Monday, 30 September 2013

Peace is coming

Two postcards by the unknown artist DInah

Peace is a precious commodity but greatly undervalued. It is in human nature to be at war with whoever annoys us regardless of the consequences. And so it was that my awareness of life came about in the throws of war as I was in my fourth year when the Second World War began.

Boys who know no other life adapt very quickly to the conditions and meld in and take for granted what parents thought would be unbearable for them. We were able to bear it in England because we were not occupied, unlike our European neighbours and an uncanny optimism that told us that everything would be all right.

We were however bombed throughout the war especially the industrial cities, docks and military establishments. As it is in such a small island few areas escaped the onslaught as bombs not able to be dropped on the target would be dropped anywhere to lighten the load for the enemy bombers on the way home. 

Children still need to play in war and in peace and thus they get accustomed to a different way of life. Why should we laugh less with a war on? So our bargaining tools were bomb fragments and shell casings, our toys were planes and tanks or we whizzed around the school playground with arms outstretched mimicking aircraft in the skies. We only stopped laughing when an uncle died in a foreign field or hot desert. But laughter was resumed as relatives came to stay for the duration in your home because theirs had been bombed out and they had nowhere else to live; because for us it was a holiday.

News broadcast on the radio or in the papers would not be specific but vague when bombed cities were not named and losses in battle not counted. Retreats were a victory of sorts as those that escaped could fight another day. Propaganda was the lie that we embraced as truth is far too terrible. Thus the dissemination of propaganda as a political strategy was thought to be not a bad thing if it calmed the population and gave them hope.

So it was that during the early days of war when things were at their worst that an anonymous postcard artist with a pen name of Dinah started creating postcards with positive messages about the war using cartoon children often in uniform to show us we could win the war.

The early cards even had quotes from the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill urging the nation on. With this attitude there never was any doubt that Britain would not be conquered despite the hardships. Peace was inevitable.


          Reverse of a Dinah postcard with extract from one of Winston Churchill's speeches

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Patches of Rosemary

So I went back there

Where we used to live long ago

Our springtime of life


The ghosts were gathered

Memories swarmed unbidden

Edging out today


How fitting it was

Exact place on the hillside

Sharp taste of regret


With patches of rosemary

My tears spilling lasting love

Where I worshipped you

Friday, 27 September 2013

My redhead








Yes, she had red hair

Pale skin and eyes to die for

But it was her smile


That drew me to her

Should have thought of my father

“Do not play with fire”


That is what he said

I do remember that now

It hurt quite a lot


It was all worth while

Oh yes, I can see that now

Her smile was red hot

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Game

He was nonchalant

Animated, talkative

But no, not to her


He spoke with his friends

But admired her earthy looks

Sexy but aloof


“I’ll give him ten more

And then I am out of here”

As she swirled her drink


Then she turned away

“Good, she is interested”

And broke from his group


“We’ll go for a meal?”

She turned and nodded at him

“Grotesque game isn’t it?”

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Mahuikas Tales No. 5 Hatupatu and Karangaituku

                                            Hatupatu's Rock

Mahuika story telling was attracting more and more children to hear her tales. Even older children would come along as well in case they had not heard the stories before. A widow who was now living in the village had married one of the fisherman there and had a teenage daughter Hekeheke who while passing by heard Mahuika talking to the children so paused just as the storyteller was about to start a story for them.

Hekeheke nodded a greeting to Mahuika and approached from the side and asked if she could sit and listen to the story. Mahuika nodded saying. “Are you not the girl from the hot springs country way inland?” and here Mahuika pointed to the mountains to the south west. 

Hekeheke agreed “Yes Auntie, I am from Rotorua where the great geysers are.”

“Then I have a story to tell the children that you probably know. Sit down Hekeheke you are very welcome.” Mahuika then began her story.
Many years ago, it was the custom of some tribes to go hunting for birds during the long summer months. The people who lived around Lake Rotorua where Hekeheke used to live sent their best hunters into the forests to trap the plump wood pigeon, the kereru. When the calabashes were filled with preserved kereru, they would return home to a joyous welcome. Hatupatu and his three older brothers hunted them too.
One time, however, when the brothers returned home their father noticed that Hatupatu was not with them.
"Where is your little brother?" said their father.
"We don’t know as he did not come back with us," the brothers replied as they shook their heads.
"Oh no! He is not dead is he?" asked their father. When the brothers said they could not find him, their father knew that this must be case. 

Early in the morning the father got up and went down to the lake shore to pray to Tane Mahuta, the god of forests and woods. He asked Tane Mahuta to look for Hatupatu and to restore him to life again.
As he was praying, a cloud of sand flies rose from the waters edge and flew into the forest. It spread out and danced above the trees until the father could not see them any more. The sand flies went to the whare (hut) where the brothers had spent the summer catching the kereru. They flew through the cracks in the wall and settled on a pile of feathers that lay in a dim corner of the whare.
Underneath the feathers they found the body of Hatupatu. The air crackled and hummed and very slowly Hatupatu was restored to life. As the feathers flew in the air the cloud of sand flies rose and Hatupatu sat up. Then with a loud buzz the cloud of insects circled his head and disappeared into the night. 

When daylight came, Hatupatu now recovered set off for home. He had not gone far when he saw a woman floating over the ground and staring into the trees. As he watched a bird would fall from its perch, and then another, and another. He rubbed his eyes in amazement. The woman had set no bird snares; she had no spear in her hand but somehow she was killing the birds while they sat on the trees just by staring at them. She heard his gasp of amazement and turned towards him.
Hatupatu was terrified. He shrieked with fear and began to run away for it was the bird woman. Kurangaituku!
He looked over his shoulder and saw Kurangaituku moving swiftly through the trees. Hatupatu ran as fast as he could but the evil woman followed and every time she flapped her arms she got closer to Hatupatu. 

Then when he dashed into a clearing, Hatupatu found his way barred by a huge rock. He looked behind him and saw Kurangaituku reach out her long talons towards him. Hatupatu beat on the face of the rock and screamed. "Open up! Open up!"
The rock split into two and Hatupatu fell inside. As the rock shut, Kurangaituku shot her lip towards Hatupatu. She gave a loud screech but the rock had closed and prevented her from reaching him. Inside Hatupatu could hear Kurangaituku thumping and clawing at the rock face.So he lay still and waited.A long time passed and there was silence all around the rock. Hatupatu listened but he could not hear Kurangaituku anymore. 

"Good " he said. "She must have gone. So he hit the rock wall and said, "Open rock!" The wall split open and Hatupatu stepped out.
Hatupatu looked around for Kurangaituku. She was now nowhere to be seen. He looked at the rock face and saw huge claw marks scratched into the rock. Hatupatu shuddered and began walking. As the sun began to set Hatupatu reached the edge of the forest and looked down upon Lake Rotorua."Good, I am almost home,"

He began to jog down the well-worn path to the lake when suddenly he heard the sound of beating wings. He looked behind him and there high above the trees was Kurangaituku ready to strike at him again. So he ran for the lake.
Kurangaituku struck out with her beak like lips. Hatupatu dodged and raced for the hot pools of Whakarewarewa. Steam rose in the air and boiling water bubbled up high. Hatupatu ran between the scorching hot pools of mud and water. Kurangaituku struck at him again and again through the drifting steam.
Hatupatu leaped over a geyser just as it began to rise. Kurangaituku leaped too but the geyser threw itself at Kurangaituku, caught her in the boiling hot jet of steam and water and as she died it took her down into the boiling waters under the earth. Hatupatu watched as the geyser continued bubbling and heaving but Kurangaituku never appeared again. So he turned and went back home safely to his family.

The little children were all a little shocked by the story and looked to Hekeheke to see what she would say.
“Thank you for the story Auntie, you told the story very well.”
“You do not have to call me Auntie, Hekeheke. You are old enough to call me by my name Mahuika.”
Hekeheke smiled and nodded back at her and said “That rock where Hatupatu hid is still there Mahuika, but I did not like to go near it. All of us children were scared in case she found one of us. It is said you can still see Kurangaituku’s long claw marks on it where she tried to get at Hatupatu.”

With that some of the girls said they were Kurangaituku and pretended their hands were claws and reached out for the boys laughing.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The bad seed

Stories that we tell

How many clues in our life

Our secret domain


As from our cradle

We are peering outward bound

Do you see us three?


Truth, lies, forgetting

Never seen by my mother

Apple of her eye


Welcome claws of fate

You have piled my spirits up

I, friend to no-one


Now for rash actions

I’ll lead my life in exile

She will never see

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Does a porpoise have a purpose?

Does a porpoise have a purpose?            

And is there meaning to our lives?             

Why do we congregate together                            

Like those busy bees in their hives?                          


There’s that famous line in ‘Grand Hotel’              

Garbo said “I want to be alone”                              

She must have had a premonition                         

Soon all would have a mobile phone                     


I am a loner and I love it                                           

What bliss there is in solitude                                 

Breathing in the air unsullied                                   

Vacuuming the house in the nude       

She looks good to me

I offer her a drink

She shows her glass still half full

A pout on her lips


Then shakes her head

More in fun than in denial

She looks good to me


It is Saturday

I am in a bar tonight

Must look too lonely


I’ll wait for my mates

Fact is I am not handsome

Better in a crowd


Look around the room

Life’s sure not easygoing

Breathe in sex and booze


She taps my shoulder

“You’re lucky, I’ve changed my mind

I’ve just been dumped”

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A sad song

Spring sprung fresh and new

How I am in love with you

That scent of longing


Now summer’s balmy breath

Teases with her fecundity

With those warm kisses


Blow, blow autumn winds

And mark the passing of time

As those sad leaves fall


And now we must part

Winter beckons with icy breath

And I say farewell

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Violet was her name

She was vivacious

And just my sort of girlfriend

Short, sassy and single


Violet by name

She manipulated me

But I didn’t care


A vision to see

A grin spread over her face

Oh she mastered me


How I miss her vibrancy

Did she go the whole slather

I’m left vacuous

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Turning up like a bad penny



Turning up like a bad penny is a term that keeps its currency even though pennies are of little use anywhere now with inflation…well inflating all the time!

When I was lad we had a gas meter in the kitchen and we paid for the use of the coal gas to the cooker by inserting pennies into the meter close to the floor. It also took shillings (12 pence) as well but we could never afford to put one of those in as you could buy two loaves of bread with that and more!

It was late 1940’s in England and everything was short including me, but cash most of all. The meter reader would call every month or so to check the reading and take the cash within the meter box. There was always enough as the pennies (or shillings if my parents were foolhardy enough to put such a valuable coin in just for gas) were always sufficient to pay for the cubic feet of gas used as the Gas Board has cleverly adjusted the meters to give less than the correct value for the gas burnt in cooking the dinner and boiling the kettle.

This is because they knew about us and the rest of the poor people in the country that would put any odd piece of metal in the slot in the hope that it registered and allowed the gas to flow for a little while longer. The reader would calculate how much was owed, tot up the legal tender in the box, and take the amount owed and return the rest to mother!  She would then put the legal coins back in the meter and place the rubbish on a shelf for use later…perhaps.

You may ask what we used to get the gas flowing. The easiest piece to use was an Irish penny there were thousands of these finding their way into circulation in England. They were the identical size and weight to the British penny and if your mother didn’t check her change carefully she might find one in her purse which would then be placed near the meter for use when the gas ran out. She might try to return it to a shopkeeper but usually they were ahead in that game. We tried French francs to mimic a shilling but they were made of a very light alloy at the time and were slightly smaller than a shilling and didn’t work at all.

As time went by our stock of Irish pennies grew and each time the meter man came there was less real cash refunded. Luckily we never got to the point when the meter man would glare at mother and demand the three pence short in the meter or threaten to call the police. But we were honest folk…generally.

The electric meter was another matter it only accepted shillings. Because most meters used shillings they were often difficult to get hold of and as a precaution of not having electric light at night one shilling piece was placed on top of the meter in case the light failed and left everyone in the pitch dark. This would mean the tallest person would have to find a chair, drag it to the hall where the meter was placed high on the wall and grope in the dark to locate the shilling and insert it in the slot and turn the handle to get the meter to receive it and the light would return. That is unless you found the shilling had not been put there, or you accidentally flicked it off and it was somewhere on the floor in the darkness or it had been borrowed to use in the gas meter or Mum had used it to buy some vegetables and hoped the power wouldn’t run out before Dad came home.

Meanwhile I fumbled my way to bed as I had missed Dick Barton on the radio by this time in any case.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Escape Plan

“So what’s up with you? Whatever you do don’t cringe in the corner or you will never get out,” woofed Sparky.
“What to you know?” moaned Spot.
“I’ve been here before. This is where my master got me a few years back.”
“So he didn’t like you then?”
“Far from it. They liked me I played with their kid and all was fine until they had to live in the city. They got an apartment in a high rise…not suitable for pets…so they had to let me go…such a shame as I really liked the kid. We used to roll on the floor togther and when I barked he pretended to as well. But I am digressing, how about you?”
“All I did was to have a little snack…and they got rid of me.”
“Yes, I know your type. You made a simple blunder and bit someone didn’t you? Was it the postman?”
“No, a neighbour with a mower. It was only a bark and a little nip.”
“But you drew blood though, didn’t you?”
“Oh, just shut up about it.”
“The main thing is we have got to get out of here otherwise we will have to go to that building over there.”
“What’s over there?”
“That’s the end of the road. If nobody wants you after a few weeks you will be put down.”
“Put down where?”
At this point Sparky rolled on his back with his feet in the air and his tongue hanging out. “Do you get it, now?”
“So what’s your plan?”
“First be friendly with the girl handlers then go over the top with prospective owners. Watch and learn my friend. Listen there’s someone coming now…wait, just what are you doing?”
“I am going to the back of the enclosure.”
“No, no, no. That’s the wrong thing to do. When they come get all excited and wag your tail. Run around in a circle and…oh, just watch me.”
“You must be joking.”
“Hello boys,” said the young handler. ”Well someone is happy to me, Isn’t your friend coming to say hello too?”
With that Spot slowly walked to the front of his enclosure and cautiously wagged his tail…just a little, then sat down looking at her.
Then Sparky barked to Spot. “When she enters you cage lick her hand and if she bends down lick her face. Apart from that your on your own, I want to get out of here first.”
“No, I can’t do that she will smell of powder and perfume which is a horrible taste.”
“You are as daft as a cat. The handlers smell like us. Give her a kiss.”
Later that day the handler brought some potential customers around.
“As I said you're on you own, Spot. I’ve got to get out of here.”
“How can you tell if they will be good or not?”
“Adults with a boy are good especially if he is happy to be licked. If it is a little girl don’t jump up on her but lean on her and just nuzzle in her hand affectionately. Other than that don't look sulky"

The young handler came up with the family then said “we have two boys here both looking for a home. This one is Spot and this one is Sparky.”
“Have you gone mad, Sparky? Why are running in a circle with you tongue hanging out?
“Because I am going to leave on the next bus out of here…hang on Spot, what are you doing now with you head cocked to one side with one paw up. Who taught you that trick?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Mahuika's Tales No. 3. Kupe and Te Wheke

                        Te Wheke the Octopus

When Mahuika found the children waiting for the story one day they were all chattering together about what one boy's father had found in his fishing net the previous day. It was Te Wheke the octopus.

Mahuika laughed “Well  why not? That means he has learned from his ancestors that fish will be waiting to be eaten in mens nets if he is careful because he has been told to fish there.”

“Who told Te Wheke, Mahuika?” asked the boy whose father had found the octopus.

“Listen to the story to see if you can find out then.” So they all sat down around and waited for the story.

A long long time ago in far away Hawaiki, a Tohunga (a magic man) named Muturangi, sat brooding, thinking of his revenge upon the villagers who had banished him to the other side of the island far from his village because of the way he had used his magic
One day as he waded in the sea he came across Te Wheke (the octopus) feeding in the shallows. Quickly using his magic powers, he charmed the creature and became its master.
Muturangi would send Te Wheke, the octopus, out to catch fish and bring them back for him to eat. One day he had an idea, and told Te Wheke "Go over there where the villagers are setting their fishing nets and take some of the fish that are caught in their nets. It will be easier than having to catch the fish yourself".
This is what Te Wheke did but even with plenty of food, and revenge on the villagers, Muturangi was still not happy and continued to brood.
When the fishermen pulled in their nets not only were there no fish in them. But to make matters worse the nets too had been damaged, some even beyond repair.
"Who is taking our fish" cried one fisherman, "Look at my net, it's ruined" said another. The fishermen were mystified so they went to find Kupe, a very respected Maori warrior to ask him what it meant.
"I too will go fishing, and see what is destroying our nets and taking our fish" said Kupe. Paddling his Waka (canoe) before dawn, Kupe was already on the fishing grounds just as the Ra, the sun rose to start his new journey across the sky.
Setting his net, Kupe lay in wait. Only a short time had passed when he noticed a disturbance in the water and then slowly became aware of the presence of magic in the water as Te Wheke was unravelling the nets.
“It must be Muturangi using his powers“ He said to himself and thought he must be getting the Wheke to wreck the villagers nets and to feed himself!
Kupe struck Te Wheke with his Taiaha (a long club) and a great battle ensued, Kupe was very strong and as fast as the fastest wind, his fighting skill was famous but Te Wheke had eight arms and was quick and strong as well.
On they fought, on and on, striking, blocking, spinning out of the way, again and again as Kupe’s Taiaha (barbed spear) was stabbing everywhere.
This great struggle moved across Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, the great ocean of Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean), till Kupe managed to bring Te Wheke to Te Tau Ihu (the Northern part of the South Island of Aotearoa) and with greater effort began to land even more blows on Te Wheke.
Great gouges were carved out of the land and the sea rushed-into them during the titanic struggle until Te Wheke finally began to weaken, and tire.
Realising his doom Te Wheke became more and more desperate to get away, the motion of his many arms backing away caused great boulders to be churned up in a long line forming islands.
Kupe could sense victory. Leaping into the air Kupe brought all his weight to bear and delivered the mortal blow with such force that Te Wheke was killed outright, splitting him into two.
When Te Wheke was split his eyes eyes flew off in different directions and landed in separate places. They turned to into rock, one of the rocks is next to Arapawa Island but you should not look at it because it is bad luck to gaze upon the dark eye of the octopus. It is said that the other eye landed at Ngawhatu but I do not know where that is; concluded Mahuika.

All the children were wide eyed with the tale of the fight as Hoku walked by and heard her finish the story. “Oh, Mahuika the children will wake up screaming tonight after that story. Could you not tell them a happier one?”

“Tomorrow perhaps,” said Mahuika as she grinned at her.