Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Calvin and Geneva

The city of Geneva and the Rhone River draining to the left. Photo: Bob McKerrow

A lonely chime
Rustles life into
Slumbering insects
In fallow fields
Where Knox and Calvin
Wandered deep in thought

A lazy chime
Rolls over a
Once puritanical city
Drained by the Rhone
And gathering greed
Veiled by a humanitarian face

Written by Bob McKerrow, Geneva 2004

I took this photo of one of many Ferrari luxury cars I saw down at the lake in Geneva.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Mythical, something from a remote, wild and innocent past - something Greek.

Jim Wiikimson - a tribute to Brian Taylor killed in the Christchurch earthquake 22 February 2011
Bounding over the Otago hills there was something mythical, something from a remote, wild and innocent past - something Greek. We used to run down these hills and dive into the cold surf after a 40 km training run. 

Riccarton High School engages in a winter and summer sports exchange with Kaikorai Valley College in Dunedin. That year of 1962 my billet was said to be a pretty good miler. I was the Riccarton school champion in everything from 440 yards to the mile and thought I would have no trouble putting him in his place. In the back straight on the last lap he put the screws on and went past me like a tank in overdrive. "Keep calm", I told myself. "Just stick on his tail and use your speed in the last 50". But when I hit the last 50 he was has already across the line and soaking up the applause. His name was Brian Taylor. (photo: left)

We became friends. After the sports day we put on our glad rags and went out partying. I drove my pride and joy, my 1937 Ford 10, and Brian sat in the back playing "If I had a Hammer" over and over on his guitar as if it were the only tune he knew. It was.

Next time we met was at the inter-university tournament the following year. This time I was billeted with Brian in Dunedin and I met his parents and sister Suzanne. Brian could now play a selection of Beatles songs - I especially remember "I Should Have Known Better" (I should have, as you will see) - so he was making progress on more fronts than one. He was now a solid promise in New Zealand middle distance running. Once again he won the mile by half a lap, but by then I had decided that discretion was the better part of valour and entered the 880 instead. We went partying, of course, and at 4 o'clock in the morning, quite the worse for wear, I smashed my Ford into the front of a milk delivery truck. A total write-off. However, Brian's guitar was the only casualty apart from the car. The girls we were with wobbled away in a taxi and we were left facing a wreck and an irate milkman. "Don't worry mate", slurred i, "Dad's a lawyer. He'll get you out of this one".

The writer, James (Jim) Williamson left

And as it turned out, he did. That was when I really got to know Warrington Taylor. He listened to my version (the truth, I was drunk in charge and didn't know what side of the road I was on) with an amused but affectionate smile and then announced his opinion: "Well young man, it looks like your goose is well and truly cooked". But over the following months he wrote the right letters and signed the right depositions and got me off the hook, for if I had had to pay the damages the milkman claimed I would have ruined my own father. Dealing with Warrington Taylor's subtle ironic intelligence during those months taught me lessons I have never forgotten, and he made me a special gift of one aphorism (I later found its source in Oscar Wilde) he buried in my mind forever: the pure and simple truth is seldom pure, and never simple.

Brian Taylor (centre) and assistant coach Sam McLeod left, with three promising New Zealand athletes at QE II park in Christchurch, January 2009, Photo: Bob McKerrow

Left: Bob McKerrow and Neville Cleveland who were part of the team that trained under Brian Taylor at Karitance camp on successive years- 1963-65.

Brian, meanwhile, was knocking on the door of the sub 4-minute mile, a feat reserved for the international elite in those days. He was the golden boy of Otago athletics, but none of that affected him as a person. For several years he called me his best friend even though my own interest in competitive athletics was waning. When we took long runs together (long, for Brian, began at 20 miles) he had the decency not to wait for me over the last stretch, and when I dragged my aching legs to the nearest pub there he was, waiting eagerly for the deep philosophical conversations over endless jugs of Speights. And the jokes. And the all-night parties in sordid flats enlivened by his new guitar (now into Bob Dylan). And Karitane. Through Brian I met Bob McKerrow, Neville Cleveland, Rob Urghart and Graeme Lockett at the Karitane training camps, influential events on the lives of all of us as Bob explains somewhere else on this blog. Maybe nothing in my life has ever again achieved the purity of those sun-drenched days. Bounding over the Otago hills there was something mythical, something from a remote, wild and innocent past - something Greek - in the marriage of sheer physicality and intellectual curiosity that melded our disparate personalities into an indivisible whole. And the vital fulcrum of all that was Brian, who, in spite of his lack of some of the talents or traits that marked us as individuals (Bob's adventurous spirit and disdain for authority, Graeme's romantic bond with nature, my intellectual hunger, perhaps) he was the undisputed leader as every phalanx must have a leader, and not only because he could run us all into the ground. One could analyse the reasons - instinctive understanding of group dynamics, innate respect for each individual... but the real reason is as simple as it is unattainable by any act of will: Brian loved us all, unconditionally. And it is the heart that remains nearly fifty years later when the splendid limbs have turned to dust, as bright and as warm as it was the day he destroyed me on the back straight at Riccarton High.

Christchurch earthquake 22 February 2011 - One year later

In a few hours it will be one year since the devastating Canterbury earthquake hit Christchurch and surrounding towns and countryside. One of my best friends Brian Taylor was killed that day when the CTV building collapsed. This evening I got an message from my daughter in Christchurch saying " tomorrow evening I am catching up with Brian's running crew. We are doing a twilight run followed by desert on the port hills. Thinking of you and Brian's loved ones. Love Aroha."

Brian was a reknowned New Zealand athletics coach and trained many athletes, including myself as a teenager, and 35 years later, my daughter Aroha.

The photo on the left I took two years ago in Christchurch with Brian Taylor at QE II in Christchurch with a crop of his athletes in 2009.

"I will be thinking of you Brian, and on Saturday our close friend and fellow athlete, Jim (James] Williamson is flying in from Spain to meet me in Geneva, and we will honour you and toast to your memory with the best red wine we can find. We will also offer a prayer to you wonderful wife Prue, and your two sons. You were a great friend Brian."

I often mull over the fact that Brian should been with me in Sri Lanka on 22 February 2011 working with Colonel Madugalle, Vice President of the Sri Lanka Amateur Athletics Association. We had been planning to bring Brian over to train Sri Lankan athletic coaches in preparation for the next Coimmonwealth Games to be held in Sri Lanka. Brian was really excited about this visit and so was I. I had spoken to my boys about Brian being able to analyze their running style and coach them a little.

Brian Taylor, right, with Bob McKerrow. Good to see the Speight's beer label there as we were one of their greatest customers in our younger day.

This is what I wrote shortly after Brian was assumed trapped in the building, but not declared dead..

"Tonight the little light blue box beside Brian's name on SKYPE has a cross beside it and strangely, for the last few mornings, I have missed seeing brianwtaylor pop up on screen showing me he is on SKYPE. I never bothered enquiring about him because 'Tails' was invincible and indestructable, or at least, that's what I thought.

Here is the SKYPE message Brian sent me on 31 December last year.

[31-Dec-10 10:38:13] Brianwtaylor: Hi Bob, Happy new year to you too. I can work on a date for the middle of Feb. I will try and check flights as well. We go camping on Jan 4 for 2 weeks. I will try to get flights sorted either while I am away or before I leave on the 4th. I will not have easy computer access, but cell texting is good, if you can send me your cell phone number. Brian

Sadly, we had to postpone his visit until March as the mid- February dates clashed with the Cricket World Cup being held in Sri Lanka and neighbouring countries. We should have stuck to that 10 day period starting 15 February 2011.

I will keep looking every day on SKYPE, hoping for the miracle, for the cross to change to a tick. Usually we chatted a few times a week, about his pending trip, and what we were up to in our lives. Often it was a quick "good morning, how are you."

Brian and Prue invited me to their home on New Year's eve 2008-09 and a few days later in January 2009 I spent time with Brian at QE II Park , where the 1974 Commonwealth Games were held, watching him coach his athletic squad. I wrote at the time: "

It was a joy to meet again with my former athletics coach, Brian Taylor, who lives in Christchurch and coaches some of New Zealand's leading athletes. Brian coached me from the age of 14 to 20, and as a group, including James Williamson, we did some revoluntionary training, an expanded version of Arthur Lydiard's methods. In those days we ran more than 130 miles a week with often a 26 mile run over the hills of Dunedin on a Sunday. Unknowingly at the time, this endurance conditioning prepared me for exploration in later life and I owe a lot to Brian. Forty-seven years after he started coaching, Brian Taylor is still putting in hundred of voluntary hours a month coaching young people. It is role models like this that produce great sportspeople in New Zealand. They are New Zealand's unsung heroes.

Here is an article I posted a year ago on the Christchurch earthquake.
:Rescuers  battled over night trying to find up to 200 people believed to be trapped in buildings in Christchurch. Another survivor is found.


LATEST: A temporary mortuary to deal with Christchurch earthquake victims has been moved to the Burnham Military Camp "for capacity reasons", Cabinet Ministers have just been told.

The development comes as Christchurch people have woken to a scene of absolute carnage, with bodies lying throughout the central business district. The living, trapped in many buildings, are fighting for their lives after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck at a shallow depth 10km southeast of the city at 1pm yesterday.

Rescuers are still hearing signs of life from the two worst hit buildings - Canterbury Television in Madras St and Pyne Gould Guiness in Cambridge Tce - both of which collapsed. Three people had this morning been rescued from the CTV building and eight from the PGG building.

The number of bodies formally identified stands at 39 but that number is expected to soar today. Prime Minister John Key said the 65 death toll quoted yesterday "remains an accurate prediction".

Key has ordered that the flags on all Government building fly at half mast until further notice as a mark of respect for people killed in the quake.

Police had deployed a large disaster identification team and there had been offers from Australia for more teams.

"The challenges are very, very real. In the health area, a lot of extra resource is being deployed," Wevers told ministers.

Christchurch Hospital seemed to be managing the load, however. Schools would be used as local water distribution points.

A lot of offers of support from the private sector would be marshalled by civil defence in Christchurch.

"The key point is the co-ordination from the Wellington end and at the Canterbury end. It's working reasonably well."


Rescue efforts by hundreds of search and rescue workers from around New Zealand today focuses on the collapsed Canterbury Television and Pyne Gould Guiness buildings.

Shane Cole, a Fire Service station officer and an member of the urban search and rescue team, said rescuers had heard banging in buildings and one person had managed to send a text message this morning while trapped on the first floor of the CTV building.

They had rescued eight people from the PGG building overnight and three people from CTV. No one had been rescued so far this morning.

He did not know how many were still trapped but estimated there were up to 20 in the PGG building and "a lot more" in the CTV building.

Cole said rescue staff were were operating in "perilous" conditions with aftershocks further destabilising buildings.

Hesaid their focus from the start had been to extract those still alive and they had been forced to work around fatalities.

"we just had to give up (on them) and concentrate on the live people."

They had started the recovery by breaking holes in the collapsed roof then had moved to the rear of the building which was less damaged, where they had carried out more rescues.

He said they had been "reasonably successful" so far and were hopeful of finding more people alive.

Some of those rescued had suffered serious injuries, with one trapped up to the waist, and others with trapped limbs.

Cole said the work was painstaking and the building perilous with persistent aftershocks but "we just keep going. We've still got people trapped.

"it's tough working in the building with aftershocks - it's quite scary."

Those trapped were overwhelmed to be rescued, he said.

"they're really ecstatic that we've got them out. Some of the people that we've found they're trapped in half a metre ... Space surrounded by furniture and everything.

"I guess the most sobering thought for them is when they get out and see the condition of their building

22 February

It's been a traumatic day for so many people living in Christchurch as a second major earthquake struck within six months. I got the news at 7 a.m. this morning  Sri Lanka time and the first thing I did was phone my daughter Ruia, who lives in my house in Christchurch. She works in a medical centre and when the quake struck, the ceiling of the clinic fell in, and fortunately no one was injured. She and her colleagues treated people who were injured in the area but were sent home as aftershocks were causing more falling debris. But on the other side of Christchurch, nearer the epi-centre, the situation was tragic. In the centre of the city where tourists and lunch time workers gather, people were crushed by falling debris and trapped in buildings that collapsed.
It's just after midnight in Christchurch, 12 hours after the quake, and rescue workers toil through the night  burying into collapsed buildings, hoping to find people alive

Everyone whether in Christchurch or who had relatives there, experienced extremes of emotion. Some of the New Zealanders who worked in Indonesia after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that killed over 150,000 people in Indonesia, received a message from the former Minister for Tsunami, and now the Prime Minister in Indonesia, Mangkusubroto. His message was sent especially to David Hopkins; Noel Trustrum and myself for the various forms of work we did in the psot Tsunami operation. New Zealand specialists assisted Indonesia, now Indonesia is expressing solidarity. the message read:

My heart is with you in this difficult time. Hope all your love ones are safemfrom the earthquake. If theres anything that we can help, I am at your disposal. I pray to God for your safety, Kuntoro.-

Here is the latest from various New Zealand websites

Construction workers and search and rescue specialists toiled under floodlights to dig out survivors and the dead from buildings flattened by the earthquake that ripped the city apart.

Dozens of search and rescue and medical staff have arrived to continue with the frantic recovery effort.

Yesterday's earthquake has claimed at least 65 lives and scores more are injured in what Prime Minister John Key says "may well be New Zealand's darkest day".

At least 65 people are dead after the shallow 6.3 earthquake hit 10km southeast of the city, just before 1pm. There have been constant aftershocks, as powerful as magnitude 5.7. The latest significant aftershock measured magnitude 5.0 and hit at 7.43pm.

The death toll is already the second highest from a New Zealand earthquake - outranked only by the 256 people killed in the violent 7.9 1931 Hawke's Bay quake, whose 70th anniversary was marked earlier this month.

Police have reported "multiple fatalities" at several locations in the downtown area, including in buses crushed by falling buildings.

Buildings have been destroyed with at least 100 people believed to be trapped inside. Rescuers warned some people remained trapped overnight.

More bodies were likely to be pulled from the rubble of the Canterbury Television building which collapsed in the earthquake, a man involved in assisting rescue teams in their hunt for survivors said tonight.

Rescue workers frantically try to find those trapped inside the Pyne Gould Corporation building.

The Southern Demolition employee, who did not want to be named, told NZPA rescue personnel pulled bodies from the rubble while he was assisting in the recovery effort.

"We were working on one side of the building and on that side we managed to pull one person alive but we also pulled out a body. On the other side they pulled out four or five - I don't know if they were dead or alive.

"It was awful," he said.

The New Zealand Red Cross Response 

"NZRC is not currently requiring or accepting donations of goods or volunteers at this time. NZRC are currently focusing on roles supporting the CDEM response. Urgent email enquiries can be referred to our National Emergency Operating Centre at nzrceoc@redcross.org.nz.

"For welfare related enquiries and requirements for affected persons please call the Government help line on 0800 7799977 (NZ number)."

"To lodge an enquiry in relation to missing relatives please call the NZ Red Cross National Enquiry Centre on 0800 REDCROSS (0800 733 276) (note this line may be overloaded)"

"International restoring family links enquiries from Red Cross or Red Crescent national societies can be sent to familylinks@redcross.org.nz further information will be pending."

The Australian Red Cross, through their bilateral agreement with the New Zealand Red Cross, will be sending emergency support staff to assist with the operation.

A bus crushed by falling debris.


Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker has told TVNZ the death toll could double.

It could be later this morning before the number of missing is known.

The next official update is expected at 5.30am today when Civil Defence will hold a press conference in the Beehive bunker.

Up to 31 Japanese students from a foreign-language school are believed to among those trapped under collapsed buildings in the city.  The students, from Toyama city, were eating lunch when the earthquake struck. There are reports three of the students have been taken to hospital, one in a serious condition.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun's online Japanese edition, responses have been heard from nine of the trapped students.

The Pyne Gould Guinness building has tilted at an awkward angle and slumped to the ground with 30 people thought to be inside, while people are trapped under desks in the Christchurch Press building opposite Christ Church Cathedral.

Fatalities have been reported in the Canterbury TV building, while the Forsyth Barr Tower has lost its stairs, so those trapped high above ground had to be lifted out by crane.

People are also feared trapped in hotels, Civil Defence Minister John Carter said.

"What we don't know is whether they were out looking around the town or were in their rooms."

Christchurch Hospital is operational but people are being asked to keep the Emergency Department for major casualties only.

A generator has been brought in to maintain power supply at Christchurch Hospital Riverside Block. "If power is not fully restored this evening patients at Christchurch Hospital's Riverside Block may need to be evacuated," a statement said.


A Royal New Air Force Boeing 757 was due to land in Christchurch from Whenuapai Air Force Base at 10.30pm last night carrying 54 search and rescue staff, plus 20 St John's medical staff.

More than 200 soldiers are assisting NZ Police with cordon duties and the Navy's vessel Canterbury docked in Lyttelton has offloaded around 160 persons for cordon support duties.

Two Iroquois helicopters from Ohakea have arrived to assist with rescue efforts in the city. Other Navy ships are also on the way.

The NZ Army's medical teams are at four different locations around Christchurch with military officers working with the Police. NZ Defence Force firefighters are working with local fire brigades.

English said the force of the earthquake was above the limit modern buildings were designed to withstand.

An estimated 1200 people sheltered in Addington overnight, while nurses with specialist intensive care skills are being flown to the city.

Schools are closed until further notice.

Residents have been told to stay at home and save any safe water for drinking, including rain water which could be collected as rain falls tonight as the city's reservoirs have been shut down. Toilets should not be flushed and water should be boiled as sewage systems have failed, Parker said.

Parker said up to 25 buildings of significant size in the city were probably damaged beyond repair.

Hospitals around the South Island were being cleared to take the hundreds of casualties expected, while makeshift hospitals were being set up in parts of Christchurch.

Emergency triage centres for the injured are operating at Latimer Square, Canterbury University and the Sanitarium Building in Papanui - not South City or the Spotlight Mall, Sydenham, police said.

"This is a big problem. Far worse in casualties than the 4th of September, largely because it happened at a different time of the day," Civil Defence director John Hamilton said.


Pyne Gould Corporation has confirmed that staff from the building are missing, but would not say how many. The company was working to account for each staff member.

People died when buses were crushed under falling building facades, Radio NZ reported.

At the building's cordon, Labour Party leader Phil Goff said earlier this evening that at least 30 people were feared trapped inside and at least one person was killed. Families were congregating at the cordon, he said.

Parker said: "There are people fighting for their lives at the moment but there are also people fighting for them."

"We're in the middle of an extremely serious situation. We're preparing ourselves for what I think will be a really sad, bleak day for our city but be reassured everybody is doing what they can."

Parker said there were currently people still trapped in cars and buildings, with some being able to phone to say they're trapped.

An aerial view of the  Pyne Gould Corporation building.

Defence Forces have been called in to assist with the earthquake recovery and were going door to door checking on residents.

The airport was closed to all but emergency flights and Lyttelton tunnel was shut.

Christchurch Hospital remained open but was also damaged. It asked that only seriously injured people come to the emergency department. It had a full emergency plan in operation.

Power should return to half of Christchurch tonight, with most of the city back on in the next three to four days, lines company Orion said.

St John's Ambulance had run out of ambulances and was using four wheel drives to get the injured out.

The New Zealand Blood Service has been flooded with calls from people wanting to donate blood.

The service said it presently had adequate blood stock, but would advise through its Facebook page and website if that changed.


Thousands of homeless Christchurch residents are tonight bracing for a long, cold, wet and worrying night in welfare centres.

The Christchurch City Council said a welfare centre at Addington Raceway had closed due to high umbers, believed to be about 1200.

People were instead asked to go to Burnside School, Papanui High School, the Lyttelton Recreation Centre, Brooklands Community Centre or Akaroa Senior School.

WeatherWatch.co.nz said the temperature was expected to fall to 9-10degC overnight, compounded by light rain. Many more aftershocks were also expected.

However, the showers should clear in the morning and a high of 18degC was expected.

An Urban Search and Rescue team (SAR) from Australia would arrive after midnight.

Two New Zealand SAR teams were on their way as well as ambulances from around the South Island.

Some critical patients had been flown from Christchurch to other hospitals around the South Island.

Military personnel were being coordinated to make areas safe.


The spire of Christchurch Cathedral, the heart of the city, has collapsed.

Dean of Cathedral Peter Beck said they tried to get out who they could but it was now in the hands of emergency services. "It doesn't look good".

He had "no idea" of how many people were inside.

Power was out in a significant portion of the city. While some parts will have power restored overnight it could be fours days till power was restored across the city.

A significant number of hotels have collapsed and it was not known how many people were inside, the Civil Defence Minister said earlier this afternoon.

Bodies were seen being taken out of the damaged YHA hostel in the city.

On the corner of Lichfield and High Streets, a block of shops had completely collapsed and rescue services believed four or five people are trapped in the rubble.

One body had been pulled from the wreckage.

People trapped in the CBD have put signs up at the windows saying 'HELP'.

Helicopters were being used to put out fires in the central city.


Amber Armitage said people were wandering around central Christchurch trying to get out but all exits from the city were blocked.

There was a strong smell of gas and clouds of dust.

A bus on Colombo St was "completely trapped under bricks" and people were working to free passengers trapped in it.

She said the quake felt much stronger than the 7.1 quake on September 4, 2010 and believed the city was "irreparable".

Former Blenheim woman Joh Bloomberg was working in Ballantynes department store in central Christchurch when the earthquake struck.

"I was clinging to this cupboard next to my desk. I thought it was going to be fine, but it got worse and worse, and went on for so long. It's the worst one I've felt."

She walked outside to nearby Lichfield St and saw a car flattened by a fallen section of building.

"I'm normally pretty calm with things like this but when I saw a huge concrete slab on top of that car ...

"It's squashed down to zero. You never think you'll see anything like that."

Everyone was screaming as they left the store.

A colleague of Miss Bloomberg's walked outside to Cashel St mall and saw people lying on the ground who she thought had been hit by falling rubble from a nearby cafe.

Kay Cowlishaw said there was destruction everywhere.

"There's just water pouring out and sewerage, the whole garage is filled with water. There are cracks in the road.

Sally Blundell lives in Opawa and said their whole house shifted on its piles.

"We have no water, no power. We are really shaken. Most of us do not know what has happened to the inner city. We are just hearing reports on the radio and it sounds really frightening. The ground is still like jelly, a low level shake all the time."

Malcolm, a policeman from Darfield, was driving in the city when the earthquake hit.

"I thought I had a flat tyre, then the place was shaking like hell."
He said oak trees in the Hagley Park had been uprooted and fallen across tents.

"I'm shaken, I'm at Christ College now and the school is a shambles - there's a lot of damage to the buildings.

"All of the water pipes are burst and it looks like a tsunami coming across the park."

"It's just unbelievable - just the sheer power."

His daughter was at Rangi Ruru school and she said students were running around screaming.


A patient in Christchurch Hospital, who was in the riverside block when the first quake hit, said things were falling down and some elderly people were injured in the stairs.
"It was just a lot of panic. The nurses and doctors were quite calm but I think just like the first time, it was all quiet, then all of a sudden there was panic."

Christchurch Hospital is operational but people are being asked to keep the Emergency Department for major casualties only.
The hospital, along with most other hospitals in the region has suffered infrastructure damage, a Health Ministry statement said.

A generator has been brought in to maintain power supply at Christchurch Hospital Riverside Block. "If power is not fully restored this evening patients at Christchurch Hospital's Riverside Block may need to be evacuated."

Large volumes of patients are being triaged through the Christchurch Hospital ED, many with serious injuries. Patients with non-life threatening injuries are being assessed and treated in Christchurch Women's Hospital and the Outpatients Department. Patients from the top two floors of Christchurch Hospital have been evacuated to lower floors. There is some water damage throughout the hospital but staff are awaiting further assessments.

St John district commander Tony Dowell said they had been seeing a range of injuries from serious to minor.
Mostly of the injuries were from crushing. St John was mobilising resources from West Coast, Dunedin, Nelson and South Canterbury.

What a tragic earthquake. On a personal level I have contacted all my relatives and friends in Christchurch, and they are well. I am trying to contact my good friend Ed Cotter, veteran mountaineers, who climbed with sir Ed Hillary. Ed is 82 and lives on the cliffs overlooking Sumner. My daughter Ruia is trying to contact him. If you have come across Ed Cotter, please let me know.

Thanks. And may God bless those who are trapped and please rescue them, and may he comfort those who have lost loved ones.

Thanks to stuff nz.co and New Zealand Red Cross for use of material off their websites.

Earthquake causes glacier to calve

Glacier watchers on the Tasman Lake had an experience of a lifetime yesterday.

Two guides and 16 passengers were on two boats on the lake when the 6.3 magnitude Canterbury earthquake hit, triggering tsunamis and causing a massive ice calving off the glacier.

Aoraki-Mt Cook Alpine Village Ltd general manager tourism Denis Callesen said the guides were radioed from the village as soon as the earthquake was felt, so were able to prepare for the event.

Mr Callesen said the boats endured 30 minutes of tsunamis, up to 3.5 metres high.

Staff are trained for the event, knowing to turn the boats towards each tsunami and motor gently forwards.

About 30 million tonnes of ice calved – 1200 metres across the face, 30 metres above the lake and more than 250 metres below the surface to the bottom of the lake and back for about 75 metres.

Mr Callesen said it was either the third biggest, or second-equal biggest event in Tasman Lake's history.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The mountains of AfrIca, Mt Ras Dashan and Kilimanjaro

Sunrise over Africa from the crater rim of Mt. Kilimanjaro. This photo and all others by Bob McKerrow

Another kind of treasure waited to be found

In July 1978, I returned to Ethiopia to work for the International Red Cross on a large relief operation for two million famine-stricken people. Having previously climbed the two highest mountains in Ethiopia in 1974, Mt. Ras Dashan (4757 m) and Mt. Buahit (4267 m), I began pouring over maps of Africa to see where I might be able to climb during a week’s holiday at Christmas 1978.

During the many weeks I spent in the highlands of Ethiopia in the course of my work, I become fascinated

Listening to my Ethiopian colleagues telling numerous stories and legends of their country’s rich and ancient history, and I was surprised to hear numerous mentions of Kilimanjaro.

When in the capital I spent a lot of my evenings searching for written account of Kilimanjaro in Ethiopian history and after many months I located a publication in the Tanzanian Embassy which featured a reprint by Dr. R. Reusch in the Tanganyika Standard of February 10, 1828. It read “ For thousands of years these mountains have stood, becoming more and more interwoven with legends. Even in Abyssinia (pre-war name of Ethiopia), Mt. Kibo, the highest summit of Kilimanjaro, is known and one remarkable legend, told me beside the camp fire by old Abyssinian soldiers and hunters is connected with this snow clad mountain. When the first king of of Abyssinia, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, called Menelik I, who governed Tigre as Negusie-Negesshti (King of Kings) had completed his successful conquest of Shoa in southern Ethiopia, Somaliland, Kenya Colony and nor then Tanganyika, and was on his return journey bringing with him much spoils of wars he one day encamped on a desert-like stretch of land which unites Mt. Kibo and Mawenzi, at a height of 15,000 feet. He was old and tired of life and felt death drawing near. But because he was King he wanted to die as a King.
“ King I am and as King I wish to die,” he said to his followers One morning he bid his army farewell and accompanied by a few of his warlords and slaves, who carried his jewels and treasure, he began to ascend the mountain.

Kilimanjaro - King Menelik, Shipton, Hemingway and Valeria all fell in love with this mountain.
His soldiers below followed him with their eyes until he reached the boundary of the eternal snows where cloud encompassed him. In the evening the warlords returned without their King, for he had entered into the crater of the mountain with his slaves, jewels and treasure. And here he will sleep forever. But an offspring of his family will arise and restore the old glory of Ethiopian conquering all the land to the Rufiji River. He will ascend Mt. Kibo, find the jewels of Menelik I, among which will be the seal ring of Solomon which the old King has upon his finger. The ring he will put on his own hand and from this moment he will be endowed with the wisdom of Solomon. Also the heroic spirit of the old King will rest upon him. Thus says the legend.

Fired with the thoughts of treasure and the wisdom of Solomon I arrived at Marangu on December 16, 1978, a small village on the south-west slopes of Kilimanjaro. The base of Kilimanjaro measures 50 by 30 miles in an east-south-east direction. It consists of three major volcanic centres, Kibo 19,349 ft in the centre, Mawenzi 16,890 ft in the east, and Shira 13,140 in the west. Uhuru peak 19340 ft on Kibo, is the highest point in Africa.

Not having any climbing gear and clad only in street clothes when I arrived , I was lucky to be able to borrow a pair of climbing boots from a Bavarian geologist who had fortunately dislocated a shoulder. I hired some warmer clothes from the national park headquarters. I was fortunate finding a local farmer, Valerian, from the Chagga tribe who was keen to accompany me and carry fire wood and water for cooking.

Sign at the Kilimanjaro National Park headquarters/ (note spelling)Valerian, like so many other Chagga, supplements his income by carrying loads, and if required will guide tourists in snow-free-conditions to Gilman;s point on the crater rim.
Living on the slopes of this great mountain the Chagga have a single finite clear focus on their country, a rare thing for African people whose eyes are so often fixed on stretches of undifferentiated bush or desert reaching indctermunatedly to the horizon. This gives the Chagga people a focus, a precise position in a single great mountain which is one of the most naturally fertile in Africa.

I had hoped to have a look perhaps climb one of the more interesting routes on Kilimanjaro but unseasonal weather over the whole of east- Africa had brought snow down to 12,000 feet. The first three days on the normal route is a delightful walk through constantly changing scenery: from 5000ft at Marangu to 15,450ft the last hut on the mountain.

The first day took us through rain forests comprising a variety of trees ferns with brambles and lichens growing in the trunks and branches. Occasionally we saw clusters of orchids, blue monkeys and small frightened birds. Between 8.000 and 12,000 feet the forest gradually changes to Podocarpus Milanjianus family and Hypernicum revolutum community. Around this altitude one meets with the first of three giant groundsels (photo opposite) endemic to Kilimanjaro (Scenico Johnsyonni), sometimes attaining a height of 30 feet.

The following day we emerged onto the upland grasslands. Here the everlasting flowers begin to become conspicuous. These grasslands almost extend to Horombo Hut at 12,299 feet surrounded by heath-like plants. On the third day we passed through alpine bogs dotted with giant Groundsel and giant Lobelia, a large short-lived herb which grows up to 12 feet. This landscape was identical to one I had seen four years earlier when climbing Mt. Ras Dashan in Ethiopia.

Mt.Mawenzi, from the saddle between Mt. Kibo and Mawenzi. Photo: Bob McKerrow

As we proceeded north over the seven miles between Mawenzi and Kibo, much of the distance being a saddle, the vegetation petered out to form an alpine desert. Here few plants survive because of the extremely low rainfall and temperature. The fresh snow had sorted the tourists out from the more adventurous leaving Valerian and I almost alone in the hut. The next morning we left the hut by moonlight at 1.30 am. It took us one and a half hours to reach Hans Meyer Cave which was completely full of snow. I thought of Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman who spent a night here in 1929 on their way to the summit. They also struck waist-deep snow and Tilman suffered from altitude sickness and vomited frequently.

From here on it was a steepish plod on snow-covered scree to Gilman’s Point at the crater rim, which we reached at 5.30 am in time to see a wild African sunrise.

At the crater rim of Kilimanjaro
Valerian heading towards Mt. Kibo. Photo: Bob McKerrowHere the snow was very deep and the frozen crust would just support our weight. After the magnificent sunrise clouds began swirling over over the north-east crater rim as we headed towards Uhuru Peak a mile and a half away. With the rising temperatures we began breaking through the crust into deep powder snow.

The edge of the glacier on the crater rimTo avoid the fresh snow we traversed over a series of small peaks which had less snow an their wind-blown crests. Two hours of wading through waist deep snow, we furrowed ourselves to the summit.

Valerian, a local Chagga farmer, on the summit of Kibo Peak, the highest point on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Our view down the mountain was obscured by cloud. But we could see the whole crater and surrounds but, because of the thick mantle of snow it looked so different, almost featureless, from previous photographs.
We dug into the four feet of snow which covered the summit and found the plaque installed many years ago which cites a speech of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere on Tanganyika’s independecane in 1961.
I thought of the great King Menelik and his buried treasure on this mountain. I think it best be left on the mountain for greed has already caused enough suffering in Africa.
I spent the last night in Tanzania with Valerian and his family. As happy children and piglets squealed around our feet and beer trickled down our throats, I thought that happiness like this is preferable to treasure.

Footnote: This article was rejected by Colin Monteath editor of the New Zealand Alpine Journal in 1978. Later, that illustrious North Island daily, the Manawatu Standard, published it in its Christmas Edition as a feature, on 24 December 1979.

iv id="cse-search-results">

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Personal reflections on the 75 year history of a Red Cross Society

I first got involved with the Sri Lanka Red Cross in 1975 when I was posted in Geneva with the then League of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, now the IFRC. One of my senior colleagues was Dr. Kingsley Seevaratnam from Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and he told me regularly about the outstanding work of the Sri Lanka Red Cross. Then in early 1977 I did some post graduate studies in Australia in disaster management, and on the course I become very friendly with Eddie (E.B) Abeysekera who was the President of the Sri Lanka Red Cross from 1977 to 1987. Eddie and I became close friends over a 3 month period and even watched part of the Centennial Cricket Test between Australia and England over a long weekend in Melbourne.

The first relief operation I was involved in was back in 2001 when I was the IFRC head of region for South Asia. Working with my good friend Gamini Pinnulawatta from Sri Lanka Red Cross when we conducted an assessment, and found 300,000 people living in the district facing food shortages and ill health. Nearly 39,000 were found to be highly vulnerable in the worst drought in 50 years.

I was next involved with a floods and landslides operation in 2003, after heavy rains which lashed the districts of Ratnapura, Kalutara, Galle, Matara and Hambantota on May 17 triggered floods and landslides leaving death and destruction in its wake. Over 250 people died and over 160,000 families have been affected in six districts.
Tragically, I arrived in Sri Lanka shortly after the hugely devastating Tsunami occured on 26 December 2004 and helped set up the massive tsunami relief and early recovery operation. I arrived again in June 2010 and helped draw the Tsunami operation to a close and am currently  supporting post conflict recovery and  flood recovery operations. Therefore last Monday, 13 February 2012, was a significant ocassion for me to join Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers on their 75th Anniversary, many of who I have worked with over the years.
It was also a privilige to read out a congratulatory message from Tadateru Konoe, President of IFRC, to the whole assembly.
 I recommend you to have a look at this stirring video to see what amazing work one Red Cross society has done over 75 years.

Here is a little more history.

To the backdrop of a malaria outbreak in 1935 the need for a volunteer based organization to aid in times of natural and manmade disasters was evident. Since the then British Government struggled to curtail the epidemic, steps were taken to mobilize the formation of the “Ceylon Central Council Branch of the British Red Cross Society”.

This newly born volunteer organization was hard at work by providing services that were costly at that time for no fee.
Twenty five out of 250 students from lower income families who were given Red Cross scholarships for two years of higher education. They are from families that often see children drop out of higher education due to financial reasons. Photo: IFRC/SLRCS

In 1943, a large sum of money was sent to Bengal in assistance of the people affected by famine.
Sri Lanka Red Cross Society was born on the shoulders of dedicated volunteers. With volunteer involvement a Hospital Supply Association was formed. System of First Aid Post was organized. Colombo division of volunteers worked at the General Hospital during a strike of hospital attendants. A hospital library service was run at the General hospital, Colombo.

After the gaining independence The Ceylon Central Council branch of British Red Cross Society was dissolved on 31st March 1949. The very next day on 1st April 1949 the Ceylon Red Cross Society was formed. On 27th November 1951 by a Royal Decree (Charter) of his Majesty King George VI of England the Ceylon Red Cross Society was incorporated in to the constitution.

In 1952 at the recommendation of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), the League of Red Cross (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies- IFRC) recognized the “Ceylon Red Cross” as the National Society of Ceylon at its 22nd Session of the Board of Governors meeting at Toronto Canada.

Young Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers proudly wear their special 75 year anniversary caps. Photo: IFRC/SLRCS

Blood donor recruitment service inaugurated in 1956 by us became the first initiative for a blood bank in Sri Lanka.

Floods in 1957 proved to be a challenge for the society, however our volunteers came through excelling in delivering aid to the most vulnerable.

Collection Centers were opened at the headquarters in Colombo to receive relief supplies of food, clothing, drugs, and other relief material, which then were sent to help the victims of the flood. Not only did we manage to provide relief for people affected in Ceylon but also managed to deliver aid to victims of the flood in India.

In 1969 we raised fund nationally and donated relief items to flood and earthquake affected Burma, (now Myanmar) India, Pakistan, and Iran.

In 1972 a new constitution passed by the government of Ceylon to change the country’s name to Sri Lanka. As a result the Ceylon Red Cross Society re-named as the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society.

This is just a snapshot, so I recommend you view the You Tube clip above to see a more complete history.
It was also a privilige to read out a congratulatory message from Tadateru Konoe, President of IFRC, to the whole assembly. Photo: IFRC/SLRCS

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Making of Genius - hard work.

After I gave up athletics around the age of 20 to concentrate on mountaineering, I  coached athletes for about 10 years and I came to realise that those athletes who put in the hard work, after a number of years. started beating athletes with a lot of natural talent, but skipped by with only light training.
A case in point for me was Neville Cleveland who was in the same year of High School with me in Dunedin, New Zealand and from the age of 13 to 17, I could beat him over every distance, quite easily, including cross-country. Neville lacked speed, was physically large-boned heavy, and landed quite hard on his feet. Being a builder's apprentice, he was used to hard work and he applied the hard work theory to his running and by the age of 18, Neville was turning in to a top cross country runner. After 10 years of really hard work, he was a top New Zealand cross country runner.

Left: Neville Cleveland (right) and Bob McKerrow after a 15 km run in Featherston, New Zealand when we were 28 years of age. Through hard work, Neville had become a top NZ cross-country runner and a very talented long distance runner. He further applied the 'hard work' theory to his profession and rose to the top.

Neville went on to rise from a carpenter, to a quantity surveyor, and then on to Area Commercial Manager for Arrow International Limited Privately with 200 employees and was one of the leaders of the magnificent covered Forsyth Barr Stadium stadium in Dunedin. Neville was part of a team that built a dream stadium for New Zealand — one that provides the best facilities to make every event unforgettable. The construction of this architectural icon has been no mean feat. They have built a space that acknowledges the contribution of visionary citizens.real grass under a transparent roof. Stands that bring you close to the action. Sports, concerts, events and conferences have a new home. Neville got to the top of running and construction through hard world.

Neville, Jim Williamson and I went to a number of athletic training camps run by Brian Taylor  at Karitane in OTAGO New Zealand.  We trained together and competed against each other regularly and Jim wrote the following about Neville and our younger days which helps me understand where we are today.

"I read the story about Neville, and the one about 90% perspiration (which is illustrated by my career - I have so many talents that I am always anxious to explore the possibilities of the next one on the list). I'm really happy for him, glad that he is successful and a great professional. In most ways my life has been a stark contrast to his: on the occupational front I've been a jack of all trades - teacher, painter and marchante, restorer, bar owner, businessman in various ventures... and now translator. I was good at all of them but have always been seduced by new experiences, new adventures, moving on. Like my father, who was an itinerant worker, good at everything he did but always hearkening to the romance of the new venture. But a working career was never the priority (and money less), more a means to an end, and treated him (and me) accordingly. Like you, not a single regret. It's the journey that counts, not the destination, and mine is still a source of fascination - to me if to nobody else. Who I am today is the result of that journey up to this point. Once again I am a talented translator, well established and making a good living, but... I have an ambition to write a novel and I know I will need to concentrate all my resources on that some day and leave everything I have achieved as a translator behind to join the others as just another step along the path. ¿Path? There is no path before we walk it. We make the path by going that way. So there will never be a "final version" of that kid, little Jimmy Williamson who played in the Garston station goods shed in the 1950's and broke his arse falling out of impossible trees, or did the beach olympics with soul-mate Bob McKerrow in the late 60's. Count on it. We have a departure point, but no destination. Thank god (or whatever)."

The magnificent covered Forsyth Barr Stadium stadium in Dunedin. Neville was part of a team that built a dream stadium for New Zealand

This leads me back to the  theory that I have expoused about genius being at least 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. Recently I discovered an article written by Nobel prize winner Eric Kandel , on the making of a Genius and it was good to have my thoughts confirmed..

Despite numerous romantic stories of child prodigies, the hard evidence shows that genius tends to be made, not born. Studies of elite physical and mental performance confirm what is termed “the Decade Rule”. You have to put in a decade at the very least of the right focused work to even approach mastery in any field. And you have to want to do it.

It helps a little, but only a little, if you are born with great talent. It seems to help more if you already have access to some of the in-built software of the brain, but have difficulty learning by conventional methods, as is the case with savants. Albert Einstein for example, is cited as the most famous case of Asperger’s syndrome, or high-functioning autism. Born in 1879, he was reported to be below average at mathematics at school. His mathematical brilliance did not show until age 26, when he worked as a clerk at the Swiss Patent Office in 1905. None of the people who tried to teach him mathematics achieved any prominence themselves, yet, despite them, over 20 years he grew to excel.

Putting in the time occurs not only in science and in sport. The best concert pianists take about 15 years to earn international recognition. Top sculptors and mathematicians put in similar amounts of consistent training. Recipients of MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, popularly called the “Genius Awards” have typically spent more than 20 years in their chosen fields. From 1900 to 2000, the Nobel Prize awards indicate a lifetime of learning. In physics the median age of a Nobel laureate is 51, in literature 63.

A representative example of the Decade Rule in action is the 1985 study of 120 elite athletes, performers, artists, biochemists and mathematicians led by University of Chicago psychologist Benjamin Bloom.1 Every subject in the study took more than a decade of hard training before achieving recognition.

From other research, Olympic swimmers train for an average of 15 years before making the team. Success seems to be only marginally related to talent. The data indicate that the best way to make most Olympic teams is to begin to practice the sport relentlessly - shortly after birth.

The Decade Rule applies even for those few who are born with supreme talent. Mozart for example, was playing the violin at three years of age and received brilliant instruction from the start. By age seven he was writing his own symphonies. But he did not produce the music that made him a genius until his teens.

The same is true for Tiger Woods. He seems magical on the golf course, but was swinging a golf club before he could walk. He got the best instruction and practiced constantly from infanthood. Even today, he outworks most of his rivals. He has laboriously constructed his genius.

Right now ESPN has a piece on the internet on E-ticket, in which they have enlisted a triathlete, Kathryn Bertine to try out in various sports to see if a naturally talented athlete can gain a spot, any spot, in the 2008 Olympics over the next two years. They clearly have not read the research. Kathryn is a talent, and a nice person besides, and calm and laid back and focused, and a lot more good things, but she hasn’t a hope in hell of making the Olympics on these qualities alone. It makes a good story but that is all it is. Olympic level in any sport, and genius in science, music, and art are all built from a lot of hard yards in that in the particular specialty. They are never born.

Spend the Time Right

You not only have to put in the concentrated time in any field, you also have to use it brilliantly. In my work with potential Olympians, I encounter talent aplenty, as parents bring their children to the Colgan Institute for assessment as potential world champions. Even with great parental involvement and consistent training most do not succeed. From studies of more than 1500 of them, and the associated research worldwide, we have extracted some major reasons why, reasons that form the basis of this paper.

A dominant problem is what we call cosseting. The talented child is often indulged, and allowed to behave in weak and dependent ways. Consequently and inevitably, they develop behavior patterns that are the opposite of those required for athletic success.

A second problem is insufficient competition. Often the talented child is competing only against local children. Often they are protected against failure by parents and well -meaning coaches by being entered in only those competitions they are likely to win. Their progress is hampered by others who do not have their talent and do not understand how to develop it. Thus many talented children do not have to work very hard to succeed, and do not apply the focused motivation that is essential to growing the brain networks required for their sport. They also fail to acquire the brain circuits for toughness and resistance to pain that come from fierce competition. For Olympic sports especially, it is essential to develop this toughness early, in order to continue to train and progress through the failures and injuries that inevitably litter the path to the few short years of youthful glory on the Olympic stage.

We have found that the people we have trained, both in sport and in science, who have become elite, work hard every day, year in, year out. They rarely excuse and they rarely complain. From 32 years of working with them, I have learned that the moderately talented but fearlessly persistent, will beat the big but high maintenance talent every time. When I first met Julie Moss for example, she had been training in the three sports of the triathlon for seven years. She had moderate talent in cycling and swimming but was not a talented runner. I trained with her for another six years before she won the World Triathlon championship - twice. And she became a champion runner. She was noble in defeat, modest in victory, but always relentless.

I have been privileged to work alongside two Nobel Prize winners, and in the company of many world-class scientists at Rockefeller University in New York. I am also a long time member of Mensa, the high IQ society. One big difference between these two groups of highly intelligent people is the individual toughness of the elite scientists, the overriding motivation to perfect their work, often against great odds. Because of these experiences, and because the Colgan Institute is in the business of training champions, I prefer to take only students who have demonstrated tenacity, that is the ability to stick to the path, unwavering through failure and injury, disappointment and injustice, every day, for as long as it takes.

Mentors Essential

The third important factor that has emerged from our study of champions is the necessity of a great mentor in order to use the time right. I was privileged to know the genius violinist Yehudi Menuhin who died in 1999. Like Mozart he began to play the violin at age three. Under the tutelage of Sigmund Anker, he presented his first solo performance at age seven. But, restricted by his early instruction from several teachers, Menuhin did not reach prominence until 1947 at age 28, when he performed in Germany as the first Jewish violinist to play there after the Second World War. His playing then improved dramatically to genius level in the 1950s, after meeting and commencing the study of meditation and yoga under the great BKS Iyengar in 1952. He called Iyengar, “my best violin teacher”, even though the yogi does not play. Menuhin was acknowledged for his contributions to music by a knighthood in 1965.

The subjects of Bloom's study above, like most elite performers, almost invariably had great support in their formative years. As I am contending in this course regarding our goal of improving the brain, Bloom came to see genius as less of an individual trait, and more a creation of environment and mentoring. "We were looking for exceptional kids," he said, "and what we found were exceptional conditions."

He was intrigued to discover that few of the study's subjects had shown special promise when they first took up the fields they later excelled in, and most showed no early ambition for stellar achievement. Rather, they were encouraged as children to explore and learn, and then supported in more focused ways as they began to develop an area they particularly liked.

In addition to Bloom, numerous other studies have shown that almost all high achievers are blessed with at least one crucial mentor. A representative example is the work of Rena Subnotnik, of the American Center for Gifted Education Policy. In 1996 she began to compare music students at New York's elite Juilliard School of Music against winners of the high-school Westinghouse Science Talent Search. She found that the Juilliard students realized their potential more fully because they had one-to-one relationships with expert mentors who prepared them for the challenges ahead.2 Subnotnik showed that the most important relationship throughout this developmental process is with the student’s studio teacher, and that most Julliard teachers who work with advanced students continue a talented lineage of descent from earlier generations of music teachers, performers, and composers. In contrast, most of the Westinghouse prizewinners she studied went on to colleges where they failed to find the right mentors to nurture their talent and guide them through the rough spots to shape their careers. Only 50% ended up pursuing science, few with distinction.

In science, Nobel laureates also display a mentor to apprentice relationship that mirrors the one found in music 3 Doctoral students generally continue the work of their professors, and extend their lineage. As in music, reputation is crucial, even when choosing a teacher for a pre-adolescent. Unless the student has an expert mentor that they admire and are motivated by, they are unlikely to excel. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Now we know it has to be correctly guided perspiration.


In addition to long-term self-motivated study and brilliant mentoring, the research on genius offers one more important strategy that we can apply to improving the brain. That strategy is called chunking, that is the skill of grouping details and concepts into easily remembered patterns. With innumerable details to remember, medical schools and law schools are awash with chunking routines, but chess provides the classic illustration. Show a novice a chess game in progress for a few seconds, and typically they will be able to remember the positions of only five or six pieces. Show Gary Kasparov the same game and he will memorize the board instantly. He can not only recreate it unseen but also detail all the moves open to either side.

Yet chess masters don't necessarily have innately better memories than you or I. Their chunking skills apply predominantly to the chessboard. Show a chess master and a novice a random list of 20 digits for a few seconds, and the memory difference declines dramatically. Neither will be able to recall all the digits in sequence. In a chess game, the master sees not the 20 or more pieces that confront him, but patterns of power relationships, well learned chunks, each of which is already in his memory. By long and correct study he has altered his brain to construct a mental map of chess.

We all use chunking skills when we read. Conventional instruction in reading starts with being taught to recognize letters. Then you learn chunks of letters as words, then chunks of words as phrases, and eventually whole sentences. That’s where most of us stop learning to read, about the end of high school. It is not even close to the capacity of your brain. In fact, as you will see later in this course, conventional methods of learning to read may interfere with some in-built software in the brain, which is capable of processing the skill of reading without most of that schooling.

As you saw in the course DVD, Release the Power of Your Brain, some savants, such as Kim Peek, can read and totally recall whole pages of text in a few seconds. To improve brain function at the Colgan Institute we have taken these findings, plus the work on brain plasticity of Michael Merzenich and his group, and his techniques of Fast For Word, to advance the learning of reading a step further.4 We have successfully taught some of ourselves, and some children with above average IQ, to read by whole paragraphs at the same pace that the average person reads a sentence, and with no loss of comprehension. This level of chunking quadruples reading speed, and provides a great asset for academic studies and personal affairs.

Neuroscience of Genius

The study of elite performance has been based mainly on observational and interview techniques. Nevertheless, its models agree well with recent discoveries in neuroscience about how the brain learns. In 2000, Eric Kandel of Columbia University in New York, shared the Nobel Prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greenspan for their work on the neural basis of memory and learning.6 Research worldwide, especially that of the Kandell and Merzenich groups, shows that both the number and strength of the nerve connections that process a memory or skill increase in proportion to how often and how effectively the lessons are repeated.

From this recent research, it is likely that the right focused study and practice can literally growing the neural networks of genius. Genetics may allow one person to build the connections faster than another, but the lessons can be learned by almost everyone. And the lessons do have to be learned. You cannot appreciate the genius of Shakespeare unless you have studied his works.

No matter what age you are now, if you want to improve your thought processes, and with them every aspect of your existence, you should begin today to grow your new brain with the right study and the guidance of an expert mentor. There is no more important task in your life. The new research shows that, within a decade, you may well begin to think like a genius.

1. Bloom, B.S. Generalizations about talent development. In B.S. Bloom (Ed.). Developing talent in young people New York: Ballentine, 1985, 507-549.

2. Subotnik, R.F. The Juilliard model for developing young adolescent performers: An educational prototype. In C.F. M. van Lieshout & P.G. Heymans (Eds.) Developing talent across the lifespan. Hove, UK: Psychology Press, 2000, 249-276.

3. Zuckerman, H. Scientific elite: Nobel laureates in the United States (2nd Ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1996.

4. Kilgard MP, Merzenich MM. Cortical map reorganization enabled by nucleus basalis activity, Science, 1998 279:1714-1718.

5. Merzenich MM, Jenkins WM, et al. Temporal Processing deficits of Language-Learning Impaired Children Ameliorated by Training. Science, 1996 271:77-81.

Monday, 6 February 2012

President Rajapaksa declared open Chawakatchcheri base hospital - funded by Finnish Red Cross

The President of Sri Lanka visited Jaffna yesterday and declared open the newly constructed Chawakatchcheri base hospital which is funded by the Finnish Red Cross and Finnish Government.

President Rajapaksa wrote the name of first patient admitted to the hospital on the name board.

The Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development Douglas Devananda,Minister of Heath Maithripala Sirisene , Governor of the Northern Province Maj.Gen.G.A.Chandrasiri and members of the Sri Lanka Red Cross several other officials were also present at this occasion.

The Finnish Red Cross and the Sri Lanka Red Cross have worked tirelessly over the past few years especially Wardell (Woody) Eastwood representing the Finnish Red Cross and his team who supervised construction. In December last year, Kristina Kumpala Secretary General of the Finnish Red Cross, and John Ekelund visited  Chawakatchcheri base hospital to see for themselves this high quality base hospital.

                               Inside one of the wards at the Chawakatchcheri base hospital

I visited the hospital myself two weeks ago in Jaffna and was impressed with this outstanding medical facility. The Sri Lanka Red Cross will continue to provide ambulance services in Jaffna, hospital volunteers and first aid training.

A few weeks ago the Finnish Ambassador to Sri Lanka who is based in New Delhi came with her 1st secretary and spoke to me about this gesture of solidarity which will enhance the relationship between Finland and Sri Lanka.

Chawakatchcheri base hospital funded by Finnish red Cross and Government.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Navam Maha Perahera - a remarkable pageant tomorrow

About 100 decorated elephants were in the parade some bedecked with covers with delicate embroidery and precious stones.

Gangarama temple. People come early to get the best viewing places.

Tomorrow is Navam Maha Perahera in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Last year Ablai my 11 year old boy and I went out to watch the The Navam Maha Perahera, a colourful, bright and drum and trumpet led pageant, which is held anually in February, and displays the rich religious and cultural tradition of Sri Lanka. Here are the photos and comments I made last year. Hundreds of monks Navam clad in colouful robes solemnly walking in the procession are a unique sight. Youth clad in white carrying Buddhist flags march in front. Sacred relics housed in a casket are carried by a majestic elephant on its back. Dancers display the different types of dances prevalent in different parts of the country. So are the drummers who exhibit their skill in handling numerous forms of drums. This year, all the money and food given to the temple will go to assist those affected by floods in Sri Lanka.

The Perehara revives the ancient forms drawing dancing troupes from all parts of the country and providing an occasion to display their prowess.

The beneficiaries of events such as these are the traditional Dance Troupes, who now enjoy a revival of interest in their dance and forms of entertainment. The Perehera thus has a direct relevance to the preservation of  ancient Sri Lankan Cultural Heritage. The entire organization of the Perahera is handled by the young people associated with the "Gangaramaya' Temple. The Perahera was first started in the year 1979.

In Sri Lanka the Colombo Nawam Maha Perahera takes pride of place. In the Buddhist World no country can claim to have held such a Colorful, Cultural Pageant. Gangaramaya of Colombo.2, attends to the organizing work. The Flags, Banners and Decorations used for this Event are available for use for similar events in other parts of the island.

The lead Elephant waits in the temple for the procession to begin

Raising funds for flood victims
By Ven. Galaboda Siri Gnanissara Thera (Podi Hamuduruwo of Gangarama Temple)

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Central Bank complex in 1996 it was decided to divert all contributions received for the Navam Perahera to the families of the victims of the destruction. Accordingly the funds were handed over to the then minister in charge, the late Mr Lakshman Jayakody and the usual Perahera was held as a Mal

This year, having considered the plight of those who lost everything they possessed due to the recent floods and other natural disasters in the North East, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa, it is decided to allocate a part of the contributions received for the Perahera to provide assistance to the needy in these areas. The Perahera however will be held as usual.

The Gangaramaya is now in the process of receiving large quantities of dry rations and other items for distribution among the flood victims.

The unforeseen climatic changes that prevailed recently all over the world had a heavy toll on Sri Lanka too.

The displaced persons owing to floods and landslides need immediate assistance. It is our belief that the distribution of essential items and other needs could be successfully handled by the Buddhist temples and other religious centres based in those localities. The dedication of every individual is important. Our countrymen have always been in the forefront whenever a situation of this magnitude arose and their caring and sharing had never been wanting.

As the procession moved towards my apartment, I followed them, caught these happy dancers.

All photos above taken by Bob and Ablai McKerrow and are copyright.