Doing the right thing is not always easy

Sometimes doing the right thing is not easy.  Sometimes doing the right thing will protect vulnerable people but bring a world of criticism down on your head.  Sometimes doing the right thing makes you second guess yourself.

What do you do when someone has knowingly put themselves and others at risk?  What do you do when someone repeatedly breaches clear directions, agreed boundaries and codes of behaviour?  What do you do when someone escalates issues when you are trying to keep it low key?  What do you do when someone takes no responsibility for their own actions?  What do you do when someone does not realise their own vulnerability and continues to put themselves at risk?  What do you do when someone tells half-truths and changes the narrative knowing you will not breach confidentiality?  What do you do when others support the unacceptable behaviour putting people at risk?  What do you do when others accuse you of over-reacting when they only know half the story and you cannot tell them the whole story without breaching confidentiality?

I have found it quite exhausting to stay staunch and do the right thing.  I have found it demoralising when misunderstandings are perpetuated.  I have found it challenging to keep reinforcing the agreed boundaries.  I have found it disappointing when colleagues fall short in their support.  I have found it disheartening to be painted the baddie when I have done the right thing.  I have found it dispiriting when I have been yelled and spoken over when I am trying to explain things.  I have found it unbelievable that people do not know or understand the law.  I have found it discouraging when people do not accept that a conviction means that I do not personally have to have an opinion on what happened.  I have found it depressing when there is no response and ongoing delays to getting to a resolution.  I have found it hard to trust in my gut that things will work out in the end.

I have sought out pleasure in nature, cooking, craft, property and garden design tv shows.  I have uncharacteristically done lots of gardening.  I have found people think I am an amazing gardener – I am not.  Really, I am not.  I do not have any green fingers or thumbs.  Perhaps it is all the energy going in that has made the garden lush this year?  Weirdly I have been able to replant things and they thrive.

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RIP Hamish Robert McLean

“It’s a shitty situation”

This is how Hamish described his debilitating disease to Beverley.  Bev agreed with that description.  And this is a shitty situation – being here grieving and mourning your death.  It turns out that you were here for a good time – not a long time.

So, as we gather together today to celebrate your life, and to mourn your death, let’s remember those good times.

At St Andrew’s, Hamish was a year behind Andrew, David and me.  Andrew and Hamish’s younger brothers (Edward and Alastair) were probably the primary catalyst for the first interactions, but the friendships really grew during the University years.     They say alcohol can be a tough master, but we did our best to overcome this with many formal dinners, medicinal needs, and even the creation of credit based bar system.  Let’s just say we survived and leave it at that.  Hamish left Varsity after his first year to take on a job with his father and the family firm.

In many ways, Hamish’s life has been shaped by events in 1983 when the family business was brought to its knees by a burglary and arson attack on the Montreal St premises.  Subsequently, the new business was crippled with the impact of the crash in the late 80’s.  This hugely impacted his parents health and most likely contributed to their early deaths.  Hamish’s sense of loyalty and equity was sorely tested and drove many of his own later life decisions.

After Hamish left Robt. McLean Ltd, the family firm, Hamish joined BCL as a customer account manager.  It was while he was with BCL that he transferred to Auckland.  Later, he moved to Telstra Clear which subsequently merged with Vodafone. On their return to Christchurch he joined for 2 Degrees.  During his career, he was responsible for designing and implementing solutions for clients in the telecommunications area.  One of his earlier achievements was delivering a solution across multiple location around New Zealand that allowed the TAB to bring its Trackside channel on air.  Remote locations, often patchy network availability and the sheer number of individual Racing Clubs, committees, and service providers were among the challenges he overcame.  He was also instrumental in getting the current national Lifeline network established enabling that organisation to provide a better and more effective service to those in need.

Around the time of the Montreal St fire, Hamish bought his first house in Searells Road, and shortly thereafter he met Bev through their mutual friend Rick Page and Bev became Hamish’s “flatmate.”  Together they refurbished the house and put in a new kitchen, which they painted red.  They had discussions with a colour consultant at Resene who said that the only people that choose that colour are young people or the very passionate.  I think they ticked both boxes there.

Hamish married Bev – the love of his life – and whenever we visited their homes we were surrounded by their love and generosity.

Hamish was a man with gentile manners – he would stand up when a woman entered the room – which always reminded me of a Jane Austen novel.  Hamish was polite, gentle and profoundly kind.  He had a big heart.

Here today, and forming a big part of Hamish’s life, are not only his family, but also the Framily that partied together, holidayed together, fell in love together, had children grow up together, and together have watched each other and ourselves age. 

As the Framily children (12 all together) grew, there were many enjoyable holidays (nightmare tours) to the Bay of Islands and Omaha areas, ….  I am not sure that Hamish’s sense of propriety appreciated the garden hose being run in through the kitchen window at the Matakana ‘executive retreat’ to facilitate the water fight.

As well as those larger group holidays (22 people was the largest), there were many smaller scale camping trips in the Nelson area or skiing at Cheeseman, Porters or central Otago.

Hamish was a great skier – he would swoosh down the snow covered slopes in a very smooth and effortless style – never falling over.  On water Hamish was the same – one ski – in and out of the wake, and coming into the beach was a sight to see where he would just step out of the ski onto the beach seamlessly.  And then there was the grass skiing – Hamish managed to source some grass skis from somewhere and these were put to the test on the grass covered slopes at Takamatua by several of us with varying degrees of style.

Takamatua was Hamish’s special place – he loved it there at the McLean family bach.  We had many weekends there playing card games – ruthless cutthroat 500 and SCUM.  Hamish would show no mercy which must have gone against his very core.

One year a penguin nested under the bach at Takamatua.  The penguin was noisy, especially at night and smelly.  So, Hamish built this magnificent machine using elements of a vacuum cleaner on blow, a 25 gallon drum, some long tubing and most importantly a borer bomb.  This was designed to humanely smoke out the penguin.  It was the highlight of the day and Hamish set it all up with the hose close to the nest and set off the borer bomb.  We were watching from the deck waiting for the penguin to appear.  However, it ended that it was us who had to evacuate due to the borer bomb smoke and not the penguin.  The penguin came out half-way and then stopped and just sneezed and coughed but refused to abandon the nest fully.

Hamish was proud of his Scottish heritage, both in terms of the ancestry, and the tendency toward frugality the Scots are so often attributed with.

You would also have to admit that Hamish looked great in a kilt.

Playing the bagpipes was another of Hamish’s joys.  Starting in the St Andrew’s Pipe band he went on to play in The Pipes and Drums of the Signals Association in Auckland (where he was the youngest by many years ) and the McAlpine’s North Canterbury Pipe Band.  One of his early solo performances was to emulate a piper on the ramparts of Balmoral as he paraded up and down my front lawn, before dawn, on my 18th birthday.  In itself not an issue, but at the time, the University Halls of Residence just down the road were full of athletes in Christchurch for the Commonwealth Games, and based on the number of lights that appeared in windows, there may have been a few records missed that day. My mother said, “James, tell your friend to leave.”

Hamish was a traditionalist; and perhaps especially today, a royalist.  Hamish was fastidious in his demeanour.  His shoes were always polished and his jeans neatly ironed.  I don’t know where he shopped, certainly not at the second-hand shops where I shop, but Hamish had that innate Scottish ability to find a bargain.  I remember him proudly showing me his new pair of jeans that only cost $12!  This eye for ‘value’ meant he rarely, if ever, paid more than $10 for a haircut.  Many of his friends remember the uproar when his barber increased prices from $8 to $12.  He promptly changed to a $10 supplier.  Also, rumour has it that on occasion Hamish was known to refill used small raisin boxes, for the girls’ school lunches.

Maybe at this point, we should mention that although being intensely loyal and having the highest levels of integrity, he was not entirely without fault.  On one occasion while travelling in Europe, primarily to visit suppliers to Robt McLean Ltd but also taking the opportunity for some personal travel, Hamish found himself in Munich during Octoberfest.  Having enjoyed a few steins – as one does – he decided that perhaps a longer term relationship was appropriate and smuggled one of the larger stein glasses out of the tent concealed inside his jacket.  Grand larceny no less.  Some 40 or so years later, Bev still has the stein as a somewhat unusual ‘vase with handle’.

Hamish appreciated a manicured lawn and garden.  So, it is no surprise that Hamish really enjoyed visiting KC & Bruce in Tauranga and using their ride on mower to create the manicured lawn.  I understand there was much talk about competitive mowing with Bruce and discussions about what month they would feature in the John Deer calendar – Mr April maybe?

Hamish also loved being part of the team bottling wine with KC & Bruce.

Perhaps Hamish’s greatest joy, and source of pride, are his daughters; Rebecca and Hannah.  He was always so ready to talk about their life choices, experiences, successes and achievements, whether at school or more recently in your chosen careers and vocations.  Hamish was very pleased that you both followed your dreams and are working in fields that make your heart sing.  Hamish was very proud of you both.

Hamish contributed to the modern dictionary – I am sure that he invented the term – “Pfaffing” which is to spend time in ineffectual activity.  Googling this revealed that it is British slang[1] – it has a silent P in front of the faff – and is credited to someone in 2004 – but I am sure that Hamish was using pfaffing regularly at least a decade before that.  It was often used when we were not adhering to Hamish’s strict timetable.

As we bask in the afterglow of your life (and I use “Afterglow” intentionally as I know you liked a subtle double entendre, and I can see the twinkle in your eye and the start of that smile that spreads quickly across your face).

We remember your profound kindness.

Whenever we see a skier swooshing effortlessly down the slopes – we will think of you.

Every penguin will remind us of you – especially if it is coughing, sneezing or surrounded by smoke.

Whenever we see one of those large German beer steins – we will remember your biggest crime.

Every ride on mower will remind us of your love of manicured lawns and competitions with Bruce.

Every time we hear bagpipes, you will be in our hearts.

Whenever we see a uniquely Hamish mannerism in Rebecca or Hannah – we will remember you.

Whenever we see someone pfaffing about – we will call them out on it and think of you with a smile.

Every time we go to Takamatua, your name will be on our lips.

Hamish, we will miss you desperately!


[1] (British, slang) Alternative spelling of faff2004, Chris Ward, The controversial Sämisch King’s Indian, p81 – “By my own admission I pfaffed around a bit here but I’m going to claim that I was merely enjoying the moment!”

RIP Dr Aziz Choudry

I emailed Aziz for his birthday last month, as I do every year, since he left Aotearoa New Zealand.  This year I did not get a response which was most unusual.  Aziz usually responds the next day even if it is only a short email to say he will write more later.  So, I googled him expecting to find out that he was at a conference or hosting a webinar, busy with his social justice work.

I was shocked to find out that Aziz was found dead in his apartment in Johannesburg on 26th May.  Apparently, there was no evidence of foul play, but Aziz’s cause of death is unknown, and I cannot find any autopsy report.

I met Aziz in 1991 at Law School at the University of Canterbury – we were fellow students, both a bit older than others who were mostly school leavers.  We bonded as kindred spirits even though we did not have a lot in common growing up in different parts of the world and from different cultures.  Aziz was highly intelligent, funny, intense, and generous.  The next year, he registered for me as I was recovering from a C-section after the birth of my first child.

Aziz and I were studying similar subjects and so we attended a lot of lectures together and usually sat in the front rows in the lecture theatres.  Aziz was also volunteering at CORSO at the time and fighting for social justice as well as studying.

His marriage came to an end, and he struggled with the changes that brought and single life gave him a new direction to fight full time to make the world a better place for everyone.

Aziz carried huge burdens when his house was broken into by the SIS, and I was so impressed with his courage to hold the government to account for these actions.

Perhaps these events influenced him to move his social justice internationally, or perhaps that was just his life’s trajectory.  Aziz moved to Montreal where he became a Professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University.  His research focussed on learning in social action and knowledge in activist and social movements.  Aziz travelled internationally and wrote prolifically.

We stayed in contact despite living on opposite sides of the globe and I specifically contacted him after the mosque shootings on 15 March 2019.  We were both in shock and horror with those events.  He was reeling from the news and trying to track down a couple of friends.  We noted that Islamic Women’s Council kept telling government about the risks of discrimination in Aotearoa and it would seem this fell on deaf ears.  Aziz spoke at a vigil organised by the Muslim Students Association at McGill University and at a Palestinian Rights organisation.  I know Aziz’s heart was broken into a million pieces just like ours.

Then in March 2020 Covid-19 changed our world again.  Aziz was living alone in Montreal and so he had not seen anyone he knew for weeks except on ZOOM, but he was excited to have accepted a position in South African and was supposed to move there but the Covid-19 situation threw everything into uncertainty.  Aziz was mentoring students, doing PhD theses and proposals, co-organising seminars with various activists and academic folk.  Aziz said that he was close to the river and canal so he could go for long walks easily.  But I know Aziz was struggling with the travel restrictions and lack of freedoms.  Being a social activist and loving people, it must have been so hard to be so alone during this time.

I am so sad that Aziz died so young.  He worked so hard to make the world a better place for everyone.  Aziz had such a big heart, a sharp intellect, and the courage of a lion.  He was tireless in fighting for social justice and made a home in various places on the globe.

Aziz wrote in In Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements, “Some individuals achieve extraordinary things, but I believe that social change is driven mainly by ordinary people organizing, learning, and creating knowledge together—by people consciously and collectively taking steps to bring about change.  Not to rule out spontaneity, but most struggles emerge from the hard work of organizing, incremental learning, lineages of earlier movements, and efforts to organize together.  Although it is often overlooked, this work is both informed by and contributes to the intellectual work that takes place within social movements, as in social, political, and ecological activism.  Everyday acts of resistance are not always visible, nor is much of the long-haul work of organizing that takes place in communities, workplaces, fields, homes, and other spaces down the street and around the world, 365 days a year.  This work is often slow, painful, and painstaking. It involves a lot of patient work in small groups and organizations.” (Choudry 2015: 9)

I know Aziz wanted to go to Iceland and he was fascinated by that country.  I think he did visit but I cannot remember really, but I do know that wherever he went he made friends easily and so the outpouring of love and grief from his death is being felt around the world by his family, friends and whānau.

Kua hinga te totara i te wao nui a Tane, ka tangi hotuhotu nga manu. The great totara tree from the forest of Tane has fallen and the birds cry with its passing.

Arohanui Aziz. Rest in peace and power.

Where have all the nouns gone?

When I turned 50 and my nouns started to disappear.  Somehow they get trapped somewhere in the brain and cannot find their way out to the tip of my tongue and out of my mouth.  It is frustrating and hilarious at times.  My sons said that when they left home they would have to text me nouns so I could finish my sentences. They have left home but no random noun texts have been received.  I am struggling…

It makes it so much harder to communicate when your nouns start disappearing, so you have to adopt strategies.  Some I recommend are:

  1. Trail off and gaze into the distance as if you intended to be mysterious
  2. Create a pause for dramatic effect
  3. Substitute other words and create your own language and idioms – reiterate them and they will soon become part of your family folklore
  4. Invent an appropriate sign language – this is easy for our family as we already have an epicurean sign language that my husband started nearly 30 years ago. It has been added to over the years and has even expanded beyond its original culinary boundaries.
  5. Provide opportunities for other people to join in the conversation – look intently at someone else and use a head nod to actively encourage them to fill in the missing word for you.  It will appear as if you are being inclusive.

It is a bit of a concern that the nouns are disappearing – what follows the nouns? Do verbs or adjectives disappear next? It is going to be really interesting to find out.  Imagine the conversation…

“Where is the thingy that makes the whatsit thingamabob doohickey?”

My dream for retirement was to become a writer, but perhaps that may not be an option if I can no longer form a …. you know what are they called…  Oh yes, that is it… “a sentence.”

It’s a shame as I think I would be a good writer, because I would avoid clichés, like the plague.

Perhaps I will take up painting when I retire instead.

When is an offer too good to be true?

I had to catch the red eye flight from Christchurch to Wellington the other week. It was a really early start and I was sitting on the plane along with everyone else ready and waiting for it to take off. Then a crew member came and told me that my husband was sitting up the front end of the plane.

This came as a bit of a surprise to me as I thought my husband was in Auckland. So I must have had a bit of a surprised look on my face and the dialogue with the crew went something like this:

“I don’t think so – my husband is supposed to be in Auckland. So if my husband is up the front of the plane, he was in Christchurch last night. And if he was in Christchurch last night, he did not spend it with me in my bed.”

At this time the crew member was getting a bit stressed and was making the cut sign with her hand across her neck to the crew member at the front of the plane. She apologised and rushed away.

She was gone a few minutes and then came back down the aisle and said, “I am so sorry – it was a name very similar to yours.” And she continued and then returned with a young woman in tow who was duly escorted up to the front of the plane – presumably to sit next to her husband.

We landed in Wellington and on the way out the crew member introduced me to her colleague as, “This is the woman who I offered a new husband.” I thanked her for her kind offer but politely declined.

Sadly I did not get the same offer on the return flight that night. When I told my husband he said that I should have taken up the original offer and moved to the front of the plane and said down next to the complete stranger and say, “Surprise!”

Write

My new year’s resolution in 2015 was to write.

I have delayed and given myself excuses for not doing this before today.  All of the excuses are valid.

However today I have decided to dive in and test the blog waters.  I may sink, or I may swim.  Right now, I would be happy if I can just stay afloat.

They say everyone has a book in them.  I am not sure what my book is.

I have read heaps of books of all genres.  I work in a second-hand bookstore and bring home far too many books.  I read more at the shop.  I give books as presents.  I love books.  They hold and impart knowledge, they transport you to a different world, they give you an escape, they give recipes with photos and sometimes when you try the recipe the product looks vaguely like the photo in the book.

I love reading, I love cooking and I love writing.  I even like to paint a bit.  I am one of those creative types that always has a project on the go.

Lately I have been making poppy cushions.  So chances are you may be getting a poppy cushion as well as a second-hand book for your birthday this year.  The cushions look great and are to commemorate 100 years since the start of WW1.  I am a peacenik, so I want to remember the sacrifice that these people made and the poppy seems appropriate.  The loss of so many lives is tragic.  Life is so precious – we need to value it, to celebrate it and to remember and grieve when it is lost.

As Paheka we are not taught how to grieve, so when death comes calling, we have no skills to enable us to get through the days of anguish and pain.  I visited friends today whose baby died in his parents arms, after only living for two weeks.  The parents are living in a world without their precious child.  They left hospital without him.

Nothing I can say or do can ever make it better or easier for them.  All I can do is listen to the short story that is their son’s life.  I cry with them and my heart breaks and shatters with theirs.  I am as helpless as they are in trying to make some sense of the situation.

How can life go on when the future you have seen before you has been snatched away?

There are all those trite phrases like, “Live one day at a time.”  Sometimes it is only realistic to live one moment or one hour at a time.  Sometimes the pain of loss and grief is just so overwhelming that it becomes a physical pain which cripples your spirit for a time.

There is no answer to the question, “Why?”

Life is so fragile.  Sometimes it is gone in the blink of an eye and other times it slowly ebbs away.

Treasure the moment – cry, scream out, do whatever seems right for you. Trust yourself – go with your gut and follow what it is telling you to do.  Those core messages from our inner most being are seldom wrong.

Celebrate your loved one’s life and grieve for your loss.  It is ok to do that.

It is an honour and privilege to be able to share your grief and to cry with you.