Monday, 20 January 2014

A wobbly start to 2014

January got off to a bad start, capping off a week of rain that started at lunchtime on Christmas Day. The weather cleared for New Years' Eve, so our barbecue went well, but early on New Year's Day I received a call telling me that an old friend, Jim Guthrie, had died that night.

Jim had developed Parkinson's Disease in his early 40s, at the top of his career as an environmental lawyer, and was forced to retire early as his disease worsened. In recent years he had been cared for in a specially set up home for people with long term neurological diseases like Parkinsons and Multiple Sclerosis, but he had become progressively weaker and less able to cope with life's complications. The news of his death was sad, but at the same time it was a relief, to his many friends and colleagues - and I dare say to Jim himself.

Jim and I had flatted together for three years at Otago University, and in the following twenty years we had done many trips into the mountains to tramp, climb, and ski. We'd known the exhilaration of standing on a mountain summit, and the awfulness of rainy days in tents. We'd skied the Tasman and Fox Glaciers, drunk whisky in alpine huts, and talked long into the nights about life, law, and politics. Jim may be gone, but the memories remain.

The funeral was superb; David Parker, deputy Labour leader, had been Jim's junior in the landmark river protection cases they'd fought for in the 80s and 90s (and which are being unwound by the current government to appease their water-hungry farming lobby), and he did a superb job of eulogising Jim's life and career. David was followed by Sir Tipene O'Regan, the elder statesman of Ngai Tahu. Jim had given the iwi the benefit of his knowledge and strategic advice many years ago, and Sir Tipene paid him a generous tribute. And of course funerals are where we meet those we haven't seen for many years, so the conversations and memories flowed from the service into an evening function, as old friends and colleagues tried to recognise each other after 30 or 40 years. The single malt scotches were as good as Jim had promised, of course.

The sadness of Jim's passing was relieved the following week, when our old buddy from Wanaka, Peter King, married his rediscovered teenage sweetheart Lauren Sleeman, at Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka. The couple might have been having a late-life second wedding, but they certainly celebrated with joy and energy - and again we caught up with people we hadn't seen for nearly 20 years.

So that's our January so far - a wedding and a funeral. It's a funny old world.