Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Joy of Soaring

 This post was originally written and published in Kiwi Flyer magazine Dec 2010. I felt it deserved a wider audience, particularly among my non-gliding/flying followers. I've mentioned the joy I get from flying gliders briefly on a post at the Writer's Forum. This goes into it a little more.
I promise to write something about Alex and his 1000km flight very soon.

During the recent South Island contest at Omarama I was preparing for my daily role of time keeper when I was kidnapped off the grid by Terry Delore. Terry wanted company for: “A brief half hour flight ... have you back before the launch.” Yeah. Right.
Terry Delore is a legend in soaring circles around the world. He was adventurer Steve Fossett’s pilot (Fossett was relegated to a co-pilot role) for all of the duo’s world record flights and also holds several world records in his own right. Terry doesn’t “do” competitions anymore, preferring instead to share his knowledge with others in the gliding fraternity by taking them for rides and giving hands on examples of how he does what he does.
Following Steve Fossett’s death in an air accident two years ago Terry bought the glider the two had used for their flights. Named ‘Athena’ the ASH 25 Mi is a super ship for long distance flying. She is self launching with a Wankel engine with retractable prop. She has an enormous 25.6 m wingspan and looking out along the wing it seems to go on forever. The little Grob Single Astir that I usually fly has a wing span of 15m. You could nearly park it under Athena’s wing.
Terry Delore loves gliding. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. He has flown further than any other person but one in the whole world. He soars for the sheer joy of it and on Friday 19 November he took me along for a ride. Terry doesn’t do short flights.
We took off under our own noisy steam and climbed to around 2000’ AGL before shutting down the engine. Then started one of the best flights of my life. We climbed into wave and headed south. A week earlier Terry had taken my husband John on a similar expedition, they had ended up turning north again over Patterson Inlet on Stewart Island, a turn point exactly 300km from their take off point at Omarama. They were prepared for a long wave flight. I wasn’t. I was wearing shorts and tee shirt, short socks and trainers. I did have a hat and I was sun-screened. I had none of my usual gliding paraphernalia, not even a drink bottle or a muslei bar. Didn’t matter.
Fortunately it was a warm day and for most of the trip we had a clear sky. On oxygen we flew alongside lenticular clouds marking the wave at around 12,000 feet. We kept the airspeed to around 100 kts and at one stage the computer was showing a ground speed of 216 kph. With the sun out it wasn’t cold. Terry is a fantastic teacher, explaining tactics and intricacies of wave flying as well as letting me fly the aircraft. The long wingspan makes her very heavy on controls and she needs a lot more rudder than I am used to. She’s heavy on rudder too needing all my strength to “boot her in”. Terry ribbed me on the “windscreen wiper” effect the yaw string made across the canopy.
We travelled south down a wave system formed by the Dunstan Mountains and crossed the Nevis valley through gaps in the cloud. Overhead Kingston at the south of Lake Wakatipu we could see that a front was moving up the country, the winds were changing direction and we wouldn’t be able to travel too much further south. I was fine with that, among other things I didn’t have was my usual equipment to deal with in flight “relief”. I was fine, but I didn’t want to be up there all day. Terry was sharing his water and some huckery muslei bars and lollies he found in the side pocket. We did manage to sneak down across the Mavora lakes and tip toed out across Southland in an area of zero sink as far as Mossburn. The south coast and Lake Te Anau were in sight and we’d gone far enough. High overcast was starting to cut off the sun and we turned north to run for home.
When you put Athena’s nose down she just goes. The ASH 25 might be old technology, they have been around since the mid ‘90s but there is still not much that beats them. With a lift/drag (L/D) ratio of 57 at 51 kts it goes for miles without losing any noticeable height. We ran at what Terry reckons is best L/D of 120 kts for distance covering and were back over the Clyde Dam in no time at all. By then the high overcast had shut the sky down and the front was chasing us. Individual clouds were still marking the Dunstan Wave but it was nothing like the long smooth lenticulars we’d come down on. At around 10,000 feet we needed it to get us home.
It was not a problem (few things with Terry ever are). Terry showed me how to point the aircraft at a cloud and pull up and away as we came into the lift, gaining a thousand feet in height as we did so. It was glorious fun. The whole trip was glorious fun and the lines from John Gillespie Magee’s poem High Flight were running through my mind.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds,
and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of
wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, nor even eagle flew

And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
We were back on the ground at Omarama ahead of the front after three and a half hours of wonderful flying. I was cold and desperate for a bathroom visit and wonderfully happy. I couldn’t stop smiling. This flight reminded me of something I often forget in the seriousness of editing SoaringNZ. Gliding is fun. Gliding is like nothing else I know for making me feel happy and joyous and that is why I do it. This flight with a good mate who just happens to be the world’s best soaring pilot was one of the most fun things I’ve done in ages. If you’d like to give the fun sport of gliding a try, look up your local club on the Gliding New Zealand website
I’d like to thank Terry for taking me for a “short flight.” One day I’d love to go with him on a long one.
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Have a wonderful flying summer. Happy Christmas.
Jill McCaw

Friday, September 24, 2010

The after Aftermath of Earthquakes

Nearly three weeks after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that destroyed parts of our city and disrupted life on a huge basis, things have settled down. The state of emergency has been lifted, for many people life is business as usual. In our house things go on as they always have, even though we are living in a house that will probably be condemned as costing more to repair than it is worth.

Huge areas of the city are fine. The areas that aren’t though, really aren’t. Houses are unliveable, the sewers and water pipes are all destroyed. Many streets have rows of portaloos lined up on the footpath.  Just up the road from us the road has been torn up and water and other utilities repaired and the whole lot replaced. All the houses from three past us to the corner, about 6 houses, have been “red carded”. That means that not only are they unliveable but they are so unsafe the owners aren’t allowed back inside to collect their stuff. They have lost it ALL. Thank goodness that is not us.

I have a friend who is a builder. It was he that I called on to check out that our house was safe to be in a couple of days after the quake. He’s signed up for one “tour” with the Earthquake Commission as an assessor and will probably sign on for one more. A “tour” is three weeks, working 10 days straight, one day off and back for another 10 days. Apparently there are 100 assessment teams on the ground. Each team averages 3 houses a day, and there are 68,000 damage claims to be assessed. Take a moment to work out the maths.

The assessors too can’t do this for ever; most have their own businesses that they’ve put aside to do this work. You can see why I don’t expect our place to be seen any time soon. Then when we do, finding builders to do any work for us is obviously going to take time too. If anyone has kids wondering what to do with their lives, taking on a building apprenticeship right now seems like a good idea. That and plumbing.

The aftershocks have decreased markedly. There are hardly any and they are generally small. For quite a while there would be a really strong one around 11pm, just when everyone was nodding off to sleep (well most people anyway). It left people very shaken and uneasy and scared to sleep. A lot of people were taking time away somewhere else in the country or even over the Tasman, just to be able to sleep easily for a couple of nights.

As for what is happening around the city, I thought I’d share the earthquake related news from yesterday’s (23 Sept 2010) Christchurch Press newspaper with you. We start with the headline Despairing plea for help. Christchurch people still without showers and toilets in the earthquake-damaged homes have made an emotional plea for more help. About 100 Avonside residents gathered on the silt-covered road and cracked footpaths of Ackland Ave yesterday, upset at the lack of communication from local government. People were unhappy that no one could give them any idea of how long it would take to get any basic amenities running again. There are emergency grants for people unable to live in their homes, but these people can live in theirs, they just have no amenity services. There was also anger that rent still has to be paid, that appears to be at the landlord’s discretion. There were no real answers given in this piece besides the council saying they would urgently bring in more portaloos.

The other two stories on the front page had nothing to do with the earthquake.

Page 3. Building repairs too dear, say owners. Two Christchurch heritage buildings badly damaged in the earthquake will be too expensive to save, the owners say. Over the next 10 days, city councillors will decide if three damaged heritage buildings need to be demolished. The fate of heritage buildings and the rebuild of the central city is shaping up into an interesting debate. Many people are for knock them down, rebuild and get on with things quickly. Others are calling for a more reasoned decision arguing that even if it takes longer, surely it is worth taking the time to see if these building really need to go, if facades at least can’t be saved? The whole look of the city will change if we are not very careful. Personally I love the way Christchurch has a mix of old and new buildings, a feeling of history, I don’t want to see it gone.

The next earthquake related news isn’t until page 7. That in itself says a lot about Christchurch’s recovery. This one about something that seems a little forgotten by the city, the surrounding farm land that has taken a pounding, Environment Canterbury rates likely to rise to restore farmland. Landowners who want to continue farming the flooded paddocks surrounding Halswell and Tai Tapu are being warned a rates rise will be needed to pay for major earthquake remedial work. That seems a bit rough when city rates haven’t been cited to rise in spite of the huge amount of repair of infrastructure that is going to have to occur.

Sadly on page 9 we get Theatre survives earthquake, but not hoons. The heritage building the Theatre Royal is one of those “classic” theatre buildings with the plaster work ceilings and stalls, circle and gods seating, a beautiful building and a lovely place to go see a live show. Anyway, due to renovation work that’s not long been finished it survived just fine, but then some idiots drove a car through the antique street doors! Yep, life is back to normal. The idiots are back on the streets. The paper is now covering the court news again too. The courts are back in session.

The business section predicts that the Economy might boom like Napier. Napier is a NZ city that was levelled in a quake back in 1931. Canterbury gross domestic product is likely to plummet 2.1 percent in the September quarter, because of the 7.1 earthquake, an economist says, but the rebuild could lead to a boom. The 1931 Napier earthquake provides some historical context to a recovery from the Sept 4 quake. Economists have worked with Treasury’s estimate of the cost of the disruptive earthquake being $4 billion, or 2.1 percent of gross domestic product. Figures like this are interesting. There are starting to be lots of figures floating around. 80,000 claims expected to be filed with the EQC and insurance companies. $4 million worth of food destroyed in warehouses. I can tell you that it means diddly squat from where I sit.

The opinions columns and letters pages are still full of quake stuff, but the letters show an interesting trend. The local body elections are getting some play again and people are doing their best to remind people of the (in their opinion) poor record of our current mayor for most of his term. No one had anything bad to say about him during the emergency, they’re all very careful to point that out, but please, they are saying, remember the controversies of his time in office. People are also frustrated with what they see as the “wrong” people placed in the committee in charge of rebuilding the central city and deciding the fate of heritage buildings. Yet if we’d chosen these people by a public vote the council would have been beaten up for taking too long when urgent action was needed. In other words the public bashing machine has reawakened. It really is business as usual.

This is a snapshot of my world, right now. We personally feel unsettled but realise we can do nothing but sit and wait. My brain is turning back on and I’m functioning again. The next issue of SoaringNZ is nearly ready for the design team of Rosalie and Le-Ann. Both of their houses survived. The printing company had to outsource work while their printers were off line; they had moved off their concrete foundations. They couldn’t reset them until the worst of the aftershocks had finished. By the time we got to print in 2 weeks they expect to be back to normal.

We have been very fortunate that the ghastly weather that seems to have afflicted the rest of the country, unseasonal spring snow storms in Southland and flooding in the North Island have missed Canterbury. Because of the topography of the Southern Alps, while the rest of the country has been suffering we’ve been experiencing warm lovely spring weather. The flowering cherry tree outside my bedroom is just gorgeous. I took the dog out to the botanic gardens on Wednesday to romp through the daffodil lawn. He wasn’t impressed (because he had to stay on his lead) but I was.

I’ve started looking at house plans and realised I don’t want a different house. I want this one back, but maybe I can tweak the plan a little to get the bathroom in the right place. It may actually be fun to do this. Thank goodness for full insurance. If I’ve learnt anything out of this it is the value of being fully insured. That’s my lesson for today. Stay insured, and as I’ve mentioned before, put bottles of water in your freezer.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Random Musings on the Aftermath of Earthquakes

Random Musings on the Aftermath of Earthquakes

In fiction after the earthquake the heroes stop and catch their breath before racing off to save/warn the city/people downstream of the impending collapse of the water reservoir/damn/nuclear power station. Or maybe they are out of there and chasing the baddy (who possibly caused the quake) across the county/state/world before he can do it again. Either that or they congratulate themselves on their survival and start shagging like bunnies.

In real life it is nothing like that. Life becomes surreally normal. I sit here in my house that will probably be condemned, finally catching up on my email backlog, preparing the next issue of SoaringNZ and listening to the rugby on the TV in the room behind me. The power is on, the water and sewer work, the heat pump is keeping us warm. In other words it is a normal Friday night for the McCaw household except that there may or may not be an aftershock.

For many other Christchurch families life is not normal, not at all. People are still in shelters or bunking in with relatives. Many as well as losing their homes have lost their jobs as well. It will be a long time before things are normal for everyone. It is a quiet and non dramatic form of un normality now, not the sort people write books about.

The following are a few thoughts I’ve had over the past week regarding earthquakes and their aftermaths.

A lucky Earthquake

It seems inconceivable that a major city can survive a major earthquake with no loss of life!

Timing of course was everything. The quake struck at 4.35 am Saturday morning. The majority of people were home in their beds. People who had been out and about Friday night clubbing had mainly gone home. The streets that all the masonry cascaded onto in the city centre were mainly empty. No one was in the businesses and shops in the old buildings in the city centre that collapsed. No one was on the roads that opened up into enormous holes.

People were injured by falling chimney bricks coming through ceilings and onto beds. However there had been a short jolt just before the big one and that had woken most people and sent them for cover, or at least out of bed to see what was happening before the big one. There are many stories of beds covered in masonry that people had vacated moments earlier.

All buildings in NZ built in the last 20 years (don’t quote me on that timing) have to meet stringent earthquake standards. Most of them did. Older buildings have been strengthened to meet earthquake codes over a similar time period. Christchurch was shaken, most of it didn’t collapse.

No Loss of Life! Just incredible!

It seems to me that if you are a mayor facing a dubious prospect of re-election, but you can keep your head and say what the people need to hear you say during a crisis, you can probably be assured of getting back in. Bob Parker was the perfect Mayor-under-pressure. He didn’t put a foot wrong. I’m predicting a landslide victory.

One thing I don’t think anybody anticipated with earthquakes was sand. I had learnt back when I was doing earth sciences at Uni, that in a Christchurch earthquake liquification could be a problem. I thought that meant that the ground would become soft and buildings would become unstable because of that. Yes, that is exactly what happened, but these “sand volcanoes” were never mentioned. Everywhere around the city, some places worse than others, thousands of litres of water and sand were forced from under the ground. The ground compressed, water can’t be compressed, something had to give and it all shot up, with force and often through concrete floors.

The world in the aftermath has become a world of sand. HUGE amounts of sand. The gardens, roads, and street side gutters are full of it. As it dries it turns to dust. My fishpond is full of it. The drive way and lawn are covered in it. I can’t keep it out of my house. University students are out all around the city shovelling it up. People are frantically trying to get it out of the gutters before it rains again and causes flooding. Where are they going to put all that sand? Where are they going to put all the rubbish, full stop?

As an aside, we are lucky on so many levels that the predicted back weather for Sunday never came to much.

The Water table
The water table seems to have risen. Our creek bed at the back of the house is a least 30cm (1foot) higher than it was (full of sand) and the water is right up to the top of the banks. During the quake itself the water level came all the way up to the dog kennel way up the lawn. There are many puddles and wet spots around the local farm land from recent rain, but it’s been dry for over a week, they should have gone away by now. John reckons the local river is flowing backwards in places. I don’t see how it could be because there’d be a lake forming somewhere and there isn’t.

The epicentre is actually a line about 30km long. It is not a single spot on the ground. All along that line the ground has offset, sometimes by as much as 8m. See the photo John took of Telegraph Road. The centre line of the road lines up with the outside line further down. That is a huge earth movement. Apparently no one had any idea there was a fault line there. This was not the alpine fault quake we’ve been expecting, this was something completely unforeseen.

Holes in roads

Holes and humps in the roads are probably, beside the sand, the one real visual thing that shows something happened here. I’m not talking about in the central city, I haven’t been there yet and I’m picking that it will feel pretty horrific when I do, but out here in the suburbs where superficially at least, everything looks normal the sand is a giveaway. Even unstable houses don’t look wrong until you are close enough to see the cracks. But driving down a road and hitting a completely unexpected mound gives you a jolt. That wasn’t there last week. You can see the cracks, they’re quite obvious, but the mounds that have risen up out of nowhere aren’t nearly so easy to see. On the plus side, we’ve completely eliminated the problems the city has been having with boy racers and their souped up cars. Those things won’t be able to get out of the driveways at the moment; they’re all super low slung! There’s a silver lining no one predicted.

Boiling water and disaster preparedness

Boiling drinking water gets really tiresome really quickly. It takes a long time for a large pot full of boiled water to cool enough to drink. Ordinary modern kettles that switch off once the water has reached the boil do not boil water long enough to make it safe.

Something I had done, about the only real disaster preparedness I had done, was to put bottles of water in the freezer. I had heard about this on the radio only a few months ago. You fill any empty freezer space you have with plastic bottles of drinking water. It serves several purposes. It makes your freezer more efficient to run if it is full. If you do lose power it will help keep the perishable contents cold for longer. It provides cold water for packing picnics etc AND you have a supply of fresh water for emergencies. I don’t slavishly follow all advice notices. I do not have a disaster kit, but I did have water in the freezer, candles in the cupboard and enough canned food to last a few days. Torches were a bit lacking. Fortunately we never lost power.

Even if the supermarkets manage to open weird things happen with food supplies. To start with truck loads of stuff came off the shelves and got ruined, not just in the supermarket but in the food distribution centres that own the places. Truck loads, tons and tons and mountains of ruined food. Breweries lose stock and the ability to make more. The flour mills that supply the bakeries are all damaged, long before the bread doesn’t get to the empty shelves.

The earthquake happened in the early hours of Saturday. I didn’t attempt to go shopping until Wednesday. The first thing I noticed when I got there was the silt in the carpark, the second, the photos on the windows showing what the place had looked like in the aftermath. You can imagine. Rivers of red wine, glass, a pile of all the nuts and things out of the bulk bins, broken stuff everywhere.

Inside, the fruit and vege section looked like it always did. I guess that stuff is supplied locally and had been restocked. No cereals left on the shelf, no canned baked beans or spaghetti, dry pasta, noodles, flour, sugar, plenty of eggs – again local produce. Hardly any bottle of drink, juices, fizzy drink (except for bins of coke), no bottled water left, strangely no kitty litter (can’t work that one out). No commercial bread although their own bakery was doing sterling work producing various loaves themselves. No muslei bars, plenty of wine (restocked from where?) and only beer in bulk cartons of 2 dozen cans.

So can you see what you need to be stocked up on to survive for a few days after a disaster? Strangely chocolate biscuits were on sale. Chocolate bar supplies looked to be very low too. Comfort food obviously.

To make matters worse the main road and main trunk railway line about 150 km north of town have been completely wiped out in a landslide this morning (a week after the quake) and supplies coming into town are having to be trucked around the slip by a rather torturous route.

We are not a third world country. The earthquake earlier in the year in Haiti was of a similar magnitude to this. Nothing else about the situation is anything similar. The night following the quake there was no one who didn’t have somewhere to sleep with a roof over their head. No one has gone hungry. Some homes are still without sewage and running water but it is very few. Portaloos have been placed on the worst affected streets. Trucks are bringing in water to people who need it.

People will be facing financial hardship if damaged homes were not insured, some have lost their jobs as businesses have been forced to close, but no one will starve. No one will remain homeless. Some of the resettlement etc will not be to everyone’s liking and people will moan, but everyone will receive the basics (and more than the basics compared to Haitian standards) that they need to survive.

Community Spirit
Amazing. Just amazing. People have pulled together in the most wonderful way. Students have created armies out their clearing the streets. People are providing food, places to stay, whatever people need, someone is doing it. So many of the emergency staff have been dealing with their own trauma and they’re still out there helping, fixing, doing.

I feel like the whole country would come and help with whatever we asked. There is nothing to do at our house right now, we just have to sit and wait, but I know if I asked, someone would come.

It is exhausting, all of this, but knowing all of the good will makes such a difference. I was quite impressed seeing how tired the Prime Minister and the Civil Defence Ministers looked on TV the other morning, like they too had been up all night doing the best they could do. And the Civil Defence guy looked even more exhausted the next day. That probably meant more than best wishes from the Queen.

We’re over them. Truly. It feels like you keep biting on something unexpectedly hard so that your teeth are continuously jarred. Then you forget what it’s like, until the next one.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I've been thinking about Death.

I decided not to blog until I had something to say. That seemed to freeze my brain completely. Today though I learnt that the search is over and Steve Morrissey's body has been found in the bush near where he went missing in Hong Kong. That in turn got be thinking about death and I wrote this:

I have been thinking about death. Life comes with death- always - we just tend to forget about it most of the time unless it is actually touching us. Real life and real death vary from what we see on the murder stories on television. They vary from each other too. Most people die quietly, easily, comfortably. They are missed and mourned by family and friends. There is grief and loss and in time their loved ones move on. While still missing the person who died they can feel blessed for having known them and take comfort in knowing that the person died with dignity. Some people hold on to life, fight for it as they battle illness or injuries. We use language that suggests the person is at war. Some people temporarily beat off death and gain precious extra days, weeks or even years. We cheer and celebrate these remissions.

Some deaths are high profile. There are several deaths that are “newsworthy” today in New Zealand and I knew two of the men. Sir Ron Trotter, the great businessman who according to Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly, “played a pivotal part in the modernisation of New Zealand's economic direction during the 1980s and after,” died today. He died of cancer aged 82.

Ron Trotter was a cousin of sorts of my husband. I’d met him at family weddings and even danced with him. He was perfectly pleasant and good company but I didn’t know him well. His death doesn’t affect me personally other to note that with his passing the last of his generation of the family is gone. I don’t care about the events and work he did that earned him a knighthood. No doubt though there will be extensive eulogies in the newspapers tomorrow.

Sir Ron died at about the expected time in his life span. Steve (Chook) Morrissey didn’t. Chook is the Air New Zealand pilot who was missing on the Wilson Trail in Hong Kong’s New Territories. It has just come through on the internet, that his body has been found. Apparently finding him any sooner wouldn’t have made any difference to the situation. Chook’s death is well before his allotted time, he was fifty one. No doubt the news services will be explaining the circumstances as they become known, but it appears that dehydrated, he and his walking buddy separated, Steve for some reason left the trail, fell and didn’t get up again.

I didn’t know Chook well either but I knew him better than I knew Sir Ron. Chookie was a member of the Wigram Aviation Sports Club, an Airforce base gliding club. I’m a member of the Canterbury gliding club which also used to fly out of Wigram Airforce base. I’ve known him as one of those many people who are just around, part of the community involved in our sport. He was someone who was there at Christmas camp and social events. He was such a nice decent guy. He had a great laugh. At the beginning of this, when we first heard he was missing I could imagine him, with his droll manner saying after he was found, ‘Oh come on. Did you really think I’d do something that stupid?’ I wonder how long I’ll be able to remember what his voice sounded like.

Many friends of mine did know him very well. The gliding community has been on tenterhooks and so anxious, so worried about him. To get this outcome, it’s so hard, even for those like our family who didn’t know him well. I suppose at least that it’s good that there is an outcome. Now he can be brought home, people can mourn. I am so sorry for his family who have lost him like this and whose grief is so much greater than mine.

There is another death that is making a lot of news at the moment in New Zealand. In fact it has dominated the news over the last week. Today was the funeral with full military honours for Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, 28, the first person in the New Zealand military to die in combat since July 2000. Lieutenant O’Donnell was on patrol as part of our Peace Keeping troops in Bamiyan, Afghanistan when he was killed and two other soldiers injured. This has been big news here – huge! I’m very conflicted about this death. Yes it is tragic, of course it is; his family and friends must be going through hell. I know our troops are only involved in Peace Keeping and not actual combat, but hello, have you noticed what part of the world they’re in? They are soldiers. I would have thought that the potential for violent death was actually in the back of their minds when they joined up even if it isn’t actually written in the job description. My son is contemplating a career in the airforce. The thought of premature death due to the job has crossed his mind, we’ve talked about it. I told him I trust the airforce to keep its people as safe as possible but I was aware the potential was there. I also told him I trusted him not to make the mistake that killed an Airforce helicopter pilot and two of his crew on Anzac day when they flew into a hill in bad weather on their way to a commemorative fly past. Being in the military carries risk but good sense and training generally keeps people safe.

I hope it doesn’t detract from the week’s tragedies to say this but fictional death has been on my mind this week too. I read fiction, lots of it. I write fiction too. Death is a huge plot point in fiction. You can’t have a murder mystery without a death after all. My story is a murder mystery. Meredith Pleiades was drowned in her bath. He ex husband Jack had visited her the night she died. He had motive, Meredith wanted to contest custody arrangements of their children, and he had opportunity. Jack’s gay partner Harry would do anything for Jack, so too would Emily, Harry and Jack’s other partner. Could they be killers? Yes Jack lives in an interesting family and the love story between the threesome, Harry, Emily and Jack was initially the whole focus of my story. The story had no tension though. It was an unconventional love story but it had no bite. Add a death however, now it’s a story.

I belong to the compuserve Writer’s Forum. We have a thread running in the Writer’s Exercise section called the Toolbox. The tool we are playing with this month is Death and Life and the strong emotions that surround them. There has been some fantastic snips in the thread. Claire is writing up a storm with her story of warring Australian brothers during WWI. The women they both loved has died in child birth, the child, whom they are now attempting to rear is the only thing they have in common. The brothers fought in the war, they were surrounded by death. Claire writes of their experiences heartbreakingly well.

Tara is writing of Kasia, a Russian/American girl tracking down her missing parents. She is great peril at the hands of the Russian mafia when one of the baddies tells her that they have killed her boyfriend. Even knowing as I do that this is not really the case, my heart nearly stopped with horror. It is powerful stuff. There are other writers posting equally harrowing and some really heart warming things too. Writing is a solitary activity, having somewhere to share the craft and the excitement of writing something good is wonderful.

In fiction we need death. In real life – well we can’t escape it. I just hope for me and for those I love that it comes at the end of a long and satisfying life. My thoughts and love are with those touched by death right now.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gliding Safety Issue for SoaringNZ

Most of the material for the next SoaringNZ goes to the designers tomorrow to be laid out and made to look pretty. It will be a challenging job this time as we are doing a safety issue and essentially all our feature articles come without pretty pictures and diagrams. We’re talking safety issues, not the latest pretty toy or the most scenic spot for a competition. However I know that Rosalie Brown and her sidekick Lee-Ann will do a fantastic job at making this issue look as good as all the others. Rosalie can be found at RGB Design. RGB Design make SoaringNZ look good. They will take these somewhat dry articles and make them look good enough that you will be bothered to read them. Reading these articles may save your life.

I say it in my introduction to the safety articles in the magazine and I will say it here, most of us involved in gliding in New Zealand have lost gliding friends to a fatal accident in the last two years. We also know personally at least one person who has been involved in a non fatal accident that could have had more serious consequences. New Zealand’s safety record recently is appalling. The trouble is no one knows why. Why too are dreadful accidents happening to experienced pilots?
I am not going to speculate on any of this. I don’t have the knowledge or skill set to do so. I just know I don’t want to hear of anyone else I know dying. Don’t do it people. Be safe.

In this post I’m going to put up some links to classic safety articles. I have put how to find these into words in the magazine, but really it is much easier to click on a link on line.

We are publishing the following article in the magazine, “Complacency, What me worry?” by Martin Hellman but other overseas pilots who don’t receive the mag (why not? Email me now!) may wish to see it. This article is excellent.

Bruno Gatenbrink’s talk on Safety is here. It includes the following which should give you an idea of what it is all about. That sentence, "The most dangerous part of gliding is the trip to the glider field" is the dumbest, most ignorant saying that has found a home in our sport. He then goes on to say, and I can’t fault him with this: Actually the opposite is true. It is more dangerous than anything else that I do or know about in my life. Why don't I quit? A good question. One reason I don't quit is because it affords me more fun and pure joy than anything else I could imagine.

Combs’ classic article "That Beautiful Mountain and her Sinister Trap" was first published in Soaring (the American version) in 1984. I am sure it has been printed in the Gliding Kiwi in the past too and probably in all the world’s major soaring magazines. Its illustrations are very familiar. Its words haven’t grown old.

JJ Sinclair wrote a piece in his local club newsletter in the States which has also gone on to be a bit of a classic and a slightly updated version of the one above. “Don’t Smack the Mountain 101”. You need to scroll down to page 9 to find it. Another newsletter story well worth reading is Kempton Izuno’s “Into the Bowels of Darkness” where he tells of getting sucked into cloud and how he managed to come out again in one piece, albeit flying backwards! It is on page 12.

Have you had enough yet? The DG website contains a series of other safety articles. Check out Safety Tips and Training, and Safe Winch launching. Here is a link to the SoaringSafety website’s list of all safety related articles in Soaring (USA). There is enough reading there to keep you going for years. Check out the other links on the side of the page.

Don’t just read about it people. Think about it. This bad stuff could happen to you. Bad stuff does happen to good people. In gliding terms think of that E on the end of the check list, eventualities, and in the best motto any group has ever come up with Be Prepared.

And that famous quote that really shows my age: "Let's be careful out there."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Happiness is in the Small Things.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I had a nice day. I’d worked a night shift Saturday night, arriving home around 8am. A quick shower and I was off to bed. This put a kink in the traditional Mother’s Day breakfast in bed, but that’s fine. I’ve never been very keen on breakfast in bed anyway.
Lots of little things made me happy today.
It was a glorious sunny autumn day and I was awake by midday. Getting up and enjoying the sunshine was a good idea. I had a leisurely breakfast on the deck with the Sunday paper. Small thing number one. No hurry, no fuss, a good cup of tea and plenty of time to enjoy it. It is lovely on the deck at this time of year. The grapevine that grows along the rail is changing colour. The pineapple sage, a large bush just below the deck is smothered with red flowers and the roses that also grow along the railing have a few late blooms. The sun floods the deck making it warm and helping the pots of lettuce and others of flowering plants last longer than they do elsewhere. Usually of course I’m too busy to sit out here longer than half an hour or so at lunchtime.
Oldest son Alex was away for the day working at his job at Rosendale restaurant. He was anticipating a busy day with the Mother’s Day rush. Alex’s job provides enough money for him to pay his own gliding bill. It’s all good. Robert and John went off to get my Mother’s Day present and came back with a trailer load of peastraw for my garden. Not romantic, not gift wrapped, but just perfect. I’ll get onto weeding the rose bed and finishing off my raised beds in the next few weeks. The peastraw will help keep the weeds down among the roses and makes up the bulk of the material in the raised beds. It is just what I wanted.
Later I took the dog out for a walk. Alfie’s a golden lab, three years old and he gets scratchy if he hasn’t had a walk. That’s fine, I need walks too. Not far from here we have a wonderful park. It is at the back of the agricultural show grounds. It’s owned by the council and run as a working farm. There are some walkways, there are lots of horse jumps and a polo paddock and a wonderful pond and wetland with some native plantings. Anyone and their dog can walk over it at will. The only stipulation is that dogs must be on a lead if in a paddock with stock. Well that’s just common sense.
I ambled along the stream and around the pond. Alfie bounced, ran, swam, played with other dogs and chased sticks. Coming back from the pond I was enjoying the way the open land gives a view all the way to the mountains. The sun was warm, the sky was large and blue. I was wearing my new jeans and new bright purple blouse. I was feeling good in my clothes – this is probably a girl thing but it was adding to my enjoyment of the walk.
Across the fence in the paddock with the horse jumps was a man with two small children, a boy and a girl, and a chocolate Labrador puppy. The man walked in something like a straight line. The others didn’t. The children and the dog went round and round in circles. The little girl sat down and called to her father, obviously wanting to be carried. He kept walking. She did a great theatrical sigh, got up and ran after him. Dad smiled and held out his hand for her to hold.
I don’t know anything about them. He may have been taking the children out to allow Mum time to herself for Mother’s Day or this might be a regular Sunday outing. I just know that seeing them, all obviously having a lovely time in this great open space made me smile. Dad, kids and dog, happy in the sun.
Robert my younger son cooked a roast dinner and did all the vegetables to go with it. I made the gravy, because somehow I seemed to have neglected to teach my children how to make gravy. I must rectify that. Robert made an apple and rhubarb crumble for pudding, a Weight Watchers recipe. That was sweet. Alex finished things up by giving me a box of chocolates, all for myself (thereby undoing the Weight Watchers effect, but appreciated none the less).
I didn’t win lotto, didn’t get taken out to a flash restaurant, don’t own a flash car and certainly haven’t got money to burn, but the sun shone and I had a happy day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Science and ramblings on the mining debate

I had an odd conversation this morning. I was telling someone I know that I am applying for some science jobs. I am currently working as a nurse, falling back on my first career and working around the magazine but I have a science degree too now and I want to work in science. What I hadn’t realised is that apparently most of the world has no idea what that means.
I am currently applying for two positions, one as a technician at one of the Centres of Research Excellence at Lincoln University and one with the Queen Elizabeth II Conservation Trust. They are hugely different positions. The technician position involves projects to stop the spread of invasive species and is similar to the job I have done previously with Plant and Food Research. The other job is conservation based and involves assessing and helping farmers conserve areas of noteworthy landscape or conservation values on their properties. I consider both of them to be working within science, different branches of science certainly, but still science. When I mentioned science though this lady said, “Oh test tubes and chemicals and stuff.” When I told her about the conservation position she said, “Like the mining thing?”
For any overseas readers the NZ government is currently proposing (or investigating the possibility of) allowing mining on the conservation estate. Does working with farmers to conserve remnant stands of forest or areas with rare lizards equate to stopping the government mining the conservation estate? On one hand I suppose they are similar. The professed outcome is to preserve the natural environment. On the one hand we have landowners doing the best for their land. On the other hand we have the largest landowner in the country, the crown, doing the best for OUR land? Or not. Yes all right, when I put it like that it is only the scale that is different.
Until today I really haven’t given a lot of thought to the debate. Generally remnant stands of bush are in gullies or rough ground, fencing them off actually improves the overall value of the land. Likewise keeping cattle away from waterways and wetlands improves drainage, water quality and ultimately land health, it is a winning situation. We are asking the government to do the same thing with vast quantities of land, areas that have already been fenced off because of their intrinsic and environmental values. We have thousands of undescribed species in these undisturbed areas. Who knows what medical, industrial or other worth may be found here? Truly, we don’t know. Did you know that the mountain weta and other high altitude insects are able to freeze over winter, thaw out in springtime and get on with their lives? Isn’t that wonderful? That attribute has huge applications in medical science. I know of a study of just one West Coast forest tree. The huge tree, I don’t know what it was but I think it was a podocarp, was wrapped in a fine net and using abseiling equipment a young lady student sampled from the canopy down to the trees roots. She found hundreds of species of both plants and insects on that one tree. From memory I think around 1/3 of what she found hadn’t been investigated by science or even named before- she found new species on one tree. That was one tree. Just think what may be out there in the whole forest. Think of the potential benefits to the world from what we don’t even know about yet. Then decide whether a short term gain of jobs from mining the ground under that forest is worth it.
So folks, today I worked out which side of the mining debate I’m on. And I know I want to work in science.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Virgin Blog

I made the decision a while back that I ought to join the blogosphere which in turn brought on a huge case of writer’s block. I always have things to say, thoughts to share, but the idea of putting them on line brought me to a complete halt.
First of all I had to decide what this blog was for. Was it solely a vehicle for SoaringNZ, the magazine I edit and publish? Was it a chance to rabbit on about my attempts at writing fiction with side helpings of doings of the family? I have decided it is all of the above. I am a multi-talented, multi-faceted woman. In fact I use to sign on to a science forum in the early days of such things as “EXTRAordinary Woman”.
There will be blatant advertising for the magazine here but I hope also to share with you some of the processes involved in producing SoaringNZ. There will be references to writing fiction, I may even share snips and I will be talking about the family and our lives. I’ll also be sharing my everyday things, I hate housework, love walking the dog, maybe share a recipe or two. I discovered a great and simple green fish curry last night.
My aim is to get a post up at least once a week. That seems achievable. As I learn how to do this I also hope to customise the page so it is less generic and more me.
SoaringNZ issue 15 is lodged for posting today so should be in people’s mailboxes by the end of the week.
In the meantime, the highlight of the week was Alex’s 18th birthday party on Friday night. Alex has grown to be such a fantastic young man. I am in awe of his gliding achievements, being probably the youngest pilot ever to achieve a 500km diamond goal flight. He has a quiet determination to achieve and the ability to goal set and work through the steps necessary to achieve it. We are very proud of him. The party was to celebrate Alex although he himself was a little reluctant to inflict a house full of drunken teenagers on the house. So we compromised; he asked some of his friends and we asked some of ours. The carpet is a little the worse for wear and the lawn around where the brazier stood will probably never recover, but a good time was had by all. It was delightful to share the evening with Alex’s friends and friends of the family.
In these days of smaller families and more physical separation within families, kids these days don’t have the hundreds of cousins and the crowd of uncles and aunts to help raise them that my generation did. We are extremely fortunate within the gliding movement to have something that approximates that extended family situation. Within the Canterbury Gliding Club our kids have been raised with a passel of other kids and been overseen and disciplined by a group of adults outside of their immediate family. This is all good. The old adage about how it takes a village to raise a child is very true and these days it is harder and harder to find that village. I had no idea when I took up gliding back in my 20s that I was joining a family. Inside that family are surrogate grumpy uncles, grandparents, sister-in-laws and nephews and nieces. I have also found best friends, flying buddies and mentors. I am so pleased my children are part of this community.
To all my friends – thank you sincerely, for helping me raise my children.