A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas

A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas
The Cockabully Hunters --- from an original painting by Noel Guthrie

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A Team of World Fame

A Team of World Fame.
Well, would you believe……..?

Yours truly was a member of the Albury School Sevens Rugby Team back in the late 1940’s.
In those days I was on the wing and could run like a hairy dog.  Man, it was a lot of fun, why do we have to grow up?

When I look back now, those were the best years of lives.
We had a great team in those days.
 We never would have matched those professional teams of today but I reckon as 10 and 11-year-olds, we could have shown them a trick or two.
At that age we were fearless.
Our colours were gold and blue stripes, of which we were very proud.

Practising out on the footy field was far better than practising for the school concert.  I think it was George Golding the headmaster at that time.  I still laugh at the time he nabbed standard 5 and 6 for rehearsals for the school concert, he was on the prowl for the best vocalist.  God, I had no idea what a vocalist was.  I almost filled the tweeds, when  I got the call to go up in front of the class and sing my best song, that’s when I found out what a vocalist was and I had the uncanny knack of being able to sing like a dead lark.
I was gobsmacked when George clapped his hands over his ears and with a pained look said.  ‘For goodness sake sit down boy’
Awe, man, I was just getting into my stride when he shut me down after the first few notes of ‘The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck’.  It was obvious he didn’t have a musical ear.
Dennis O’Sullivan got the job of lead singer that year.

 This photo was taken at what was known in those days as Fraser Park, now Alpine Energy, in Church St Timaru, about 1948-49.

Albury Sevens Rugby Team
Back Row; Bob Brown, coach.  Donald Collins, Dennis O’Sullivan, Frederick Brown.
Front row, Tony Sandry,  Drummond Davey, Noel Guthrie,

Colin Tinkler.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Ettrick Bank Hospital. Timaru

Ettrick Bank Hospital.

This old building was at one time located in an area of Timaru known as Ettrick Bank, on the eastern side of High Street leading down to the beach

I am not entirely sure, but history appears to indicate this stately old building was possibly built here by John Ballantyne in 1870’s.  Born in 1825 at Selkirk in Scotland, John was the youngest son of an old border family.  In 1852 he immigrated to Australia, where he obtained a position as a commercial traveller for McArthur and Company and then later, he became a partner in the same firm.  After his first visit to New Zealand in 1858, he is said to have decided to return here someday to live.  Yet it was not until 1872, that he and his family did eventually settle in New Zealand.

John Ballantyne became a familiar figure around South Canterbury, having founded the well-known drapery business of Ballantyne and Company in Timaru. 
As far as I can gather he lived here at 14 High Street with his family until his death on 6th August 1899.  It was only after this; number 14 High Street was to sustain major alterations to its interior.

Two nurses, Miss Annie Christian and Miss Morrison bought Ettrick Bank from the Ballantyne family in late 1899, with the intention of turning it into a private hospital.
It was while working at the Timaru Public Hospital, the pair discussed combining their recourses and establishing a private hospital in the old Ballantyne home.
Annie Christian born in Christchurch spent her high school days in Dunedin.  Shortly after leaving the school she travelled to Australia entering the Prince Albert Hospital in Camperdown, Sydney; where she studied as a probationer before going on to gain a diploma in nursing.

Returning to New Zealand in 1898, Annie took up a position as the head nurse at the Greymouth Hospital, transferring to the Timaru Public Hospital, a short time later.
History records in 1901; the Ettrick Bank Private Hospital was classed as being the most picturesque of all private hospitals, in the whole of the Canterbury Provincial District.
Bush covered most of the property, concealing the hospital from public view and a gravel path winding its way through the native flora led from High Street to the front entrance.

Described as a two story brick and plaster building, it was surrounded on three sides by a veranda.  The ground floor contained a well-appointed dining room for patients; as well there were two general wards, along with a servant’s quarters.  The second floor had a number of well-appointed bedrooms for patients, as well as an impressive operating theatre close by.  It was also noted, medical practitioners from around the district highly recommended the Ettrick Bank Hospital. 

Later in 1901, Miss Morrison withdrew from the partnership, leaving Annie Christian as the sole proprietor.  She employed another two people, described as a certificated nurse and a probationer, to fill the vacancy left by Miss Morrison.

Ettrick Bank Private Hospital ceased to function some years later.  It is said that it reverted back to a private dwelling.  Many years later, the once proud little hospital became a popular boarding house in this part of town. 

To make way for a new wool store in 1955, this majestic old home was demolished, ending yet another colourful chapter in Timaru’s history.

My sketch attempts to recall some of the architectural characteristics, so skilfully displayed by those early designers.

Monday, 14 November 2016



From an acrylic on canvas painting by
Noel Guthrie

“Who’s that funny little man?” I asked my grandmother during one of my visits to her farm.   “What are those things around the bottom of his trousers?” 
“That’s Gilbert,” she replied, “he’s the new cowboy and those things are bicycle clips.”
That was the first time I saw Gilbert.  I was about six or seven years old.

He was an odd little man.  Ginger hair poked out from under his battered felt hat and tufts of ginger nasal hair extended from his nostrils.  His face was all wrinkled and dry, like a weather-beaten leather boot.  A couple of small pieces of tissue stuck to his chin reminded me of my dad when he has cut himself shaving. 
He was a small man and had the bandiest legs I had ever seen.  Later, someone told me he had been a jockey in his younger days.
To me, he looked over the hill.  Yet I suppose to most youngsters, anyone over the age of twenty looked old.   For all that, his blue eyes sparkled when he smiled.  
Between the wrinkles, large freckles adorned his face.  With a serious expression, he informed me those freckles were fly dirt. I was never was too sure if he was pulling my leg.

 “What are bi?. . . bi?   Aw, what did you say those things were Grandma?  Are they to hold his spurs?  What colour is his horse, have you seen it?  Is it like Trigger?" 
I was excited; I had never seen a real cowboy before.
Grandma ruffled my hair with her hand and she laughed. 
“No.  Those are to hold his trousers from getting caught in the bicycle chain when he rides to work.    He doesn’t have a horse and who, for goodness sake, is Trigger?”
I sighed.  These olds, they don’t even know the name of Hopalong Cassidy’s horse.
Beside my bed at home were picture books and comics, all portraying those exciting exploits of Hopalong Cassidy and Tom Mix?  Their pages regularly thumbed night after night, before I went to sleep.
Grandma smiled.
“I have made your favourite.”  She said opening the cupboard and placing a cake tin on the table.
I loved her shortbread squares.  They were better than those my mum makes.  She always made a little shortbread man, especially for me.   
 “Where’s Tom?”  I asked, biting off the little man's leg and licking crumbs off my lips.  Taking a drink of raspberry grandma gave me. “I’m going to tell him about the new cowboy.  He’ll know who Trigger is, you just don’t understand Grandma.” 
I turned to run through the orchard on my way to the garden.
“Tom is not here,” Grandma said to me as I dashed out the door and jumped up to swing on the low branch of an old peach tree.
“No matter Gran,” I shouted over my shoulder.  “I’ll wait; I’ll go and chase sparrows away from his strawberries."
Taking large strides, I started off down the dirt path, my chest puffed out.  I had an important assignment to fulfil before Tom returned.
“Wait!”  Grandma raised her voice so I would hear her.  “Tom has gone; he’s not coming back!”
In midstride I stopped.  Mouthing silently, Tom is not coming back?   A feeling of disbelief swept over me.  My head cocked at an angle, I stood there hands hips, not fully accepting what grandma was saying. 
“Tom’s not here?  But he is always here when I come to visit.
Don't be silly Gran; Tom will be back.  You are just tricking me, aren't you?”   
Grandma knew I usually rushed down to the garden or waited out by the cow bale to see Tom.  With a sad look in her eyes, she said. “He wanted to go and work on another farm.”
“But he can’t have, he told me we were going bird nesting next time I came."  Tears began trickling down my cheeks.
“Perhaps Gilbert will take you bird nesting,” Grandma said in a soothing tone.
“Aw. What would he know about birds nesting, he's a cowboy?   Cowboy’s don't climb trees."
“Tom was a cowboy.” 
"No, he wasn't," I blurted, wiping at the tears with the back of my hand.  
"He was a.  . .  He was.  . .  Tom’s always here!  He’s not a cowboy Grandma, he’s too old.”  I said, sniffing and wiping at the constant flow of tears with my shirt sleeve.
Turning abruptly, tears blurring my vision, I ran through the cow paddock to the cow bail, where I helped Tom milk Betsy, the cow. 
Betsy was there, in the middle of the paddock, her eyes closed, chewing her cud and swishing her tail quite unconcerned.  
Tom’s milking stool lay on its side against the fence.  I picked it up and sat, resting my arms on the bottom rail of the bail to watch Grandma's hen’s scratch in the dirt. 
I wished Tom were here.  There are so many things I needed to tell him, like the little rabbit he caught for me.  I called it Flossy and wanted to tell him that my dad had made a hutch and I fed Flossy every day.

A shadow drifted into my line of sight.  I felt a soft touch on my shoulder.  Gilbert smiled when I looked up.
"Now, what's all this about, young fella," he said to me in a comforting voice.
"Aw, nothing,” I sobbed. 
“Oh, I thought you must have hurt yourself?”
“No, I haven’t,” I snapped, brushing away a fresh surge of tears. “My friend has gone away, who will milk Betsy?"
Rubbing his jaw, Gilbert squatted down, to sit on his heels, I could hear his knee’s cracking. 
“Mmmm, that’s a tough one.” Lifting his hat he scratched his head.  "What say we ask Betsy, see if she will let me milk her?"
“Don’t be silly,” I said giggling through my tears. “Cows can’t talk. I was looking at the hens having a dust bath.
Anyway, you're a cowboy and cowboys don't milk cows.”  I sniffed. “Tom was going to take me bird nesting.”
Digging into his pocket, Gilbert pulled out a little round tin of tobacco and began to roll a cigarette. 
"I'll take you bird nesting." He said, licking the gummed edge of his tissue paper. 
Cupping his hands around the match flame, he drew smoke into his lungs.
“Aw, it doesn’t matter.”  I watched fascinated as he blew out a stream of smoke, making smoke rings in the air.  “I’ll just help you milk Betsy and then I better go home.”
“Just as you like, little fella.”  Gilbert began to stand up.  He groaned as his old joints cracked from squatting down.  “By the way, did Tom tell you how to climb a tree and get down again, carrying the eggs in your mouth so they would not break?” 
"No," I said.
“Did he show you how to make a hole and blow the eggs, before fitting them on a string, without breaking the shell?"
I looked at Gilbert.  My mouth fell open in horror. 
"No.  .  . No.  You can't do that.  What about mother bird?  She will not have any baby birds, and I won't see them fly away up into the sky when they grow big."
"Oh. ... Sorry." replied Gilbert.  "I never thought about that.  Well then, what if we mark the nest with a piece of string and then you can keep a watch, to see all the babies grow up and fly away."
“Can we?” I jumped up off the stool with excitement.    “I’ll keep watch and count how many baby birds grow up and fly away.  I’m going to tell Grandma that you are going to take me bird nesting. 
Now, you just hold on to Betsy, until I come back to help.”
Gilbert stood to attention.  He gave me a salute. “Yes. . . Sir.” He laughed.
Giggling at him, I strode through the long grass towards the house.  Reaching the orchard, I shouted over his shoulder.  “You are my best friend. I love you, Gilbert!” 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Birth of the Romney Triplets

Birth of the Romney Triplets

Nightcaps Maternity

Located in the South Island of New Zealand, Nightcaps is a small coal-mining village with a colourful past.  As the crow fly’s, it would be about half way between Invercargill and Lake Manapouri.
Coal was first extracted at Nightcaps in 1879, later; as production grew the village went on to house a strong labour force.  By early 1920, a population of that township almost reached the seven hundred mark with the coal mining and timber milling industries of that time, employing almost all the male inhabitants.

One hundred years on, however, progress and new mining technologies seem to have turned this little town, like so many others, into almost a ghost town overnight.  Yet it takes more than just a stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen, to dampen the true Southland spirit.  

Rich in history, this little town has had its allocation of colourful characters.  This story attempts to portray some of the colour associated with the Nightcaps Maternity Home, just one of the community’s projects. 

Nightcaps Maternity Home opened for business in 1932; about one year after George Wood came to town.  George was, by all accounts, a graduate of the Otago Medical School and College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.   
Prior to his arrival, intending mothers had limited options when it came to giving birth.  Either they travelled to another maternity home elsewhere, or they delivered their pride
and joy at home, in the care of many of those local ladies, who so willingly acted as nurses and midwives.
I am informed George, in the forty years he worked as a local General Practitioner in Nightcaps, he delivered over one thousand babies into this world.  Some of who several years later became mothers under his care. 
George was notorious for his sense of humour.  Unfortunately, in the twilight of his career, he became a reluctant patient in the Public Hospital.  A sweet young nurse, whom he had delivered as a baby twenty years previous, was caring for him and was required to give him a painful injection. 
George grimaced at the sting, and made a witty remark: -

“I smacked your bottom when you were born twenty years ago, girl. 
 If I had known then, you were going to give me this injection,
I would have smacked it a darn side harder!”

At this, the young nurse poked out her tongue, while trying to form a suitable response.

    Like most projects in those country communities, they were invariably conceived by local initiative, and this Maternity Home was no exception. 
In March 1925, at a Public Meeting held in the Coronation Hall, the possibility of developing a Maternity Home and perhaps a Cottage Hospital was discussed.  To encourage the community with this project, the Mines Department offered a suitable block of land.
It was unfortunate, but staffing issues surrounding the Cottage Hospital brought this project to a halt. The Hospital Board of Management would not support the concept. In essence, this is where planning of the new Nightcaps Maternity Home first began in earnest.
A ‘Queen Carnival’ held in Nightcaps during the 1920’s raised a sum of money, which went towards the purchase of land, where it was hoped a Maternity Home would eventually be developed. 
    During 1926, the Reverend H. Dyson arrived in this small rural township and immediately involved himself in community affairs.  Rolling his sleeves up, he jumped into the Maternity Home project, boots and all. 

In order to raise project development funds, a series of successful concerts and live performances, the brainchild of Reverend Dyson, were held around the greater part of Western Southland.  Due to this combined community effort, construction of a new Maternity Home began about the end of 1927 with a completion date in 1928. 
The population Nightcaps at that time could be registered in the hundreds, not in thousands, so it is not so surprising there was never at any time a queue of intending mothers waiting at the door.  At first, the building doubled as a dental clinic.
Of course, it wasn’t long before little Hugh Chappie became impatient and decided, with his mother's help, to put in an appearance.  He became a celebrity in the village as he made his brief visit. 
Obviously being the first of many babies to be born in that new building, it was with his birth, the new Maternity Home in Nightcaps was officially opened in 1932.

As the years swept by, the Nightcaps Maternity Home was later donated to the Wallace and Fiord Hospital Board; this group was to undertake the increased administration required by the New Zealand Social Security Act, of the 1930’s. (Red tape in other words.)
Around 1960, the property was taken over by the Southland Hospital Board, with proposals to provide more modern hospital services to the district.  Then, economics and centralization, the catch phrase of that time, along with its financial constraints, led to the controversial closure of the Nightcaps Maternity Home in around 1966.
It must have been heart-wrenching for many of those locals, who had worked so hard to raise funds and watched with interest the growth of their Maternity Home over the past thirty years or so.
Then with the arrival of bureaucracy, they saw it become surplus to requirements, as they say, and eventually become vacant. 

Now, at this point, a touch of irony comes into play.
     Up until the building became vacant, day and night, busy feet pounded those scrubbed and polished corridors of the Nightcaps Maternity Home, listening for the hushed cry of another little family pride and joy. 
After its closure, those scrubbed and polished corridors became strewn with birds dropping and loose straw, heralding a birthplace of another breed.  Yes, __ it became the brooding house for a nearby chicken farm.

Amid all the disappointments and the controversies, however, there were some lighter moments throughout the years, which in themselves, are a joy to be shared.

Let me tell you about Matron Watt.

Matron Sarah Watt.  I believe she was the first Matron to be employed here at the Nightcaps Maternity Home and was always one for a bit of a humour in her life.
Sarah had a pet sheep, you see, a Romney ewe by all accounts, which she kept in a paddock next to the Maternity Home.  Her Romney ewe, they say, produced triplets in the paddock, next door.  So for a bit of levity, Sarah placed an advertisement in the Southland Times Newspaper, which read: - 

“Triplets were born at Nightcaps Maternity Hospital. 
To, Mr and Mrs Romney of Oreti. 
All well.”

    Now, an ambitious young newspaper reporter, a real go-getter with no sense of humour whatsoever, duly arrived to interview Mrs Romney. 
Accordingly, he was shown the mother and baby grazing quite contentedly in the paddock, adjoining the Maternity Home.
    Unfortunately for Sarah though, that young reporter fancied himself and took offence at being the butt of a local gag.  

Of course, we can all laugh now, but at the time Sarah was definitely in the poo', so to speak.  She received a Court Summons and was duly charged by the Courts for misrepresentation and fined a total sum of one pound. 
The locals, however, they thought it was absolutely hilarious and all chipped in to defray Sarah’s expenses.

Happy reading.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Chief Judge

The Chief Judge

I painted an image in acrylics of an old gold miner some time ago, for a bit of fun, I suppose.
Luckily, I sold it soon after.
Placing it on the lawn and propped up with a couple of sticks I took a photo of it.
Toby, our little dog of questionable and numerous pedigrees has a liking for being in front of the camera.  So of course, he to have an inspection of my work .
I am not at all sure whether his inspection was one of appreciation or total disgust.  His stance makes me think he was not very impressed.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Rise and Fall of a Cow Cocky's Fortunes

The Rise and Fall of a Cow Cocky's Fortunes

Original water colour sketch by Noel Guthrie

On November 19th 1893, the West Dipton Hall in Southland hosted a public meeting to gauge support for a proposal to erect a dairy factory in the district.  With the promise of milk supplied from 180 cows and with more to come along with further promises of finance, the Oreti Dairy Factory was born overnight.  Builder Angus McBean had wasted little time, almost one year to the day; he completed his contract, leaving a new factory ready for its official opening on October 22nd 1894.
There was some criticism levelled at the project at the time.  Many considered the summers in this part of the province too dry and unsuitable for dairying.
Having lived in Southland for five years, I controlled a little smirk when I read that article.  .  .  .?

On completion, the Oreti Dairy Factory is thought to have been one of the first to be built in Southland.  Cheese makers, James Linton and his wife were Scottish immigrants of some note and they are said to have moved from Mataura to Dipton.  Acting as advisors, they were to help get the project off the ground.
That new factory had a cheese room, five by seven metres and claimed to have more than six hundred metres of shelf space, which could hold more than forty tonne of cheese.
A nine by eight-metre pressroom contained two vats, each capable of holding two thousand seven hundred litres of liquid and a derrick fitted to the concrete floor and driven by a three and a half HP engine, served as the lifting equipment to haul those heavy milk cans from each dray into the factory.  Almost six hundred and seventy-five litres of milk arrived on that first morning for processing, a far greater volume than anyone anticipated.

Periods during these first few years of operation were often difficult.  In the first six months, only half of the promised finance had been forthcoming, bringing pressure to bear for the continued viability of the project.  A site meeting discussed leasing the factory to suppliers for twelve pounds per month.  This, however, was rejected and the factory closed.
In October 1895 and for a second time, the factory was reopened.  Thirteen hundred litres each day flowed into the factory and by November, this figure increased to almost two thousand seven hundred litres per day and by around 1910, the Oreti Dairy Factory reached its peak in production, producing around sixty-eight tonne of cheese per year.

At the beginning of World War One, farmers were beginning to extract cream from their milk and sending that cream to the butter factories by rail for a higher premium.
Because of that move, many of the smaller cheese factories were to face extreme hardship including the Oreti Dairy Factory.  Cheese production dropped away to an all-time low of seventeen tonne per year, leaving the current owners with no option but to cease production for the second and final time.

There was a little verse I read some time ago and it stuck in my mind, now seems the appropriate time to recall it. 
I don’t know, it may well have been a lament or perhaps the author drew a graph, using this verse to depict the rise and fall of a cow cocky's fortune.
Written by a Scot by the sound of things, it is entitled; Burns to his cow.

Ye muckle clamming donnert beast
                        I’m no that late so haud yer wheest
Let’s hope your butter fats increased
Or else the pay
Baith you and me hae been well fleeced

For mony a day.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Shadows of Central Otago

Shadows of Central Otago

Shadows of Central Otago.
An original acrylic on canvas painting by Noel

Friday, 16 September 2016

A Flies Skating Rink

A Flies Skating Rink

It is with mixed emotions I write this little story.
Albury is a village that has always been close to my heart.  I suppose that is only natural in a way, for I was born there and spent my early years there. 
However, I always have this feeling of sadness when I pass through from time to time, one only has to blink nowadays and you’ve missed it. 
Perhaps, depending on your point view, perhaps it is close to becoming a ghost town.   I guess that is a fairly common predicament facing many small country villages in the twenty-first century, what with the modern car and better roads; it has become inevitable.
There are so many little memories of Albury left for me to relive.  However, I think the old Albury Store brings forth some of the most delightful recollections.  Not only for me but for those folk who can recall over the years, purchasing groceries from the store or just filling up their car with petrol?  Remember when it was only a few pence per gallon?   

They say the shop was built in 1882, perhaps about one hundred metres to the rear of where it is now located alongside the State Highway.  In fact, I have been reliably informed the Main Road through Albury was re-aligned three times over the years; the third time leaving the store far from the passing traffic.  So, it was moved with the aid of a traction engine in 1908, to its present site alongside the Main Road.

It must have been about the beginning of 1992 when I last ventured into the old Albury Store.  At that stage, a family whose name escapes me at the moment owned the building.  They had abandoned it several years before, to just let it stand empty for a number of years.  Yet, while in residence, that family had turned the old store into a sort of grocery museum, unfortunately, that did not pay the bills and it just faded away, quickly turning into something of an eyesore.  Nevertheless, I do recall with a measure of sadness that day in February 1992. 
Being abandoned for a number of years at that point, the building was looking much the worse for wear.  Yet those previous colours of the original veranda posts, as I remember them, were still visible through the years of grime.   
To the moan of rusting hinges, a sound akin to something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, I opened the door and stepped into another moment in time.
Cobwebs hung where they were never seen in my day.  Yet, after all, those years, I could not help notice it was almost the same as when I was a kid, away back in the early 1940’s. 
Oiled timber floorboards were just the same, although I noticed the coconut matting runner in front of the counter was missing.

It was with the hint of a tear, that all those precious little memories came flooding back. 
The spot where all those big jars of lollies used to sit at one end of the counter near the front window.  In my mind, I still dream of those huge ‘gobstoppers' stashed in one of those big round glass jars, boy they were yummy.  If careful enough, I could at one-time string them out to last almost half a day.   That is of course when I was ever allowed one.  Then there was those giant pink and white candy walking sticks and the tantalizing fudge bars.  Cripes, all this fantasizing was exciting my taste buds something awful.
Then, there were all those other goodies for which we used to slide a penny or a halfpenny across the wooden counter.  Gouge marks and scratches from years of wear and tear were still visible on that counter, under all the dust and grime.  I suppose those marks gave the old counter a bit of character.
There were those packets of tobacco I recall, neatly stacked on the shelf in full view of the prospective customer, Bears Dark, Bears Light, Park Drive, Greys, to name but a few, for about a shilling or one and sixpence  per packet? 

My taste buds were recalling those juicy apples, all individually wrapped in soft-textured tissue paper and packed neatly in layers inside a timber box.  And then there were the bananas and the oranges along with other numerous fruit in season.
As a kid, when fresh fruit arrived in store, I remember a delightful fragrance wafting throughout the shop.  Each piece of produce was delicately handled with affection.  One could never compare the fruit and vegetables of the modern-day supermarket, where perishables are kept in a cool store to be later displayed to an onslaught of fifty thousand housewives, who systematically punch, squeeze and bruise all those scrumptious pieces of fruit within their reach.

I wandered past a bench, near the rear of the store where I recalled a large round of cheese sat.  With a large wicked looking knife, the storekeeper would cut a wedge off that cheese, before plonking it on the old counterbalance scales and wrapping it in brown paper for each customer. 
Looking up at the ceiling, in the corner, I could still see the large hooks and visualize the roll of bacon swinging there.  Lifted down, that roll was sliced on a hand operated bacon slicer, for those lucky enough to feast on bacon and eggs at breakfast.

You know, in amongst all this, I have no idea how we survived through those early years.  It was quite a common sight for the storekeeper back then, to have just served a customer with a tank full of petrol and topped up with their car or tractor with oil, before coming back to cut a wedge of the cheese or slice a pound of bacon, without any thought for health and safety.  
Oh, my God, just imagine the hullabaloo if we did that today!  Like blowflies swarming around the dunny door, bureaucrats would arrive in droves, flapping their official forms around while threatening this and that.

                On Thursday evenings after the train from the city passed through our village, I recall collecting the weekly parcel of bread, left in a special box on the Store veranda.  My mother usually bought several Vienna loaves each week, year in year out.   Why can’t we have those big square loves?  I once whined.  Can’t remember the answer I received.  Bet I got a flea in the ear.  
My sister and I would carry this parcel of bread home.  I suppose I could have been about seven years old at that stage, maybe eight.  The bread was still warm and fresh from the bakery in the city that morning.  Oh, boy. That bread was so lip-smacking good, I can still taste it.  We would occasionally, pick the centre out of one of the loaves on the way home and then get all panicky as we neared the gate, hoping mum would not notice as we tried to stick the crust back together with a bit of spit?  Of course, as every reader well knows, mothers have eyes in the back of their head and ears that can hear a gnat pass wind in the next county.  
Without even examining the parcel, mum knew what we had been up to.  We suddenly remembered some important unfinished task down the back of the shed and knew we should make our self-imposed exile last until she calmed down.

The storekeepers I can recall as a youngster were Toffee Adams, Jack Campbell, Leo Rolland, and Joe Cosgriff. 
I was a little bit older when Leo and Joe owned the store, but as a kid I can recall Jack Campbell, he had red hair and a face full of freckles.  Flies doings, he told all the village kids.  He would also whistle, non-stop the same three notes of the same old tune.  Damned if I know what it was, perhaps he didn’t either.  At least he was happy, that’s all that mattered.
The one storekeeper who seems prominent in my early memory was Toffee Adams.  I was only knee high to a grasshopper then, but I can still see those sparkling eyes and the round jovial face.  That short stocky man wore a spotless white apron over a pink woollen singlet buttoned up to the neck and the half-mast trousers held up with wide elastic braces.   His head was as bald as a baby’s bottom, except for a smidgen of grey fluff masquerading as hair, above each ear.  He claimed his head was the fly’s skating rink and the fluff above his ears were the grandstands for a fly audience. 
Well, of course, we all believed him! 
Why shouldn't we? 
At the age of just four or five years old, it sounded exceptionally plausible.  Well?

Vaguely, I can just recall the red brick bake-house that Toffee operated from behind the house next door.  I can recall my mother telling me that, well before I came along, she worked for a time as a waitress in the tearooms attached to the bake-house.
Sadly, that is in the past.  Shelves that once held items of nutritional value in that once a proud country store is long gone.  Instead, on the day of my visit they were caked with dust, along with a few items depicting the village’s past.
The store is no longer the focal point of a thriving country village. Where once one could have leaned against the faded veranda post, rolled a smoke and discussed the weather.  Or perhaps informed all those who cared to listen, that given half a chance, the publican could do a better job of running the country.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Tom Burnett

                                    Tom Burnett

From one of my latest books, Ballard of Ernie Slow, I bring readers of my blog a little poem entitled Tom Burnett.

These few verses, penned by the late Ernie Slow, could well have passed as a eulogy on this man's death.  They depict the general public’s tribute to Thomas David Burnett’s work with the Downlands Water Scheme, during the time of the Great Depression during the early 1900’s.

T. D. as this man was affectionately known, passed away in November 1941.
His final resting place is at Rock Etam, Mount Cook Station.  A special secluded spot, where he continues his watch over his beloved mountains.


Tom Burnett

                                    Beneath Aorangi’s might crown
                                    Where tussocks are golden brown
                                    There lies a hero of renown
                                    Tom Burnett.

                                    He likes the girls who can mend and cook
                                    And at the naughty ones he’d never look
                                    He reads them like an open book
                                    Tom Burnett.

                                    He likes the mountains clothed in trees
                                    To shelter stock from snow and breeze
                                    And dog with either lice, or fleas
                                    Tom Burnett.

                                    Of mountains, he is very fond
                                    Just like a wild duck on a pond
                                    His word alas, ‘tis his bond
                                    Tom Burnett.

                                    So, let him sleep near Aorangi’s crown
                                    And when the world goes upside down
                                    He’ll enter heaven with a frown
                                    Tom Burnett.



Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Nothing Personal

Nothing Personal

A group of foreign tourists was making their way around the South Island of New Zealand. 
Rather than visit those major towns and cities, they chose to visit country villages and smaller towns instead, where they thought they would be more able to observe local customs.
Travelling through the Mackenzie Country, this small group stopped at the Gladstone Hotel to taste the local hospitality for lunch and a refreshing sup on some local beverage.

At the time there was a well-known character behind the bar.  Tall and rather slim, Jeb was a bit of a comic even on his bad days.  
One member of the group wandered around the bar-room looking at all the photo's of celebrities and other items of local history. He spoke with Jeb about the history of the town.
As Jeb filled his customer's glasses, one youngish member of the party began to study the lunch menu.
Eventually, he asked Jeb what was the days special?

"Well" retorted Jeb, "today we have chicken on a bed of rice with green beans and almonds, and a side salad."
"Aw man,  That sounds great.  How do you prepare the chicken?"
"Well,"  Jeb responded. "We break it to him gently of course, and then we tell him it's nothing personal!" 

Have a nice day.

Friday, 1 July 2016

At Sparrow Fart

At Sparrow Fart

The Water Joey

A bald headed cook, his grubby white apron smudged with flour, poked his flushed face out the galley door. “Where’s that god-damned ‘Water Joey’, he bellowed.

In this story, I try to portray my impression of the ‘Water Joey’, particularly to those who may remember the era of the traction engine and threshing mills.
During the latter part of the 1800s, lasting well into the 1940s, without a doubt the Water Joey was an essential worker attached to the threshing mills.  He also became the most abused.  Hey! …. Whoa! …. Hang on there! …. Don’t you go jumping to conclusions now!  I meant verbally abused.

It was the Water Joey’s sole responsibility to maintain a regular water supply to the traction engine boiler, and the cook’s galley.  In most cases, the water cart was a dray, suitably converted to hold a two hundred gallon [nine hundred litres] square galvanised water tank.  
In the dead of night, well before dawn, a freckle face boy as young as twelve, or thirteen years, or even a man advanced in his years, could be found, with the aid of a lantern, harnessing a draft horse to the water cart.
By the time those first sparrows had passed wind and rubbed the sleepy dust from their eyes, the Joey had returned with a handful of blisters and an aching back, from his first excursion down to the creek.  He would likely have been away for an hour or maybe three, in which time; with the aid of a hand pump he had filled the tank full of water, ready for the mill engine at the crack of dawn.
The ease with which the working day passed for the Joey depended on several factors.  For one, the mood and skill of the engineer, as he either flogged the engine for more power or coaxed the boiler and conserved steam.
Several times each day the driver’s yell could be heard above the womp, womp, womp, as the sheaves slid down the canvas conveyor belt and into the drums.  Or the slap of the long flat belt, as it flashed between the mill pulley and the traction engine flywheel.
Like a deranged Brahma bull, he roared. “Where’s the bloody Water Joey”?

Of course, there was the mill boss, bless him.  Each time the Joey went to dose off while waiting for his water tank to empty, the boss would tell him to help the straw walloper, or the stacker, or the band cutter.
To rub salt into the wound, while the boss, the engineer, along with everyone else had their meals, the Joey was expected to climb aboard traction engine in order to keep an eye on the steam gauge.  If he fell asleep from the long hours, they considered him lazy, if he got blisters on his hands he was soft, if he discussed his work with anyone, he became a know all, if he didn’t, he had no interest in the job.  Whatever the Joey did, he would invariably be wrong, even if he did not do it; he was a soft target for everyone to lay blame.

The mill boss found it difficult to judge between the young Joey and the old one, as to who was the most reliable. The older Joeys tended to be, more often than not, sly drinkers.  They did work well if sober; however, struck with a bout of the dry horrors, like a homing pigeon, they headed in the direction of the nearest pub.
Mill boss’s in general, knew exactly where to locate the old Joey if he failed to return with a full tank.   When found, he usually had his elbows, firmly attached to the bar of the local pub and would invariably reply to the boss’s bark, “Aw boss, I’m just lubricatin’ the cracks in me skin.”  He would swear black and blue that the horse had lost its way and he had only arrived a few minutes ago to get directions from the publican.  Yet the horse and dray had been standing idle outside the pub for several hours.
Some of the young Joeys, on the other hand, they were totally irresponsible and couldn’t care less, while others were tired and always asleep under a stook in the shade.  Some fell in love with the farmer’s daughter, developing a symptom; likened to the flue, a condition, which for some hung on all season.  They continually lost track of time and direction, as well as bearing the brunt of numerous mill jokes.

I recall one story of a Joey that had recently been hired.  The mill boss, as he did with all Joeys before they hit the sack each night, gave the young bloke a lecture on his chores for the following morning.
Finally, he said to the young bloke. “You got all that, boy”?
“Yeah, Yeah”, drawled the young Joey, chewing on a wheat stalk.
The mill boss, wanting to reassure himself he had issued the correct instructions, demanded.  “Right, young fella, tell me what’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get up in the morning”?
“Dunno” drawled the young Joey, kicking at some wheat stubble with his hobnailed boot. “S’pose, I’ll have a leak up against the dray wheel”!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

There's humour in old age

There’s humour in old age

Some time ago, I was listening to a few stories related by a group of men on the subject of getting old.  Of course eventually, the subject turned to stories beginning with, “Now when I was a young fella.”  As the night wore on, stories dwelled on the realms of impossibility.  I could be very quickly accused of telling a lie if I said that I did not contribute.

Many stories ___ no I take that back, all stories were unsuitable for publication other than in a “Men’s Own” publication.  However that little session did give rise to me thinking, there must be other stories out there, which could be more suitable for session over the tea cups.
I went to a local home for the elderly; what a bundle of laughs.  We talked about getting old and this and that, but at the end of it all this is what I came up with.

One of the old’s told me the distance to the corner shop had increased.  “It never used to be that far when I first came here.  I could live with that,” she continued, “but if the Council had not added that damned hill!” 

“Before I came here,” another dear old lady in her eighties said.  “I lived in Christchurch.”  Then she had a fit of the giggles.  Eventually she blurted out, “She had given up running to catch the bus into town, it left faster than it used to.”  At that point laughter overwhelmed her.

“Did you notice the steps at the Post Office,” one elderly gent enquired?
“No I haven’t,” I replied.
“Well, the last time I went down there,” he said with a serious tone to his voice, “they’ve altered all the steps and have made higher.  I had to go around to the ramp, most inconvenient I think, particularly for a man my age.”
I was almost to the point of forming a view that this crusty old gent was a grumpy old so and so, when his weathered dial began to lighten up.  With a sparkle in his eye and a big cheesy grin, he said, “Just about had you then, boy?”

A gentle little lady, who would be lucky to see eighty again, said in her quiet timid little voice.  “Excuse me, could you tell me why newspapers are being printed with such small print these days, is it to save money?”  I didn’t have an answer to that one.

They all started in a rush, have heard this one or that one.  I’ve put together some of their sayings.

“I don’t ask anyone to read to me anymore.  Everyone speaks in such low tones I can’t hear them.”

“The material in dresses these days are getting so skimpy around the waist and the hips, they’re not like when I was a young girl.”

“Aren’t people so young these days younger than when I was their age?”

“I ran into one of my friends, whom I had not seen for a while, she had aged so much, poor thing, she didn’t even recognize me.”

Even I can relate to the next one.

“I was combing my hair this morning and thought, I better get a new mirror, and this one’s had its day, my face never used to look like this.”

Then one gentleman who had been sitting quietly in the background enjoying all the nonsense chirped up.  
“Do you know how to tell when you are getting old?”
“Well ___ no, we all said as one.” 

He produced a piece of paper and began to read.

Everything hurts and what doesn’t hurt, won’t work.
You feel like the morning after, but you haven’t been anywhere.
You know all the answers, but nobody asks you the question.
You look forward to a dull evening.
Your knees buckle but your belt won’t.
You burn the midnight oil until eight pm.
You can’t stand intolerant people.
Your back goes out more often than you do.
You sit in your rocking chair and you can’t get it going.

Well __ if that was not enough, a jovial lady, who may well have been a hard case in her younger days; she still is, by what was said next.

This was her story, accompanied by a lot of laughter.

“Do you know how to recognize a rotten day?” 
            ‘Well’, She said

You put on your bra back to front in the morning and it fits better.

Your birthday cake collapses from the weight of the candles.

You go to put on your clothes that you wore to the party the night before and there aren’t any. (This got a mixed reception).

Your twin sister forgets your birthday.

You are traveling along the highway behind a group of Hells Angels and your car horn goes on and won’t release.

Your boss tells you not to bother taking your coat off.

You call your answering service and they tell you to mind your own business.

It’s such a lovely day and you decide to walk to work.  You’ve walked through the busy part of town before realizing your dress is tucked into the back of your pantyhose.

Another young lady, of around the eighty mark and full of laughter, she said to me that the last time the Vicar visited me, he said to me “Mrs. B. Isn’t it time you began thinking about the hereafter?”
I just looked at him and said, “Oh, I do.   I do that all the time, Vicar.  When I go out to the garage, when I go into the bedroom and when I go to the kitchen, I think about it constantly.  Yes, I say to myself, now what the devil am I here after?