Living, Loving and Laughing in Union

Kia ora Friends,

I thought I should put fingers to keyboard and teach you a bit of Maori, and let you know that life upside-down twelve hours ahead of normal, is simply, superb. Maori Lesson One is a quickie, you now know how to say “hello” in Maori. For those of you who want to cram and want my Advanced Lesson, here goes: for more extensive greeting, you can do a “hongi” too, which is a gentle nose-on-nose touch with your (new) friend, with a hand squeeze. It seems that the hongi etiquette is varied, either a single nose-press, or a press-release-press, but there’s to be no nose rubbing and certainly no slipping in the tongue whilst you are cosily close. Hongi are more tricky for me to show you on the internettyweb, so please have a go with someone nearby to you wherever you are now….. firstly explain what you are up to, and that I suggested you try I while it’s still fresh in your mind… Enjoy!

I’m doing just fine in the Southern Hemisphere, with the fourth dimension complications of the time zones, with the shift in latitude and longitude by a good few degrees all sorted. My sense of direction remains as useless as ever, and here it gets warmer as I go north, how very confusing. As the Closing Ceremony to the Chemotherapy Tournament finishes, the Opening Ceremony to the Rugby World Cup starts, with the anthem of “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas pumping. The World has come to New Zealand to Play. We’re all in Union. Game On, I was certainly ready to play, so thanks to the IRB for the timing of the World Cup: this trip is the perfect antidote to my ten months of anti-cancer treatment!

Crouch: I was ready, kit packed and stowed. Checklist checked, and checked-in. I was ready for over twenty hours in that position that only aeroplane seats get you and keep you in… that seat-space with insufficient room to stretch your legs, with knees touching the seat in front, digestive system scrunched, bladder crushed. I had my inflatable pillow, ready to avoid the possibility of unintended intimacy and my waking up with my head on my neighbour’s shoulder, dampened from my dribbling. Then, Richard Branson had a treat for us when one of his lovely staff, asked that question every long-haul flier longs to hear: “Dr Galbraith and Dr Avery, we can upgrade you to Upper Class, if that’s OK with you both?” Now let’s think… flat-bed-swanky-stretch-out-seat thingy, with a duvet and pillow, or scrunched and crouched? What a joy. Decision made. Kate and I lavished in Virgin’s Upper Class accommodation, with a glass of bubbly on arrival, and new pyjamas, which doubled as thermals later in our camper-vanning part of the trip. An upgrade, a perfect start, particularly as my body had had a mere three days to recover from the Dingle Half Marathon. I slept well, and if I dribbled a bit, it didn’t matter.

Touch: I have to say that I have been touched by the kindness and support from those special friends involved in getting me to NZ, those who’ve stopped me getting too lost, kept me well fed, watered and rested, and friends I’ve met whilst in NZ. It’s been so fun spending quality time with Kate (my temporary carer, driver and all round responsible adult), my Somerset Mum-Ruth and Dad-John, my old rugby playing team mate Ellen and her lovely fella Simon and their gorgeous little daughter Freda. We also spent time and enjoyed the hospitality of friends of friends, and relatives of friends, which has been wonderful. I feel very lucky… very, very lucky, and very grateful to the neurosurgical and oncology teams that have helped me get here.

Pause: Woooo Hooooo! I am actually doing this! Soak it in.… reflect and enjoy… We explored the northern half of North Island went up to the Bay of Islands and had a lovely boat trip from Russell where a pod of a dozen dolphins with their calves joined us for a skip through the waves; I saw endless kiwi orchards, smelt the air of citrus trees laden with fruit, saw avocado farms, the huge fern trees, and stood in awe of the massive 2000 year old Kauri trees. We ate fresh fish on the campsite BBQ on the shores of Lake Taupo, I had an invigorating swim in the Pacific Ocean and learnt (and practiced) wine tasting on Waiheki Island, plus watched nine live World Cup matches, seeing fifteen different national teams playing. I have tried to sing or hum all the national anthems, including the Welsh one which I have been trying to learn from a phonetic version. I have seen some fantastic rugby, even from Scotland, and have just about gotten over that we didn’t make it to the play-offs. A beautiful game, in a beautiful country, shared with beautiful people, with old, new and renewed friendships.

Engage: There’s something quite life-affirming about being New Zealand… perhaps it’s that it’s a country perched on two tectonic plates that jiggle and jostle with each other, with the resulting quakes and shakes, gurgling hot sulphurous stinking pools, spluttering mud pools, squirting geysers and more geothermal stuff going-on that I ever imagined I would see or smell. It serves as a good reminder of the thin skin between us and our “civilised society”, and boiling magma beneath us. With Christchurch on the South Island still in recovery, with ongoing quakes occurring as the country tries to rebuild the city, and the inhabitants try and rebuild their lives, it is a reminder of how fragile and delicately balanced things are on this Planet, and how much we can take stability and our environment for granted. Rainwater collection has impressed me in NZ, and made me wonder why we wash our cars, flush our loos, water our lawns and so much more, with drinking quality water. There’s something refreshing about thinking that the water collected from last-nights down-pour will be flushing the loos today. I’ve learnt that “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, and if it’s brown, flush it down”… poetry that will stay with me.

The Nation’s approach to risk and responsibility is totally refreshing: this is no Nanny State, in fact, I don’t think there is even a stair-gate or anything to protect us. My impression is that there’s a contentedness with a simpler way of living, not exactly a subsistence existence, but certainly not blatant consumerism I think we have got used to. People are happy to drive cars with scrapes and dinks, and it’s apparently not a legal requirement to have car insurance… people drive safely and responsibly as far as I saw. There were some sensible things, like unisex facilities in the campsites, which just seemed to make sense. There seemed to be a great respect for nature, which quite possibly comes from the Maori culture… very refreshing…. there weren’t fences and caution signs everywhere in the geothermal springs, just the expectation that we used our common sense and didn’t put our hands in pools of boiling water.

My trip is game of two halves, the first in NZ and the second in Oz. The final whistle for my trip is not for a while yet… I’ve managed my debut solo flight from Auckland to Perth and my so now I think I am fully fledged and my wings are not even clipped…. Happy days!

Whilst I am off enjoying myself, there’s some serious sweating going on for me by proxy in the UK: massive congratulations to my friend and neighbour Alison Gower on completing her first Half Marathon, and thanks massively for adding to the fundraising for Highland Hospice. My colleague and friend Greg Trevelyan’s just completed with Loch Ness Marathon, on his Granny’s back. A mean feat indeed…. Massive thanks for fundraising for Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. Awseome….

For your leisure time please enjoy some on-line silliness:

Is there any point in us turning up at rugby world cup when you see the All Blacks training: and at Barbecue…

Bring me Sunshine:

Watch: the film “Love and other drugs”, a romantic comedy that touched me due to the leading lady’s terminal illness, and the comical view on the pharmaceutical industry in the US.
Take care of you and yours, and do let me know your news (

Living, Loving and Laughing, with big kisses and bone-crunching hugs
Vix xxx
P.S. For those not so familiar with rugby laws, crouch, touch, pause, engage is the rhythmic method of the Rugby Union Referees, ensuring a scrum resets safely, it has nothing to do with Catholic contraception.

P.P.S. Sweet As.


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5 thoughts on “Living, Loving and Laughing in Union

  1. Hi Vicky
    So sorry to hear your news, i just remember good times like the party night of the jazz festival, we did have fun that night. Anyway i am living near Inverness and was wondering if i could come and visit u and ur parents xx

  2. Wow!! Enjoy!! (you evidently are!) ; – )
    what could be better – escaping the darkening evenings and cold for the best rugby in the world in the company of good friends!

    So glad that you are getting deservedly pampered too on holiday.
    Lots of love,
    Lucy, Steve, Stan & Zena xx

  3. Soooo jealous. Keep on having a fab time. Hope u get the 1st class treatment all the way home too! Lots of love kate jon zara and godson will x x

  4. What a fun update! Love the rugby cadence structure of this one. So good to read they are treating you first class as you deserve! xoxoxo

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