Friday, November 20, 2009

Another wee story - Prayers of the people - the end

She made a decision. Vera stepped out into the aisle behind Margaret. She slipped her hands onto the handles of the wheelchair.
“I’ll take it from here. I know you’ve got the sanctuary to attend to.”
To her surprise, Margaret looked at her gratefully and stepped aside. Still smiling Vera pushed her new friend towards the oak doors and out into the foyer.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

another wee story - Prayers of the people part five

She looked at Reg who was staring at her in surprise across the rows of heads, that were now rising and turning to look at them.
Vera knew she was committed and spoke up. “My bracelet is caught in the little girl’s hair.” She could see Reg weighing up whether that was reason enough to interrupt the prayers. She kept going.
“My friend here has locked her knee and is in severe pain.” She gestured with her free hand at Beryl.
“And.” She wanted to say about the little girl and then she realised the mother was about to slide herself back onto her seat. She pushed her free hand across the pew.
“Don’t sit back!” She ordered aggressively.
The woman frowned at her rough tone.
“Sorry but your wee girl has wet her pants and it has made the pew cushion wet. ” Vera smiled at her.
The church was no longer silent; a general hubbub was slowly swelling. Vera glanced at Beryl. Margaret had been the first on the scene. She had been a nurse and she was already directing people to get ice from the kitchen and the courtesy wheelchair from the foyer. Margaret worked her way into the pew beside Beryl. She put her arm around Beryl’s shoulder and quietly began talking to her. Vera sighed there went her chances of a new friend.
“You’re free,” said the mother, holding the bracelet out to Vera.
“Oh thank you.” Vera felt its weight in her hand and pushed her hand into her jacket pocket.
“Now my next problem.” The mother sighed.
Reg was attempting to regain control from the front. Heads slowly turned away and the music group began the introduction for the offertory song. Vera stood up carefully.
The woman in front took her cue to gather up her wet child as the rest of the congregation stood to sing. She headed down the aisle.
Vera felt a tug on her arm. It was Beryl. Margaret had managed to get Beryl’s knee moving again and was about to help her into the wheelchair.
“I’m so glad you invited me to sit next you. Maybe see you next week?” Whispered Beryl. She straightened up and with Margaret’s help slid herself into the wheelchair. Beryl looked across at Vera as Margaret eased off the wheelchair brake.
“Thank-you.” She mouthed and smiled.
It was a smile that warmed Vera from the inside. She smiled back as she fingered the troublesome bracelet in her pocket. But then her heart filled with rocks as she watched Margaret begin to push Beryl away. Would Beryl see her next week or would Margaret, being the kind, friendly woman she was, be asking how she was this week, offering to sit with her? Vera could see herself standing in the background yet again. Brave one minute but too scared the next, to even make a proper friend. Vera fingered the bracelet again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

another wee story - Prayers of the people part four

“Oh.” Vera was startled. “When did you do that?”
“When I sat down for the sermon.”
“Why didn’t you say?”
Reg’s voice rode across their whispered conversation, “Lord in your mercy.”
"Hear our prayer.” They both murmured automatically.
“Well” said Vera. “I’m stuck too. My bracelet is caught in the little girl’s hair.”
It was Beryl’s turn to look startled. “Oh.”
“Can her mother help?’ She nodded her head at the woman in front.
Vera shook her head. “There is another problem. The wee girl has wet her pants and it is all over the seat. I don’t want her mum to sit in it.”
Vera nodded unhappily.
She listened to Reg, trying to think of some way to solve all their problems. He was nearly finished the prayers. A song would be next and neither of them could stand. The girl would wake up, move her head and her hair would be pulled on bracelet. She would end up crying. Then there was the mother who might sit down and Beryl trying to keep herself rigid in one position.
Reg’s prayers penetrated her thoughts.
“We pray for those in Zimbabwe, Iraq and elsewhere, where living is a daily struggle. Lord in your mercy.”
Vera remained silent.
Her problems hardly compared with those. She felt isolated and alone in the nodding sea of heads.
Reg was winding down. “And for ourselves Lord, we ask in silence for your help. Give us grace to serve Christ by serving our neighbours and our community, loving others as He loves us. Lord….”
The prayer words jolted her into action. “We need help.” The words slipped out of Vera’s mouth before she even knew she had said them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

another wee story - Prayers of the people part three

She looked up and realised the mother of the little girl was kneeling in the pew in front of her.
Vera leant forward across the pew as much as she could, without moving the hand wearing the bracelet. Then she saw a dark stain on the red cushion. Her eyes followed it to its source. The little girl had wet her pants. Vera felt sorry for her and looked at the mother’s back in pity. Now she had two things to tell her. Vera noticed the lady was wearing a light grey skirt. Somehow she had to attract the woman’s attention but make sure she did not sit back on the seat. Vera looked at the wet pew cushion and realised the red dye was probably coming out too. She had to stop the woman from sitting down.
“Lord in your mercy.”
Vera murmured. “Hear our prayer.”
She was going to have to ask Beryl. Vera had been so pleased there was a new person her age. It was a rare event at St. Mark’s. New families were always turning up on a Sunday morning, but her age group were the same old ones that had been there for years. Even better, Margaret, the most outgoing one of them all, had been involved setting up the sanctuary. Vera had the chance to get to know Beryl first. Everyone ended up friends with happy, resourceful Margaret but Vera felt sometimes she could be a better friend if she were only brave enough to act like it. Here was her first opportunity at making a new friend for months and she was going to have to ask for help for being a clumsy fool.
She turned to Beryl, who had remained seated for the prayers. Then Vera saw the tears. Two lines had made their way through Beryl’s foundation. Vera berated herself. She had been so wound up in her predicament she had not even noticed what Beryl was doing.Without shifting her hand, she tried to lean closer to Beryl.
“Are you okay?” She whispered.
There was a pause.
“No” Beryl whispered back without opening her eyes or looking up.
“I’m not sure if I can help but what’s the matter?”
She looked around to see if anyone was noticing what was happening in their corner of the little stone church. Beryl opened her eyes. Vera could see the pain etched in them.
“I’ve locked my knee. It won’t move and it really hurts.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

another wee story - Prayers of the people - part two

Reg’s voice cut into her thoughts. “Lord in your mercy.”
Around her the congregation murmured in unison. “Hear our prayer.”
Shifting her weight, Vera tried to push the catch with her thumb while the hand, adorned by the bracelet, tried to pull the ring part of the catch free. She gave up in disgust at her own helplessness.
She looked at her bracelet, the cause of the whole problem. She stared at the peacefully, sleeping, little girl on the pew in front. Vera had admired her curls flowing over the pew during the sermon. They were so perfectly curled in little concentric circles, she had really wanted to pull one out and see how long it would stretch.
Reg’s voice cut in again. “Lord in your mercy.”
“Hear our prayer.” Vera joined in the response.
“I need an answer to prayer right now!” She muttered to herself.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another wee story - Prayers of the people - part one

It happened so quickly. Vera was caught before she realised what had happened. She tried to pull her arm free. The hairs started to pull tight. She stopped. Hurting the child was the last thing she wanted to do.
Behind the lectern up the front, Reg was continuing with the prayers. Vera looked to see if anyone had noticed her predicament but Beryl, the new lady beside her, and the rest of the congregation, had their heads lowered.
Vera knew it was old fashioned of her, but it felt right to kneel for prayers. Secretly she was proud she still could, the arthritis had not affected her knees yet.
The little girl had stirred in her sleep with the rustle of movement as the prayers began. Vera had leant on the pew to ease herself onto her knees. In that instance of leaning, kneeling and the little girl moving, Vera’s bracelet catch had caught in her curls. Now it seemed the bracelet was somehow weaving itself into the hair. Vera tried to keep her arm completely still. Could she stay like this for the whole prayers?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Racing to Melbourne for the Formula one - the end

We eat Malaysian, Greek, Indonesian and each night evaluate a different gelato shop. We walk down the thin back streets to a bakery to buy the last of today's bread at discount prices for tomorrow's lunch.
At the track a bottle of Gatorade is $4.20 on Thursday afternoon, $4.80 on Friday morning and $5 by Friday afternoon. Saturday my fellow race watcher stops buying Gatorade.
Saturday is qualifying day. We watch qualifying from Brockie's Hill on the back of the circuit and it has a big screen opposite so we can see the timings. The hill is almost empty when we arrive, but once qualifying starts I have to strain on my toes to see the cars through the crowd. Behind us the fairground rides still run with squeals from passengers enjoying no queues.
Ralf Schumacher's Toyota breaks something and on the big screen I can see it crawling slowly back to the pits. When he passes in front of us he is still going fast, it just looks slow compared to a Formula One car at full speed. Kimi Raikkonen secures pole position.
On race day turn nine, our chosen viewing spot, is already neatly laid out as a grandstand of deckchairs and we congregate behind the last row. The race is still five and half hours away and we spend the time subtly fighting to keep our piece of dusty turf.
The crowd is much more cosmopolitan. We meet Daniel from France. He has travelled the world going to Grand Prix. Daniel has a stand ticket but is in the general admission area because he can take better photographs without the double safety fences in front of the stands. Behind us arrives a group of Poles supporting Robert Kubica. Beside us are some Scots.
The tension and excitement builds until finally we hear Formula one engines starting and then the cars appear on their way to the grid and then again for their formation lap.
It is fantastic. First I see the race start on the big screen and then they come into view as small dark shapes that grow rapidly and then they are braking for the corner. A Spyker pushes a Super Aguri car roughly, momentarily off track and then they are gone, the roar of the engines trailing behind. After that the race goes by surprisingly fast. It seems it has barely begun and they are on the last lap. A mere one hour, forty-five minutes later it is over. Kimi Raikkonen's lead in his Ferrari went unchallenged but Lewis Hamilton, in his first ever Grand Prix, takes third.
The crowd pours onto the circuit. I wade ankle deep across the fluorescent pink stones in the corner and then my feet are sticking to the rumble strip as if it is covered in sugar. I find the marbles so often mentioned in the television commentary. They are black, thumbnail size scraps of sticky, tyre rubber. I can squeeze them in my fingers. There are millions of them lying on the tarmac.
We begin walking around the track to the front straight. Again I realise how fast the cars are. It is a long walk. Sporadically there are loud horns as tow trucks carry damaged cars back to the pits.
Workers are already moving across the spectator mounds picking up rubbish. A fan is climbing a fence post to get a sponsor's sign to take home. A large forklift and crane are beginning to dismantle the safety fence.
On the starting grid thousands of photographs are being taken of friends sitting in grid slots or standing on the finish line. The fence alongside the pits is also a wall of people holding cameras aloft. On the other side crews are packing up their gear. The team stands on the pit wall are already down.
We walk the last piece of the track that in a few days will return to being Aughtie Drive. As we walk out the gates, there is a line of trucks with crates on their trailers sporting team names. Everything is off to Malaysia.
I climb aboard a crammed, happy tram for home. I decide my favourite day was Saturday. I saw the Formula One cars twice on track and qualifying was very exciting. It also had the tension of waiting for the climax of Sunday's race. Oh and the toilets at the track are as clean at end of the four days, as they were at the beginning.
In the evening we walk to the famous Italiano stretch of Melbourne, Lygon Street. Seating flows out from the restaurants onto the footpaths. The tables are filled with people sporting team colours and sun reddened faces. A race replay is flickering at the back of a restaurant and commentary is competing with a neighbouring restaurant's music. A waiter squeezes between the stream of pedestrians to deliver a platter piled high with crabs, mussels and a lobster. The Ferrari flags are flying in the gentle breeze. The camaraderie of a shared passion lives long after the gates close.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Racing to Melbourne for the Formula one - part three

The speed of the cars is astonishing. It is difficult to believe a human is inside controlling it. They look unnaturally fast, like a slot car on its track. The speed of the cars distorts the track size. They complete the 5.3km circuit in less than two minutes.
Standing beside the track and whipping my head left to right as the cars scream past, the insane nature of anyone stepping onto the track, chills me. The other unbelievable nature of the cars is how they stop. From high speed to dead slow for the corners is like snapping your fingers. The brakes glowing hot red.
The advantage of Melbourne being the first race on the calendar is all the drivers are out during the practice sessions. The disadvantage is I am not familiar with the livery of the new season's cars and I keep diving into my now coverless programme to remind myself who is who.
We are surrounded by people of all ages wearing bright t-shirts and caps of their favourite team. Families are here with children in strollers, wearing large ear protectors. On Friday the park is swarming with school groups given free passes. Most of them gather around the merchandise and the F1 experience tents. It is stifling in the tents as children get their photograph taken with pit girls to the 'rat a tat tat' of the tyre air guns on the pitstop challenge. The bright orange Gillette tent is busy. You can get a shave by a model and keep the razor. The patrons come back proudly showing orange tinted photographs of themselves and half a model's face. There are also car displays and the Royal Australian Air Force do an impressive F/A-18 jet aerial display at various intervals. The highly tuned engine noise being overhead instead of on the track.
Over the four days we make a plan to move around the track looking for the best spot to view the race. I get an idea of the top speed as the cars roar down the straight. I watch them crowd out of the pits. I see drivers take slightly different lines through the corners.
Every evening after returning from the circuit, we wash off the track dust and head out to enjoy the restaurants of Melbourne.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Racing to Melbourne for the Formula one - part two

The Ferrari drivers finish before we are even halfway to the front but the Honda drivers are coming. While we wait, we discuss which page in the programme is the best one to get signed. I choose the crimson back cover.
Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello emerge wearing black sunglasses. I feel it beginning to get dark. My head is moving away from my body. I crouch down in the dusty straw. I am about to pass out. I don't want to lose my place in the queue.
We wave frantically to friends standing up near the front taking pictures. Drink and lollies arrive and I feel myself returning to the Park. The line has hardly moved and I still have my place.
Finally we are at the front. The drivers are surprisingly short. As a Kiwi, I am used to rugby celebrities and with the huge media hype that surrounds these men, I am not expecting such diminutive figures.
We file past as quickly as it takes to do a squiggle with a vivid. Jenson says "How you doing, alright?" I don't mention my near faint. He has enough problems this year with his car. If only he could know what happens in 2009.
Later I find the marker is rubbing off the shiny cover, no one else is allowed to look at my programme in case they damage the fragile signatures.
Friday is the first practice day for the Formula One. It is raining lightly but still warm. I wear earplugs and a marshal on a motorbike stops to give a pair to a teenager leaning on the fence. Standing anywhere in the park, I instantly know when a Formula One car starts up. The high pitch distorts in my ears through the earplugs and rattles in my stomach. As the cars chop down through the gears and brake for the corners, there is a loud scream and then shockwaves seem to hit my back.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Racing to Melbourne for the Formula one - part one

The last race of this season has just been raced - Next year Melbourne is the second race on the calendar. This was my experience of Melbourne - the first year Lewis Hamilton blazed onto the F1 scene.

At the cramped, hot, downtown ticket office I wait in a spiralling queue for our four-day general admission Formula One Grand Prix tickets. Behind me two grey haired, bespectacled Englishmen compare races they have attended. One complains Suzuka had only one class with just four cars, other than the Formula One. They agree Melbourne is great because of the entertainment and races that fill in the gaps between the Formula One sessions. Despite the sweat breaking out on my forehead, the talk builds my excitement.
No Formula One cars are practising on the Thursday but we decide we cannot wait to see the track at Albert Park. It is near the inner city and we clamber on a tram, free-of-charge with our Grand Prix tickets, for a ride right to the circuit gates.
Thursday is hot, dry and dusty. The park is mostly empty and the ING clad volunteers look pleased to find us to give jellybeans, sunscreen and lanyards. The crackly public address system announces the Ferrari drivers will be available for autographs. In the heat we walk across the closed in, metal bridge over the track and the white plastic pontoon bridge floating on the lake, to finally reach the tent where the drivers will appear. We find the other Thursday spectators in a long red queue. Brown dust from the straw covering the ground, sticks to my sweaty feet. It will not brush off and it embeds in my hands and under my fingernails.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.