An interview with Clare Churcher

Clare, your name is synonymous with Hagley Jazz! What's going on there?

Having done standard classical music lessons as youngsters, when the kids left home my hubby and I decided to resurrect our limited talents and we enrolled in an evening jazz course at Hagley College. The old boys (and girls) formed a club and we played in the salubrious (!) environs of the Southern Blues Bar in Christchurch. I was secretary so had a HagleyJazz email account. The club folded when the Christchurch earthquakes levelled most of the music venues, but I kept the account for using when signing up at potentially dubious websites like SkyBridge. It was just an accident it became my name.

When did you start playing bridge, and what was happening in your life at the time?

I started playing bridge at university in the late 70s with three friends (including one future husband ). One of our lecturers (a well known bridge player) saw us playing and said “there go four first class degrees”. We did all graduate though, some of us with first class degrees 😊. We joined the Christchurch bridge club and were there for the very contentious vote on not allowing smoking until after supper. I never knew why it made any difference – the room was still full of smoke by the end of the night and your clothes smelt like ash trays for days on end. In 1982 hubby and I went to Cambridge to take up post doc positions at the Cavendish lab. We went to the University Bridge Club but were terrified of the very serious young public school geeks. So we put bridge on hold for a while (about 30 years as it turned out).

What happened after you left Cambridge?

We came home and I was mum for 10 years. Our physics degrees had given us a sort-of-education in computing and I was able to get a bit of very part time tutorial work at the polytech and uni. I also managed to get some odd contract work setting up databases. We didn’t go back to the bridge club because it was awkward with us wanting to play together and organise baby sitters. The nights were long with manual recording of hands and scoring. Although the (above mentioned) physics lecturer did write a program for one of hose new fangled computers to do the final ranking and match point calculations.

So you'd have been involved with the computer world through Y2K...

Oh dear yes… My first paid contract development jobs in the early 80s were managing student results for a couple of uni departments which should remain nameless. I was well gone by the 90s but knew that like much software of the times, the dates were all stored as two digits. That meant that when 00 rolled round any prerequisites done in 99 would be after the fact and the students wouldn’t be able to enrol in their classes. I just kept my head down. But I did hear that new software was developed in the late 90s. I was surprised it had lasted that long to be honest. It was a real thing Y2K…just very well managed.

And then what did you do?

When the kids were a bit bigger I got a job lecturing computing at Lincoln University. I loved it and was there for 20 years until the constant restructurings saw the department die. Neville was in the computer science department at the competing Univeristy of Canterbury, so together we saw a generation of local software developers go through our courses.

Your kids would have been exposed to a fair bit of computer talk at home. Did they follow in their parents' footsteps?

Our two kids were born in the 80s so were pre the computer generation. They swore right off computers (apart form playing Shrine of Kroz and Prince of Persia) and mocked their parents for always talking about databases. They both did music degrees. But, needing jobs and money, they came and did the wonderful one year graduate diploma in Computing that we offered at Lincoln at the time. They are now both software developers. Ha Ha Ha. Meanwhile their dad retired early from his uni job and enrolled in a jazz degree. Funny old world.

What did you do after your lecturing job?

At the time my daughter (working for a large NZ software company) said they had a job going that I would be good for. I protested that she didn’t want her mum at her work but she said she did because: 1. she would get a $2000 finder’s fee and .. 2. they had one of those passive aggressive signs in the kitchen about “your mother doesn’t work here…do your own dishes…” that she wanted to mock…

What other interests have you followed?

I stayed at the software company for a couple of years but my heart has always been in education rather than development. I got a couple of jobs at public and private education places but when the last one went into liquidation I decided to “retire”. So I joined the bowling club and a pole dancing studio. I suspect there are not many people that have done that on the same day!

There may be a few myths about pole dancing that you'd like to bust...

It had actually been an official sport since 2017 so can apply to be included in the Olympics. The strength is amazing … easily equal to an Olympic guy doing the rings but while smiling and looking gorgeous. Check out this video of the owner of my studio owner (and former software developer !) at the pole dancing world championships I really only do it for fun exercise and for high fives from my class mates if I get my feet clear of the ground for a couple of seconds. At my advanced age I’m terrified of crashing and breaking a hip…something you don’t worry about so much when you are 18. The scanty clothing is necessary because you need skin to grip the pole. I have no intention of ever gripping the pole with anything other than hands, knees and elbows, so I can keep the bulk of my middle age spread well covered.

That's a fairly diverse spread of pastimes! Do you think that there's a common thread that runs between jazz, bowls, pole dancing and bridge?

Well I guess there is a certain amount of a thrill at times in each of them. Playing a live gig is always a bit terrifying and all the pole movements are (for me anyway). And although bowls and bridge seem sedate, you get the option of playing safe or going for a crazy sacrifice in bridge, or playing a fast running shot at bowls … that misses everything and makes you look a bit of an idiot.

Do you find that any skills are transferable between your interests?

I’ve been thinking about Graeme’s suggestion to learn the hand shapes 4-3-3-3, 5-3-3-2 and so on. It never seemed to work for me. Then I realised I had learnt them all in order. I knew 5-3-3….the next one must be 2, but I couldn’t quickly do 3-2-3 what is the missing number. That’s like knowing jazz chords in one order say CEG but not knowing the inversions with the notes in a different order. And in jazz you just have to be able to do that instantaneously. So I need to learn the inversions of those hand shapes if I’m going to be able to use them. And I’m going to do that real soon … promise…

What are your aspirations in your pastimes - are you competitive, or are there other reasons for pursuing your interests?

That’s a really interesting question. Having thought about it, I think that each has its own type of very short term goal that you can succeed or fail at…a hand in bridge, and end in bowls, a tune or riff in jazz and a move in pole. Succeed or fail you can start again straight away. While it’s nice to get a good score on bridge night overall or to actually win a bowls match its not a huge driving force for me these days. A sacrifice that paid good dividends or an occasional run shot that picks up the kitty is enough to keep me going back for more. I love that there is always a new skill you can learn to be just a little bit better. I really love the way sky bridge keeps that short term combative interest alive while playing a hand against the computer, but keeps any overall hard core competitiveness between members to a minimum. Keep up the good work.

Thank you, Clare. All the best with your retirement pastimes!


vals says:
Nice to put a face and history to your user name @hagleyjazz
Jobridge says:
What a fascinating series of twists and turns to what reads like a life very well-lived. It’s a pleasure to put a life story to a bridge strategist’s comments. Thanks @hagleyjazz
alyxia says:
Hagley it was good to know the girl and the story behind the name. I have followed you since I began attempting to improve as a very late starter at Skybridge and have oft wondered what HJ alluded to.
Joybishop says:
Lovely to meet you Clare. Hagleyjazz meant you were fellow Christchurch dweller, but no hint of such a diverse life. Loved the enrolment in pole dancing and bowls on the same day!
castalia says:
Clare, you have jazzed up a lot of staid old Sky Bridge Club players.....
carolmy says:
Wow, hagleyjazz! Certainly not the stereotype of a bridge playing lady. I love the contrasts! I shall read your comments with new interest. (Thanks for all the help in your comments, by the way.)
maggiec says:
What a lovely story, I don't follow anyone on Sky Bridge, but should come out of my shell and do so.
sarag says:
Absolutely loved your stories, Clare especially the one about your daughter wanting you to work for her company 👏🏻
MrsH says:
Nice to meet you @HagelyJazz. It's funny what the brain does with anonymity...I had you pegged as a man.
You certainly have lived (and continue to live) an interesting life. I find your comments on the bridge helpful but am now somewhat intimidated as I have such a humdrum existence by comparison.
@graeme...a novel idea to highlight and introduce our SBC friends...perhaps more will volunteer for the honour.
tessybear says:
Nice to meet you Clare - I live in Canada but have many first cousins in New Zealand and when I visited I fell in love with that beautiful country and the lovely people with in it. I figured you were into jazz from your Skybridge name and now I know what hagley refers too. Enjoyed reading the synopsis of your life. Enjoy many more years to come and stay safe.
KiwiClaire says:
Hi Clare, I remember you did a video with Graeme a few years ago, so I had an image in my mind of your appearance, and of course we share a name. Nice to read of your background, thanks for sharing this.
997maybe says:
A life well lived for sure! I also enjoy your comments. Thanks Clare and Graeme as well. All the best!
AgnesMin25 says:
Most interesting Claire - thank you for sharing.
Poppingpopcorn says:
Hello Clare! Good morning to you!
This is an interesting development of SBC - in that we can every now & again put a face to our friends now when replying to hagleyjazz I know who I’m talking fear & trepidation....
Trump says:
Great to ‘meet’ you, you are an inspiration!
MrsBirts says:
It all seems so faraway. Will we ever visit NZ from London again? Well done Clare!
kbalagopal says:
Loved reading this! Thank you for sharing!
kbalagopal says:
also, that vid! Wow - So graceful and elegant, then wham! Such strength. I couldn't climb the rope in gym and she's climbing the pole upside down!
lolli9 says:
Wow! I feel like I should get up and exercise. What a gal you are and what a life you've lived! Thank you so much for sharing
Elsielove says:
A wonderful career and interesting story. Thanks
hagleyjazz says:
vals says:
Be careful@hagleyjazz I’ve got “jigsaw back “ now ! It is sooo sore !
Grib says:
Fascinating that you could even think about getting up the envious of your strength of purpose. Lor bridge is a positive doddle ..for you..not me. So good to meet you..scary though.
wadkin37 says:
wadkin37 Dear hagleyjazz,
What a pleasure it is to meet you! I enjoyed reading of your interests and talents...a truly remarkable list of accomplishments.
It had been a dream of mine to one day visit Christchurch to play a few hands but my dreams of doing so have been squashed
by Covid19 and time. I live in New Hampshire which is one of the original thirteen Colonies. I understand from friends who have visited your beautiful country that is outstandingly gorgeous and its people remarkably friendly. It's wonderful to have
a truer sense of the people with whom we share Graeme's and Tina's remarkable invention. Stay healthy and safe. I look forward to your posts. Take care. Sincerely, Karlene Wadleigh
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