As I sit down to write our column on Sunday, March 17, an email has just arrived from Russell Norman of Greenpeace. It is a comforting email and I shall keep it. "We saw the best and the worst," he comments as he looks back on Friday, March 15. And I am glad that he refers to our young people of New Zealand who, on that morning, gathered in thousands around the country to show their awareness of climate change and the need for systemic improvement right now in the way we treat our world. I came back from the gathering of Whanganui youth that morning, so very impressed by what was said and with the feeling that there is hope for the future. Sadly and inevitably, there was little publicity in the media about the schoolchildren and their protest. We will not forget it, however, and I, for one, thank them for their concern.

That afternoon brought to our lovely and gentle country the horror of evil and the cruelty of innocent death. Two days later, a garment of sorrow lies over us all. I need to say that the courage and compassion shown by so many has a beauty and a dignity that is so very much New Zealand. We are led by an exceptional woman who has been a torchbearer for us all as we struggle to come to terms with this obscenity. She has spoken with dignity, strength and reassurance. I wonder how many leaders would go straight to those who are suffering the personal loss and, wearing hijab and black gown, comfort them and listen to their pain as she did as soon as she arrived in Christchurch.

MIKE: I can add little to Joan's comments re March 15, a day to be seared into our memories. On Saturday I wrote that New Zealand had lost its innocence on a day of incredible contrasts. Both the Dominion Post and Russell Norman's letter emphasised those same points. The shaken Muslim community needs all the support we can provide. It sounds trite to say they, and we, will rise from these depths of despair, survive and move on. However it is true. The people of New Zealand are too strong to be beaten down by such a cowardly and cold-blooded action.


JOAN: I have paid a first visit to the Sarjeant's newly-curated Patillo Arts Awards. It is just amazing how many artists have put so much of themselves and their creative ability into their entries. I felt the need to tiptoe around the gallery, respecting what seemed, in a communicating silence, like hallowed ground. Of course I shall return again and again and, thus, love more those works that appealed to me immediately and come to understand better those that did not. May I indulge myself and say that my favourite painting was Matt Dutton's self-portrait. He excels in the skill of painting but his portraits always include the essence of the sitter. He manages that here marvellously.

MIKE: Early in 2003, a few months after my retirement from teaching, I saw a letter in the Chronicle requesting volunteers for a working group at Virginia Lake. After all the pleasure the lake had given me over the previous 27 years — bird life, running tracks, tranquillity, relaxation — it seemed that the least I could do was to repay it in some small fashion. The writer of the letter was Maurice Trail, whom I contacted for further information, and shortly afterwards I turned up for my first working bee. I remember it well! We had to clear wandering sailor from a bank facing the Tainui statue, and, in no time at all, Harold Symes was exhibiting his expertise. A few deft cuts with his spade, then he rolled the stuff up like a carpet, pushing it down the hill side. Swift and efficient!

Sixteen years later and I am still a part of the group, which meets on two Thursday mornings each month. Last week I was delighted to be able to attend a pleasant and enjoyable evening at Caroline's Boatshed. Organised by Terry Coxon, the occasion was to celebrate 20 years of Maurice's organisation of the volunteers. However, under the guise of marking the 21st anniversary of the Virginia Lake Trust, led by Sandy Dobbin, Terry was able to conceal from Maurice the true reason for the gathering, revealing it only when the formal part of the evening took place. Speeches were made by Terry, Sandy, the mayor and Maurice himself. It was a warm, intimate occasion.

Over those years a huge amount of work has been done around the lake, pulling out dead wood, fronds, branches and general rubbish, then planting trees and shrubs to rejuvenate the place. A fine example is the small area near the Swan Bridge, with trees and native grasses planted round the lake edge, producing a softer, more gentle vista. It never ceases to amaze me how much can be achieved by a handful of workers in a couple of hours.

Maurice is a true gentleman — a gentle man. When he rings on a Wednesday evening to provide details of the following day's venue and specific requirements, he leaves a message on our answerphone. He is unfailingly courteous and polite, so much so that he sometimes sounds apologetic for asking me to be there! During his career as a school principal, I am sure that he would have been known to his young charges as an avuncular, rather than authoritarian, figure.

I have always been impressed by his physical fitness, but was astounded to hear that he will be turning 90 this year! Maurice is the ultimate example of the altruistic volunteer.

MIKE: Saturday was an important date in the Whanganui Collegiate School calendar, as three new areas of the school were officially opened.

The administration building, replacing a science lab and languages classrooms, is a lofty, peaked structure with three gables, overlaid on the outside with spectacular woven brass screens. Between it and Big School, there now lies a lushly grassed area, the Bidwill Quad. The third of the trio is the HG Carver Memorial Library, which has been extensively and handsomely refurbished. Among the large crowd of invited guests were three of the four headmasters under whom I served, Messrs McKinnon, McKinlay and Hensman.


The weekend served also as a reunion for Old Boys of the 1980s, and I enjoyed catching up with boys/men from 30 years ago. How could they possibly have changed so much? How can they be fathers of university-age children? How can they — incredibly! — be grandfathers? The stasis of time is always strange, but particularly so for teachers, I think. Can it be that we have changed too? Surely not!
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