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Take a bow . . . Edith Wicks is happy to play her violin in the Youth Orchestra. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Lifelong violinist Edith Wicks, who has just turned 95, has joined the only orchestra in Oamaru – the Youth Orchestra.

“I’m the youngest member,” she joked this week.

“I like playing with the young people.”

Mrs Wicks’ appearance and vitality belie her age. Her silver hair has a prominent asymmetrical red splash, she dresses sharply, keeps fit, eats healthily and has a mind like the proverbial steel trap.

Her secret?

“Be interested in what goes on around you.”

Mrs Wicks said the saying “don’t fence me in” applies to her. She has travelled widely and lived in many places.

“I was always in trouble at school. The teachers needn’t think they knew better than me, because they didn’t.

“The standard 6 teacher said ‘you’ll never be dux of my school’.”

Mrs Wicks proved her wrong.

“I used to be a secondary school and language teacher. I can beat anyone in a word game.”

The bookshelf in her room at the Observatory Village Lifecare rest-home is well stocked, and she has a large book of word puzzles on the go.

The only spectacles she owns are simple magnifying ones from The Warehouse.

“If the light’s poor, I might put them on so I can read at 1am.

“The last time I went and had my eyes looked at, the optometrist said ‘I wish I had eyesight like yours’.”

Another natural advantage she appreciates is “very strong legs”.

“I did a lot of mountain climbing. I’ve been right over the Southern Alps. When you’re standing right on the top, you can see the Tasman on one side and the Pacific on the other. It’s a long, skinny island. And there are seashells right on the top.”

Mrs Wicks’ mother was a concert pianist and her father was “a violinist who could play any instrument”.

“I just copied what he did.

“I’ve got a very good ear.”

That is accompanied by knowing where each point of the compass is, anywhere in the world.

“I’m still centred, wherever I go. I’ve never had jetlag.

“I have no difficulty talking to everybody.

“I’ve played the violin in the Vatican. I was there when the Pope banged on the door to let the New Year in.

“I sang inside the Vatican.”

This was despite not being a Catholic, and while many devotees were left outside.

Mrs Wicks has an MA in English, French, Latin and economics, and attended a Dunedin dancing school.

“I could do all the fancy twists and turns.”

She would dance with some of the men returning from the war, but “didn’t try my husband for dancing”.

The geologist she married – Bunn Wicks – proved to have “two left feet”.

The couple had four children, two of whom have predeceased their mother.

Her daughter, Diana, died from cancer in 2002 and her son, Peter, in 2007.

When he was rushed to hospital in Nelson with a brain aneurism, Mrs Wicks “drove straight there from here”. She arrived in time, then had to make the decision to turn off his life support.

Daughter Linda lives in Australia and daughter Sandra is in Oamaru.

Mrs Wicks taught music from home when the children were small, then returned to the classroom as soon as the youngest started kindergarten.

Mrs Wicks plays the viola, guitar, cello and double bass as well as the violin, but abandoned the piano because it is “inaccurate” – each note is fixed, whereas she can strike exactly the right one on her violin.

Playing the double bass on stage, she “saw all sorts of things” that were not visible to the orchestra members seated in the centre.

“I love jazz bass and slap bass – I don’t use a bow.”

Painting is yet another of Mrs Wicks’ accomplishments.

She liked to use watercolours or acrylics.

“I don’t like oils – they smell awful; they make me feel sick. Who can do a nice painting if they’re feeling sick?”

Mrs Wicks’ advice to her grandchildren is to make their own lives, and to “have a good think before you go into anything”.

“You can never go backwards. You can never undo anything.”