When the Devonport Scouts offered my husband and me a free overnight stay at Scoutsville, their bach on Rangitoto Island, I was both pleased and apprehensive. Not being one of those native New Zealanders who were brought up to spend their January summer holidays camping in remote seaside locations, I felt ill-prepared for 24 hours in an old wooden cabin with no electricity, water supply or coffee shop. I borrowed a couple of sleeping bags, packed as much food and drink as I could carry, and resolved to enjoy the adventure of going “back to nature” on one of the hottest and most humid days of the year.
Rangitoto, a 25 minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, was formed when a volcano erupted from the sea bed about 600 years ago. The steep-sided cone, with a deep crater at the top, is covered in pohutakawa and other native trees and there is rough black scoria underfoot. Technically it is not a desert island, for a few people used to live in the old baches scattered round the coastline, but almost all of these have now been vacated or pulled down. By day it is populated by tourists walking the tracks up to the summit and around the coast, but by night it is seldom inhabited.
Accommodation at Scoutsville was indeed basic, but my practical husband knew how to boil up rainwater on the gas stove to make cups of tea, and good Vodafone coverage meant I need not be deprived of my beloved iPhone – though I refrained from checking my emails so often as I do at home. We spent the afternoon walking part way to Islington Bay, then ate an early picnic supper on the bench outside the bach, and went to bed when it got dark. There was a heavy storm overnight, and lying on a hard bunk while the rainfall pounded down on the roof did not make for a perfect sleep, but I woke refreshed and after breakfast we walked part way round the other side of the island to Flax Point before catching the ferry home. It had been a good experience. Scoutsville is available for hire at reasonable rates.
My mother’s funeral took place yesterday.
In the past I have often – though not always – experienced funerals as rather distressing and depressing ordeals, which I was reluctant to attend. My mother had never discussed her wishes regarding her own funeral, but after she died I felt somewhat to my surprise that holding one in the Anglican tradition would be the right thing to do. This was confirmed when while going through her papers I found a list, written some years ago, of the hymns and readings she would want. Although she was not a church-goer, her choices included John’s Gospel Chapter 14 verses 1-6 and 27, Psalm 121, and God be in my Head, perhaps reflecting her religious upbringing.
I was also surprised to find that planning the ceremony was a positive experience. The minister provided an excellent service, as did the funeral director and the organist who were both already personal friends. I was nervous beforehand but all went well, and I managed to remain composed while reading out some of the tributes that had been emailed from my mother’s relatives and friends who live back in the UK. Obviously none of them were able to travel to New Zealand for the event, but many sent cards and flowers, and a good number of our local friends were present to provide their support.
I now understand that funerals can provide a valuable sense of “closure” to the bereaved. After yesterday was over I felt more relaxed, and more ready to move forward to the next stage of life, which will be very different without my mother living next door.
My own creative writing has been on hold lately because of illness and death in my close family, but I’ve continued to read a few books both old and new, and with the help of the “Your Year in Books” service provided by Goodreads.com compiled a list of my personal Top Ten from 2015.
In the fiction category, I like mystery novels and psychological thrillers. Three of my favourites are The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Mistake I Made by Paula Daly, and Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent, all by women writers from the UK.
I didn’t read many new titles in the field of orthodox medicine and psychology last year, with the exception of Trauma by military psychiatrist Gordon Turnbull who specialises in PTSD. Besides reviving memories of my own former career, this was relevant to personal experiences of recent months. For a less orthodox approach, Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth is jointly written by Tommy Rosa who is a survivor of the near-death experience, and holistic cardiologist Stephen Sinatra. While many of the spiritual insights are not new, they are always worth repeating, and this is an uplifting text. As is is A Course in Miracles Made Easy by Alan Cohen, a readable overview for those of us who are unlikely to tackle the original text.
The quirkiest book on my list is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Japanese author Marie Kondo, who has a lifelong passion for organising material possessions. I have yet to attempt putting her system into practice, except to follow the command “Never ball your socks”.
Three very different biographical titles: The Dragon’s Blessing by Guy Allenby tells the life story of Ian Gawler, who has done so much to promote holistic cancer care since his remarkable recovery from a sarcoma. In Disgrace with Fortune by Jean Hendy-Harris, a racy account of the life of a sex worker in London’s Swinging Sixties. And The Last Enemy by Battle of Britain hero Richard Hillary – a book I first read in my teens and have re-read several times since.
This was a difficult choice because there were many other books I found entertaining, interesting or inspiring.