Monday, 1 May 2017

Fear of Mountain Flying

We’re hurtling towards ground earth in a winged-tin-can, amid the ebb and flo of an unpredictable southerly when the wind shear* attacks. Full whack. We’re forced sideways. And back. Up a little. Down. Under pressure. The wings shudder. It’s not your regular turbulent sensation. Nor a skittery cross-wind. This low to the ground. Runway approaching. It’s what the actual fark … can a jet-air-plane survive this? Are we breaking up, chief?

Daughter 16, clutches my hand. Our palms glued by sweat. Two sets of knuckles whiten. As does my hair, several more shades of pale. Bugger.

Then. I feel the nose raise. I blurt out like a child at a carnival with a helium balloon, ‘We’re going up!’ I’m that relieved. I think of the captain in the cockpit, making that split second decision. Abort. Abort. After experiencing all of the above, in close-up 3D. Speaking to his first officer. Then both of them ramming those levers back. Full throttle. We climb. Jet engines scream your safe. Powering up. Up. Up through the cloud layer back into clear pale blue.

The air hostess sat facing backwards on the jumpseat attempts to look calm. Her face does not lie. And her voice quivers through her telephone-intercom. Oddly at a time when you’d expect to get the most instructions, like those repeated meal choices for the frightfully-dim-and-hard-of-hearing. You get not much.

‘As you will note we have been unable to land in Queenstown … and the captain is going about. He will make an announcement … when he can.’

Guess he’s defogging his Aviators while his co-pilot talks to the tower. The woman in front pokes her head into the seat gap and asks, ‘You okay?’ I nod. I think to tell my daughter about Air NZ’s great safety record. (Currently ranked number 2 in the world). But we’re in the mountains. The first sight I saw when the Tasman sea turned to land was the snowy peak of Mt Earnslaw nestled in the razor sharp backbone of the Southern Alps. Instead, I remember being at my Nana’s house, 42 Guthrie Road, Havelock North, when the Erebus crash came on the TV news. I also remember the two stuffed bambis that sat aside the gas tiled fireplace at the house over the road, that always made my child self ask. Why?

Meanwhile, we seem to be flying about in heaven. It’s so calm up here. Just fluffy cloud carpet and blue. My new happy place.

The plane levels and I’m willing it to continue on. It seems to be heading south anyway. South and away from the thrill and danger of the adrenalin capital of New Zealand. Who wouldn’t rather an overnight roadie in a smelly bus. Than DEATH. We’re in a holding pattern.

Daughter 16, seat-chats to her bestie three rows ahead. I luv you. You ok? Fuk. Freaky. I’m so scared. I don’t think we can land. Tell Jane I luv her. I luv you back Mol ... Tell Tania I luv her.

Tell everybody I love them.

I need a distraction. I put on headphones and tap Listen - NZ Music Week pops up. Scribe. Che Fu. My toes bop. Jon Toogood’s voice comes on and tells me to play the Adults, full volume. I obey.

The captain interrupts, ‘Due to wind shear I had to abort the landing and go about. We’ll see if the plane behinds us gets in. Then we’ll have another attempt.’

I want to shout back, ‘Hey I’m good with a night Christchurch. Or where evs. Totally cool. Shall we just bring this baby in tomoz ...’

Meanwhile jet engines slow. We’re descending take two. Really???? In for another landing attempt? I think about dying again, just a little bit. I want to practice the brace position. But I can’t appear lily-livered and cause my teenage charge more alarm. I’ve always wondered if I could get my actual head and upper body to hug my knees in the seated position. There’s always the head to the chair in front. Why didn’t I watch the safety video more closely? The nearest exit may have to be the one behind me. The nose may be smooshed at this rate. Daughter and I link arms. Interlace ten fingers tightly. The plastic armrest digs in, I don’t move. I push my head into the headrest, uncross my legs and place my feet hip width apart, squarely on the floor. I look out the window.

All the passengers are silent. Waiting to be held in the wind’s erratic force. Hearts pounding. Mouths dry. It doesn’t happen. We lower. Lower and land quite smoothly. No-one claps. Or screams. I kiss my daughter. ‘We’re home.’ And text my husband. ‘FM we landed.’

As I exit flight NZ830 Sydney to Queenstown, 30 April 2017, a tall, sandy-haired, ruddy-faced (possibly due to captain-stress) captain steps out of the cockpit. I tell him, ‘Thank you, Captain. I’ve lived here for 24 years and have never done a touch-n-go in a jet before.’ And laugh like a woman who’s diced with death and won.

--> The captain looks quite bewildered himself. He doesn’t scratch his head, but he says. ‘I’ve never had to do a go-about here before either.’
Fingers crossed that was a oncer for both of us. 

*"Wind shear - variation in wind velocity occurring along a direction at right angles to the wind's direction and tending to exert a turning force."

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Things You Don't Know About Me. And Hydrangeas

 I used to be a full time flower grower. Twenty five years ago, the Queenstown council, in order to maintain the rural landscape in the Wakatipu basin, required acreages of ten+ to prove ‘economic use’. No EU. No Building Permit. No house.

The H and I purchased 16 acres of land. Aside from willows, poplars and cows grazing the place clean thanks to a local farmer, there was nout. I was growing sunflowers at the time and we developed that notion further into a fully-fledged cut flower business. 12 months later after hours of work and a considerable investment, we had our building permit.

The upside of this mad foray into unknown world of floriculture was that our ‘packing shed’ was our home. We tilled the land, planted shelterbelts (some of which were eaten by rabbits overnight) we toiled away. But we loved it. I used to think we were a more hip, kiwi version of the couple from The Good Life (one of my favourite TV shows as teen). It was just us. No children. Yet. Some Sunday evenings I’d make margheritas. Once The H decided, post drinks to mow the paddock. In the nud. He did a drive by standing up on the seat of our orange Kubota tractor. I laughed myself in knots while fearing for his life. And his bits.

We’ve been married 25 years this November. I doubt we’ll make a large enough anniversary number to get in the local newspaper and be asked, so what is your secret to a happy marriage? My answer would not be a constipated look and patience. I’d say – only marry someone who makes you laugh. Daily.

We had a menagerie of animals. A cat named Miss Bob Dobilina - a rickety black ally looking cat who started life on bread soaked in milk at a crazy kitty home in Riverton. The H was travelling up and down thrice weekly to Southland while managing the rebuild of a pub on the main street. We turned it into a Guesthouse and soon bumbled along in the hospitality trade also.

Bob gave birth to twins of our bed. With us in it. Sounds damn feral I know but you try moving a labouring cat. They just come back. Again. And again. I named the twins 2.04 and 4.02. Am. And felt every whiny contraction. We had a dog too – Tallulah Trixiebelle Polyanna Schmoo. We called her Schmoo. She came from Dunedin and was a terrible wanderer. She flaunted her loss of virtue with neighbouring farm dogs and had a mixed huntaway/heading dog litter. Lois Lane, Clark Kent – brown and black, Rod and Rachel – white and black. We kept Lois. In winter the dogs slept under our bed, the cats on top. Extra feral and slightly odiferous. But our packing shed was unlined. It was cold. We were eskimo like. Only our animal furs were alive. Nevertheless, I grew nasty chilblains on my feet. And cried when the builder, who was building our house at the same time, said we’d be there another winter.

Early spring I’d sow seeds on the heated seed-bed in my 7m x 5m greenhouse. Somehow I managed to grow a florist shop full of all manner of crazy bright flowers and foliage to bunch with my sunflowers. All procured from an American published book I bought – Specialty Cut Flowers.

It was the early 90s and dried flowers were big in Queenstown. The Japanese tourists couldn’t get enough of these garish arrangements to take home as souvenirs. As a grower the fashion was a godsend because, well, it’s impossible to sell ALL your fresh produce. Despite modern miracles like the walk-in chiller, The H used to tow up from Deep South Ice Cream, Invercargill each season. Bloody awful ugly noisy thing. Weekly rent $35. I rue the day I never just bought the jolly thing from the cheery man who made the best and by far the hokeyiest hokey pokey in the land (not as good now though). Otago was touted as the perfect place to grow dried flowers. The cool nighttime temperatures aiding their rich hues. Don’t ask me the scientific reasoning behind this. But it sounded good.

 And perhaps this is why in THIS CRAPPY COLD WET SUMMER my 200 Dutch hydrangeas, part of my original EU Horticultural family, have bloomed so damn well. The cold. The wet. (It was 4 degrees at 6am this morning when I reached for my hideous chenille dressing gown FYI). They haven’t always performed like a Chelsea Flower show exhibit my hydrangeas. They sulked for years in their original planting site. Frosty spring southerlies whipped through the thin poplar shelterbelt and burnt off any brave buds. But look at them now. They love their woodland setting, beside the trickly stream which runs all the way down a long and rambling gully to the Shotover river.

Eventually I gave up flower growing. I stopped all my crazy seed sowing. My bi-weekly sunflower seedling transplants x 200. Up early picking flowers in my nightie. My peonies continued to flourish. But I mulched the lilacs flat. I always hated them. And I transplanted what were pretty ratty hydrangeas to their sheltered spot. And grew three children.

In fact, when my babies came along I was kind of forced to give up manual labour thanks to crippling morning sickness. I don’t regret those early years being a stay at home mum at all. I loved it and I struggled with it often. But always felt it was a privilege to be at home with my kids. I only wished mummy blogs were around then. Crikey I would have had a field day. I did write a mummy diary on an old Mac (which I would now like to blow up) to keep myself sane.  I’m feeling quite old as I write this. Like some middle-aged memoirist playing a harpsichord with a melodic backing track. Probably because it coincides with my first-born child leaving home. Yep our very first fully-fledged Bloomie is about to fly-the-coup. Off to Sydney Uni. I’m happy and excited for her. Also a little angry that she’s going. I know like the seasons of flowers some years for her will be better than others. But she’ll grow and learn, become wise to the world and dig her heels in when she needs to. And flourish.

I did a survey recently of parents of 20 something’s at a barbecue. Do they come back? I asked. Every one of them. The general consensus was, Yes they do. Sometimes for too long!

I can’t wait.                                    
(flower slide show follows)

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