlucky" and her mobility will be severely impacted long-term. 

We all know that may or may not be the reality but we know there can be light after darkness.  Sometimes the outcome is better than what we fear. 

Last week as I sat in my living room on a stormy night there was a power-cut. The lights went out and our candles got lit.  The room was still glowing a bit because of our wood-fire but not enough to read a book by.

Wait. Then wait some more. Over the road I could see lights appear from trucks and from up a power pole as a few men braved the night to fix the problem in the wind and cold.  Finally, the lights snapped back on and I yelled out my thanks to the hard-working team over the road, faces unseen.

One yelled back, "Sweet as, bro!" and then drove off into the night. 

Oh, beautiful wondrous  light. 

Thanks guys! 

Robyn, there is light after a storm. 

I didn't know how many friends you had. True friends who will cheer you on all the way to a better life than what you have this minute. And you must be so proud of your two grown-up kids who were instantly at your bed-side with love, tenderness and astonishing maturity.

I didn't know how tough you were until this happened. Never imagined that, just three days after you lost your left-side, you would be joking about climbing Mount Pirongia again soon. 

Well, knowing you, it might actually happen - not soon but eventually.


Candle by candle. 

Step by step,

Prayer by prayer,

Your left may come right!

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Each and Every Day

This afternoon I ducked under the half-open roller-door of our car-garage only to find four frantic baby swallows dive-bombing a side window. They were bashing against the glass frantically trying to find the wide blue sky they could see out there but not fly into. 

"Over there!", I pleaded with them. "Look! The door is now wide open!"

But they couldn't see the wide open door inviting them into the sunshine, so intent were they on bashing and crashing, over and over again, into a dusty pane.

So, I grabbed a soft hand-towel and, one by one, took hold of those tiny throbbing baby birds and released them skyward where they needed to be.

"Goodbye, Basher!", I said to the first.

"Fare thee well, Crasher!", to the second.

"Good luck, little Smasher!", to the third.

"You'll be ok now, Thrasher!", I whispered to the fourth.

And each, in the blink of an eye, a soar in the sky, was gone like an arrow of joy.

Note to self - Sometimes we need another human-being to help us out. We can resist that wise, guiding hand extended out to us, but what then? We crash and bash against a hopeless window until we collapse.

Or, do we accept that sometimes we need someone else to help us find the sunshine? 

There are patches in life where all seems dark and hopeless but you and I both know that the sun does rise each and every day.

Each and every day is a new opportunity to be set free.

Thursday 4 June 2020


Tim employs a few of us more mature folk all year round on his 12 hectare kiwifruit orchard.  He never consciously chose us as staff- we just arrived as chattels from another orchard that his father owned several years ago.

When he first inherited us, Tim looked a tad unsure but, if he found our team rather unsettling as a potential work-force, he was too polite to say so and gave us the benefit of the doubt.  Would we prove to be fit and capable or a set of decrepit old dead-beats that, if we died on the job, he would have to cremate in the fire-pit behind Block 9?

But despite our wrinkles, bad shoulders, sore necks, bung knees and selective memories, we reckon  our approval ratings have soared off the Richter scale.

Apart from our beautiful personalities, we work with such dedication and gusto you'd swear all 5 of us were half our combined age of 327 years. In my own uninformed opinion, our work ethic is unsurpassed and each of us astonish Tim each and every day with our talents and skills.

It may seem a bit like we are blowing our own trumpets but I ask you this. If we don't, who will?

At our age, we are sometimes to be found at doctor surgeries or x-ray clinics instead of at the orchard. Spike, especially, has injured almost every part of his anatomy and one time even got whisked off the property in a helicopter when his thumb was severed from the rest of him. During the whole flight he was praying like crazy that some clever surgeon could re-attach it to his hand, not because he still wanted to be able to prune kiwifruit but so he could play his guitar.  Poor priorities in my opinion.

Our team follows Tim's instructions with the utmost care and accuracy except for the occasional blip like when I demolished an entire kiwifruit plant with my chainsaw.

As recorded in my last blog I felt it really important to confess the magnitude of my blip, my appalling blunder, to our boss, Tim.

On the other hand, I was kind of hoping not to see Tim that same day so I had more time to mentally recover but Spike and I were zooming around on the buggy when around the corner, who is driving along the track, but the very man himself.  He pulled over for a chat and we small-talked about copper spray and how we need rain and Donald Trump while the whole time I am plucking up my courage...

"Tim", I blurted from buggy through his ute-window, "I have something terrible to confess..."

I think he thought I was about to announce that I had, all by myself, pulled off a bank robbery or sneezed Covid-19 all over his grandmother.

"Tim, I am so sorry but I destroyed a plant"

Tim laughed. "How do you mean? Cut off the wrong bit?"

Spike ever so helpfully interjected at this point, "Um, she destroyed the entire plant complete with canopy cover. All gone, Tim. Gone!"

It took a few seconds for this news to register but, even when it did, Tim remained calm.

"And what did you learn from that mistake, Bernadette?"

"Oh, I learned such a lot, Tim. Like never to do that again"

"Well, then", Tim grinned, "These things happen. I have way bigger things to worry about"

I thought to myself how anything he worries about has to be bigger than the stump my chainsaw left behind but thought this was no time to be humorous.

"Bernadette, if you learned from your mistake, then it's all good".

"Thank you for being so understanding, Tim", I said with huge relief.

Apart from learning to always check and double-check before using a chainsaw, what is the best thing I learned today? That Tim is a very good person. He is kind and calm. He expects good work and will tell off a worker when necessary but puts people before profit and admits to his own mistakes.


Saturday 30 May 2020

I Did it My Way ( but shouldn't have)

There are good days and then there are days that I could just curl up in a foetal position and howl like a coyote.

Today started off alright - in fact I was in quite a jovial mood - but at about 9.15 am my work-buddy, Spike, came running over because I had gone all white and was trembling so much my secateurs rattled in my leather-pouch. I felt nauseous, went hot and cold and clutched my chest.

I was in shock but do recall muttering over and over, "Look....look what I've done, Spike. Oh, look...look at that.  No don't! Spike, grab your loppers and stab me to death right now. Please do it quick!"

Spike saw the problem immediately. Well, actually the problem was that he couldn't see what he was meant to see - the perfectly good kiwifruit plant with two new leaders all tied down to the top wires was no longer there.

It had been reduced to a near-stump. Yes, my chainsaw had miscalculated!

What you have to realise is that the fatal cut inflicted was only about 20 centimeters below where it should have been so please don't think I make a habit of randomly swinging my chainsaw around to see how much mayhem I can create. On the contrary, I am usually careful and can only put this disaster down to a moment of insanity.

It is a sobering thing that permanent is so permanent. Some actions - like a chainsaw cut - are irrevocable. You cannot un-saw what is sawed, just like you cannot revert an omelette back into its original eggs.

A surgeon, if he or she amputates the wrong leg, cannot just super-glue it back on the patient. The patient henceforth will be leg-less. That is a serious consequence indeed and that is why every care is taken to ensure such a terrible mistake does not happen.

The medical team in hospital ask you over and over which leg you are getting chopped off today. You sign papers. A red cross is painted on the doomed leg, and even so, it is checked and checked again.

How I wish I had checked over and over before slaughtering an innocent kiwifruit plant that had years of potential in it.

I never thought of myself as a chainsaw-killer.  It sounds so harsh somehow but, Bernadette, tell it like it is. That is a precisely what you are.

After the initial shock, Spike was very merciful and said reassuring things like, "Oh, well, we all make mistakes but, yeah, this one is particularly bad", and, " It couldn't have happened to a nicer plant".

Spike said not to lose sleep over it but I wondered how to tell the boss. Would he even notice a gap in the canopy? Would the Pope notice if someone fired a cannon through the Sistine Chapel ceiling?  Would the Queen miss one of her corgis if it were abducted? Of course!

After a good strong coffee and a Tim-Tam I regained some of my equilibrium in that I felt silly and guilty in equal measure but the trauma was lessening and common sense told me we all stuff up sometimes and that I am a human-being, prone to mistakes now and then.

For instance, we didn't go on and on and on and on and on about when Spike was parking the buggy in the shed and stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake. The resulting damage to the back wall was considerable but, after we all fell about laughing, we consoled Spike. We were there for him and fortunately, so was the company's insurance to pay up.

And Nodge, look at how many wooden posts he has demolished with his tractor.

These things happen so tomorrow I will tell the boss about what my chainsaw did. The result of that awkward conversation will be the topic of my next blog.

In the meantime, I leave you with Frank Disastra,

'My Way'. 

"Regrets, I've had a few,
But then again, I hate to mention,
I did what I shouldn't have done,
And sawed it through without exemption,
I didn't plan this uncharted course,
That careless chop along the by-way
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew it, 
When I sawed too low and really blew it, 
But through it all, when there was doubt.
I didn't think, just cut it out, 
I'll face it all, one day walk tall but... 
...woe is me, I did it my way"

So, it is over and out from me! And over and out from the kiwifruit plant!

Sunday 24 May 2020

A Rising Renoir

My reputation as a nice and nurturing mother was totally obliterated in one foul swoop of a post that my 31 year old daughter put up on Facebook a couple of months ago.  Many of you will have seen it and now be wondering if this blog can even begin to undo the damage done.  Well, read on. It can only get worse. 

It was just an ordinary morning in March when I was scrolling through my news-feed on Facebook and saw a reproduction of a child's painting. A colourful nice-enough portrait of a pony-tailed girl with fishing rod sitting on a wharf.

It looked vaguely familiar.

And then I read my daughter's words accompanying the picture and all was explained. Of course! The painting looked familiar because she was the artist!

This is what my indignant cherub wrote.

"I painted this masterpiece at age 10 or 11. Two decades ago. I have not seen it since. Today I bought it in an op-shop in Whakatane for $4. Weirdest. Thing. Ever. Mother, can you explain???"

Her post had me Mortified with a capital "M" and psycho-analysed in screeds of comments from all over the world, the common theme being how could I, her mother, have done what I did?  Apparently I had failed to see in my paint-flinging little girl a rising Renoir, a gifted Gaugin, a morphing Matisse.

People hooted, commiserated, were shocked, aghast and disturbed. Why would a mother give her 10- year old's art-piece away? Why did the now-grown-up and married artist have to endure the pain and humiliation of seeing it hang in the front window of a Methodist Op Shop?

Why did she have to buy back her own masterpiece for a measly $4? ( That joke-of-a-price was of course the ultimate insult to the artist)

Comments ranged from, "This is fricken hilarious. look forward to your mother's explanation", to "No way!" and sprinklings of "omg" and, "That's so bizarre"

While the multitudes ranted, I was desperately formulating a plausible explanation to redeem my seriously besmirched reputation as a mother..

When one person wrote- "Your mother is oddly silent..", I decided to just spit out the truth which involves Marie Kondo of 'Spark Joy' fame. I am a devoted fan of hers and she and I have so much in common except for the fact that she is Japanese, dainty, petite, sweet, charming and demure. And now very rich.

This is my reply.

"I blame Marie Kondo for my daughter having to buy back her own painting in a Whakatane Op-Shop. I now recall giving an old suitcase full of picture-frames to charity after a de-cluttering frenzy in my home. One by one, I had held each frame close to my chest and asked, "Does this spark joy?"

The cheap and nasty red frame definitely did not spark joy so into the suitcase it got biffed but I totally forgot to first extract what it contained - a masterpiece of enormous artistic and sentimental significance.

Forgive me, daughter, for the emotional damage done. If it helps, your father is also unimpressed by my de-cluttering. He went to close the curtains one cold evening and they weren't there. I explained to him that those curtains no longer sparked joy and he just stared at me - confused. I have a gut-squirmy feeling that if he ever jumps on the de-cluttering band-wagon, I will be the first item to be pitch-forked upon it.

I am real happy, daughter, that the universe returned your child-hood masterpiece to you. Events often unfold as they should. Like a message in a bottle that gets found by the right person.

We had a couple stay here in this very house - he, a German man, had tossed a bottle from a ship years ago and it got found months later by a lovely English woman just strolling along the beach. The friendly note contained an address so she wrote to him and he wrote to her and she wrote to him...and they met..and got married!

And such is life!

Over and out!

PS Coss can't find his pyjamas.

Friday 8 May 2020

Chainsaw Cuts

I just loved lock-down during Alert Level 4. My bubble was pretty blissful really. No work. No pressure. No rush. No must be here and there. No ironing Coss's shirts because he works from home now and is wearing scruffy, slouchy, comfy clothes. No need to set the alarm-clock.

In fact, each morning I'd wonder if it was Monday, Saturday or Tues-whatever- you- like day?

But New Zealand moved to Alert Level 3 at the end of April and that meant back to the orchard for Bernadette. It was good to see my work-buddies again but we had to greet each-other from a respectable 2- metre distance. No hugs, slaps on the back or clip around the ears. Not even a hand-shake is permitted. Now, considering we are all great friends, this stand-offish politeness is abnormal. Weird even.

And then there was the shock to body, soul and mind, after weeks of exquisite relaxation, to be suddenly wielding a chainsaw and loppers, cutting and chopping out unwanted wood and replacing it with better canes for next season. And does this mean just reaching up and grabbing that replacement cane with one hand while texting a friend with the other? Oh no. We climb up a step-ladder and tug and fight to untangle the desired cane from the jungle over our heads, then wrestle it down and tape it to the leader wire.

It's at times like this I truly wonder, "Why, at age 62, am I dangling in the orchard canopy like a chimpanzee?" and, "What if I cut my own head off with this chainsaw?"

And then, I worry that there won't even be a funeral for me because of all the lock-down rules. Would the boss just chuck my corpse into one of the many rabbit-holes here on the orchard and my work-buddies go straight to the Smoko-room fridge and plunder my Tim-Tam cookies?

I digress. Getting back to all the chopping and cutting, I can honestly say that the result of our slog is satisfying. It's the buzz we all get when we take chaos and bring about order. In this case I know that a better kiwifruit crop will come because of the rubbish we cut out and the good wood we put into place.

Actually, many of us have discovered a similar process at work in ourselves during this whole Covid-19 pandemic. Lock-down descended as abruptly as a chainsaw on almost every aspect of our lives cutting out so much unwanted crap.

CHOP CHOP to hurry, hassle and haste, commuting and flying, buying and waste.

And what good did we tie more firmly in place?

Well, all sorts of things like that chat at the mailbox with a neighbour we seldom see. A new recipe tried out. A good book that got us thinking. Walks through crispy Autumn leaves. Appreciating our friends and family more. Letting go of petty grievances and shaking the cosmos flowers to collect seeds for next year.

Yes, I do know that Covid-19 has brought about blessings but has also been a cruel chainsaw to many people all over the world, wrecking their security and wounding them with anxiety, loneliness, unemployment and financial ruin.

My hope and prayer is that good will come out of bad for all of us, that we re-think our priorities and oh please, may our government choose wisdom over panic and long-term benefit for the planet and its people over short-term blunder.

Over and out to work!

Monday 4 May 2020

Pieces of Blue Sky

Apparently it is important to have structure in a Covid-19 lock-down day so we do not become lethargic slobs that just loaf around in pyjamas, doing nothing more between waking up and going to bed except add a few more pieces of blue sky or white polar-bear to a jigsaw puzzle. Or bake yet more chocolate chip cookies. Or think yet again about cycling around the block but take a nap instead.

And how exactly are we to structure and give purpose to each day? Well, we are urged by lifestyle gurus to make our bed as soon as we arise. We feel better having done that but, personally, I feel best if I pee before accomplishing any other task, (after this blog, not personal any more) so I do that and then wash my hands for as long as it takes to sing all of, "Pokarekare Ana."

Then, faithfully each day, I make our bed.

But, as the lock-down weeks dragged on, I felt I should challenge myself and up my game. So, now I make the bed while I am still in it and then squirm out the top. The result isn't perfect but does that really matter in the midst of a Covid-19 world-wide pandemic?

Coss doesn't appreciate my making the bed if he is still asleep in it. Upon waking he feels like a moth pinned to a museum wall. so tight have I tucked in the sheets and blankets.

Another of my lock-down hobbies is trying to locate my cup of tea. I have never drunk so many cups of tea in my life but I am easily distracted by a squashed raisin on the kitchen floor or a phone-call, picking up feijoas from under the hedge or collecting the mail.

Then do you think I can remember where I left my latest cup of tea?

I search, search, search the whole house. I lose my mind trying to find my tea. Eventually, of course, it is found somewhere obvious like in the laundry basket, on the mantle-piece or behind the macaroni.

In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko is recommending that his citizens drink vodka, go to saunas and return to work as the best way to deal with Covid-19.

I think abiding by the lock-down rules and keeping healthy is the more sensible way to go. We are so blessed in the Bay of Plenty. This lock-down may have deprived us of our social life and bags of flour in the supermarket but we have plenty of Vitamin C.

Incredible Hass avocados which I love most when smashed on Vogels toast with salt and pepper.  Sweet gold kiwifruit -all free rejects that never even got to the pack-house because they are too flat or hooked or blemished in some way. Then there are the above mentioned feijoas which drop when ripe from our hedge to the ground. We just cut them in half and scoop out the contents with a teaspoon. How do you describe the taste of a feijoa? You can't! So good you just have to try for yourself.

We have sun and fresh air. We can walk and cycle and cook. I've been trying out some vegetarian recipes and my lentil-patties were a roaring success in that Coss ate them. He never was impressed by anything chick-pea-ish that I produced in the past stating it was dry and unpalatable but he ate the lentil patties without a squawk. There is hope.

In fact, Coss said he would even consider being a vegan if he can sneak in just a few extras like schnitzel, chicken drum-sticks, salami on his pizza and sirloin steak.

This afternoon I sorted my orchard-gear - boots, loppers, secateurs, head-phones, leather-pouch, thermos-flask, cups, teabags, Tim Tams and then tonight I did what I haven't had to do in 5 weeks....

I set the alarm for work...