Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Sunday, March 17, 2013

No Going Back to Fluffy Elephants.

SoaringNZ Issue 32 Editorial
I seem to remember that this time last year, everyone was complaining about the lack of anything resembling a summer. This summer feels completely different. As I write we are coming to the end of a long stable period of anticyclonic, hot, dry weather. There’s a front due through in a day or so and then more of the same is expected. I love it, but then I’m not a farmer waiting for that last rain to fill the crop before harvest and we haven’t had water restrictions in Christchurch this year, so it’s been easy to keep the garden in good nick. There’s been plenty of hay made out in the countryside and there seems to be a bumper crop of summer fruit in the shops. The cherries I’ve been buying are huge. There are a lot of happy glider pilots, although the stable weather is starting to make thermals hard to find.

Memory is short though. In putting this magazine together and sorting through photos from the Nationals and the Youth Soaring Development camp I see there are photos from both events that show snow on the Benmores across from the Omarama airfield. I had forgotten how cold it got during those weeks. We’ve actually had a real mix of weather over the last couple of months. There was so much rain that it wasn’t possible to swim in the Ahiriri river, at Omarama, as it was in flood. Don’t forget that there have been huge floods in Queensland and the north of NZ got clobbered with some of the left overs of those systems.

Weather forecasters have a thankless job. The hit rate these days is pretty good. According to some quick google research, the consensus is that weather reports have around an 87% success rate for the short term (three to five day) forecast. It is long range forecasting that gets really complicated and therefore more inaccurate. Many of us (and by that I mean glider pilots) often mutter how we can do better than the RASP, metvuw or ‘official’ forecast. The thing is that, yes, often we can. I love that one of the side effects, if you will, to learning to fly gliders, is learning to read the weather. We become so attuned to what the atmosphere around us is doing, that we know intuitively what the weather is going to do, often for days ahead.

Are you even aware that you can do this? I bet, right now, you can tell me what direction the wind is from and a rough estimate of its strength. A glance out the window would be enough for you to say if the upper wind is different from what’s happening on the ground and what that means in your location. You can see the amount of cloud cover and say what you expect the wind and the sky will be like by the end of the day? How hot/cold is it going to get? Is the weather you’re experiencing going to stay similar for a few days or will it be completely different tomorrow? Most glider pilots I know can tell me this at least. There you are, you’re forecasting. The weather report just confirms what you already know.

Weather forecasting is an exact science dealing with vast amounts of inexact data. There are so many variables involved in a forecast, from air pressure systems, to humidity, sea temperature, land temperature, land form and so much more that it is amazing that the forecasters can predict anything. My son toyed with the idea of studying meteorology for a while but decided that these days forecasting involves far too much computer work. He’s an out and about sort of person, so this wasn’t the career for him. I was disappointed. I’d really hoped to learn more myself, through him.

In the meantime though, I’ve learnt to read the tephigrams that our forecasters use at competitions. Many thanks there to both David Hirst whose articles on how to do this appeared in issues 3 and 4 and my lecturers in Environmental Physics at University. If there is enough interest we may reprint David’s articles. You can teach yourself more. There is an excellent text book on meteorology that you can buy through university book shops or online book stores – Oxford University Press: The Weather and Climate of Australian and New Zealand by Andrew Sturman and Nigel Tapper. I’ve read it cover to cover. And of course there’s google.

In the meantime, I’m just sorry that gliding has destroyed the innocent pastime of seeing animals in the clouds because once you’ve started seeing lift sources instead, you can never go back to fluffy elephants. Enjoy watching the sky the new way.

Stay safe
Jill McCaw

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thank you to the Gliding Family

Sadly Issue 32 of SoaringNZ, will now not be printed until mid January. There is NOTHING we can do about this. And yes, we're not very happy. We did everything we could to get it to the printers in time, but there were gremlins in the files and by the time that was sorted, it was too late.

Here anyway is my editorial for the issue. It's heartfelt and personal. The gliding family rocks.

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I’ve observed before that the gliding community is more like a family than a group of clubs. It is small enough that you don’t have to be around very long before you manage to meet many of its members and learn of many more. Some people you don’t see very often, some people you don’t like very much, and other people you adore, just like a family. The gliding community has certainly felt like a family recently.

We’ve been down to the South Island Regionals, which is an annual pilgrimage for our family. This is the start of the summer for us, when we set up the caravan in the Omarama camp ground for the season. Once the caravan’s set up, it makes it easy to pop down for the odd weekend, or longer periods between work commitments. Lots of other people do the same. The summer campground regulars come from all around the country. Some people stay a week, some stay longer. For many of us, this is the only time we actually see each other in the flesh all year. For years, my son Robert would measure himself against Paul Barrett’s (not that short) lovely wife Linda to see if he was taller. It was a ritual. For many years she was in the lead, then one year they were level pegging. Now he towers over her.

There is a large wood round acting as a door stop at the entry to the ablution block. That block of wood was first in use four or five years ago, as a step stool, so that Leah Ruddick from Wellington could reach the sink in the Ladies to wash her hands. She hasn’t needed it for two summers now. My kids have grown up with the gliding equivalent of aunts and uncles to spoil and discipline them and a pile of cousins to get up to mischief with and measure themselves against.

Nick Oakley and my son Alex grew up together, spending summer holidays swimming, biking, boating and learning to fly gliders. Now, together, they’re off flying in their first international competition – Australia’s Youth Nationals – Joey Glide. Their team manager, helper and crew person is their “Uncle” David Tillman.

Another thing about family is that sometimes it never occurs to you to ask them for help, but they’ll offer it anyway.

Earlier in the year, when Alex and Nick announced their intentions of going to Joey Glide, we started trying to work out where the money to pay for it would come from. Neither of our families could afford to send them off with a pat on the head and a packed lunch. The boys’ ultimate aim is to fly in the FAI Junior World Championships in Australia in 2013. We thought that would be interesting to potential sponsors. We put a considerable amount of effort into grant applications to various trusts, those ones out in the community that provide funds for up and coming young sports people. It was a huge amount of work, made more complex by having to explain what the sport of glider racing is all about, before we could even get to explaining why these young men were worthy of the attention and the money. Ultimately it all came to nothing. None of the sources approached came through. How much of that is to do with the obscurity of gliding as a sport, we will never know.

Meanwhile, the boys were working hard to earn funds. Nick works as a farming contractor and Alex is a student. He has a casual part time job working at a petrol station. He thought he’d found a job for the university holidays working with one of the Geotech companies, drilling samples all over Christchurch, sadly they haven’t come back to him about when he can start. By November he had enough money to cover the camp, but had nothing left over for next year at university. Alex is young, and has no problem with the thought of extending his student loan to cover that, even if his parents aren’t so sure that’s a good idea. It did mean he had enough money for the trip.

And then, at the Regionals, the gliding family got behind the boys. The Mike Rix trustees agreed to pay airfares, but it was the generosity of individual people that leaves me teary. Many people donated to the cause. There is now enough money to completely cover the costs of the trip for both of them, with some left over. The remaining moneys will be kept aside for their on-going training, leading up to the Junior Worlds. It is only a fraction of the money that will be required for the whole campaign, but it is such a generous start.

As I write this, the boys are in Australia, enduring temperatures in the 40’s, and getting to know the gliders they’ll be flying next week in the contest. And that reminds me of some more people who need to be thanked, the Australian gliding community. Complete strangers have reached out to help the boys. Alex has a Cirrus to fly, for free. Thank you Adam Woolley. Adam simply says that he has got a lot out of the sport; he wants to pay it forward. To our extended gliding family out there, if you’ve stepped up in any way to help the boys achieve their goals, we thank you so much. Know too that the boys are doing their very best, to be worthy of your trust.

Next issue we’ll bring you the Joey Glide report.

Enjoy your summer
Stay Safe

Jill McCaw

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

SoaringNZ is Five. Happy Birthday to Us.

The magazine that posted last week is Issue 30. Last night I spread all thirty magazines out on the floor, a block with five rows of six. It covered as much of the floor as a reasonable sized rug and it looked fantastic. In fact, I’m thinking of having a poster made of the thirty covers. Every cover is a stunning illustration of the excitement and adventure of soaring. When you put all thirty of them together, they look amazing. We have photos of gliders in all attitudes - upside down (twice), gliders on the beach, over the sea (three times), over lakes (surprisingly only three times), over mountains (really surprisingly, only twice), places other than NZ (four times) and showing people (six times). Some of my favourites are Issue 8, with young Hugo Miller flying a Blanik with the canopy off (you know he was having fun), Issue 5 with a Dimona over a Queensland beach, and Issue 12 with Piako’s PW6 on the beach at Raglan. It’s a different and pretty picture of a glider, and the fact that it was my own landout doesn’t change that. My all-time favourite is Issue 21, with Toby Read posing beside GlideOmarama’s Duo at Milford Sound, with Mitre Peak in the background. It is not only a very scenic picture but it puts a gliding take on an iconic view. Looking at this photo, I know that these pilots had an adventure. You can’t get a better cover picture than that.

It was pointed out to me that there isn’t a cover with a woman. It is a very good point and sadly, representative of the number of women in the sport. Ladies, if you get any good shots of you flying, forward them to me for possible covers. Actually, any readers out there, send me good, high resolution pictures. We are always looking for exciting gliding photos.

Technically there is a cover with a woman. I was actually P2 in the Dimona on Issue 6, but you would have to look hard to see me.

Only one glider has managed to be featured twice, Dane Dickinson’s LS8, ZN. It was on the cover of Issue 4, back when it had swirly decals and on Issue 25 when it had an equally fancy but more standard, black on white paint job. It features in this issue too, but not on the cover. It was flown by Roland van der Wal in EuroGlide. ZN gets around.

Thirty issues with forty eight pages of text at roughly five hundred words per page equals around 720,000 words. Modern popular novels usually come in between 80 – 100,000 words. We have collectively (because there have been an awful lot of contributors over the years), written around eight novels of gliding words. That is a huge body of work. Have a look on your bookshelf and see how much room that many words take up. And then there are the photos. I have no idea how many wonderful images we have printed.

Which of all those words do I like the best? Reporting on the Grand Prix back in Issue 2 was exhilarating and bizarre. The magazine was all new and then bamm, when we were still feeling our way and working out how to make a magazine, we had an international competition in our patch. It was so exciting. Over the years we’ve had some fantastic reporting on World Championships, from both our own NZ competitors and international writers who were pleased to help out.

We’ve been very lucky with some of our NZ regular contributors. Two in particular stand out in my mind as amusing and informative: Ian Dunkley’s vintage columns are missed, now that ill health is slowing him down and David Hirst’s technical pieces can make me laugh while I learn. The most common query I get from people on past magazines are for David’s columns, ‘An Idiot’s Guide to Tephigrams’ in Issues 3 and 4.

SoaringNZ has covered some incredible world records. We started with a very special one. The feature story in Issue 1 was Fossett and Delore’s, 2007, 1250km 25% FAI triangle speed record. By the time we went to press, Steve Fossett was missing - later confirmed dead. Terry Delore has set another other world record since, a three turnpoint, 2500km declared distance, flown in New Zealand with John Kokshorn, in Issue 14. Doug Hamilton’s ‘Flight from Hell,’ Issue 7, was a hard fought 1500km triangle. It wasn’t a world record but it did win him the honour of being NZ’s last Barron Hilton cup recipient, in 2009. Jenny Wilkinson achieved a 500km out and return woman’s speed record in 2009, Issue 8. We have also highlighted spectacular flights from our sport’s past, featuring Dick Georgeson, Doug Yarrall, Keith Wakeman, Yvonne Loader and others. This issue’s story on Ann Johnson’s 1979 245km goal flight continues in that tradition.

Long flights have, of course, featured strongly in our pages but I’m equally as pleased to have printed stories of first solos, 50 kms and stories of the joyous, happy, local flying contributed by pilots who just want to share their pleasure in our sport.

Back issues are still available at the same cost as current magazines, if you would like to complete your set.

Issue 16 was a little different. It had both a large number of safety articles, including Part One of Arthur Gatland’s ‘Threat and Error Management’, and the finals of our one and only photo competition. It has been a challenge to keep our competition reports fresh and entertaining. I don’t think we do too badly with that. Of course, the people who were there are probably the most avid readers of those, but we hope others are enjoying the coverage too. It has been great to chronicle the inception and growth of YouthGlide and the Youth Soaring Development camp, but that could be my own personal bias.

When I think about what I am most proud of though, it is the fact that you are holding Issue 30 in your hands right now. In September 2010, Issue 18, I wrote an editorial entitled, ‘Random Thoughts on Earthquakes and Their Aftermaths.’ No-one had any idea then how bad things were going to get. Issue 21 came out when our world was completely broken by the February 2011 quake that destroyed Christchurch and killed more than 180 people. I am so proud of the fact that, in spite of everything that has happened since then: the loss of our house, our printer’s factory, the huge damage and upheaval in Christchurch, you have still received a top quality soaring magazine every two months. There have been times where you very nearly didn’t.

Thank you to all the people who have contributed over the years and the many more people who have read and enjoyed our efforts. Please share your love of gliding and of SoaringNZ with your friends. Help us to grow into our next five, ten, fifteen years. Happy Birthday to us all.

Jill McCaw

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How to Write a Book

I’ve had so many likes to my facebook status and so many queries that I thought I’d better tell you more about my book, and explain why no one is going to be reading it any time soon.
My book’s called Because of Harry. It’s set in contemporary NZ, a city with hills somewhere within running distance of suburbia, and in my mind it is Christchurch, but it could be anywhere. (No earthquake mentioned – if we’re in Christchurch then we’re ignoring all of that.) It’s a murder mystery where the police investigation bookends an unconventional love story. The blurb on the back of the book will go something like this:

  • When Meredith Pleiades is found dead in her bath Detective Carly Cunningham is under pressure to get the case closed by Christmas. The victim’s ex-husband Jack admits to having fought with her the night she died. He had motive and opportunity, but so did many others. Jack lives in a ménage situation with his “husband” Harry and “wife” Emily and their combined blended family. Jack owns a gym and has a lot of loyal staff, some of whom might kill for him, but he used to be a police detective himself. Has something from Jack’s or his partners’ past come back to haunt them? Is Meredith’s work in international banking relevant? Why is Carly’s boss so keen to see the case labelled a suicide? As Christmas approaches and Carly wrestles with her own family problems she realises that it is within the family that she will find the answers she needs.

And that’s enough about that for now.
So how do you write a book? Well the easy answer is that you sit in front of your computer and you type. There are a few wonderful quotes. I like, “Getting to the end of (writing) a novel is like wrestling an octopus into a mayonnaise jar.” ~ Patti Hill.
Then there is, “Writing is easy:  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”  ~Gene Fowler
But the one that leads into what I want to say next is this, “I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.”  ~James Michener
I loved James Michener’s epic novels when I was a teenager. They’re not great literature but they’re stories that have moved me and stayed with me through the years. It is incredibly encouraging to read that quote. There isn’t a single book for sale anywhere in which the author sat down and wrote a book, from the beginning to the end, wrote THE END, said, “I’m done,” and handed it over to a publisher who then printed it. It just does not happen. I’ll let you into a little known secret, not all books are written in a straight line. Some authors when they start writing their story have no idea what the plot is and whether the piece they start writing comes at the beginning, end or middle of the story. These writers find that if they write enough ‘pieces’ then eventually they line up and there is a coherent story there. It seems like a magic trick but it really does work out. Then all they have to do is fill in the gaps.
Other writers couldn’t possibly work in such a random fashion. They plot out the story, start writing at the beginning and keep going until they get to the end. Others do a variation of both. In Because of Harry, that’s pretty much what happened to me. It wasn’t intentional. I’d written 50,000 words of an unusual love story before I realised I actually had a murder mystery on my hands. That’s when I sat down and worked out a rough plot outline, simply so I wouldn’t miss any of the important bits out. Some things needed to be added to what I’d already written. No problem, I just went back and added what was needed. When you hold a finished book in your hands there is no way you can tell how the author wrote it, what they added, what they took away, when they themselves realised who the murderer was and which bits they’ve added in to the text to tease you or give you vital clues. Those pieces by the way are known as ‘landmines’ and when you get to the end of the book you’ll think, “oh, that’s right, I noticed that but I hadn’t seen it at the time.’
What all writers have in common is that once we get a full text we then have to rewrite.
Until a few years ago I hadn’t realised that. I’ve one or two times come close to finishing writing a novel but I’ve never actually written THE END before. I think a lot of it came down to subconsciously recognising that this book just wasn’t good enough and so I fizzled out. I had no idea just how much work went into turning that messy, not good enough draft, into something that hopefully is good enough to sell.
I’ve learnt a great deal of the craft of writing in the last four years and I need to apply all of that. I’m a much better writer now than I was when I started this, but that’s only a little bit of the process. I’ve already started the rewriting process – by leaving the whole thing well alone for a few weeks. It’s marinating.
In a while, with a bit of distance I’ll read right through it, from start to finish. This will be the first time I’ll ever have seen the story in this way. I’ll make any really obvious changes and fixes, but essentially I’ll be checking two important things: that I still like it, that‘s really important, and that it makes sense. Depending on how that reading goes (if I decide it doesn’t need any major reworking) I’ll be sending it out to a few trusted beta readers. They are a mix of people, some of whom are writing friends and have worked with me through the process and think they know the story, (I hope I’ve kept enough back to give them a surprise at the ending) and some people who aren’t writers but can be trusted to give me an honest appraisal of the work.
Provided these people think it’s worth me putting any more effort into all of this, I’ll then dive seriously into the rewrite process. I have recently done one of Barbara Rogan’s writing classes ‘One Good Scene’. I want to apply that level of scrutiny to all the scenes in the book, from character to setting to dialogue, there’s a lot to look at. I also need to do an overview of plot and subplots, character arcs and because I wrote in random chunks, make sure that the continuity makes sense.
I have 137,720 words. The average novel comes in between 80 to 90,000 words. Obviously something is going to have to go. All of the processes mentioned above should sort a lot of that out. I’m scared that my rewrites will actually add words. If I still have an over-abundance then I’ll have to do a real brutal slash and burn. I hate the thought of that, but it has to be done. I’ve learnt a lot more about my characters and their motivations since I started writing too. I owe it to them to get them and their story right.
Only when I’ve done all of this which could involve total rewriting of whole chapters, but I hope not, then I’ll nut down to proof reading, the SPAG (spelling and grammar) read through. That bit I’m not looking forward to.
I think you can see why most authors don’t churn out a book a year and why it will be at least a year before I even think of approaching a publisher and/or agent. I’m still not sure what route I’m going to take to publication. That is another story.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How SoaringNZ gets made

Editorial Issue 27

SoaringNZ is now well into our fifth year and I think we’ve got quite good at the process of making it. I’ve had some comments recently that made me realise that our readers have no idea how that happens. People are surprised to realise that I do not sit in an office in town bossing around my staff as they answer phones, while I source and write stories. In fact I sit at a desk in the back bedroom of our rental house in Halswell in between working nursing shifts at a resthome down the road.
SoaringNZ has one employee – the much appreciated proof reader Melanie Henrikson (who is also a nurse in ‘real life’). It became obvious after the first issue that a proof reader was essential. It is embarrassing to admit, but even after taking English to seventh form level at school, I still only have a rudimentary grasp of grammar and in some cases spelling. I blame the schooling system, which has only gone downhill from there. That is a rant for another day.
The magazine’s parent company McCaw Media also has a new employee. Paula Ruddick will be tackling our accounts from this issue on. See more about this and the changes it will make to your club’s payments in the Log Book section. I am multitalented but running a business and dealing with money are a set of talents I haven’t mastered.
So how does your magazine get made?
It couldn’t happen without the internet. This would have been a completely different job even twenty years ago. Everything happens via email. Articles and photos all arrive this way. Occasionally I receive photos via other methods and will scan old pictures, sometimes I receive discs of photos in the mail, but just about everything is email.
I have a large white board for planning the current mag (and another one for future planning). On receipt of an article, I make a tick in the column next to the article’s name. I give it a read through and can spend quite a bit of time making sure that it actually says what the author thinks they wrote. Some correspondents have an even worse grasp on English than I do and some do not have English as their first language. Never let that worry you. We (Melanie and I) will always make your words read well. There can be quite a bit of work making long pieces fit into the word limit for the pages available, while keeping the important parts and feel of the story. As a rule of thumb, we use 500 words per page with pictures and illustrations. The number and quality of the photos sent with a story are as important as word count in determining how many pages I will use for a story. The look of the magazine is very important and I don’t want pages of tight text with nothing much to break them up.
Once I’ve done my work on a story it gets another tick, then it is emailed to Melanie. She reads through it and catches many things, often minor, but all improving the ‘readability’ and accuracy of the piece. She sends the corrected version back. That’s another tick on the board.
Once all the material for the issue has those three ticks, it’s ready for the next stage. I work out (roughly) how many pages per article and which are the most important. All the edited version of words, the photos, illustrations and notes are put onto a stick drive and taken to Rosalie Brown and Lee-Ann Collins at RGB Design. These ladies work the magic that makes the magazine look so good. People erroneously think I do this. I don’t. These girls are amazing. They are not employees, but I pay them to do it and it is money well spent.
Once the girls have made a good start, there is a proof for me to go through. At this stage, I’m checking that the important parts of each story are emphasised, the pictures fit with the text, I put captions on the photos and check for any obvious mistakes and muck ups. My changes are made and I get another draft. This is pretty close to the final version.
This draft is sent out to a set of proof readers with impeccable credentials. These people are volunteers and include Max Stevens, executive officer of GNZ and ex Deputy Director of CAA, and John Goddard, ex Air Accident Inspector. There are also a couple of other people and all of them are fonts of gliding knowledge. We all sit down and pore through the draft, checking every word, finding the last mistakes, and there always are some, no matter how carefully the text has been checked before. Interestingly, we often find different mistakes from each other. Accuracy and legality are the main focus of this proof read.
We don’t print anything that may be detrimental to gliding in general or any individual pilot in particular.
There is one last chance to catch mistakes and make any changes (at a cost) when the printer sends their proofs. We check the colour and the final look of the thing. It will take about a week for printing and posting and be in your mail box a few days later.
Roughly two weeks after that, I start making the next one.
Fly safely
Jill McCaw

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A special flight with my son

This is my editorial from Issue 26, Feb/March 2012, of SoaringNZ.

A Special Flight with my Son.

Mt Aspiring from the air is the most awesome piece of rugged countryside I have ever seen. There is an astonishing ice plateau, a huge stretch of white snow, the scale of which is nearly impossible to comprehend, until you see the tiny shadow of your glider against it as you fly only a few hundred feet above it. Suddenly, the sheer size of everything jumps into focus. Massive waterfalls tumble hundreds of metres into a hidden valley which moments before you’d dismissed as a bit of a gully. The terminal wall of the ice isn’t mere metres high; it’s at least a hundred. And the small cloud you can see curling down off the edge… when you cross that ridge you are going to plummet.

Thankfully I wasn’t flying this adventure on my own.

I’m not quite sure what I’d done to deserve it but out of the blue one morning at Omarama, my son Alex announced that since no-one else was flying the Janus, he’d like to take me on a cross country. For all that we’ve spent a lot of time together at gliding sites since he’s learnt to fly, we haven’t flown together much. I did have the honour of being his first passenger (very pleasing) but most of the time we’ve been too busy doing our own thing to even think of flying together. With a fantastic weather forecast, a glider to ourselves and the whole sky to play in, we decided on the ’south a bit,’ type task setting of a certain record setting friend of ours. Very soon after getting airborne, this gelled into a Mt Aspiring - return.

The day was spectacular. It was December 23rd, a day John Robinson, in his story about flying from Alexandra  thinks was the best gliding day in years. Cloud bases were well above 10,000 feet, possibly about 14,000. We had no oxygen gear, not expecting to need it and reluctantly left good climbs well before they topped out.

We headed off across the Ahuriri and the Dingle to Lake Hawea and from there it was unfamiliar territory for me. Alex is training to get his instructor’s rating and from what I can tell from flying with him, he’s going to be very good. He would be explaining where he was aiming for and why and all of a sudden break off and say, “You can tell me to shut up if you want to Mum.” Why would I want to do that? I was flying with one of the top cross country pilots in New Zealand. The insights were fascinating. And this was my son.

I was basking in that most extraordinary feeling of happiness that parents get when they see their kids achieving something wonderful. I love that my boys have taken to gliding and love it as much as John and I ever did. Having been brought up on airfields, there was always the chance that they’d hate it and want nothing to do with it. The fact that Alex has made gliding his sport and is proving to be so good at it is just a wonderful bonus. Yes, I should have been on top of the world.

Sadly I was also suffering that peculiar sensation of joy and distress that I suspect can only be felt by glider pilots. In spite of loving the flight, the scenery, the company, the whole everything, I was starting to feel really ill.

It was hot, it was a thermal flight and because it hadn’t seem to matter at the time we were getting ready, I wasn’t sitting on any cushions and could barely see out of the back of the Janus. This all added to my discomfort. I had flown a little in the beginning of the flight, but once we were over the tiger country of the McKerrows, getting high and staying there was crucial, so I was happy to let Alex take over. Which all meant that by the time we were actually approaching Aspiring itself, ready for that one time only skim across the plateau, all I was really concentrating on was making sure I had my plastic bag at the ready.

That plummeting bit off the edge of the plateau turned out to be the trigger. The steep climb back in our last marked thermal to get us back onto the tops was… unpleasant. But… bag carefully dispatched through the window, by the time we were heading home I was fine.

And I wouldn’t have missed this flight for the world. I was flying in some of the country’s most spectacular scenery with one of our top young pilots. All glider flights can be joyful and fun but this one was especially so, because the pilot in command was my son. I’m sorry Alex if I’ve embarrassed you by printing this. Please don’t let it stop you taking me for a flight like that again, because I can honestly say that this flight was one of those special times that I will remember for ever.

Happy flying everyone.
Stay Safe.
Jill McCaw

For information on Gliding and a glimpse into the pages of SoaringNZ then go to the GNZ website.
To subscribe to the magazine then please email me at

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Emily, Harry and Jack and an Earthquake - Jack's story.

This is Jack's story, of what happened in town. If you've enjoyed this story please let me know. If you didn't like it, I'd like to know that too. Constructive criticism is always welcome.


Jack’s Earthquake story.

It took Harry some time to calm things down and peel the kids off Jack. When he did manage it he wrapped him in a huge hug of his own, the relief of the safe arrival of the baby and Jack’s return overwhelming. They clung to each other.  Jack was filthy, reeking of something nasty Harry couldn’t define but he was alive and here, home safe.
The police officer shepherded the children out of the room then came back, standing over them, awkward and uncomfortable. ‘Do I need to get him to hospital?’ he asked someone. Harry wasn’t sure if it was him or the midwife.
Jack was a mess. Harry had no idea if Jack ought to be in hospital. As he wrapped him in his arms Jack gave a choked sob and started to cry. His body was shaking like he had a fever. ‘Hey?’ Harry stroked his face, trying to work out what was wrong with him. His skin was gritty and dry. ‘Are you okay?’ Jack didn’t speak, just curled tighter into his arms.
A hand touched Harry’s shoulder as the midwife Marnie crouched beside them and held out a bottle. ‘Jack love, do you need water?’ Jack reached for it gratefully, sucking hard. He coughed and spit out mud. ‘Easy,’ Marnie soothed. ‘Are you hurt Jack? Let me check you out?’
Jack sat up straighter in Harry’s arms, making a visible effort to control himself. He shook his head but his breathing stayed ragged. ‘I’m okay.’ It took him two goes to get his mouth around the words, ‘Bruises, that’s all.’ Marnie ignored him, running her hands through his hair, feeling his cheek bones and moving down his neck. Jack winced as she got to his shoulders. ‘It’s just bruises.’ His grip on Harry tightened; the shudders back. ‘I’m okay.’ He buried his face in Harry’s neck, his voice a breathy whisper that Harry hardly heard. ‘I’m alive.’

The weather was grey and nearly drizzly but Jack didn’t mind. Life was good and he was happy. He tucked the large canvas prints carefully into the boot of the car and checked his phone. The baby could come any time and he needed to be ready. He patted the canvases, so pleased with how they’d turned out. They were gorgeous and were going to look great in the foyer of the new place. He decided he’d head around there now. He laughed out loud with delight. He was sort of in love with the place. It was like the previous two gyms had taught him, taught them, him and Harry and Kev and the team, what they really wanted from the business and this one would have it all – studio with a sprung floor, state of the art sound systems, full time, professional trainers and something really new for them, a café in the foyer.
Coffee. That was a thought. Maybe Harry could come over to the new gym later and they could, he laughed again, christen the place maybe. Grinning he pulled out his phone as he drove out of the car park behind the camera shop. It was illegal to text and drive, but he wasn’t on the road yet. Coffee. He’d invite Harry for coffee, then if the workers had gone…. The guys doing the floor were supposed to be finished by this afternoon. “Cof” was as far as he’d got before he arrived at the street. He wasn’t as fast at texting as the kids. He hung onto the phone as he swung out onto the road behind what looked like a brand new four wheel drive. That would be great for heading up the ski fields in winter. Jack would kill for a truck like that. Maybe if the new gym started doing well it would be time to take some money out and reward themselves; stop funnelling money back into the business all the time.
Pulling up behind the vehicle at the lights he continued struggling to find the letters for his message. Coffee later, come to new gym, was what he was intending to send. “Coffee L8”... He looked up and saw the lights change, eased forward, glanced back at the phone for the next letter. Bang. The car jolted. He fumbled and dropped the phone.
The four wheel drive had barely moved before stopping again and Jack had just driven into the back of it. And… ‘Oh crap.’ The driver’s door opened and a guy in a suit got out. A big guy. ‘Fnck.’ Pulse rate increasing Jack got out to meet him. It wasn’t that he didn’t think he could look after himself if things went bad, but he just didn’t want to get into something in the middle of the street for heaven’s sake. And honestly - over reaction. He’d barely touched the other car and if anyone had come off badly it was probably his tinny front bumper. Other traffic tooted but he couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t go anywhere or get off the road with the other guy in front of him. Someone edged around them, hand heavy on the horn, other hand gesticulating rudely. The advancing driver was about his age and in spite of the suit and tie he looked fit. And really pissed off. Oh great.
‘Hey,’ Jack held up his hands. ‘I’m really sorry.’
Then suddenly the whole world went weird.

Jack’s memories of the earthquake were incredibly confused. He remembered seeing the ground rolling, great waves coming across the park and along the street, but he was also sure he was knocked off his feet in the first instant. He spent the entire time flat on his belly trying to crawl under the car as bricks and shrapnel crashed down on him. He was sure he was going to die. The noise was incredible, an overwhelming cacophony of sound abruptly ending in a moment of eerie silence as the ground went still. The silence lasted one, two heart beats and then suddenly the air was filled with the sound of alarms as security systems in buildings and cars went off. The noise was shrill and insistent and over it rode the sound of screams.
Dust was thick in the air as Jack tried to move. He was held down, weighted by rubble, bricks and concrete and he fought, panicked to get to his knees. He hurt. He as coughing, choking in the dust then he felt hands on him and suddenly he was free, yanked painfully out from under a mantel of bricks. ‘Christ man,’ said a male voice and through gritty eyes Jack recognised the Suit Man. At least he no longer seemed to want to beat Jack to a pulp.
With the other man’s help Jack staggered to his feet blinking in shock and disbelief. His car was covered, absolutely covered in bricks and concrete. So was the footpath and half of the road. With a sense of complete unreality he realised the whole front of the building nearest to him, all three floors of it had come away and cascaded outwards. If he’d been in the car he’d have been lucky to survive.  If he’d been on the other side of the car he wouldn’t have survived. He could see into rooms as if they were film sets, someone’s flat on the upper floor, kitchen table and chairs, a potted plant in the corner. The rooms below obviously storage for the shops below them. A tangle of fallen shop mannequins made him giggle hysterically. It looked like a frozen orgy.
The city he’d been in, only minutes before was gone, replaced by a cloud of dust, the set of a disaster movie. It wasn’t even a good disaster movie he thought, slightly unhinged. If Hollywood had done this they’d never have piled all those bricks so haphazardly, they wouldn’t have put the mannequins like that. The dust would be more artistic. People were looming out of that dust, like zombies, panicking and crying, and Oh My God, it suddenly hit him as he turned to look back up the street, there’d been another earthquake, a big one, and this time the city hadn’t got away with it.
‘I think the truck’s got some real dents now.’
Jack blinked in surprised. He’d forgotten about running into the four wheel drive. It hardly mattered now. The four wheel drive wasn’t completely destroyed like his car, it had been further out into the intersection, away from the falling building façade, but it had certainly taken some hits. Jack started to make some comment, when his eyes swept on past. Dust was starting to settle and it looked like… oh God. Of course there had been people in those cars. ‘Come on,’ he grabbed for the guy’s arm. ‘We have to get them out.’
The two of them worked down the row of cars that had just started turning with the lights. Many people had already gotten themselves out. They managed to wrench open doors and in one case smash through a windscreen to rescue several others including a teenage girl, bleeding copiously from wounds to her face. Suit Guy had run back to his vehicle and found a towel to wrap her head in. She was barely coherent but she refused to sit down and wait for help. She was terrified. Jack didn’t blame her. After shocks rumbled through and more bricks fell as the ground heaved. Everyone was frightened. The girl pressed the towel to her cheeks and started walking. She disappeared into the dust and the crowd. Some people were still running past; others were stumbling, shell shocked. Many people walked with purpose, getting out of the city, out of the devastation.
‘Shit,’ Suit Guy said. ‘We should have gone with her. Made sure she got to the hospital.’
‘I know.’ In mutual agreement they both stopped a minute, leaning on a ruined car. Other people were trying to climb into a collapsed shop. There was a lot of shouting. Office workers joined construction workers, students, tourists and the occasional police officer frantically trying to save people trapped in the rubble. ‘Do you think we should get out?’
‘Might still be people in those cars.’
Some of the cars had managed to drive away. It was funny, but after Suit Guy pulled the bricks off him Jack had never considered leaving. Suit Guy’s car was in the clear, he could have easily left and yet he remained at Jack’s side, the two of them checking cars and pulling people out. There was quite a crowd now, slowly making their way down the centre of the street, leaving town. There was also quite a group, climbing into damaged shops, pulling rubble aside, helping people. It still felt like a bad disaster movie set, but now they’d seen real blood it was all much more real.
They’d cleared the line of traffic that had been stopped at the lights. Someone was shouting at them, waving them over to a shop front. With a start Jack realised it was the photographer’s building he’d been in only minutes earlier. It was completely shattered, the verandah fallen down, the ceiling collapsed and a chain gang working, passing out rubble, obviously working to free someone who was trapped. Jack recognised the huge photo mural from the back wall, mostly obscured now by concrete beams. He and Suit Guy turned in that direction when Jack heard it. Suit Guy heard it too because Jack saw his eyebrows go up. ‘Shit,’ he whispered as Suit Guy held up his hand, urging him to be quiet.
Over the sound of sirens they both heard the sound of a baby crying. Jack turned his head, trying to localise the sound in the chaos. ‘This way.’ It took them a moment or two and when they found where the sound was coming from they stopped in total disbelief. It was another car. This one had been parked by the footpath. It was buried and hidden under concrete and bricks, nearly completely crushed. It was only half as high as a car ought to be. They scrabbled their way through the mess, clearing a space; just enough to see into the car and then Jack wished they really hadn’t. There had been a woman in the car, probably in the passenger seat. She didn’t much resemble a woman any more. Long dark hair and a sparkly hair clip suggested she’d been quite young.
Jack recoiled backwards and Suit Guy caught him. Then Suit Guy saw what Jack had seen and they both swore and gasped. Neither of them threw up, but it was a close thing. Blood caked dark hair was going to feature in Jack’s nightmares for the rest of his life.
The baby was still crying.
Steeling himself, Jack climbed back into the space and peered around the body into what small space was left in the vehicle. Strapped into the back seat was a sturdy plastic baby car seat. The child was obscured by the car seat but he could see small hands waving furiously as the occupant protested at being frightened and alone. ‘I’m coming,’ Jack managed to call out. ‘Hang on baby. I’m coming.’
It could be Sarah in the back seat. ‘Oh God.’ For the first time since the quake Jack actually thought of his own family. ‘Please God.’ He spoke out loud. ‘Please let them be all right.’ If something had happened to any of them… Don’t let any of them be broken. The kids would be at school. School buildings should be safe. Emily and Sarah though, they’d be at home. If it was this bad here, what had happened there? And how would Emily cope, if she had to get out of the house? Jack really couldn’t afford to give in to his fear, not if he was going to help this baby, the one right here. ‘Be all right,’ he whispered. ‘You have to be all right.’
‘Is the baby all right?’ the other man asked.
Jack started climbing back out. ‘I think so. We can’t get to it this way.’ He felt in his pockets. Harry would be at the gym. That was an old building, an old movie theatre. It could be in as bad a state as any of the buildings he could see here. ‘I’ve lost my phone,’ he told Suit Guy, panicked. Harry could be buried under a ton of bricks. Emily and Sarah could be in the ruins of their house. Who knows what was happening with the other kids. ‘I need to ring my family. I need to check they’re all right.’
‘Phones aren’t working,’ Suit Guy grunted, shifting broken concrete off the back of the car. ‘I’ve been trying. Nothing happening.’
‘My wife’s due to have a baby.’ Jack got his arms around the other end of a beam and together they managed to shift it a few inches. ‘She’s at home with our one year old.’  
 ‘Shit man, you should go home.’ Suit Guy had raced back to his car and come back with a tyre iron. The baby was crying. It could have been Sarah… Jack couldn’t go home, not yet.
It took forever to clear enough space to actually get close enough to break into the car.
Jack managed to get his own car boot open and get his tool kit and tyre iron out too. Two people were carried out of the photographer’s on make shift stretchers before they managed to get in through the back driver’s side window. ‘If Mum was in the passenger seat, where do you think Dad is?’ Suit Guy asked.
Jack looked at one of the broken bodies being carried out of the building and shrugged.
Suit Guy managed to get his upper body through the broken side window. ‘I can’t undo the straps,’ he called desperately. ‘I’m going to have to try and slide the baby out of it. Easy little fella.’
‘No. Don’t do that. What if it’s hurt?’
‘It’s moving a lot.’ And screaming. Suit Guy didn’t need to say that.
‘Hang on.’ Jack looked up at the crowd of people still walking past. ‘Has anyone got a pocket knife?’
A young Asian guy came over. ‘Don’t look in the car,’ Jack warned, just too late. The kid fumbled and handed over a knife before staggering back into the crowd.
With a knife to cut the seatbelt it only took a minute until Suit Guy was pulling the solid moulded baby capsule out of the car. A small angry person blinked at them and waved his fists in fury. Jack and Suit Guy smiled so hard it hurt. ‘There, there,’ Suit Guy said inanely jiggling the car seat up and down.
The baby was younger than Sarah, probably a bit under a year old and Jack was pretty sure it was a boy. He was nearly too big for the capsule type car seat he was in but that car seat had undoubtedly saved his life. ‘There’s nothing wrong with him.’ Jack had had plenty of experience and was pretty sure he could tell a baby that was okay and one that wasn’t. He cut the straps holding the little boy in and carefully picked him up. The baby stopped shrieking and cooed. ‘There. See.’
Suddenly the Asian kid was back. He had a bottle of water and held it out tentatively. Jack could have kissed him. Together they managed to tease some into the baby’s mouth before Jack took a drink himself. The water was so good as it cut through the bile and dust in his mouth. He took a careful mouthful, swilled and spat before taking another and swallowing. He passed the bottle across to his partner. Suit Guy too took a grateful swallow.
The child was more settled now and Suit Guy took him, holding him close against his chest. His big hand completely enveloped the little head. ‘He needs to get checked out.’ He looked up at Jack. ‘I need to make sure that this one gets to the hospital.’ Then in what was just one more bit of weirdness in a weird day he turned and walked away. Jack and the Asian kid stood there and Suit Guy, holding the baby joined the crowd of people trudging off down the street.

‘We should have got some ID,’ Jack said. He was sitting on the sofa shovelling beans on toast into his mouth from a plate on his lap. He was dressed now and hadn’t stopped talking since he’d started in the shower. Some of what he was saying wasn’t really appropriate for his audience to Harry’s mind, but the kids weren’t leaving and Jack couldn’t be deflected. The words just tumbled out.
‘I didn’t think until he’d gone. I could have grabbed the mother’s bag; there would have been something to say who they were. They’ll have got to the hospital and no one will know who the baby is.’ He looked up, ran his gaze around the room, looking at everyone in turn as if checking once again, that they were all there, that they were all safe. Kathleen and Jenny were sitting on either side of him and he took a moment to stop eating and give them a hug. ‘I came back later,’ he said. Emily and Harry were on the other sofa with the new baby and Sarah who was burrowing between them, completely out of sorts. Jack’s eyes rested a moment, warm and soft on the baby in Harry’s arms. Harry looked down at her and swallowed. A rush of warmth and love caught his breath. He kissed her soft cheek.
‘Da,’ Sarah said crossly.
Harry grinned and Emily pulled Sarah back onto her lap.
‘I put a note on the window to say the baby was okay and he’d been taken to hospital.’ Jack seemed on the verge of crying again but controlled himself. Wilson who was sitting on the floor at his feet gave his leg a pat. ‘I just thought. What about the Dad? What if he managed to come back to the car and found… found… She was dead. And the baby was just gone.’ He pushed the plate away and Kathleen saved it from hitting the floor. Jayden took it from her and carried it away. ‘So I left a note.’
Jack sighed and shut his eyes for a minute. ‘I never even learnt his name.’
‘The baby?’ Emily asked.
‘Him too,’ Jack smiled sadly. ‘No. Suit Guy.’
Harry was aware of Marnie watching them all carefully. The television was still playing the terrible images of destruction and despair in the city. Jack seemed to have stopped shaking, but he couldn’t stop talking.
‘I was going to come home then, just join the crowd and start walking.’ His eyes were bright with tears. ‘I was so scared of what might be happening at home.’

Heading for home might have been his intention, yet somehow Jack had ended up helping to free a woman trapped in the wreckage of the photography shop.
‘Hey mate.’ Jack couldn’t actually see who was shouting at him from inside the dark building. ‘We need some help in here.’ The world had been turned upside down and Jack could help so he went in.
In amongst broken glass shelving, thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment and huge printing machines a woman lay pinned by beams that had crashed through the ceiling. Her upper body had been protected by a desk. Her legs and hips were buried in the rubble. ‘Her name was Hazel,’ Jack told the family.
There were already three people working to free her when Jack arrived with his tyre iron. The Asian kid brought two car jacks and they started a delicate operation, lifting and bracing the beams. They worked excruciatingly slowly as the woman screamed in pain every time they moved anything. Jack held her hand for a while until his physical strength was of more use propping the beams with sturdier pieces of rubble so the jacks could be moved and the beams shifted just a little more.
 ‘Stop.’ There was a man in overalls leading the rescue. An aftershock had them all cowering, arms over their heads. Their braced beams rattled ominously. ‘We have to get her out now.’ Dust was thrown back up into the air and something crashed heavily to the ground behind them in the gloom.
Coughing Jack looked around at the other dusty, teary faces, all of them eyes wide in the dim light. Everyone was nodding. ‘Just do it,’ Hazel said quietly. They barely heard her. ‘I don’t want to die in here.’
‘Last attempt,’ the leader said. ‘Get those car jacks under here. Crank em up as high as they’ll go.’
Jack and another man linked their arms under the Hazel’s back and through her arms. He could feel her tense as she braced herself. Two men worked each jack, one holding it steady, the other cranking. ‘Go,’ people were shouting. ‘Pump it. Go. Come on. Go.’
The beams protested, things moved, all the way back into the corner. Hazel screamed. Jack and his partner took a grip and when the guy in overalls nodded they pulled.
Hazel popped out surprisingly easily and the two men nearly lost their balance. They collected themselves, standing and lifting and rushing her out of the store. As they left someone shouted, the rescuers leapt back and one of the jacks overbalanced sending the whole heavy concrete beam crashing back to the floor.
Outside someone had prepared a door and they lay their burden gently on to the makeshift stretcher, deliberately not looking at the bloody twisted mess of her legs. Jack had a brainwave. ‘Wait here a minute,’ he shouted to the others and raced back out into the middle of the intersection to Suit Guy’s SUV. Suit Guy had walked off with the baby but he hadn’t needed to, he could have driven. His vehicle was battered but still perfectly drivable. And, thank God, Jack breathed, he’d left his keys in the ignition. It started first time.
‘Ambulance,’ Jack announced, flinging open the back door. They very carefully loaded the door and its precious cargo into the car. It wasn’t big enough to fit all the way in, but it as long as Jack drove carefully she shouldn’t fall out either. Jack grabbed a towel from his gym bag and they used that to cover Hazel’s legs. First aid didn’t come into it, they didn’t even try. She needed the hospital and she needed it now.
Someone climbed in the back with Hazel and the Asian kid stationed himself beside the driver’s door, walking beside the vehicle, spotting holes, cracks and obstructions to the road. Jack was grateful. It was only five blocks to the hospital but it was the longest drive of his life. The bridges over the river were impassable to cars and hundreds of others were trying to find a way across, trying to get out of the city.
Jack gave a howl of frustration as the third bridge they’d tried had the roadway buckled and broken, the approach torn away. People were walking across. He stopped the car. ‘We’ll carry her. The hospital is just over there.’
 ‘It doesn’t matter.’ The guy who’d been in the back with her climbed down stiffly. His voice choked. ‘She’s gone. Not long after we loaded her in the car. I wasn’t sure. I kept thinking, she’s just unconscious. She’ll be all right. But she’s not.’ He looked pale and shell shocked. ‘I kept hoping.’ He raised a shoulder, tried for a nonchalant shrug that he didn’t pull off. ‘At least we tried. Right?’
‘Right,’ the kid agreed. He looked absolutely gutted. ‘You’re sure?’
‘Yeah. I’m sure.’
The three men stood, lost and unsure. Jack wanted to hug, wasn’t sure if it was right, but then the kid gave a sob and he wasn’t sure who started it, but they were all, three strangers huddled together, holding each other, grieving for the brave lady that none of them knew.
‘We carried her the last few hundred metres to the hospital door.’ Jack had sounded surprisingly matter of fact as he told his tale but was starting to lose it now. His voice was thicker, and he rubbed at his eyes. ‘We left her to be properly pronounced dead on arrival.’
 Carrying the baby Harry shooed Kathleen off the sofa and settled beside Jack. ‘And we could tell them who she was,’ Jack told Harry, leaning in against him. ‘And then I started walking home.’
Kathleen took the baby as Harry pulled Jack into his arms.