Wandering Thoughts

January 31, 2009

Road Rage

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 10:09 am

I have a friend who believes the vapour trails of planes are part of a conspiracy. Some menacing secret group has them infused with chemicals that rain down on us and change our mood to dampen our vibes and make us grumpy.

If it’s a conspiracy, it isn’t working on me. The other day a vapour trail floated above Wellington for hours, cutting across the sky like a line of slightly smudged chalk. For a while part of it caught the sun, refracting it’s rays into broken bits of rainbow.

If there is a conspiracy to keep me grumpy, I rather suspect it involves the following:

  1. SUVs: can they possibly get any bigger, uglier and harder to see past? Try turning out of driveway or small street when one is parked near the intersection. Try seeing past it. Good luck.
  2. Boy racers: the cultural cringe, the evidence they provide that evolution can, in fact, operate in reverse, the noise coming from their “mufflers”…
  3. The thingamegig  on your steering wheel which turns off your indicator for you. Half the time it doesn’t, so you can’t actually rely on it. Half the time it does, before you’ve actually turned – switching off your indicator when you need it most.

Vapour trails good. Cars, useful but generally pretty irritating.


January 29, 2009


Filed under: Going Places,Surfing — terence @ 8:20 pm
Tags: ,

From the scrapbook.

The scungy courtyard and scrawny rooster could be anywhere. The surfboard snapped in three couldn’t: Puerto Escondido


January 25, 2009

The Plan

Filed under: Going Places,Surfing — terence @ 2:56 pm
Tags: ,

A day off work, a small sou’-west swell and a remote bay with a reef break. That was the plan. Drive over at night, sleep in the car park and beat the onshore.

But an old friend turned up. Called as I was packing the car. So I ended up out of the way, in a pub in Eastbourne swapping stories over beer. I didn’t start the drive until close to 10. Highway, hill climb, country roads, gravel roads and finally a track, marram grass shishing under the car. It was midnight by the time I got there.

I stopped the engine, replacing music and the thwap of three and a half cylinders with silence. With no moon there was nothing to see, just a dark so thick it wove shapes at the edges of my headlights. Stretching my legs, I stood for a bit in chill of the offshore breeze in the empty lonely car park. Out in the the dunes somewhere, something’s footsteps rustled.

Quickly, before the isolation began whispering me ghost stories, I put down the back seats, made my bed, pulled the boot shut, cracked the windows ever so slightly and locked the doors with a clunk.


Not quite 5 hours later the beep of my alarm stole my dreams and dragged me into the almost morning’s almost light. Groggy in the grey, I crawled out the door. The sky was filled with thick low clouds; the offshore had gone. A gentle puff of wind crept in from the sea.


I was as early as I could be, but the onshore won the race. With it’s arrival went my chances of surfing the reef in the bay.

Plan B.

Twenty minutes away was a point. If the southerly stayed light it would still be clean. Not reef break barrels but long loping walls at least.

I ate as I drove; boards, sleeping bag and mattress bouncing in the back with the potholes.

The road led south, past empty farm houses and churning shingle beaches. In front of me the coastal ranges reached into the clouds, yielding to the sea only at the last possible moment, conceding in steep, scree covered slopes.

Amongst all this the second car park brought better news. A light onshore out the back but calm on the inside. Waves, maybe head high, maybe head and a half, long clean sets with long clean walls. No crowd of surfers. No one at all.

With the wind still light I wasn’t about to wait. I tugged on my wetsuit and set myself a forced march over the steep hill that stood between the end of the road and the paddle out spot. Half way up, I came to a halt. My lungs were rung free of air.

“Damn hill’s getting steeper.”

It was the best explanation I could think of. Though I didn’t know it then, the problem wasn’t the hill but my heart and the valve that no longer worked.

When the air returned I resumed my walk, over the hill and down to the rock point. I picked my way carefully to the jump-off spot.

I lept in on a surge of whitewater and paddled out, oily kelp slipping past my hands.

With the point to the myself I chose a take off spot down the line a bit, where the swells had bent enough to be clean. I’d barely had time to get my bearings when a wave came through. I spun and paddled. To my feet, angling down the line, around the first section and then sweeping turns along the wall.

Paddling back out I started singing to myself.

Later, when my arms gave out I walked back to the car. I changed and ate, and pulled the mattress out and lay on the grass. It was still quiet, no one round, just the lapping of the southerly breeze. The silence that had been eerie in the dark the night before was now only peaceful.

After weeks of commuting and computer screens, work plans and crowds of people, I drunk in the space, watching the waves. When I got my energy back I headed over the hill for another surf.

Later still, driving home with rain starting to fall and the rising southerly traipsing through the trees, I saw my first car for the day – a surfer, heading towards the sea.

“Good luck,” I mouthed as we steered past each other.

Foot back on the accelerator I pondered my own fortunes. I never got to surf the reef but was happy all the same.

The best laid plans often go astray. Sometimes though, everything ends up fine even so.


January 21, 2009

Post Perfusion Confusion

Filed under: Aortic Valves — terence @ 8:10 pm
Tags: ,


I keep meaning to write about this side-effect of surgery but never do. When it’s happening I’d rather not write; when it’s not, I’d rather not think about it.

Anyhow, just twice in my life before surgery, many years apart, I had a strange and distressing thing happen to me. In the middle of two otherwise normal days I was king hit by a feeling of déjà vu and then all of a sudden, unbidden, memories of dreams followed, crowding into my head. (I don’t know how I know they were memories of dreams. I’m not even 100% sure that they were, but that’s what they seemed like.) As this was happening my short term memory evaporated. Oddly enough, this didn’t render me entirely, helpless; I could still function from moment to moment, I just had to struggle like heck to remember what happened the moment before (beleive it or not I gave a lecture at the tail end of one of these events). Anyhow, after an hour or so the memory loss would ease away and I’d feel shaken up but normal.

The same sensation was there at the beginning of my post surgery memory loss. Except this time my short term memory was muddled for much longer and only slowly returned. As my mother and I rediscovered, memory loss after open heart surgery is pretty normal and normally transient. And my memory did slowly return. So the only thing unusual in my case was the déjà vu and dreams that came at the beginning of it.

Hhhmmmm…well not quite the only thing. Ever since then, at the rate of about one a day, I’ve continued to have very minor memory loss episodes. The routine is one I’m now familiar with: a sense of déjà vu (or sometimes just funny thinking), then the sense of dreams returning, then my memory goes. Accompanying this usually is a sensation which I’m never going to be able to describe to you – simply because it’s unusual beyond the grasp of metaphors. It’s almost like a taste or a smell – an unpleasant one – being sensed in a part of my brain which senses neither taste nor smell. It’s distinct and does definitely feel like a sense (i.e. taste, smell, etc), just no normal one. What ever it is, to be honest I hate it.

The good news though is that the memory loss that follows is very short and mild (it’s a nuisance in meetings mind you). And through out I’m compos mentis enough to continue functioning and conversing and the like. A minute or so later I’m okish again.

Anyhow, the even better news is that these episodes seem to becoming fewer and fainter. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find them disconcerting and discomforting.

January 19, 2009

The One Legged Man

Filed under: Staying Places,Surfing — terence @ 9:16 am
Tags: ,

Damian and I were bored out of our brains. Becalmed mid-summer.

All our hope lay with the southerly that had blown in earlier that day bringing with it a low, murky sky and the faint possibility of surf.

Acting on that, we checked the waves on an hourly basis – flat, flat, flat – each fruitless survey accompanied by much positive visualisation.

“Looks a little bigger now.”

“Yeah, that last one almost broke.”

“Yeah, maybe the incoming tide will bring in a bit more swell too.”

“The tide’s going out.”

“Oh. Well maybe it will break more on the low.”


Then we’d drive back to Damian’s parents’ place and watch another surf video.

“Green Iguana?”

“How ’bout Wave Warriors 4?”

And so the afternoon went. Until some time around 5pm when our surf check revealed something completely unexpected: waves.

Bad waves: onshore and closing out. But waves all the same.

I didn’t even stop the car. We raced back to Damian’s to get the boards.


“Before it goes flat.”

Remarkably we returned to find that, far from going flat, the swell was actually getting bigger.

“Out there!”

“Yeah, quick.”

“Before it goes flat.”

We’d been in around half an hour, the only surfers in the water, when the southerly died away.

Without the wind to cut it up its surface, the sea became oily, smooth as a mirror, reflecting the grey back at the sky.

The swell kept rolling in though; the waves were a little over head high now and instantly better without the chop bringing down sections. Bent in by the outside sandbars, the swells stood up just to the north of the small steel and wood groin below the car park.  Taking turns, we’d catch them right at their peak and speed south, past the groin,  zipping over the shallow sand. The waves would barrel, back off for a moment and then close out in the shallows allowing us the chance to imitate the manoeuvres we’d been watching in the videos all afternoon.

The waves were unreal. We hadn’t anticipated surf like this.

We didn’t anticipate what happened next either.

A guy appeared, standing in the evening murk at the top of the stairs that lead down to the beach. He was wearing a one-legged wetsuit. He was propped up on crutches. He only had one leg.

Very, very carefully he climbed down the stairs and made his way out onto the beach. He stopped about 10 feet from the water’s edge. Following in his footstep was a kid, maybe 10 or 11 years old. The kid was in a wetsuit too, carrying two surfboards: one for him and one for the guy on the crutches.

When they stopped the older man set down his crutches and the kid gave him one of the boards. With it, he hopped the rest of the way to the sea, falling with a splash into the shallows. The kid followed and they both paddled out.

We watched in wonder. Not so much wonder though, that we missed the set that was coming our way.

“Go Damo, go! I’ll take the second one”.

By the time we’d each caught a wave and were paddling out, the old guy and the kid were in position for the next waves that came through. The kid got the first one and rode it pretty well for an 11 year old.

The old guy was up next. We watched, waiting for him to fall. But he didn’t. Somehow – and I still can’t figure out exactly how – he ‘stood’ in a crouch propped up by a bent leg, the stump of his missing leg, and his arm.

He dropped down the fast steepening wave, turned, and shot along it. He wasn’t graceful or entirely in control but he made it.

Faces opened up with surprise Damian and I stared at each either, neither of us saying anything, neither of us really sure what words to use. The old guy paddled back out.

“Does it often get this good here?”



“Not often”

“Well maybe sometimes.” We were still struggling with words.

Technically, Damian and I being locals and the guy and the kid coming from out of town, we should have been grumpy, surly even, at their intrusion at ‘our’ spot. But really? We’d just been joined in the best waves we’d had for months by a kid and a guy who rode the impossible. Pretty soon the four of us were chatting happily.

The newcomers were from up north somewhere, visiting friends who lived over the road from the beach. They’d brought their boards and just happened to stop by on the only day in months that had surf.

The old guy had lost his leg to cancer, but was determined to keep surfing, so had. The kid was his son.

After about an hour they got out and headed to their friends’ for dinner. Damian and I surfed to dark making the most of the waves.

That surf was almost half a lifetime ago now. Damian lives in Australia. I’ve – mercifully – still got both legs but, for now, they’re no good for surfing. The beach we surfed at that evening is almost gone – swallowed by shingle.

I like to think though, that the old guy might still be surfing, up north somewhere. Weaving along wave faces on a stump and an arm. And I hope his son is too, travelling and enjoying all the other good things that come with being a surfer.

January 17, 2009

Not Bullet Proof

Filed under: Aortic Valves — terence @ 10:06 am

Prior to surgery I was lucky enough to have the chance to speak to a couple of people who had been through similar procedures. One of them, a lecturer I knew through work, said something that didn’t really make sense at the time:

Some people suffer from depression after surgery. I didn’t, but it was hard not to feel somewhat shaken up. You realise that you’re not bulletproof after all

‘Not bulletproof?’ I thought. ‘No worries about that. I’m two weeks away from open heart surgery. I’m aware how mortal I am’.

I understand what he meant now, though.

If I stop to think about what happened to me while I was under the anesthetic, and how much I rely on the tiny piece of ticking titanium, the Dacron sheath above it and the warfarin, I feel very very shaky and fragile about it all.

I’ve never felt bullet-proof but I am so much more aware now, I think, of all the bullets that have to be dodged in my quest to stay well.

Whether you take as many pills as I do or not…

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 9:48 am
Tags: ,

this makes for disturbing reading

In recent years, drug companies have perfected a new and highly effective method to expand their markets. Instead of promoting drugs to treat diseases, they have begun to promote diseases to fit their drugs. The strategy is to convince as many people as possible (along with their doctors, of course) that they have medical conditions that require long-term drug treatment. Sometimes called “disease-mongering,” this is a focus of two new books: Melody Petersen’s Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs and Christopher Lane’s Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness.

To promote new or exaggerated conditions, companies give them serious-sounding names along with abbreviations. Thus, heartburn is now “gastro-esophageal reflux disease” or GERD; impotence is “erectile dysfunction” or ED; premenstrual tension is “premenstrual dysphoric disorder” or PMMD; and shyness is “social anxiety disorder” (no abbreviation yet). Note that these are ill-defined chronic conditions that affect essentially normal people, so the market is huge and easily expanded. For example, a senior marketing executive advised sales representatives on how to expand the use of Neurontin: “Neurontin for pain, Neurontin for monotherapy, Neurontin for bipolar, Neurontin for everything.”[15] It seems that the strategy of the drug marketers—and it has been remarkably successful—is to convince Americans that there are only two kinds of people: those with medical conditions that require drug treatment and those who don’t know it yet. While the strategy originated in the industry, it could not be implemented without the complicity of the medical profession.

Melody Petersen, who was a reporter for The New York Times, has written a broad, convincing indictment of the pharmaceutical industry.[16] She lays out in detail the many ways, both legal and illegal, that drug companies can create “blockbusters” (drugs with yearly sales of over a billion dollars) and the essential role that KOLs play. Her main example is Neurontin, which was initially approved only for a very narrow use—to treat epilepsy when other drugs failed to control seizures. By paying academic experts to put their names on articles extolling Neurontin for other uses—bipolar disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, hot flashes, migraines, tension headaches, and more—and by funding conferences at which these uses were promoted, the manufacturer was able to parlay the drug into a blockbuster, with sales of $2.7 billion in 2003. The following year, in a case covered extensively by Petersen for the Times, Pfizer pleaded guilty to illegal marketing and agreed to pay $430 million to resolve the criminal and civil charges against it. A lot of money, but for Pfizer, it was just the cost of doing business, and well worth it because Neurontin continued to be used like an all-purpose tonic, generating billions of dollars in annual sales.

All the more so because the author of the review is a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t hundreds and hundreds of useful meds out there (like the ones I take), just that in our search for new ones science is being horribly skewed by economics…

January 14, 2009

Burke’s Law

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 7:54 pm
Tags: , ,

Ok so I’m recycling this from the old blog but it remains as true as ever. As was evidenced yesterday when my slightly marginal right turn found itself surrounded by 3 SUVs.

Burke’s Law* States that:

The trickier the driving maneuver you are attempting, the greater the number of cars that will suddenly appear on the scene.
*Burke’s law is named not after the philosopher but rather its inventor, and surfing buddy of mine, J Burke.

January 11, 2009


Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 4:43 pm

Come to think of it, you knew this:

[S]cientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

On the other hand, you knew this too:

Recent research by scientists at the Santa Fe Institute used a set of complex mathematical algorithms to demonstrate that the very same urban features that trigger lapses in attention and memory — the crowded streets, the crushing density of people — also correlate with measures of innovation, as strangers interact with one another in unpredictable ways. It is the “concentration of social interactions” that is largely responsible for urban creativity, according to the scientists. The density of 18th-century London may have triggered outbreaks of disease, but it also led to intellectual breakthroughs, just as the density of Cambridge — one of the densest cities in America — contributes to its success as a creative center.

From a well worth reading article in the Boston Globe. (HT Crooked Timber)

January 8, 2009

An Incident at Arawhata Road

Filed under: Going Places,Surfing — terence @ 7:15 pm
Tags: , ,

Andy was driving too fast, he always did back then. A hundred and fifty kilometres an hour down a straight but perilously thin country road. Jeremy was in the front, paler than usual. His left hand was holding his right, squeezing it tight. I was in the back, hunched in something approximating the brace position.

Things sped past: letter boxes, trees, cows, fences…


A black shape hit the windscreen and bounced up into the boards on the roof.

“What the Fffff…”

“Holy Shhh…”

Jeremy and I swallowed our profanities. Andy was Christian. Swearing pissed him off. He drove faster when he was angry.

“Pukeko”, he said as he slowed the car to a halt. “Lucky it didn’t smash the windscreen”.

“Heck yes,” Jeremy’s face was inches from the point of impact.pukeko_new_zealand

We got out of the car. The bird was still there, wedged in under the boards. Gently, remorsefully maybe, Andy pulled its limp body free and placed it on the road.

“I should run it over, put it out of its misery.”

“Run it over?!?” Shock was giving way to anger now. I liked Pukekos.

“Put it out of its misery?!? The bloody thing is already dead. It just hit the goddamn windscreen at something approaching the speed of sound. Trust me, there is no misery left to put it out of. The. Bird. Is. Dead!”

My mouth hadn’t even had time to close after the last exclamation mark when “the bird” took the opportunity to disagree.

It stood up, swayed, took a couple of unsteady steps, shook its head a few times, took one look at the three unshaven humans looking at it, and sprinted off into the bushes.

[Image from Wikipedia Under Creative Commons. More info here.]

January 5, 2009

C-c-c-computer Games!

Computer games have always unnerved me. Not in the standard ‘contribution to the Decline of Western Civilisation’ kind of way, mind you. Instead, I’m just afraid I might start playing them someday, discover how wonderfully good they are, become addicted and then spend even more of my life in front of a computer.

Anyhow, in the London Review of Books, John Lanchester has confirmed all my suspicions.

In doing so he also reminded me that I’m already addicted to him (ok, actually, I’m only addicted to his writing but allow a blogger some hyperbole every once in a while, really!). This is a man who writes with grace and authority on everything that could ever possibly matter – from hedge funds, to climate change, to life on Mars.

It’s pretty clear that he suffers for his craft too:

Resident Evil 4, to name the generally agreed peak of the [survival horror] genre, is a better scary entertainment than any horror film made in years, and if you can play it at night with the lights out, you have steadier nerves than I do.

I can’t shake that image; somewhere, in a small bookish village, a small bookish man lays on the floor of an unlit room, gin beside him to steady his nerves, and tries once again, without success, to play Resident Evil with the lights off.

January 4, 2009

Summer Holidays

Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places — terence @ 12:56 pm
Tags: , , ,

I love my tent. We’ve travelled together north of the Arctic Circle and as far south as the Straits of Magellan. I’ve camped in it on the beach in Chile and in the middle of the Outback in Australia.tent-in-snow-for-blog

I love my tent; unfortunately, I’m not the only one. As best I can tell, the Wind Gods also find it very pleasing. Why else would they follow it so? Patting it, playing with it, buckling it under their breath.

There was the night in Iceland where the gusts fell furious off the Vatnajokull ice sheet, shrieking through the empty campground. Even the old guy who ran the place reckoned it was a storm to remember.

Then there was the time in Patagonia when it blew like the clappers and I managed to set the tent side on to the wind. With every squall caving the walls in on us, my French Canadian travelling companion and I didn’t get much rest. Our only satisfaction being the next morning comparing our still standing tent with the other walkers’ bubble tents now strewn about the campground like bluebottles washed up by the tide.

And there was the gale at Tora. Stampeding out of the valleys and running down the coast at the same time, the wind blew so hard that Jo and I slept only in two minute bursts.

So it was that when we went camping this summer we went prepared. Arriving to a blowy westerly we put the tent up, parked the car up-wind and almost on top of it, and set out the storm guys, anchoring them to rocks and vehicle. We waited for the worst.

Then, the strangest thing happened. The wind got less rather than more. And we spent three days becalmed, alone on a small corner of farmland next to a quietly chattering sea. At night we slept under uncountable stars. During the day we bathed in the sun, read, did nothing, and enjoying being somewhere where nothing was the norm.

I spent hours trying to find words for the way the Cabbage Trees cut trails between the tanning land, sleepy-still sea, and swallowing sky.

After a day of this even the tent relaxed, yawning lazily in the occasional puffs of breeze.


January 2, 2009

The Camera

Filed under: Going Places,Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 11:27 am


The jacket was horribly torn. It had been there a while – flapping forlornly amongst the gorse. It was stained, billows of rusty red spread across the fabric which remained. I found the camera in a pocket. Curious, I had the film developed. This was the last shot taken.

Take care in the countryside.

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