Sue is a nurse by profession who has now begun her quest to become a published writer. She has dabbled in writing children’s stories and is attempting her memoir. Deborah’s Life Writing courses and her website have been a major incentive for her to continue along the path.
The phone rang. It was my manager asking if I might help out in Christchurch for two weeks.
“They are struggling down there,” she said. I considered how Plunket staff, through the quakes and aftershocks and recent bad weather had continued to deliver a service under very difficult circumstances. My own situation in Auckland was relatively easy.
“Yes,” I said, “I’ll go, next week.”
After the call I felt relieved because for months I had been thinking about Christchurch. When the rain splashed down ferociously I was glad I did not have to trudge outside to use a portaloo or have to empty a chemical toilet. When enjoying a hot shower I was aware that this luxury was not available to many in the quake ravaged city. Looking out on my garden there were no deep fissures in my lawn and spring had already announced its presence with the arrival of freesias and daffodils.
I had watched the media coverage and wanted to do something more than make a modest donation via the credit card. There was no real sacrifice in that. I had put my name down on a web page offering accommodation to anyone who might want a break from portaloos, cold showers and liquefaction but nobody had taken up my offer.
Before departing I commented to my partner that the weather looked ominous but on arrival at Christchurch airport the air was clear and crisp. During the night the snow arrived, lots of it. Marooned in my motel room I ventured out briefly to get supplies and remained in hibernation for two days. When the weather began to clear I drove off in my little red car and presented myself at Plunket’s new area office. The previous building was in the red-zoned central city.
When asked to conduct wellness checks on babies and children in their homes I felt, momentarily, nervous. Driving to the different addresses my car struggled in the grey slippery slush. ‘This is what you wanted, the hard stuff,’ said my wee internal voice.
I drove past stickered buildings, rutted roads and abandoned streets. One day I found myself on the edges of the central city, looking through mesh fences and felt I was looking into a movie set of a war zone.
I met Cantabrians who amazed me with their matter of fact, pragmatic approach. I heard their stories and simply listened.
A Special Friend by Susan Radford
Susan Radford is a nurse, who also has a deep love of the written word and the magic it can convey. With encouragement from her son she has begun to write her memoir. Further inspiration has come from the Life Writing courses she has attended.
I was nineteen when I began work at the Auckland Star. I should have been the mature age of twenty, but I lied; I needed the money. It did get a little tricky when I really did turn twenty one.
The job was in the Classified Advertising Department and we sat in little walled off cubicles, separated in the middle by a conveyor belt for our copy, which ran from the back to the front of the room.
My opposite number was Pat, a spry woman in her early forties; youthful in looks and attitude to life. Initially I never called her Pat as that would have seemed a little forward in the ‘60s. It was many years before I could slip with ease into calling her Pat.
How glad I was to have her opposite. Her knowledge, quick wit and erudition kept me entertained during any pauses between calls. What laughs we shared when confronted by strange sounding names, weird and wonderful ads and the occasional car salesman who couldn’t help indulging in innuendo and sometimes downright sleaze. I was a terrible giggler and it didn’t take much to set me off. Dear Pat often had to rescue me from myself, taking the headset from me as I exploded into laughter while trying to disguise it with paroxysm of coughing.
I have known Pat for 48 years and she has been there for me in the more momentous times in my life. My early twenties were difficult; a broken engagement, partial estrangement from family and precarious ill-health. Her friendship enabled me to start viewing different options. She was a staunch but relaxed Catholic who would regale me with wonderful tales about Priests and Nuns she knew or had known. It was part of the air she breathed. I knew something had to change for me and Catholicism was a faith I had long been interested in – Pat was the catalyst. After my conversion I began looking at the possibility of entering a religious congregation. Pat was again my confidante.
Years have passed and many changes have taken place in both our lives. Pat now lives in a rest home and unfortunately has a form of Alzheimer’s.
I was invited to her ninetieth birthday in December 2010. When she saw me her face lit up and she linked her arm with mine, “Oh Suzie, it’s so good to see you”. As I was leaving, she said, “You can always come and stay, there’s plenty of room.”
Susan Radford still nurses on a casual basis and has for many years wanted to give expression to the stories within. She has recently submitted two children’s stories for publication. At the encouragement of her son she is undertaking her memoir.
There are a few times in my life, when my world, as I knew it, was turned in another direction. The first was my entry into boarding school when I was eleven years old.
My parents ran the City Club Hotel in Shortland St, Auckland. Its quaint Victorian style architecture was not a major attraction for me, but Anne’s Pantry, just opposite, which had the most delicious pastries and chocolate éclairs definitely was. The hotel however was not deemed an ideal place to bring up children and I had been enrolled at Waikato Diocesan. But until I turned thirteen, I was to attend a boarding school in Albany run by two Quaker sisters.I have no recollection of any preparation for this rather major venture, apart from clothes being organized with the ubiquitous nametapes. Only tee shirts and shorts were considered appropriate for this ‘new age’ school. We also had to embrace a vegetarian diet, far removed from hotel menus and Anne’s pantry fare.
I entered school, along with my four-year-old brother David, whose emotional trauma, at being taken from his family and put in an alien establishment, of necessity, diminished my own. He clung to me constantly, crying in an inconsolable manner in the first few weeks. I was forced to be a comforter, which meant, a rapid adaptation to the culture of my new world and the need to take on a more adult role.
David of course had a very different experience. Once he conquered his grief and homesickness he became a little bush baby, opting out of school in order to pursue ‘free play.’ He had a life untrammelled by the constraints of school routine, instead ran wild with his new friends, adding lots of interesting new words to his vocabulary. I fast became the boring big sister.
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