Our silver wedding anniversary

Twenty-five years ago today, this is what we were doing.

Malcolm and Deborah, 20 January 1990

A friend commented that unlike unlike most brides and grooms we both look as though we know exactly what we’re doing.

The consensus of the people in the photo is that we had no idea whatsoever what we were letting ourselves in for. Back then, we were both young corporate warriors, and we had not thought of changing our directions entirely as we did just a few years later. These days, we’re both academics, I’m deeply involved in politics, and we are parents to three wonderful girls whom we adore. We’re also still quite fond of each other.

But that’s by good fortune as much as hard work. A couple of years ago, I spoke at a big family celebration for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I chose my words very carefully, thinking about the nature of relationships. I pointed out that as always with a big crowd, there were people there who had been married for many years, people who had married and separated once or twice or more, people who had been involved in a succession of shorter terms relationships. Those relationships all worked for a time, and they were successful relationships. People achieved things within those relationships: careers and children and personal growth. And then sometimes, for whatever reason, relationships stopped working and the partners moved on. But they had still been successful relationships. We were there that day to celebrate one of those successful relationships, one that was still working well after 50 years. I know my parents worked hard at it, I know that there were significant ups and downs, and I suspect that times, they only stayed together through sheer bloody mindedness. For whatever reason it had happened, an enduring marriage was worth celebrating.

As my beloved husband and I are celebrating today. So far, we’re doing well. Or at least well enough, due to a mix of good luck and hard work and sheer bloody mindedness. I think that what makes the difference, for us, is that we’re each other’s best friends. We have good fun, talking, walking, sharing books, watching the same television shows and movies, being fascinated by science and history and politics, supporting each other’s projects, all together.

Here’s to the next twenty five years. And then the twenty five years after that. And then some more after that too.

(We did keep some secrets from each other before we got married. Notably, we only found out that we both really enjoy Star Trek *after* we’d said the vows.)

I’m running for Parliament

I’m running for Parliament this year, and I could do with a hand. Pop on over to my campaign blog: Deborah Russell for Labour in Rangitīkei, take a look at what I’ve been doing, and please, consider whether you could help me by making a donation.

I’ll be needing the donations to help pay for this:

Campaign plane!

Seriously, I could do with a hand. Details about how to make a donation, and what they will be used for, are on my campaign blog: Donate to my campaign.

Thank you.

Suffragist’s campaign seasoning

A friend sent me this, for my campaign.

Suffragist Salt

Suffragist Salt

Suffragists’ Campaign Seasoning
Italian Herbed Salt
A flavoursome addition to any meal after a long day of signature-collecting

The selection meeting for the Labour candidate for the Rangitikei electorate will be this coming Saturday (14 December). All going well, I shall start using the salt that evening.

And thank you, Ema, for sending me the salt!

Today would have been my uncle’s birthday

My uncle would have turned 68 today. But a few weeks ago, he died.

And I miss him, terribly.

He was a very special person, not just to me, but to many people. He was a priest in the Roman Catholic church, and Dean of Theology at Otago University, but eventually, he left the church and moved beyond christianity altogether. He had studied and worked in liberation theology, but he finished his doctoral work just as John Paul II was starting to entrench his hold on the church. In addition to that, he was gay, and at times, it must have seemed that the church in which he had been reared hated him.

The word ‘erudite’ was coined for him. He was fluent in Latin, and he gloried in the intricacies of it. He thought about the nature of a language and a society that held all nouns and descriptions in tension, until a final formative verb. (Latin places the active verb at the end of a sentence, after all else has been conjured into thought already.) Part way through his life, he went to live and study in Rome, where he completed his PhD in moral theology at the Lateran. So he became fluent in Italian too. In later years, living in Paris, he added French to the suite of languages that he spoke.

He read and thought about great literature. I have his copy of War and Peace, given to him as the prize for coming top of 6th form English. We talked about literature often, rejoicing in great books and great authors. He introduced me to A. N. Wilson as a biographer, and we formed our own very exclusive A. N. Wilson Appreciation Society. He loved word play, and clever constructions, and he would save them and share them with me, and with my husband. He had a quick and dry wit. When my husband and I muttered that our university’s list of distinguished alumni was perhaps not all that distinguished, he paused for a moment, and quirked his eyebrow. “My university,” he said, “has a list of distinguished alumni. It’s divided into two categories: Saints, and Popes.”

He was someone whose approval I sought, someone I admired. He was the first person to suggest that perhaps I should carry on to doctoral work, the first person to think that I had the capacity of mind to study at that level. He encouraged me and inspired me. In recent years, I think that I delighted him when I started to argue with him, to make him think new thoughts.

I loved seeing him. One of my earliest memories of him dates back to a Christmas when I was about four. My brothers and I had been given popguns, so we lined up at the gate on Christmas afternoon, ready to pop him when he arrived. We were so pleased to see him. And all through my life, whenever I knew I was to see him, my heart would skip a little for joy. “I’m going to see Tony!” it would sing. That sense of joy never wore off. The last time I saw him, really saw him, to talk to him properly, as I was leaving I reminded him of that wonderful scene in War and Peace, where young Rostov is coming home through the streets of Moscow, and the carriage seems to go so slowly, and he will never get there and he can’t wait, and then he reaches home and the greetings are wonderful. It was always like that, seeing Tony. In War and Peace, somehow it doesn’t seem quite right or full enough to Rostov – he always looks for more. But for me, seeing Tony, it was never like that. It was always enough.

He was a micro manager, making sure that everything was just so. A few years ago, I came back from Australia for a family party, and stayed with him a night, before running some errands in the morning. He had my morning carefully mapped out, leaving me a note about what time I should leave the house, and which way I should drive to my first appointment, and how I should get from there to his workplace where we were meeting for lunch. He left for work, but then an hour or so later, rang me up to make sure that I was following his instructions. I chose to see this as a manifestation of his love for me.

I loved and admired him so much, and I know that he loved me, and was so very proud of me. He was a twin, and he and his twin brother always thought that someone in my generation ought to have twins. He was so delighted when my twins were born, and then two weeks later, I got word that my doctoral thesis had been passed. He had no children of his own, so he rejoiced in his nieces and nephews, and I know that he thought of me as the daughter of his soul. He was for me, my third parent.

I saw him a few times in those last weeks. The third last time I saw him, it was just him and me, sitting in his home, drinking coffee, and talking – politics, life, literature, children, family, ideas, love. Soul food for both of us. The second last time I saw him, we were down in Wellington for a school event, so afterwards, we all went to his place. My daughters sparkled at him, telling him stories, performing, making him laugh. It warmed us all, him and me and my husband, to see them being so wonderful. And the last time was on the afternoon of the day he died, when I left the girls at home, and raced down the road, just to be there, to hold his hand and talk to him, even though he was unconscious by then. I could not be there when he died because I had to return home to my children (my husband was overseas at the time).

I saw his body one last time, when we closed the coffin that his twin had made for him. By then he had gone.

He had his funeral organised, down to who was speaking, and what they should speak about, and how long they should speak for. No religion, but a great deal of reflection, and beautiful music.

I have some tokens of him: a book he gave me for my 5th birthday, books he gave me just a few months ago, some beautiful needlepoint he made, music we listened to together. And the ache in my heart, for a beloved friend taken too soon. My family’s hearts are aching today, on his birthday. Tony always used to call me or send me a message a few days before his birthday. “Remember that it’s Terry’s birthday on the 15th.” Terry will be grieving today, for this first birthday alone. My parents are grieving too: Tony was their great friend. As he was to all his family, a brother and friend of the mind and soul, and the spiritual centre of our family.

Some thoughts have comforted me in this time: Anne Else’s beautiful image of a boat moving slowly away, Philip Pullman’s account of a spirit dissolving into the atoms of the universe, a self-constructed imagining of Tony’s soul journeying up Te Ika a Maui, to the last pohutakawa tree, and there disappearing into the winds and sea and sky. Not that I believe in souls. But somehow, the image comforts me.

He is gone. He wrote a last testament, which I read at his funeral. I have added it to this post, and if you feel so inclined, having read this far, you might care to download it and read it. It contains the wisdom of a life lived in love and mind and reflection, and his final thoughts about what this life is all about.

Tony Russell’s Testament – pdf – 74kb

Alas, without me for thousands of years
The Rose will blossom and the Spring will bloom,
But those who have secretly understood my heart –
They will approach and see the grave where I lie.
(Deccan tomb inscription)

Anthony (Tony) James Russell
15 November 1945 – 28 September 2013

Travel report: Castles and other playgrounds

The day after the little bees and I arrived in England, Mr Bee took us to visit Kenilworth Castle, on the grounds that (a) it was interesting, and (b) we needed to get out in the fresh air and sunshine to help get over jet lag. It was the first castle the girls had ever seen, and they were fascinated. But quickly enough, they found their way into nooks and crannies, and fireplaces.

In a (disused!) fireplace at Kenilworth

In a (disused!) fireplace at Kenilworth

(Description: three girls standing in a disused fireplace, heads hidden in the chimney)

This turned out to be an on-going theme: walking around and looking at ruins, and then playing in hidey holes…

In the bathhouse lockers at Chesters Fort

In the bathhouse lockers at Chesters Fort

(Description: cubby holes in a stone wall at Chesters Roman Fort, two girls perched inside them)

Finding shelter from the wind was a necessity when we visited Housesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. Housesteads was the first place in the Roman Empire where the soldiers were allowed to wear socks. We could feel why. There was an icy wind knifing across the hillside, coming straight down across Russia from the Arctic, so cold that we could only manage about half an hour outside exploring the fort. Pity the poor Roman soldiers in their leather skirts.

Sheltering from the wind in the North Gate at Housesteads.

Sheltering from the wind in the North Gate at Housesteads.

(Description: Three girls huddled beneath a stone wall at Housesteads)

At Corbridge Roman Town, I was fascinated by the drainage system, which ran from a fountain at the top end of the township, all the way down through the town. The town was well preserved, I suspect in part because when the aqueduct and fountain and drains fell into disrepair, the settlement shifted down the hill closer to the river. So although stones were removed for use elsewhere, the town was never built over.

In the main street at Corbridge

In the main street at Corbridge

(Remnants of stone walls and pillars alongside a street, two girls looking about, one sneaking behind a pillar)

The best ruin we visited was Ashby de la Zouch, which had a tower that you could climb up (97 steps!), and a secret tunnel. It was about 50 metres long, running from the kitchen to the tower, and it was creepily cold and damp and dimly lit. This turned out to be the best playground of the lot.

Heading down into the tunnel at Ashby de la Zouch

Heading down into the tunnel at Ashby de la Zouch

(Description: Two girls coming up steps into the light, from the underground tunnel at Ashby de la Zouch.)

But they weren’t allowed to play on this ruin, at all.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

(Description: Stonehenge)

It was magnificent, and I was so pleased to have the chance to take our girls there. As we visited various places in the United Kingdom, I explained to the girls that this place had been built before white colonists came to New Zealand, or that place had been built before people came to New Zealand, or this other place had been built before Rome was founded in Italy. It was mind blowing.

Also, it was fun.

Cake!

My mother made a strawberry sponge cake for my 1st birthday. We have a photo of me reaching out to touch it. The next year, she made another one for my second birthday, and then every year from then on, that was my birthday cake. A sponge cake, topped with cream and strawberries. She even managed to make one for my 16th birthday, when we were camping up the Coromandel. Even now, if by chance we happen to be home at my parents’ place on my birthday, she makes a strawberry sponge cake for me. From scratch – no supermarket sponges or cake mixtures. Not that such things were readily available in Whangamomona when I was a child. Or even now, I suspect.

Yesterday, we celebrated my birthday at our own home. And my lovely Ms Fourteen made a strawberry sponge cake for me.

Strawberry sponge cake

Strawberry sponge cake

(Description: square sponge cake, sitting on a board, topped with strawberries and cream, with one candle burning bravely)

This made me very, very happy.

How well he knows me… now

Mr Bee and I have been married for nearly 23 years now, so we know a lot about each other. This was not the case when we were first married. It was only after we had been married for some months that we each discovered that the other really rather enjoyed Star Trek. Each of us had carefully concealed our sneaky nerd tendencies from each other until long after the wedding vows were safely said.

Today, I was absolutely delighted to receive, for my birthday, three Star Trek movies on DVD.

Tonight we are going to order in pizza, and watch Star Trek movies, with the little bees. Because it is my birthday, we’re going to order an extra bag of fries.

Should you think that this is a very dull way to celebrate a birthday, I would like to point out that this is my preference, because actually, I’ve reached a very dull number that simply signifies middle age, and in any case later in the week, we’re heading off to Adelaide on holiday. That’s quite enough excitement to be going on with.

Other posts from the past that may have indicated my nerd tendencies:
What I did in my holidays: Kangaroo Island edition
Star the fifth
Nerds? Or geeks?