Relationship as a service

When I have sought or mourned love, has it been about the person or the services that they supplied?

I know relationships are mostly mystery. I am going to shine this light anyway and see what it illuminates.

I have loved and been loved by some great people – and I still do and am. You know who you are. Truly wonderful beings and regular mortals like me.

Now I ask myself how much I desired or desire or even saw or see you. Actual you. And why? Or was it the services you supplied me that I became so attached to? Was it the actual relationship or the fact or at least idea of a relationship that I was in love with?

I know “services” is a terrible word to use for this. I use it deliberately to provoke myself and you. I will list some. Holding me. Cooking me food. Listening to me. Appreciatively receiving my services. Picking the kids up. Picking up after the kids. Paying part the house. Sharing rituals as simple as the morning routine. Companionship, meaning. A dream realised. Unconscious things like criticising me so I feel the comfort of the familiar, not mentioning important things so I don’t have to confront them. Nurturing my sense of belonging, meaning, connection, being okay, while I learn those things for myself.

We supply services and disservices to each other, each with a cost and benefit to both. We could all go on and on.

It seems both terrible and wonderful to contemplate.

Amongst all that, then, what is the role of an actual person? An actual relationship? What even are those things? How do I find my way to even notice an actual person?

I guess by establishing a reliable supply of all those services for myself, in a good mix of directly from myself (adulting) and through reciprocal relationships with various others. Once at the end of a major relationship, I explicitly sought other people to supply the missing services. One example was I found a friend with kids who knew mine and we had a day at a skifield together. Lunch out of the boot of the car.

Right so all my other relationships are about services?

A breakup is a wonderful time to contemplate all this. Even if you  take the get angry and get together with lots of other people approach, you kind of are doing this. But maybe when you are in a relationship is the more important time to be shopping around to get both my conscious and unconscious needs met.

So if I could achieve that, what need would there be for a new relationship? What would be the point? What questions could we ask about it that do not imply some kind of service to be supplied – exchanged, of course?

In Imago there is or at least was this quiet explicit idea of requests. Real requests as opposed to demands. NVC has them too. You might say for example, it would be really great for me if when we meet up at the end of the day, you take a few minutes to listen to me while I tell you about my day. And I might say yeah sure, how many times a week would work for you? Or I am sorry, that’s too hard for me, could you suggest something else that  would be good for you?

Though it does not have penalties for non-performance, it does have appreciative reviews. It is starting to sound in the region of a Service Level Agreement to me.

Then there is the appalling mess where neither of us have the first clue what services each other are taking about. Tino Rangatira? Mmmkay. Kawanatanga. WTAF!

I myself explore culture in organisations through a service design lens. What is it that you and I are trying to achieve here? Maybe we could exchange together in some way that would work out well for us both? I’d like to try something with you, and learn from that, in a way that fits with what you are trying.

OK another attempt to step past all the Reasons to relate with someone. Maybe I could just be me, settled here now, open, and see you, in this moment. Not know what or why. Just be with me and you. What is the point of that? Let that go maybe. Just be. With you. For a moment.



Guide to grieving

I wrote this in October but never posted it. I had the idea it wasn’t ready but it looks fine to me. How can a guide to something unknown ever be perfect? It seems odd that it is in the present tense. That was then, this is now. I am leaving it as is. It is a moment for me to have new compassion for myself.

There is also the way I feel now, which is way less dominated by the grief of this loss. It is not gone. Everything below is still familiar, even daily. But it has lost its intensity. The moments come and go with less cortisol.

Maybe it worked! This has served as a guide to my own process. I have been conscious of which bit I was working on, what was a bit done, and what was next.

There is of course a lot more to this but it is time to press publish. I hope you find some value in it.

From the pit

Damn this hurts.

It’s also really annoying. I want to get on with my life. Right now I can’t. All I feel is waves of pain and loss. All I can do is be in that and do the grieving the best I know how. Which is mostly fumbling in the dark. But I want to do get it done. I know this is self-contradictory. Sitting in the hole is how you get out of it. But I want to get out faster. So I am writing down what I know so I have some kind of guide for myself. Maybe a map where I can plot progress. And maybe so someone else might find this useful. Getting out of an impossibly deep pit. Good luck with that. Maybe I am just crying aloud on the internet.

Torn attachments

It feels like there are pieces of my body connecting me to my lost loved one. Some of them also connect to other people, things and places. I feel as if my nervous system extends outside my body. The big nerve to her is torn off at the other end, raw and bleeding. The three-way ones are attached to so many things. Our local favourite bar, the restaurant, all the streets, my house, my own damn bed, her house, songs, food, memories, hopes, the garden we were growing together, alerts on my phone, a gate latch, a treasurer’s report… things jump me everywhere I go. For each there is a nerve torn or tearing off and bleeding at the end where she was. All still attached to me. I feel the tearing. There is a sort of phantom limb where it feels like she is still there. But she is not. Just the raw bleeding. It keeps happening. It keeps hurting. Until the pain fills my life.

What the hell do I do about this?

I want to tear the ties off me so they stop hurting. Especially the big one. Of course I don’t as well. I want to stay tied. But I know I have to let go. Not to the things around me. I want to keep those for myself. Just the hanging torn bits. Gotta be gentle tho. Gentle with me. Maybe bathe the wounds, dress them with soothing balm. Trust that the severed ties will heal back towards me. How do I do that?

I don’t know what to do. Except sit in the not knowing. Damn that old thing.

And I can claw something else together.

Go in to get through, with love and not all alone

Here is the first unpleasant task. I know the only way out is in. This means I have to face the loss. Bring to mind one attachment at a time. Feel them tearing off. As much as I can face. And in the presence of kindness – my own at the least. And in relationship at least some of the time.

The other day I made a list of all the attaching things I could think of. Got photos and made a collage on a timeline. Used post-its for the things I did not have photos for. Cried the tears.

Cry the tears. Sit in the pit. Some of it has to be done alone. Sometimes saying it aloud…

She isn’t coming back. I want her to but she’s not. It hurts like hell. Ow, ow, ow. I want her here telling me she cares and values this and is willing to work for it and she’s not and she’s not going to. I know that…

But that is not enough by itself. I don’t leave myself in the hole.

You poor bastard. You really love this one. And she’s gone. I know you feel this, Dan. And I am here with you. You have not lost me. I am with you and I’m sticking with you. I love you, Dan.

Over and over again.

The neuropsyches think we work a bit like computers and pain is kind of written to our memories. Rather than just over-writing it, though, the reckon write better things like compassion in the same place. That way the pain and love are connected so that next time you feel pain, love is right there. I think this might be the mechanism for what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The problem is that the pain events are intense, and the love events are kind of tiny. Plus jungle brain counts pain lot more than love. So you need lots of repetitions.

There are some great self-compassion meditations out there.


Ooh, I really don’t recommend this one. EKR says you have to go through it but I think she means it is likely to happen. I can’t see how it helps. Trying to pretend she’s coming back. Waiting by the phone. Checking the phone when it tings. Eugh.

Oh. Hang on. Maybe I do know how it works. It makes you face the loss and disappointment again and again. That’s why I don’t advise it. Feels nice for a second and then chucks you in the pit.

Reasonable respite

Sometimes, these moments are provided by a little bit of denial. I am all for this. Denial is a friend who dispenses pain to you in doses that you can manage. I am so so glad of the moments of respite.

Sit on my lovely couch. Listen to soothing music. Play ukulele and sing sad songs. Try to find some food that seems appetising. And not associated. Maybe watch some tele with love in it. See a movie. Have fun with friends. Laughter is good.

I know how to do these things but are they working on the ties? They seem like avoidance. I love respite but I want progress too. Maybe slowly the moments might actually be real signs of progress. Acceptance.


Should have put this one earlier. You can use this for emergency respite. It is not a bad idea to use it all the time, too. Singing. Being with yourself. I recently started a morning meditation practice. Just googled some simple instructions and followed them. Seems to help. Breathing practice is good cos then I can do it better the rest of the time. Breathing and bringing my attention back to me. Return to the breath. Return to me. I am with me. I am alive. Gently dismiss this, dismiss that.

Re-paving my paths

This one starts slowly with the three-way attachments. A quiet moment with the trigger object, person or idea.

Making a coffee. This is me making a coffee. Coffee is a thing in the world. This is my coffee-making gear. That coffee is for me. I am making it for me. This association between coffee and her. Yes, I know that is there. This in the here and now is also here for me.

Gradually, one by one I am over-writing all the associations with new ones that are all mine.

The key to this is repetition: I do this hundreds of times a day.

I sing this little song as I ride around on my bike.

This is for me.
It’s all for me.
This is pretty good.
I am happy.

I have moments when I think of my actions as towards some to shared vision. I replace those thoughts with this one:

My intention. My cause.

As I get good at this, I might start thinking of it as getting on with my life. God knows I need to do that.

Listing bad things you lost

This one might be a bit cynical. I am not much motivated for it, anyway. Maybe further down the track it will look more interesting. There are some upsides to this, you know Dan. What about you dodged a bullet there?

Right now it is just I know you get ordinary not perfect. I chose this one. Chose to say yes. Chose to not dwell on the areas of poor fit. That is a taking a bit of releasing.

Appreciating the wonderful things

This idea comes from the gratefulness that the neuropsyches want us practising. What if I thought about some of the wonderful moments we had together. The great feelings. The love we shared. The rituals. The holidays. And was thankful for them. Noticed how wonderful they were with gratitude and appreciation. Maybe even saying out loud wow, that was so lovely, I am so glad I had that moment in my life.

You are probably thinking what I’m thinking. Fuck that. What a stupid idea. And how can I possibly expect myself to achieve it when right next to all of those lovely memories is the loss, the tearing knowledge that they can never be repeated or built on to create more lovely moments. But what if I could get myself to a strong enough place to do this. Then I would have good feelings flowing around me not the bad ones I have now. I would be warming up to gain not loss. I might get some oxytocin.

Maybe to get ready for this one, I’ll start with gratitude for things that are mine alone. Then I’ll try some things I still have from the relationship – like the lovely cufflinks that she made me. And work my way up to a cherished memory.

Holding her in the light

My dear late friend Julian Carver suggested this one to me when I was grieving an earlier loss. I am really not ready to do it. I know how and have even tried for brief moments. It is way too hard. But I know it will help. It is a Quaker idea where you hold someone in your heart wishing them well. A bit like praying for them I suppose. I am not a great one for magically helping someone by thinking about them but I don’t rule it out.

The point here is the difference it would make for me. To do this, first I must warm myself up to a sense of abundance, generosity and strength. And then act on that with the good wishes. Feel positive towards myself and positive towards her. Somehow I know that would push the good strong feelings into my cells.

But nope. Can’t get there for now. Maybe the previous step would make this one easier.

Let’s be friends

This one has crossed my mind. I suspect it is available. It has worked well for me in the past. We even did some grieving of the lost relationship together. But that parting was mutual. Right now the asymmetry makes this impossible for me. To have the one I love right in front of me but not returning that love. While we get on with ordinary things and I do not cry and double over in agony. No thank you. Fuck that.

Pain comes out the way it goes in – in relationship

Finding myself in the face of a great loss, I need to focus on the task of grieving. Actually, I don’t have much attention for anything else at the moment. Grief has a cruel grip on my heart and much of the time, all I can do is get through each moment. There are things I need to get on with but I can’t do them while I feel like this. I need to make grieving my only priority until I have done enough of it that I can start thinking about other things. At risk of oversimplifying this process, I am going to update my own guide to grieving. Cos I need it now.

I have three things in mind. The first is to remind myself that pain comes out the same way it goes in: in relationship. Next, I have to work on detaching the strands of connection to what I have lost. Thirdly, the one I am most afraid of: going right into the pain, in order to get through it. All three of these I addressed twelve years ago when I was grieving Jane. I think I can describe them more succinctly now. And my need to apply them is more urgent. I really want my life back. Again, I know I risk trivialising this when I say I want to do some deliberate, intense grieving and make some headway with this. I can not get the term “power-grieving” out of my head so I’ll use it here to mock myself.

Feel and express with someone empathising

You get hurt when you have a strong relationship with someone and they depart, demand from or attack you. The more attached you are, and the more intense the unloving (let’s say adapted) response you receive, the more it hurts. Unconsciously, a message gets stored inside us that says “strong relationship means bad things coming in”. Right now, this is true for me in my strongest relationship, as I have just lost it. No more love coming in from that one. As it was a strong relationship, the impact on me is strong. A lot of pain.

The opposite experience heals this. A strong relationship with good things – like love – coming in. I am greatly blessed with many people in my life who love me dearly. Many of these are highly able to listen while I feel and express and to respond with love. They let me know they heard me, that they see the pain I am feeling. They do not try to give me advice, or bring themselves into the moment. They offer empathy. You feel deeply and express yourself while the two of you stay in relationship. Feel and connect. That’s what does it.

So as not to be simplistic, some comments

I think the way this works is there is something like a finite quantity of tears. The reason they are in there is that life hurts. Other people are imperfect, muddling along the best they can like me and sometimes, also like me, stuffing or just saying no for good reasons. The tears go in, they gotta come out. The more you let out, the less you have to lug around. This is a the basic idea of all the cathartic therapies.

It is not just the expression, tho – it’s gotta be in relationship. In Psychodrama we have the idea of “social atom repair” where people in the here and now respond in ways that were not present in the original situation. This doesn’t just release the tears, it also kind of installs these new responses inside you so you can supply them for yourself. You don’t have to do it all on spectacular display the way I enjoy doing. You can figure your way to working through some of the loss on your own (I do lots of that, too). The critical thing tho is not expecting yourself to magic that out of nowhere. We learn from experience (vis the bad ones) so it is only by experiencing love from others that we can learn to offer love to ourselves.

Of course, not everyone in your world is fantastic at empathy. It isn’t that easy, especially sustained. And that doesn’t matter. Even small moments of someone being a bit empathic, especially if that is a bit new to them are gold. Sometimes it takes a little extra attention to notice and appreciate them.

Some folks with an individualist view on things may disagree with me. Get on with your mindfulness, self-discipline and letting go and you’ll make it. I reckon we are more social than that. At the very least my view on this is more relational.

Some may say this only works for extroverts. But last I heard there is nothing about introverts preferring isolation. And I really am not coming up with this stuff by myself. It’s been a while that humans have been processing loss together in funerals, memorial services and other rituals.

Finally, as I said in my original post on this, I still believe that time doesn’t heal. It’s just that it takes time to do the work that does heal. Denial, that good friend in the height of a crisis, can also invite us to avoid facing the pain. Pain is no fun. And love is not always on tap. So we can only do this process in episodes.

Remembering Jane

Jane Spears was my partner ten years ago today, when she suddenly died. Today, as I navigate the ending of the third major relationship of my life, I cannot help reflecting on my search for love. I am grateful to my former self for documenting my first year of grieving for Jane. Reading that helps. I can return to it any time. I think what might help now is to reflect a little on Jane herself. But how can I do that, other than in the context of my relationship with her?

When she died, Jane and I had been together for just over two years, but we’d known each other for much longer than that. When I arrived in Dunedin in 1975, my parents joined the Goethe Society, where they met the parents of Struan Little, with whom I became friends. Struan and I did a bit of tramping, often with Mark Williamson. Jane was Struan’s girlfriend. Through Struan Jane I met a bunch of people from Logan Park High School. It was the first time I had ever felt I was in my social milieu. Jane and I got to know each other enough to become friends. Then my family left Dunedin for Whanganui. Jane and I maintained a prolific correspondence by mail. We both kept the letters.

My re-introduction with Jane was when she retrieved my most embarrassingly teenagerish quotes from these letters (they’re in Carry Me Home), in response to my exploratory email in 2003. There was little doubt I had found the right person. Our correspondence resumed.

Taking Jane’s privacy into my own hands, I will share some moments from her subsequent emails to me.

2 May 2003 2:18:42 pm NZST

You still do it – use my name all the time. I still like it.

I was hoping you would not turn out to be the kind of person who keeps letters for 23+ years and then quotes them back, because I’m appalled/fascinated at the idea of confronting who and how I was then. Not that I’m any nicer now, I guess, but I think I’m better at pretending to be.

An early bio:

2 May 2003 5:52:07 pm NZST

I’m a childless spinster living in solitary squalor with my black cat and my teapot collection.

I work at Whitireia Community Polytechnic  – Student Services Manager. My main thing is tertiary teaching and learning skills, but last year the vicissitudes of restructuring took me away from staff development, left me with learning skills and gave me responsibility for the Counsellor, Nurse, Doctor and Student Financial Advisor instead. I’m plotting a reversal.

Stuff I do: rearrange my teapot collection, yoga, indoor netball, boogie boarding (well I say that but I hardly ever actually do it), film, rabid reading, and social eating and drinking things. Skiing is crap up here.

Music of the moment: Nine Inch Nails, Salmonella Dub, Placebo, Ben Folds Five, Cowboy Junkies, Epsilon Blue, The Black Seeds, Jeff Buckley, Strawpeople and lots of experiments – Wellington Public Library has an excellent CD collection.

Jane sent me this photo of her. A selfie, as I recall, taken in the mirror of the public loos in Cheviot.

Jane3By the 3rd of July 2003, we had still not met up yet, but in an odd way things had developed a little already. If you read nothing else, read the Eligibility Assessment Form I received.

Then we did meet, and so began the dance. I will never tire of Jane’s writing.

I got a sense of the atmospheric pressure from your message, but had to give the glass a good rap to see whether it was rising.  As you noted, our subsequent correspondence and meeting saw the needle shoot up towards clear skies and sunny weather.  What is unclear to me though, is why I am so interested in the forecast.  What is the event being planned – a walk in the woods, a picnic, a garden party, or the full-scale return to Eden?

That’s a rhetorical question, but it cannot have escaped your notice that you live in Christchurch and I live in Wellington.  You didn’t mention owning a private jet and I don’t have so much as a microlight licence.  So picking up where we left off with the star-crossed thing is a possibility, but that has only two outcomes that I know of: 1. the dramatic and tragic death of one or other of the protagonists, preferably both; or 2. someone (usually both) gets bored and ‘loses touch’.

When I got the chance to meet up with you I was open to possibilities but determined about one thing.  My modus operandi is still to cut the chase pretty short and go straight to the slaughter, but having been turned down by you twice, I resolved not to risk a third attempt.  Anyway, you might have turned out to be 22 stone and leprotic.  Now I’m thinking I should have just gone for the boxed set (a pleasingly ambiguous turn of phrase) and either confirmed my suspicion that you only ever admired my intellect, or got whatever it is/was out of my system – finished the business.

I don’t know what happens next. D’you?

Of course, I had no idea that I had turned her down twice! What followed seemed to do alright despite the distance between us. Here is an invitation I received: Serenity in Spinsterworld (you may recognise the design style of the Listener at that time).

Jane also visited Christchurch.

28331155_2857a35ee9_oIn November 2003, Jane scheduled a party to introduce me to her Wellington friends. The invitation was phrased Now you know.

Things progressed fairly quickly from there. In a huge decision, Jane called off plans for major alterations to Fort Jeypore, her house in Berhampore. Over summer, we went on a road trip with Elsie and Ed, visiting my family in Auckland, and my old mates in Tokomaru Bay. We began by watching Tombstone together (an activity claimed by Ed to be required of all my new girlfriends). And for Jane’s treat we all saw one of the LOTR movies at the Embassy.

Here we are opening Christmas presents at my Dad’s place.


In Auckland, I think Jane got on quite well with Janet.


In February, Jane and I took a road trip around the South Island. We visited Christopher and Barbara in Purakaunui.



Here is a response to a BBQ that I had constructed. If you know me, you’ll know this BBQ. If you don’t, this will put you in the picture.

I think that I will never do
A deed as glorious as you,
Have in the span of two short days
Achieved and placed before my gaze

Now princes, kings and noblemen
Will flock to see it once – again
Lit from within by jealous fire
The object of their great desire

And seeing it will fan the flame
That all the ocean cannot tame
And each in his own way will learn
The feel of envy?s searing burn

I know that I have never seen
Quite such an elegant machine
Glowing, lambent, made anew
A f*ckin kickass barbecue!

Later in 2004, Jane moved to Christchurch and took up residence at Camp Keswick, before we moved into Durham Castle together. We had many wonderful times there.

Here are some moments from the reading of Lysistrata,


in which Jane cast most of my friends.


Here is Jane at Christmas, I think.


We went to Sydney.


We sat up in bed.


Despite some bumps, Jane and Elsie got on quite well.


Jane even endured a visit to the A&P show.


Of course, Zosie shared our lives.


And you know how it ends.

The bit that gets me is the death notice that Elsie and Ed wrote.










See-saw Physics for Kids

I think I was fourteen before the physics of levers and fulcrums was presented to me at school. At the time I was puzzled that everyone didn’t know this stuff already. After all, which kid did not have extensive experience of seesaws, often shared with people of a different size?

I decided to try this out with Grace. She got all of the following questions right, first time, without assistance.

Seesaw Questions for a Ten-Year Old

Grace (50kg) and Dan (100kg) are playing on a seesaw that is 4m long. Dan is standing at 1.0m on his side. Grace is at 2m on her side. The seesaw is balanced.  (I supplied an illustration of this).

To keep the seesaw balanced:

  1. If Dan moves to 0.5m, where will Gracie have to stand?
  2. If Dan stands at 0.5m and Annie (50kg) stands on Gracie’s side at 0.5m, where will Gracie have to stand?
  3. If Annie stands with Dan at 0.5m, where will Gracie have to stand?
  4. If Dan stands at 1.0 and Annie stands on Gracie’s side at 0.5m, where will Gracie have to stand?


Gene Banyard in Prometheus Bound

PB Poster DraftI much enjoyed the UoC Classics Department’s production of Prometheus Bound last night. Gene Banyard’s performance in the lead part was fantastic. It’s on tonight (11 Dec) and tomorrow (12 Dec), so if you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend that you do. It’s $10 or $15, 8:00pm at the Old Queens Theatre near the SW corner of Hereford and Colombo streets, Christchurch.

I am no classics scholar, but I found Robin Bond’s translation lyrical and dynamic. The venue is urban and gritty. The austere set, lighting and music evoke the stark horror of Prometheus’ predicament. The supporting cast are somewhat variable, but mostly with convincing and fluent delivery. Tracy Scarrett stands out with a forceful and expressive performance as Io. The chorus provide an elegant physical and narrative presence.

Of the hour and a half that this performance runs for, I’d guess an hour is the lead part of Prometheus. Gene Banyard’s slight physique and ragged costume create the impression of pitiful vulnerability. Despite this, he fills the auditorium with his presence. Prometheus, as Hermes points out, is all but relishing his plight. He is wronged but he is not beaten. He regales his guests with heroic and gory tales and prophecies. He rails in defiance of Zeus. He receives and dispenses both honour and contempt with equal facility. He is prepared to suffer for an eternity before his redemption.

Gene Banyard delivers a formidable performance as Prometheus. As you return from the Old Queens to ordinary life, it is hard to imagine that he is not still holding forth from his icy peak.

Awesome Barbecued Sausages in Beer

As you know, there is only one way to cook sausages: in beer. The variation occurs in what or where you cook the sausages with beer in, and what you cook with them. This is a recipe for sausages cooked with onoins and garlic in beer, on a barbecue plate. The plate in question is my wannabe teppenkayi bbq plate.

Cut your onions and garlic chink. Then get your plate clean and hot and stick your sausages, onions and garlic on it. You can use a small amount of oil. Give ’em a bit of a zizz, then add beer and stick a lid on.

zizz in a lid

You can lift the lid after a while. You know what they’re gonna look like.


Give ’em a jiggle and a push into the middle. Lid back on.

More beer.

more beer

Wait a while. Heat a bowl. Stick in bowl.



Turns Out I Like Brooke Fraser

Last night, as part of our “let’s do more fun stuff” initiative, Deb and I went to an outdoor concert with Anika Moa, Goldenhorse and Brooke Fraser. We were a little surprised that Brooke Fraser was in the lineup, having somehow gained the impression that it was to be Bic Runga. I was even more surprised that, out of the three acts, I liked Brooke Fraser the best.

Deb and Dan at outdoor gig

The setting was salubrious provincial; a paddock at the Mudhouse winery, with 5,000-dd MoreFM listeners on blankets and picnic chairs. The weather was warm, with sun and watercolour clouds. The only mild irritation was dust raised by the odd gust, or people walking past.

Anika Moa played the Hornby Girl, confessing at the outset that she was both hung over and pissed. At times, she carried off her anti-rock star persona, but the crowd was too large, and easily distracted by their own Merlot. Her songs are great, and her voice is lovely, but her presence needed to be a lot sharper, and the music a lot more polished to hold an audience of that size.

Annoyingly, a throng of fangirls dominated the apron of the stage, interrupting the performers in voices that were clearly audible through the PA.

In a pally moment, Anika invited Kirsten Morell from Goldenhorse to accompany her. Kirsten teetered on, wine glass raised, and obliged with her attention in the crucial moments. By the time they came on for their own bracket, Kirsten and her band were the scrappy and awkward side of relaxed. “A round of applause for the sunset!” Silence. “Yay!”. The band played well, their distinctive style came through in an enjoyable set. Kirsten walked her wobbly line between rock chick and public school girl gracing us with her presence. Using a thin conceit, she invited Anika to accompany her in a song, and they brought the crowd right with them in a couple of their radio songs. Anika’s harmony to Kirsten’s lead was warm and satisfying. I was starting to really enjoy the show.

Then Brooke Fraser came on. From the moment she took up the mic, she engaged the audience clearly and directly. Her voice was strong and rich, and she was friendly and relaxed but conspicuously sober, and knew exactly what she was doing. She immediately captured my attention. Her band sounded cleaner, tighter and livelier than the others. Her guitarist and keyboardist/vioal player/backing and singer were particularly excellent. Brooke Fraser’s voice was rich and smooth, with strength and lightness. I’d been anticipating something a little wet, and was surprised that I was spellbound. Was it God? We were treated to a brief sermon about Hosea, and a couple of those jokes where mentioning riskée subjects like alcohol or bottoms is so daring that you don’t actually have to say anything funny. Maybe it was the fact that Brooke is to marry in three weeks. She seemed pretty happy with herself, and what she has to share. Perhaps she could have finished before the second encore, when things were starting to get slightly sickly.

I love Anika Moa. I think In Swings the Tide is a beautiful and accomplished album. I can take or leave Goldenhorse but I respect what they do. It was the second to last night on a long tour, they were tired, they wanted to party. They wanted to be relaxed and pally with each other, and the audience. I’ve seen this work brilliantly for Anika in a small venue. With a large crowd like this, I wanted to see more assurance, more command, more slickness and professionalism. Brooke Fraser and her group managed all this, and did so with warmth and humanity. I was impressed and entertained. I even played her album today.

True Meaning of “Mountain Bike”

Annoyingly, my much-loved Peugeot single-speed bike got nicked the other day. I am still nursing hopes of its return, but in the meantime, I need a bike. Well, i have Deb’s bike, actually on loan from Alistair. But it’s a bit granny for me. Thin tyres. I decided to have a go at restoring my 1980s mountain bike.

It’s a World Rider, made in Timaru, I believe. I bought it from Lawrence Blackburn in about 1990, and he’d got it well-second-hand. It’s made of steel, with alloy castings. An early example. I always thought you could drive a truck over it. Ed rode it into a parked car and bent the forks, but he turned them backwards and bent them back by slamming the front wheel into a wall. Amazingly a couple of years ago, the handlebar snapped without provocation. You could still ride it, and Ron did. Unfortunately, it got vandalised and both gear changers got smashed off, but the tyres were still really good and the wheels were only slightly buckled.

I was ready to take it to the “super shed”, in the hope that someone would take pity on it. I had a bike that was ideal for my requirements. But then I didn’t. My old bike was a former multi-gear mountain bike, stripped down to a single speed, which is all you need for around town in Christchurch.

By removing the front gearshift mechanism, I got the chain to stay quite happily on whatever front sprocket you put it. The back one was more problematic. The springs kept shifting it back to the outer sprocket in the cluster, which had lost its grip on the axle and just turned without turning the wheel. The rear gear cable was fortunately still fixed to the wreck of the gear-shifter, however, so with some non-stretch cord, I manged to contrive a string gear shift. You can change gear by untying a knot and tightening or loosening an adjustable hitch. It works just fine for getting the chain in the right place on the right gear.

That left the problem of the broken handlebar, and the general rustiness. I took it to the mower and bike place around the corner. They were dead helpful and found a $30 handlebar that didn’t quite fit. Its main problem was that it was worth six times what the bike is. They wouldn’t weld it, which is understandable, I suppose, but the handlebar actually still kind of worked because the stay piece was intact. I’d ridden the thing to their shop hadn’t I? It was pretty wobbly.

So on the scrounge for a second hand handlebar, when in one of those quiet or distracted moments that invite flashes of inspiration (perhaps I was planning the camping trip we’re taking next week), I realised that manuka would be ideal. It’s a little irregular, but then so is the bike. It could hardly make it more out of balance when, if you let go the handlebars for a second, it skews strongly to the left. Manuka is particularly hard and strong. I have made many walking sticks, a shovel handle, a hammer handle and a mallet out of it, as well as tent poles (a whole set of internal ones, once – another story), and components of several urban washing line systems. With a manuka handlebar, the rust would look totally in-keeping. And, I happened to still have, carefully dried, two fine straight stems of young manuka, that I harvested en route to one of the major camping missions of the nineties.

I selected a suitable section, by looking at it longways and fitting it to the head-clamp (whatever you call that bit). I sawed it off, and clamped it in and could ride the bike straight away (holding onto the old broken handlebar with the brakes on it). The brake levers and even the hand-grips came off the old bar quite easily. Getting the brake levers onto the manuka was a bit tricky. They have cast grips with not much flex in them. Holding on the the tip with a rag, I used my Opinel knife as a spokeshave and thinned down both ends of the bar. Then I got slightly impatient and whacked the casting on with a mallet, using a 20mm ring-spanner to transmit the blows once it went down over the end of the stick.

Amazingly, the first one didn’t break. It didn’t even need its screw done up. The second one was on the thin end but was still a bit tight, or perhaps had a manufacturing flaw. Anyway, there was still the screw, so it clamped on quite well, even in two pieces. The two original yellow hand grips (a nice touch, I think) fitted on easily, and the job was done.

A quick tweak of the brakes, adjust of the seat, and pump of the tyres, and I’m away!