Saturday 30 November 2013

Hollering Damsel in and out of a Kayak

Sometimes the people who claim to love you the most are the worst. Oh sure, their intentions for you might be ever so wonderful but how would you feel if you were say, a chihuahua, and you were accidentally thrown head-first into a fast-cycle in the washing machine?

Would you think, "Oh, this is a wonderful experience!" ?

No? Then read on and I hope I succeed in pressing your compassion button.

In the weeks prior to our little Sunday afternoon adventure, Robyn, whom I shall refer to non-affectionately from now on as Sister-Blister, kept saying, "No, Bern, I will NOT sell your ticket to someone else. How often do I get the opportunity to kayak down a river with my lovely sister?".

That traitor made it sound like she and I would be paddling together side by side down the Tongariro river, smiling at ducks and reflected trees and each other. Yes, pure sibling-love would have our oars and hearts synchronised with the very heart-beat of a perfect universe.

Cossack, the second traitor, gazed at me with genuine admiration for agreeing to go on this trip. Little did he know I only went because he promised we could stop on the way south at my favourite cafe in Taupo.  I didn't give the kayaking thing one second of my valuable brain-space.

The last but not least traitor was a man called Pete, a friend of Sister-Blister. He was a traitor simply by being the fourth person on this kayak trip.

The afternoon in Turangi started out in an acceptable manner, even when we were stuffed into wet-suits so tight my appendix, rib-cage and heart were crushed and squashed into the size of a hamburger-patty.

Cossack looked mighty sexy if he says so himself.

I felt reassured by the life-jacket and the helmet and our young muscular guide, Shannon, who grinned at my middle-aged trepidation but looked a decent sort who would save me if necessary.

Shannon then told us a few handy survival strategies to deal with falling out of our kayak.

I glared at Shannon, "What do you mean, falling out of our kayak?"

That possibility had not occurred to me.  Naive, maybe. Oh, how stupidly I had trusted these three kayaking companions and now this guide was in my bad-looks too. Nobody had thought to tell me that I may not always be in an upright position in my kayak.

"I hate you all", I said stabbing fingers at each wet-suited chest.

Shannon seemed to be summing me up. "Oh, Lord, this one is going to be a handful", is what I think the verdict was.

After some instruction in a serene pool I felt in control and the world was sweet - I was about to paddle right out of my comfort-zone but now wish I had remained well within it.

At the first rapid I nearly tipped out. Sheer terror gripped me and I forgot all my instructions.

In the second rapid, I tipped out, floundered, screamed, yelled and hollered. All the colourful episodes of my 55 years swirled and bubbled around my gasping body, and I promised God I would be a good girl if only I survived.

Oh, why didn't I study that 'Tongariro Kayak Blast'  brochure a bit better? I thought the word 'blast' meant fun but it actually was trying to warn me that I would be blasted beneath the water on three separate occasions with only one frantic hand above water clutching desperately, wildly, blindly for my kayak and paddle-thing, both of which would abandon me.

Whenever my furious face bobbed up now and then, by sheer luck rather than good management,  it seemed to yell a lot and must have looked so ugly. Ugly like a crazed gargoyle spouting forth geysers of Tongariro water and then spluttering like a dying porpoise.

So much for Shannon, our self-appointed Papa Duck, telling us baby ducklings to try staying in a straight line behind him. As we all dispersed in different directions, quite involuntarily I might add, and I was mysteriously turning in circles as well, I couldn't even see Papa Duck let alone follow him.

COSSA....", I called out but it looked like he needed saving too. "Oh no!", I was sobbing underwater, "I don't want to be a widow, Cossie....", but then he bobbed up again so I carried on being mad at him in my head.

The last rapid had me lose the plot, the boat, the paddle and my mind. A horrifying bend in the river had me fly out yet again and I was catapaulted along the boulder-bank crashing, bashing and splashing.

"HELL....!", I hollered to whoever cared but obviously noone did and I submerged mid-word.

"HELLLLLP!" This time I managed to complete the word but then I went under again, bobbed up, went down, bobbed up, went down...and all I saw was swirling white water, bubbles, boulders and the occasional glimpse of our guide's yellow kayak.

"MY BUTTOCKS HURT, SHANNON!", I hollered when I had the chance. They had been bombarded by boulders for turbulent metres of cruel terrain where of course I wasn't even meant to be.

Right cheek. Bash! Left cheek. Smash! Left cheek again. Bruise!

"I'll check your buttocks out tonight"", Cossack, the smart-ass, called out from somewhere.

"SAVE ME, SHAN...!", I hollered, disappeared, bobbed up and then he did.  He saved me!

"Grab on!", he calmly  insisted.

Frantically I fought to do so and when I grasped his inflatable rubber kayak I  blew kisses of sheer joy at my Papa Duck.

I heard Sister-Blister cry out, "Bern, Bern, are you ok?", in what sounded like a genuinely concerned voice.

"DO I LOOK OK?!" I retorted. "I happen to be half- dead AND traumatised!".

But I then couldn't stop laughing which made water spout from my nostrils.

I was alive.

As all five of us group-hugged later, I thanked Shannon, my Hero with a capital "H", for not making me feel ridiculous for my dramatics on an 8- kilometre Grade 2-3 kayak expedition.

And do you know what that adorable young man said?

"Bernadette", he said, "You have some of the most interesting facial expressions I've seen out there. See you next year when you come back for Grade 5"

I told Papa Duck to go get stuffed.

Thursday 17 October 2013

First World Problems and a Gideon Bible

You would think, would you not, that someone like me who lives a quiet, rural life would anticipate a weekend in our vibrant capital city with huge excitement and, truth be told, my suitcase was packed nights before with a ridiculous amount of clothes which had Cossack eye-rolling because he only packs extra underpants and socks.

As you know, Wellington is very unpredictable - would it rain? would it sun? would it blow? would it shake? would it freeze?  Every scenario must be catered for, in my opinion, and that is why Cossack skipped and I staggered to the car for our long trip south.

Anyway, here we are now, safe and sound in a semi-decent hotel, but several issues have reared their bothersome heads and I just do not know how much sleep to lose over any or all of them.

List of my Hotel -Worries

1) I don't trust the Spy-Hole in our door.

So, I got Cossack to stand out in the corridor and knock on our door. (Room 508 - but no point visiting because by the time you read this we'll be gone ) I peeped through the spy-hole and saw nothing at all except for a grey smudge which didn't resemble my Cossack at all.

The male out there muttered some stuff in a vaguely familiar voice but it didn't contain the right password
( Lindt Chocolate) so I refused him entry.

"If that IS you, Coss", I called through the smudge, "Look through this spy-hole from your side and see if you can see me? Perhaps some sicko in this hotel has turned it around for voyeuristic purposes".

Phew! The man out there could see nothing either but the verdict is sobering.

We have one very useless spy-hole. When Cossack goes to see 'Gravity' in 3-D tonight at the cinema, I am here, alone and vulnerable. I will put the chain across the door and clutch my Gideon Bible all evening.

2) There is only one Coffee-Mug.

There is only one coffee-mug for two of us so it became multi-purpose and, at various times, contained my coffee, tea, muesli and Cossack's toothpaste -water, but not simultaneously.

Should I ring reception and advise them that Room 508 contains only one mug and it isn't me?

3) High-Pressured Shower

The shower was fantastic with enough pressure to almost blast me down the plug-hole but one could not detach the shower-head from the wall so, because I did not want to wash my hair on the first night, I had to arch my head backwards in a most uncomfortable manner.

My concern is - will I ever be content again with our under-pressured shower at home where washing one's shoulder can take up to a week?

4) What Sign to hang on our door???

Before retiring for the night I agonised over which sign to hang on the outside of our door for the staff in the morning.

Should I put up, "Yes please, I would like a newspaper"?

After lengthy consideration, we decided we didn't. ( a mug would be nice though)

Should I put up, "Privacy Requested"?

Maybe, even though that might have the cleaner smirking out there while Cossack and I would actually be innocently sampling all the herbal teas out of one mug while flicking through the room-service menu to decide what we would order for breakfast if only we were richer.

In the end I opted for the sign which said, "We choose not to have our room serviced today", thereby forfeiting the luxury of fresh towels and sheets. The sign said we would be helping the environment so that was noble of us, I thought, except we didn't realise that by not getting our room serviced we also missed out on replacement teabags and coffee sachets.

Next morning, by sheer luck, the trolley that collects dirty laundry and replenishes supplies was right near the lift as we waited to go to the ground-floor so I gazed up at the ceiling to see if I was being filmed by a security-camera but no, all seemed safe, and I grabbed a handful of loot.

In my haste, however, I ended up with four shower-caps, one conditioner, no tea and only two coffees before the lift whisked us downstairs.

My heart is still palpitating and I wonder if my conscience is slightly over-active?

Now, I know there was a reason Cossack and I came to Wellington but it's escaped me. Um...hopefully I will know next time I blog.

Over and out.

Saturday 7 September 2013

Sounds of Silence

Good evening Bernadette

Allow me to shine a light on your thoughts as I peer over your shoulder and read what you are tap-tapping into that keyboard there. Perhaps I should mind my own business but I rather like analysing what people in this room read and write. Heaven knows I have nothing better to do.

Besides, I cannot switch myself on and off at a whim.

So, here you are at yet another silent retreat looking very much the part - contemplative and determined - but I agree with that very self-aware sentence you just wrote about how no reputable nunnery would take you on.

I have been here at Titoki Retreat Centre for about three years now (my predecessor burned out)  and have effortlessly managed silence the whole time. You, on the other hand, just texted your daughter to inform her of your incredible spiritual progress after only two and a half hours. Words fail me as they are supposed to. you are writing about all those years you worked at the Cafe.  Hang on, I will wait until you finish that sentence...turn the laptop a bit more this way...thanks...aha...insightful...that's good, Bernadette, very good...

You just admitted that for eight years you had more bubble and froth than a cappachino! More bounce than a beach-ball! More smile than a Cheshire cat!

But there was a price to pay. Each evening you were a wrung-out dish-rag from the sheer effort of being nice to customers all day.

You're on a roll now, Bernadette. One light-bulb moment after another! ( I love light-bulbs, by the way ) You've just concluded that nobody should invest so much energy in others while neglecting their own needs and that the best thing you did was quit your cafe job very abruptly one day.

In hindsight you even thank the boss who made your life difficult, for the very next day you stumbled into a new job where silence awaited you under the kiwifruit vines.

Oh, so at first you didn't cope very well? Silence was too silent for you, was it Bernadette?  You listened all day to that little transistor radio in your pocket and felt lost and desperate if you left it at home? Peace was there for the taking but you opted for a bombardment of music and current affairs?  Uncomfortable with something, were we?

Hurry up and finish that sentence...oh, you got tired of being the hokey-pokey of jokey-jokey...and you've been consciously re-claiming your quota of silence ever since...

So, I guess you really do mean business here at Titoki, Bernadette. The last three people who slept in this room couldn't resist peeking at Facebook but you have not been tempted ...yet...well done.

What!!! Unbelievable! Here am I, so impressed by your spirituality one minute and then the dinner-gong clangs and you're stampeding down the corridor like your pants are on fire.

Unbelievable, switching me off like that! Bernadette, there is way too much power in your hands but no doubt I'll see you later.

Over and very out,

Your bedside light.


Sunday 9 June 2013

Get Thee to a Nunnery!

I wasn't quite sure what expression I should have on my face when I entered the Tyburn Monastery to embark on a bit of silent contemplation but decided that demure might be appropriate so I practised that look in front of the mirror for several days beforehand and also ate my meals in utter silence with downcast eyes. Cossack loved my nun-rehearsals because they gave his ears a real nice holiday.

Never in my wildest dreams or even in my tamest ones did I ever think I would end up in a monastery with real nuns. Never before have I considered renouncing all worldliness including cappuccinos, cherry-liqueur chocolates, movies and idle chit-chat.

Sister Bernadette is what I prefer to be called now, thank you very much, and I texted Cossack after only an hour at Tyburn to inform him that I was becoming a nun. I waited a few minutes for the shock-factor to subside then sent a second text to advise him that, because he and I have well and truly finished having children, we will have to go totally celebrate ( can't remember the exact word ) from now on.

Apparently I don't get the full nun-attire until I've passed the postulant and novice stages and, of course, there is an enormous chance I get expelled before then because there are some good behaviour clauses to be very afraid of.

My spirituality was only briefly diverted to more commercial matters when I found myself in the little nun-shop. Let me re-phrase that in case you think one can purchase little nuns there because you can't. There is however an intriguing array of goods for sale like miraculous medallions, rose-scented soaps, lavender lotions, quince jam and the coolest postcards ever of a nun swinging a big bell. I got eleven of those.

There was no eftpos machine or nun there so I had to count out all my coins on this little table and put the correct money into a wooden box. I accidentally left my purse there and my dear friend, Sister Minette, noticed it about an hour later, silently pointed it out to me and nothing was missing from it at all so she and the nuns are very honest people which is reassuring...

Did I tell you about the chapel? No? Well, out of curiousity I tip-toed in as quiet as a monastery-mouse, sat there in a carved wooden pew and was captivated by the sweet singing of scripture from the nuns in a little alcove around from the main altar. I thought they might be lip-synching at first but I studied them intently and their mouths moved in perfect unison to the words so they are the real deal.

The heavenly scent of candles wafted all around me and I felt transported  to a world much nicer than the one I generally inhabit.

The nuns around this place float around silently and gracefully doing their chores. They radiate serenity and kindness which sounds so mushy but I swear they do. Even the doves and quails here seem extra tranquil like they know the rules but they do not have to wear veils and robes. All the birds fly around naked, except for their feathers of course, just like they would in your garden or mine.

The focal point of the property is a large white cross perched on top of a small hill from where you can't help but marvel at the glorious view over a small sparkling lake and rolling green paddocks. It is easy at Tyburn, even for a pogo-stick like myself, to slow down, contemplate my Creator and give him a chance to say something to me while my mouth is shut for a while.

It is a little odd walking past my friends in the corridor and not talking or, harder still, sitting there at meal-times excruciatingly aware of every scrape of my knife or clunk of my spoon or gulp of my throat or beat of my heart. The other seven women on this retreat seem so composed whereas every little distraction ruffles me so I try to think of sad and serious things like amputation of legs and seagulls choking on plastic. That way I feel less inclined to laugh nervously.

Speaking of laughter, my preconceptions about nuns being a bit staid and pious were shattered by the vivacious Sister Serah whose humour took flight at the end of our compulsory silence and had us in stitches. Well, thought I, if someone like her can become a nun then why not me?  True, the Pope doesn't know me from a bar of soap but I'm assuming he flies wannabe nuns over to Rome for an interview? I'd love that.

One little incident during the retreat unnerved me a bit. After 20 whole hours of silence I longed to be noticed by my dear friend, Sister Minette,  in whose company I am usually such a chatterbox. She was in the kitchen and doing an amazingly good job of ignoring me when I walked past the window outside and pressed my nose very hard against the glass so I looked like a pug-dog.

If she smiled it was hard to detect and then, would you believe, at my very ugliest moment, the fire- alarm went off and a calm but firm pre-recorded voice asked us to "PLEASE EVACUATE THE BUILDING...PLEASE EVACUATE THE BUILDING... PLEASE EVAC..." and so forth.

Two friends staggered into the lounge in their pyjamas as well as a fully-robed nun who calmly assessed the situation after looking at the wood-burner and then at all of us. Oh the guilt that consumed me - was my flattened nose a give-away? Could this lovely nun sense that my flippancy had triggered the alarm?

Well, thank you God, the culprit wasn't me but eight pretty little tea-candles alight in a circle on the coffee-table. That overly-sensitive smoke-alarm needs some counselling!

Anyhow, I've decided not to become a nun after all because I didn't realise that I would have to give up Cossack - I thought that maybe, as I got married to him before deciding to take my nun-vows, that I could have him tucked away down the corridor - in a separate room of course - but I was told that isn't how it works at all.

Apparently, one cannot always have the best of both worlds so goodbye, Tyburn! I will stay longer next time for you are a gem of a place.

"COSSACK!!! I'm back! Put on the jug! Let's have coffee and sorry, but a lot of pent-up words are about to tumble forth...Bear with! Bear with!"...

Thursday 4 April 2013

Light at the End of the Tunnel

An overly-familiar Shropshire forced me to eat lunch in the car today. When he lunged at my ciabatta bread-roll (it had peanut-butter and squished banana in it), I fled from under the vines to the passenger's seat of my car and wound the window right up.

While the sheep snorted miffed nostrils against the glass I grinned back, munched on black jelly-beans and contemplated the life-lessons I learned in the last seven weeks while I sawed and lopped and tugged at those three rows of shockingly entangled kiwifruit vines. My leather gloves fell to bits, my arms ached, my legs bruised, my forehead perspired and an inner-voice often taunted me with, 'Dummkopf!'.

Yes, there were times I almost gave up the mammoth task.

But when the last cane fell and sunlight danced where darkness had reigned for so long, well, what an incredible sense of achievement!

So, while imprisoned in my own vehicle, here are the principles I came up with:

1)  When life is just a long dark tunnel of tangled-up problems even the tiniest determined action to improve things lets in a tiny pinpoint of light.

2)  When enough tiny pinpoints of light gather together they become a sunny patch.

3) When enough sunny patches merge we dare to hope.

4) When we feel hope the necessary energy seems to well up within and we find ourselves chopping away with increased gusto!

5) Even if there is still plenty of problem to tackle, glance back now and then to enjoy how far you've come.

6) At a certain stage we do indeed see the light at the end of the dark tunnel so be sure to pay yourself a compliment or three about how determined and resilient and amazing you are.

7) If the going gets tough and your progress seems pathetically slow ask a friend to remind you how determined and resilient and amazing you are.

8) Be sure to do the same for them when they struggle with something. Only the dead are burden-free.

9) Take breaks when fatigue strikes and make mini-celebrations of them whether your coffee  is poured from  an old thermos flask or dripped from the finest Italian espresso-machine.  Both brews are beautiful if you decide they are.

10) Mission accomplished? Rejoice! Sure, another wilderness will challenge you again one day but is there any harm in being happy and relieved in the meantime?