Saturday, January 4, 2014

What Happened in 2013 - Part 5

We came home from our travels to find that the house sitters had not been very energetic.  The garden was an overgrown mess.  In the house they had used many items in the pantry, which is OK, but not replaced them, which is not OK.  A nice wooden bowl had been broken and many things had been moved.  There are still a few possessions that we have not located, and one or two of theirs have appeared.  Oh well, the house had not been left empty and the chickens had been fed.  Of course we had been spoiled last year by Ted and Susan, who must be the world's most perfect house sitters.

Our bantam, Beryl, had gone broody just before we got home, so we let her sit on 10 eggs.  She hatched 4 of them and we had 3 black chicks and 1 white one.  They have all gone to Richard and Tansy in Christchurch and are growing well.

This year we planted only garlic varieties that grew well last season and the crop is shaping well.  We had plenty of rain in the Spring, when the garlic wants moisture, and plenty more rain in the summer, when we would prefer a dry spell.  Fingers crossed that we get a decent crop when they are ready to pull.

We had a visit from Viv Winterburn (nee Pezzey).  Our parents were great friends and my brother, Nigel, had managed to keep in touch.  When he knew Viv was planning a visit to NZ he sensibly directed her towards us.  We enjoyed her visit very much.  She and Eve got on particularly well.  I abandoned my work for 2 days and the three of us went over the Takaka Hill to Golden Bay to show Viv Waikoropupu Springs, the seals on Wharariki Beach, and a little bit of Farewell Spit.

We have hosted our first wwoofer (wwoof = willing workers on organic farms).  Miriam was from Stuttgart.  The host provides full board accommodation and the worker delivers 4 or 5 hours work per day.  The weather was not nice while Miriam was here, and it was Christmas holiday time, so we weren't working very hard.  Eve found some indoor tasks and Miriam has achieved the almost impossible and created order and tidiness in the cellar.  We have several enquiries from prospective wwoofers for 2014.

2013 was a year of granddaughters.  Eve has two more, Ellyssa (born 2 May) and Leila (born 27 August).  Bill is due to become a Grampa in January 2014.

Elaine, Matthew and Leila

One of them even joined us for Christmas dinner.  Matthew (Eve's son) and Elaine brought little Leila with them.  We also had Miriam, Kate from next door, Kate's mother Challis and Lee, who was living on Kate's property at the time.  So we sat down 8 to dinner plus the baby.  As always, the barbecue roasted the turkey perfectly.

The year ended on a sad note.  "Uncle Arty's", a Washbourn family holiday home burnt down on 28 December.  We aren't blood members of the family, but June Washbourn was my godmother and Liza and Jo, the next generation, are very good friends.  The first holiday Eve and I had together was at Uncle Arty's in Golden Bay, so it has a strong romantic attachment for us.  We were booked for another stay at the end of January.  Fortunately no people were hurt in the blaze, which merited the front page of the Nelson Mail and was even reported in the Christchurch Press.

Friday, January 3, 2014

What Happened in 2013 - Part 4: Hawaii

We only had one night in Seattle, and the idea that we would spend the afternoon sightseeing morphed into a stroll round Chinatown, where the hostel was located.  The hostel directed us to a very good and astonishingly cheap restaurant for our evening meal and then it was early to bed because we had to catch the first train in the morning to the airport.

The hostel had advertised itself as convenient to the airport train, and it did not exaggerate.  We had to cross the road at the first corner and descend the steps to the platform.  It was an arrangement I'd not seen before; the 'station' was shared by the light rail, which we rode, and the city buses.

Our train was on time and we were delivered to the airport, which despite the unsocial earliness of the hour was already teeming.  Crowds surged around the Alaska Air automatic check-in kiosks, but we didn't have to wait long to get to one.  Then a hitch.  For a reason I cannot now remember we had to enter our address and the machine rejected our NZ postcode.  There is indeed a desk with actual humans to resolve such little difficulties, but it had a huge queue, which did not seem to be moving at all.  We had no option but to join it, with the risk approaching fast that we might miss our flight.  To our relief an Alaska Air employee came down the line to see what issues people had.  He grasped the problem at once.  The "fix" was to check in at a kiosk but not to attempt to pay the machine for our checked bags.  Instead, go to the bag drop and pay there.

So we did not miss the 'plane and we flew to Honolulu for the Golden Oldies hockey festival.

We are members of the International Harlequins team.  Bill plays and Eve supports, encourages and defends our gear.  We both socialise, which is the principal objective of the event.  The team is currently managed from Calgary, so we were listed in the programme as a Canadian team.  I have often described these festivals as "a week-long party with hockey breaks."  It started with a welcome cocktail party and finished with a formal dinner.  There were three days of games in between.  No scores are ever recorded - it's purely for the fun of it.

Not that the hockey isn't important.  We do try to play a reasonable game and to score more goals than the opposition.  Since no hockey is played in Hawaii we were warned to bring ALL our gear, as none would be available locally.  Sadly, the organisers did not understand the requirements of the game properly and the pitches were terrible.  By the second day of games they had been mown shorter and were merely 'bad'.  But give them credit for fashioning very serviceable goals from plastic pipe and whatever netting was to hand.

Our hotel was just across the road from Waikiki Beach.  We trod the sands and swam in the sea.  There was a modest swell, but not many people were trying to surf.

Sunset over Waikiki
On Monday night the sky was aflame.  The picture was from our hotel balcony.  That's Waikiki Beach just behind the palm trees.

There are no games on Tuesday and Thursday to let our not-so-youthful bodies recover.  One of these is always a 'picnic day', when all the teams are bussed to a nice place to eat, drink, socialise and drink some more.

Eve Heritage, Bill Heritage and Bella Whippy (nee Heritage)
One of our particular friends is Bella from the Fiji Invitational Veterans.  She has been attending these festivals for about as long as I have.  She was born Isobel Heritage and we have tried hard to find a link between our families.  To no avail.  But we pretend nevertheless that we are cousins.

One of the entertainments organised at this picnic was a relay race that involved removing a ribbon tied to a goat's tail and he next member of the team had to reattach it.  I imagine this can be fun if you have had enough to drink.  One contestant made it a memorable event by competing in a lime-green mankini.  I do not intend to post my photographs of this, one of which appears to depict a very unhealthy interest in the goat.

On our free day, Eve and I went on a guided tour of the island.  There are heaps of tours (tourism is BIG business in Honolulu), but very few offer anything like an introduction to the local natural history.  There was only one that suited our timing so we took it.  We gained insights into the coffee and cocoa industries, and visited the Waimea Valley Audubon Center, where the rare Hawaiian Moorhen was known to breed.  And we actually saw one.  Tick!

Shama Thrush
The reserve also contained plenty of commoner birds, like this one, which is much more colourful than the moorhen.  Our guide was pretty knowledgable about the trees, as well, in the center's delightful botanical gardens.  The reserve was on the North Shore of Oahu.

The tour included a shrimp lunch from one of several specialist cafes beside the road.  The chili shrimps were superb.  The cafes cluster by a large area where the shrimps are bred in large ponds.  In the nearest pond were several Hawaiian Stilts, even rarer birds than the moorhen.  TICK!

The same evening most of the Harlequins went on a dinner cruise.  The evening was balmy, the food was very good for a buffet, the band was fine and the dancers gave us examples of dancing styles from Hawaii and several other Pacific Island groups.  It should have been a great evening, but it was totally spoiled for me by the incessant badgering to get the audience involved.  This started on the bus from the hotel, when the courier had us rehearsing a "bus number one war cry" or some such nonsense.  Dear cruise company, I am an adult and I do not need level one lessons in how to enjoy myself.

The only organised festival activity on the Saturday is the finale dinner, so that is another day for a free choice.  Eve and I went to the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.

Hanauma Bay
Getting there was a single bus ride from near the hotel.  Entering the nature preserve required money and the compulsory viewing of a video about safety in the water - for both bathers and the marine wildlife.  I think the dangers to swimmers were rather exaggerated.  As you can see from the picture there is plenty of sheltered water because the waves break on the reef quite well out.

A few more dollars rented snorkelling gear.  Eve is a very good swimmer but this was her first use of a mask and snorkel.  The water was so shallow it was very difficult to avoid kicking or handling the rocks.  There was not much coral, but the other life was great.  We saw many species of fish - good sized ones, too.  We also saw a turtle; the first wild one I've encountered.  And I saw my first octopus, but it withdrew into a crevice before I could show it to Eve.

Eve was hooked on this.  She immediately made it clear that she would like a snorkelling kit for Christmas, and a tropical holiday to use it in 2014.  So mask, snorkel and flippers were under the Christmas tree and very soon I'd better start researching island resorts.


What Happened in 2013 - Part 3: Vancouver Island

2013 was Eve's first visit to Canada.  I'm an old hand at Canada and had previously been to many of the places we saw on the mainland.  Somehow I had never got to Vancouver Island, despite the very positive comments so many folk had given it.

Getting there was a breeze.  You take the bus from downtown Vancouver all the way to Victoria.  The bus has to go a long way to the ferry terminal.  The driver then appeared to ignore all the traffic directions, but drove us onto the correct ferry.  No struggling with baggage on gangways.  All we had to do was find a seat with a view and, at the end of the crossing, find our way back to the bus.

The hotel we had selected in Victoria was inexpensive, but not altogether convenient.  First, it was well out of the city centre and second, it had no proper dining room.  What it did have was a bar operated by a third party.  As a bar it was pleasant enough, with good beers and patrons who welcomed us in their midst.  But the bar menu was an unimaginative selection of burgers.  It did not open at all in the morning, and the hotel could only manage a very basic 'breakfast in a bag' to take to our room.  (In fairness to the Howard Johnson Hotel, it was adequate and healthy and only $2.)

So we got to know the local buses pretty well in our searches for a good dinner.

Our itinerary allowed us 3 nights and 2 full days on the island, which is hopelessly inadequate.  We have seen only a tiny fraction of the sights.

Day One - Butchart Gardens

Every gardener should pay a visit.  The gardens were established by the wife of a local businessman and are still owned by the family.

We got there by local bus, using a very inexpensive day pass.  The driver of the first bus gave us admirably clear and accurate directions when we had to change.  The return journey was even better - we were picked up at the Gardens by an express going directly to the city centre.

The Butcharts employ 50 gardeners and the result is a floral treat of great beauty at any time of the year.

A tuberous begonia

The Sunken Garden

A small sample of the mass of dahlias on show

I've left out photographs of the several acres of ground devoted to raising seedlings, the fountain with ever-changing displays, the merry-go-round, and several thousand other gorgeous plants.  There were even water lilies in full bloom in September.

Needless to say, Eve was in her element, and full of admiration for the designers and cultivators of the gardens.  They (the gardens, not the cultivators) are not a cheap excursion, but certainly worth every cent.  Even the gift shop was memorable for its huge range of garden-related merchandise and the assistants' knowledge - even to which seeds could be legally taken into New Zealand.

All the tourist literature recommended Barb's Fish and Chips on Fisherman's Wharf.  No wonder Barb can afford all that advertising - the prices were scandalously high.  So we ate Mexican from a nearby competitor.

Day Two - Lakes

When we had arrived to pick up our Rent-a-Wreck car in the evening of day One the office was unattended.  We waited for 10 minutes and it was still unattended.  But we have a phone!  The number must have switched through to a cellphone because we made contact straight away.  The lady was embarrassingly apologetic, gave us a free insurance waiver and late return.  "Tell you what.  You keep it overnight and I'll run you down to the ferry terminal in the morning."

So we had wheels for the day.

Our first destination was Swan Lake, which was not really an appropriate name that day because we saw a lot of wildlife, but no swans.  It was a very pleasant reserve and a nice meander around the paths.  We had chosen this lake for its birding reputation.  We each carried binoculars and I had my camera attached to a monopod, purchased expressly for these situations.

Part of the lake edge
There was an otter in the distance but you cannot see it in the photograph.  There were also grebes at extreme binocular range.  I thought they were the red-necked species.

Belted Kingfisher
I was close enough for the bird to notice me, but far enough away that I had to use full zoom.  The sharpness of the image is due to the monopod reducing camera-shake.

Spotted Towhee
No, I don't know how this little bird (20% larger than a sparrow) got its surname.  Another coup for the monopod.

There were a couple of joggers circuiting the lake at a pace we could not match on bicycles, but not many other people.  Just before we completed our walk we met another birder armed with similar bird-spying equipment.  We had a most enjoyable chat with Cheryl Redhead, took each other's photos and are still in e-mail contact.  She was able to identify the distant grebes as pied-billed.  I emailed her a photo of a couple of LBJs (little brown jobs), that are only slightly less annoying to the birder than the very common birds-you-can-hear-but-not-see.  Even with a good photograph and a good field guide I couldn't identify them. They turned out to be young brown-headed cowbirds.  "Common bird, but tricky juvenile id." So I don't feel too bad about being stumped.

In the afternoon we visited Thetis Lake.  There weren't many birds here, but plenty of people swimming, walking their dogs or, like us, just walking.


We returned to Fisherman's Wharf on our last evening and studied the quaint houseboats and the tourist vessel designed to imitate a pirate ship.  We ate slightly less expensive fish and chips from one of Barb's competitors, whose scraps had attracted two seals so close you could almost touch them.

The following morning the rental car lady was as good as her word and delivered us to the ferry terminal.  The plan was that we would have lovely views of the islands on our way to Seattle, but th weather let us down.  There was thick mist, which only eased slightly during the journey.  Never mind, we met some very pleasant fellow travellers and conversation passed the time.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Happened in 2013 - Part 2: Mainland Canada

It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that I work for 11 months so that Eve and I can travel for the 12th month.  This year the destinations were Canada and Hawaii.

We started with a few days in Southern California, where we visited Disneyland and Universal Studios and astonishingly I did not take a single photograph.  We had a wonderful day at Disneyland, enjoying the rides, the music and the atmosphere generally.  We also observed first hand the obesity problem in the USA.  Our favourite ride was Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.  "Evil Emperor Zurg is stealing batteries from helpless toys ..." so our mission was to take our laser blasters and zap images of Zurg and his minions as we were trundled round the course.  It is clearly designed for the younger generation - so we sixty-somethings rode this one twice!

From LAX we flew to Vancouver, where cousin Sarah lives with her husband, Tom.  They made us very welcome, even though Sarah's niece, Lily, was also coming to overflow their apartment.  All five of us had an expedition to Granville Island using the ferries that ply False Creek.


L to R: Eve, Bill, Lily, Tom and Sarah

Only a few days after this photo was taken Lily's boyfriend, Thom, proposed to her and was accepted.  Congratulations to you both.

There are market stalls offering just about anything edible, but particularly local produce.  As at home, berries in season are available by the kilo.  You can also get meat, cheese, pastries - you name it.  There are also more permanent shops selling all sorts, from traditional brooms to ship chandlery.

From Vancouver we rented a car and set off for the mountains.  Our route took us along the Crows Nest Highway to the Cascades and Slocan Valley, out onto the plains and northward to Calgary and then back West and more North into the Canadian Rockies.  It is tempting to write a day-by-day account, but I want to get this post finished this year, so you will have to settle for selected highlights.


First wildlife sighted: a chipmunk at Hope Slide


Slocan Lake

Canada is a land of lakes.  We never tired of seeing them.


Nelson, British Columbia

We live in Nelson Province, NZ so we could not miss Nelson, BC.  The beach is not as fine or as large as Tahunanui, but it is nevertheless a good beach.  The water is not salt.  That's an arm of Kootenay Lake.



Prairie wildflowers

These were photographed near Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump.  Yes, that's the place name.  It was where the first plains residents would regularly attempt to stampede the buffalo over a cliff.  The head immortalised in the name was not a buffalo's head, but that of a boy who wanted to watch the falling buffalo from underneath and got too close.

In Calgary we were welcomed by Tony Stewart, the captain of the hockey team we would be part of in Hawaii.  He not only gave us a room for the night, he carefully wrote down all the places in the Rockies that we really should not miss and provided sketch maps of brilliant clarity.

From Calgary we went to Banff where, to Eve's delight, we found Evelyn's Coffee Bar.  This promised, and delivered, excellent coffee.


One of the many very attractive rivers in the Rockies


We saw lots of berries in the woods, but never a bear eating them.


A number of plants produce 'woolly' seed heads.


Just upriver from one of the big waterfalls, whose name I have forgotten.


Moraine Lake (I think)

Who cares what its name is?  It's yet another beautiful piece of scenery.


Takakkaw Falls

None of my photos does justice to these falls.  The picture above only shows the first section.  The main drop is 254m.  Even though I'd been to this part of the Rockies before, I didn't know about this stunning waterfall.  And if the falls weren't enough, the surrounding scenery was extra gorgeous.


Golden mantled ground squirrel

This piratical rodent is scoffing *my* lunch.  We sat on a bench to eat our meal while we admired the view of Mt Edith Cavell when the squirrel appeared.  Playing on its undeniable cuteness it cozened us into feeding it blueberries.  I was trying to get a photo and put my plate down on the bench.  "Where's it gone?"  It had disappeared and by some sleight of paw popped up behind us, stretched up to the plate and carefully selected the largest cracker.  It then hurried well beyond any retribution and daintily but rapidly nibbled away.  "Yes, officer.  I have read the signs.  I did not deliberately feed baked goods to the wildlife."


Arboreal squirrel sp.

This critter has the good sense and manners to eat what the forest provides.  It did not come looking for handouts - in fact it ignored the humans around it while it rapidly extracted seeds from cones.  Note the blurring of the right paw as it removes the unwanted pieces of cone.


The first step of the Athabasca Falls

Some waterfalls are very accessible.  You park your car in a spacious car park and saunter over to where the noise is coming from, covertly scanning the license plates of the other vehicles to see if you can add to your list of state plates seen.  Around the falls there are made paths and fences and, sometimes, signs with sad tales of visitors who have fallen in the water, detailing the date of the incident, the victim's age and how far downstream the body was recovered.

Jasper, which is the nearest town to this and many other sights, has the most expensive accommodation in Canada.  Many of the local residents offer rooms at 'only' around $100 per night.  That does not generally include breakfast, but the one we settled on did provide good, brewed coffee and toast.  Mind you, our hostess insisted that we change to a bigger room after the first night and then charged us $20 extra for complying with her request.


Patricia Lake, near Jasper

Choosing which lake photos to leave out has been difficult.  This is one of the few with a close up of a shore.  We stopped here after admiring and photographing the more well known Pyramid Lake.  It was only a minute or so after we left here that we nearly collided with a deer.  We think it was mule deer, but really it all happened so quickly.  It burst out of the woods to our right and I didn't see anything before it was in the road and about to collect the car amidships.  I did stamp on the brake, but there was no time or room so it was lucky that the animal didn't pause but carried on at the same breakneck speed and vanished into the trees on the other side of the road.


Mt. Robson

After we left Jasper we drove West through Mt. Robson Provincial Park.  I'm not sure if it counts as the Rockies or not.  The mountain itself is very imposing, and the photograph doesn't really convey that well.  But we'd been driving long enough to want a break and a coffee and we got this grand view, too.


Bill and Eve with Okanagan Lake in the background

Even though we were headed back towards Vancouver we had more to see.  Cousin David and his wife, Jane, live in Summerland.  Jane generously played tour guide and between wineries and gardens took us to this prominent hilltop and photographed the tourists.  Thank you, Jane.


Jane and David

From Summerland we continued South to Osoyoos (pronounced as it is spelled - figure it out like we had to) and the Nk'mip Desert Cultural Centre.  Nk'mip is pronounced 'Inkaneep' we think.  The cultural centre was a fountain of information about the tribe's history; particularly their treatment by Europeans, which was strikingly similar to the early Pakeha insensitivity to Maori in New Zealand.

We were lucky enough to be at the centre at the right time for a talk on the local snakes.  The ranger started with small, non-venomous species and worked up to a rattlesnake.  He treated us all like adults and didn't try to make the rattler scary.  He described its habits matter-of-factly, didn't handle it directly, but did take it out of its box with a stick and put it on the table.  The snake seemed to be bored with the whole process and couldn't be bothered to shake its rattle, let alone attempt to bite anyone.  Finally the ranger placed the box, on its side, on the table and the snake immediately glided inside and curled up out of the sun, just as the ranger said he would.

From there we drove to Vancouver and a final night with Sarah and Tom before returning the rental car and heading for Vancouver Island.

What Happened in 2013 - Part 1

I went through the year's photographs and selected just the most interesting ones for this series of posts.  When I'd finished there were 49!  So they had to be even more ruthlessly culled.

Work was slow in January, so the year got off to a fairly relaxed start.  Our first commercial crop of organic garlic ripened.  We had sourced seed from a range of suppliers and found that the local varieties performed significantly better than those purchased from further away.  We sold some to the local supermarket, but kept most of the big bulbs for the next season.

At the end of January I had my hernia operated on.  This has been described in a separate post.

In February we had to move out for a few days so that the concrete floor could have its final coat of sealant.  Not only did most of the furniture have to be moved out, but we had to wait for two days for the chemicals to dry and the nasty fumes to disperse.

At the end of the month my brother, Nigel, visited from England.  The main objective of his visit was to be part of our father's 91st birthday celebrations on 3 March.

Dad had been getting harder to look after.  We were able to access some help in the home, particularly with showering him, but it became clear that he needed professional care.  After the birthday celebrations Nigel and I explained this to Dad and recommended Woodlands Rest Home to him.  Fortunately he took the news philosophically.

Living in the countryside and often leaving the doors open means that from time to time birds fly into the house.  Some of them then panic and cannot find their way back out without the clumsy guidance of waving arms and oaths.  Every now and then we have to actually catch one and carry it outside.  On 14 April a fantail got disoriented and after an exhausting chase I scooped it up and took it outside.  The poor creature was so traumatised that it just sat on my hand.  Eve had time to fetch the camera and take pictures before it flew away.


My "pet" fantail

Where we live snow mostly confines itself to the mountains so that it is tidily available for skiing, but does not disrupt daily life.  But while I was working in Christchurch in May it not only snowed in the city, but settled and prettily coated the cars.

In July we had more bird incidents.  This time it was kea.  NZ's alpine parrot is famously inquisitive.  In fact, they can be right little feathered hooligans.  They took to visiting us in the early morning.  Their investigations reveled that a beak can pull lumps off polystyrene seed boxes.  There seems to have been some rivalry as to who could remove the largest chunk and scatter the debris over the grass.

They are protected and, in the proper place, lively and charming birds.  They are, by bird standards, very intelligent, but their ideas of fun include removing the rubber from around car windscreens.  Eve called DoC for advice.  Apparently it is the adolescent birds (damn teenagers!) that are destructive.  Remove shiny items, which attract them, and a water pistol is a good deterrent.  It doesn't harm the kea but they don't like it!.



Discussing what to chew next

Eve and I briefly got involved in the attempt to save the Joan Whiting Rest Home in Collingwood, Golden Bay.  Government funding was withdrawn in favour of a new and very hospital-like facility in Takaka.  I was even going to be a director of the landlord company if the bid was successful.  However, there were numerous obstacles and in the end the property was purchased by someone who wants to turn it into a backpackers hostel.

Leslie Victor "Bill" Heritage (3 March 1922 - 5 August 2013)

My father died this year.  He was not at home with computer technology and I'm sure he never knew what a 'blog' is, but I'd like to create a public memorial.  So I append the script for his funeral, just as I wrote it for delivery in the funeral home on Friday, 9 August in Motueka.


Funeral Script


Thanks

A brief word of explanation is probably required here. My father chose the music to be played at his funeral. Jazz, of course. He neatly labelled the CDs with the chosen tracks and gave me the title of another one, which I had to track down on the Internet. That's the one we just heard:- I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan by Jack Teagarden and Bobby Hackett.

Dad did not live in NZ for many years and he doesn't have a large family so today's gathering is unexpectedly well attended. Elizabeth, Richard and I are very grateful to the support from our spouses and from so many friends. Thank you all for being here.

Dad's only other descendant, my brother Nigel, is here with us in spirit. He, and the wider Heritage clan, are in the UK. Nigel is organising a memorial gathering there for next month. By the magic of digital recording and the Internet he is also here in audio and will speak later.

Dad was a convinced atheist. A religious ceremony would be quite inappropriate and we are not going to have one. There will be no priest, hymns or other trappings of a church service, but there will be some pauses for more music. You can use these times to remember Dad, submit a prayer to your deity if you wish or just enjoy the jazz.

There is a slot in the programme for anyone who wishes to share a memory or two of Dad to come forward and tell us what is on their mind. There is no written programme, apart from the paper I have in my hand. This is not expected to be a long function. Dad did not want formality and expressly forbade unnecessary expense.

I hope everyone at least has a copy of the directions to the cemetery and to the lunch at Mapua Wharf afterwards.

The only reading I have planned is a very short excerpt from a gardening book.

Nor have I scheduled any organised singing, but if anyone has the impulse to carol an unaccompanied verse or two, please go ahead.



Early Years

Leslie Victor Heritage was born on his parents' farm near Chesterton, Warwickshire on 3 March 1922. The significance of that date is that the 3rd of the 3rd '33 was his 11th birthday.

His early childhood was spent in the country, where a strong interest in nature developed. I remember him teaching me, when I was quite small, how to stamp hard and frighten a sitting bird so that it would fly out of the hedge and you could find its nest. He and his younger brother, Norman, would probably have horrified OSH; cycling without helmets, climbing trees and playing by the canal.

Young Les won a scholarship to Warwick School. What he recalled most often about the school is that it was founded in 914 by Ethelfleda, the daughter of King Alfred the Great, making it the oldest school in England that could prove its date of establishment.

He did well at Warwick academically, particularly in mathematics. He was not an enthusiastic sportsman. Norman tells that he persuaded the doctor to write him a note excusing him from games because of flat feet.

War broke out just about the time he was due to leave school. He witnessed one of the early German air raids on the Midlands; on Coventry. This gave him a desire to get back at the Hun, preferably from the air.

Many young men were volunteering for the RAF in 1940, but Les surprised the selection panel by expressly asking not to be a pilot. With his mathematical ability he was ideally suited to be a navigator and that was what he became.

Most people who met him were treated to the story of how he became re-named “Bill”. On his first day in the RAF he was allocated to room with two other recruits. One was a Les Peacock. The third said, “I can't call you both Les. Tell you what, I'll call you Bill.” And ever afterward he was Bill Heritage.

His flying training was in Canada. He claimed to be responsible for the only WWII attack on New York. He was the senior trainee navigator in a night exercise over Lake Erie. They were supposed to be navigating by the stars, but got lost and flew too far South. As Bill told it, they were spotted as unknown aircraft straying into US airspace, fighters were scrambled at La Guardia Field and the air raid sirens sounded in New York for the first and last time. It must have been hushed up because no account of it has been located in local press records.

By now he was a firm jazz fan. He planned to use some Christmas leave to go to New York where the major jazz clubs were. Then a phone call came, “We're your Canadian relations. Come and spend Christmas with us.” They proved to be very nice relatives, but he never got to the jazz clubs.

He must have been near the top of his class, because he passed out with a commission as Flight Lieutenant and a posting to Coastal Command. “But sir, I wanted a bomber.” Bill never did get his bomber or the chance to repay the Luftwaffe for the Coventry raid. He was shipped to West Africa and ended up more or less hitch-hiking flights to India, where he flew for most of the war.

As a child I was sometimes entertained by his tales of service life, like the night a hedgehog wandered into the officers' mess and was fed cherry brandy by a tipsy CO. This wasn't the kind of heroics I dreamed of in a father and I once asked him if he was ever shot at. “Yes. The landing approach at Imphal Plain was over the Japanese lines. But they didn't have any anti-aircraft guns.” And he did take offensive action at least once. His crew depth charged a whale they mistook for a Japanese submarine. And if they hurt the whale it would have been Bill's fault because the navigator also acted as bomb aimer.

That's not to say he did not contribute positively to the war effort. He was a disc jockey on forces radio. I think it was because he owned the jazz records. A 6ft Sikh sergeant tried to coach him, “Put more feeling in your voice, Flt Lt Heritage.” Bill would later complain, “There was this bloody great wog telling me how to speak my own language.”

The vagaries of war led to a meeting with Norman, now an RAF sergeant. Norman confesses that the brothers painted Delhi a bright crimson.




Marriage and Career

Demob in 1946 led to the start of Bill's career with plants. First it was with the Forestry Commission in Dorset. During this part of his life he met Irene Roblou and they were married in 1948.

From forestry he moved to Stewart's Nursery in Ferndown. In the ensuing years two sons were born, polythene was invented and Bill was invited to write Stewart's catalogue. These were all vital components of his future career:
  • Polythene led Bill to experiment with plastics as a means to keep soil waterlogged and grow water plants, especially water lilies;
  • Writing the catalogue led to countless magazine articles, many of which he illustrated with his own photographs.
  • A chance introduction to Percy Thrower, led on to five or so guest specialist appearances on television gardening shows, dozens of radio broadcasts and lecturing to horticultural societies.

Bill had always been an avid reader and it just came naturally to write his first article, "Come on in - the Water's Fine" in 1955, which was published in the horticultural magazine Amateur Gardening. The demand for articles grew.

The BBC produced a TV gardening programme, hosted by Percy Thrower, from its studio in Birmingham. It was in black and white, live and no recording. Bill was first asked to appear in April 1960. I can't remember which appearance it was when the family was allowed to accompany him. We had to sit well out of the lights in the studio and both boys were suitably cognisant of the imperative of silence.

In 1961 or '62 the family moved from Ferndown and Bill joined a specialist garden centre, Highlands Water Gardens in Rickmansworth.

Growing into my teens I was delightfully unaware that my father was now England's leading expert on garden ponds. A narrow field, I grant you, but it's always nice to be looked up to. I did know that I could earn money by working with him at weekends.

To me, he was 'my Dad'. He didn't get overly involved in child rearing, as was the custom of the day. But he did take me fishing. I remember with great happiness sitting with my Dad by rivers and canals watching for a float to bob. A warm, sunny day at Lacock where, as I recall, we caught nothing and it didn't matter. A bitterly cold, winter day in Norfolk fishing for pike. Catching perch in a Somerset drainage canal while we stayed in a pub, which was then a huge treat.

Best of all was fishing at sea from a boat. This was exciting because it was unpredictable. Off Teignmouth in a dinghy Dad started hauling in the anchor. “Why are we moving?”, I asked. “I'm sick as a dog.” That's when I noticed he had gone a pale green shade. In Ireland we caught BIG fish; a 30lb tope and Dad battled a huge skate for abut 40 minutes before it broke the line. It was in Ireland, too, that a fellow fisherman gaped when I said “Dad.” “Sure, I thought you was fishing buddies.”

Back in Rickmansworth, Highlands Water Gardens was sold. The new owner was difficult to work with. When Dad proudly told him he had written a book about water gardening the instant reaction was, “How much are getting paid for it?” Lawyers were retained in a bitter wrangle, but eventually The Lotus Book of Water Gardening was published in 1973 and sold over 150,000 copies. It was translated into French and Dutch.

The relationship with Highlands Water Gardens did not survive the argument. He was working at Wildwoods when his second book, Ponds and Water Gardens, was published. There has been a second edition and two revised editions after that.

To give you a glimpse of Bill's skill with words, today's reading is from the preface to Ponds and Water Gardens.

Read

And that, I think, is enough of my voice for now.

Dad's second selection is Muggsy Spanier's Ragtime Band playing Relaxin' at the Touro.



Nigel

Here is the recording my brother, Nigel, sent from England. After him, you are all invited to say a few words if you want to.

Play recording.

Invite speakers.


Mike Theilmann

Amongst the many sympathetic words emailed from around the world, the ones I would like to share with you come from Mike Theilmann. The Theilmanns are related through the Roblou side of the family, and have been good friends for a very long time. Mike and his wife, Maren, now live in Ottawa, Canada.

Read

Thank you, Mike.

And now Muggsy Spanier again with Lonesome Road.




Retirement

Charles Thomas of Lilypons Water Gardens formed the International Water Lily Society in 1984. So Bill (always with Irene tagging along) was able to share his love and enthusiasm in person with others from around the world, but particularly the USA. Bill and Irene couldn't make it to the very first IWLS Symposium but after that they were always there until their last visit to Baltimore in 1998.

Bill delivered the keynote address at its 1986 symposium.

At the 1988 symposium, IWLS awarded Bill its highest honour. They inducted him into their Hall of Fame in recognition of his outstanding contributions advancing water gardening.

Visiting the USA rather regularly satisfied a special curiosity of Bill's, the American Civil War. Upon gratifying his water gardening interests in the area he and Irene were visiting, he then reviewed Civil War events of the locality.

It was through an IWLS contact that Bill arranged one of the most romantic gifts ever. American growers had finally rediscovered how to breed new kinds of water lily. For my parents' 40th wedding anniversary, their 'ruby wedding', he arranged for a new variety of red lily to be named “Irene Heritage”.

My parents were married for 60 years, all but 10 days. After Mum died in 2008 I invited Dad to join me in Nelson for a holiday. He liked it so much he applied for permanent residence.

Nearly all of the credit for Bill's enjoyment of his final years belongs to Eve. She had much the lion's share of the work of caring for Bill as he aged. Thank you, Eve, from the bottom of my heart.

Bill's legs could not carry him so far and his memory became ever more unreliable. But in Mapua and then on the farm in Woodstock he was able to enjoy the Nelson sunshine and the birds and a delightful view.

In March this year, shortly after his 91st birthday, he moved into Woodlands Rest Home so that he could be provided with round-the-clock professional care. I made sure to take him for a drive and a coffee every weekend. More often than not, Eve came too.

Last Saturday we went to Rabbit Island. Bill stayed in the car while Eve and I had a walk on the beach. Then we all went for a coffee. He tackled a large piece of coffee cake with the enthusiasm of a tiger tucking into its tea-time coolie.

Back at Woodlands he rejected my first farewell hug as not good enough; we had to have a real rib-crushing bear-hug. I count myself very fortunate to have such a positive memory of our last time together.


Dad could not ignore his favourite musician, so, to play us out, it is Benny Goodman with Moonglow.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hernia Repair is Easy

I was diagnosed with a hernia about a decade ago.  It was a strange, puffy bulge in the lower abdomen that didn't hurt but seemed like it shouldn't be there.  My GP at the time advised that the state health system would not stir itself to fix anything so trivial and referred me to a private surgeon who named a fee that would make Bill Gates think twice.  I chose to live with it.

Mid way through 2012 something behind the bulge started distributing actual pain.  I then realised that it was very low in the abdomen, and I could not possibly rub it for relief in a public place, such as while presenting a seminar, without exciting ribald comment.

My Nelson GP was not optimistic that the taxpayer would now pay for the surgery, but felt it was worth asking anyway and referred me to Nelson Hospital.  In the hospital an astonishing event took place - I was seen at the exact time of my appointment.  The surgeon herself was not available and I was seen by a deputy who must have left school no more than 12 months earlier.  Despite her youth and beauty (I did not stress the latter to Eve) she had a confident, professional manner and, best of all, a kind heart that agreed to put me on the waiting list.

Her expectation that I would be operated on before Christmas 2012 was a little off, but I was awarded a fixture in late January 2013.  With that news came a little card sternly demanding that I submit to a pre-admission check at 9:40 on 25 January.  I telephoned to ask what would be checked and if I needed to bring anything with me.  "It's because you're high risk," the admissions nurse stated flatly.  "Don't be late."  Me?  High risk? I was a 60-year old with hardly any grey in his hair - a picture of healthy, early middle age.

Somewhat perturbed, I presented myself at 9:35.  Again I was seen on time.  What is wrong with Nelson Hospital that they don't keep you waiting?  The nurse who was to check me explained that I was high risk because of my age and because I'd had a stroke.  That was 10 years previously and it seems that no-one but me believes the specialist who said it was a random event and there was no likelihood of a recurrence.  According to the nice young lady who carried out the tests I have "the blood pressure of a 20 year-old".  My pulse was 67 (I understand that is also very good) and my ECG was "text book".  I must avoid being re-tested so these stellar stats are never overshadowed by anything sub-optimal.

The operation itself was a breeze.  I simply lay on a trolly and a smiling anesthetist put me out for the count.  It was keyhole surgery, so I have 3 tiny scars and no puffy bulge in the lower abdomen.

I didn't have any nasty reactions to the anaesthetic.  Indeed, I woke up feeling hungry.  Poor Eve had to suffer me grumbling about wanting something to eat instead of saying how lovely it was that she was there.  It was a nuisance having to go through a routine of a glass of water, wait 15 minutes, cup of weak tea and wait some more before I was brought a plate of sandwiches.

After that, the next rule was that I had to wait until (i) a big bag of saline solution had all dripped into my vein and (ii) I had peed before Eve was allowed to drive me home.  So I did the puzzle page in the Nelson Mail and read a book.

I didn't feel too sore, but I was discharged with prescriptions for 3 kinds of painkiller tablets.  I could spot the hint here that it may hurt before it got fully better.  In fact, it wasn't too painful at all.   Well done, the surgeon.  I foolishly read the information leaflet in one of the boxes of painkillers.  The potential side effects were so unpleasant that I vowed I would rather have any agony than take one.  But the situation didn't arise.

There was a post-operation check.  The surgeon seemed well pleased with her work.  It's a common procedure and she doesn't normally bother but my hernia was "a very large one".  Well it's now wrapped up in plastic mesh and not bulging or giving any other kind of trouble.  And my part was easy.