Category Archives: Reflections-Awards

2626C. A memorable event – Part 3

(continued…)

I phoned the police. Two policemen came and interviewed him. They too drove to the house and came back. They then called the “Armed Defenders Squad”. (In New Zealand the Police don’t carry guns, but when there is a need such as this the highly trained Armed Defenders step in.)

The police took the boy away. I did not know for the rest of the night what had happened.

(To be continued…Finale tomorrow)

2626B. A memorable event – Part 2

(continued…)

I leapt out of bed. My heart stopped. To this day I’m quite pleased with my reaction. I handed him a towel and said, “Well don’t stand there all wet. Dry yourself.” He was about my size so I found him some clothes.

He explained what happened.  He had gone to the bathroom in the night. While he was there the voices of men (it sounded like two of them) were shouting at his parents in their bedroom. Then there were gunshots. They started yelling for him to come out. The toilet had a louvered window. The boy squeezed himself out. He ran through the rain towards the river – the area of which was unhoused. The river was slightly in flood. He waded up the river towards school and came into my room. Naturally he was upset.

We got in a car and drove to his house (I have no clue why). No lights were on in the house. There were tall poplar tree swaying in the wind. It was dark and threatening. We drove back to school.

(To be continued…)

2626A. A memorable event – Part 1

Story Number 2626 is an interesting enough number to deviate from fiction into truth – as is customary on this blog! Today’s story is about what could be one of the more memorable things that has happened to me!

I was a teacher and house master at a large boarding school for boys – mainly sons of farmers from isolated areas, but the school had some local day students as well. The dormitory area of my responsibility catered for about 120 sixteen year old young men.

It was in fact a dark and stormy night. I was fast asleep and at about 2 in the morning my door opened, the light was switched on, and a boy appeared in his pyjamas covered in mud from top to bottom. He wasn’t from my dormitory, but was a day student who lived with his parents about a mile away. He said, “I’m sorry to disturb you, but my parents have just been shot.”

 (To be continued…)

2600. A grand entrance and exit

(As often happens with a round number in the story sequence there is a slight deviation from the daily fiction story and a venture into some real lived episode.)

As a young man, and a competent pianist (!), I was often dragged into amateur operetta productions to play the piano accompaniment. This particular time it was a production of “The Geisha” (by Sidney Jones and Harry Greenbank). To be honest I don’t remember a great deal about it, except everyone seemed to prance around in kimonos singing a song about a goldfish.

At one stage there was the grand entrance of the Emperor of Japan. Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to create a bridge over a stream (rather like a Monet painting). The costume department had gone overboard in dressing not only the Emperor but his half dozen or so Attendants. It was to be a glorious and sumptuous entrance.

The trouble was there was no music to accompany this entrance. No trouble, I said. I will play an extract from a piece called “Juba” that sounds sort of Japanese, by Nathaniel Dett. (Incidentally, Nathaniel Dett was the first African American composer of note). Here is what the piece sounded like:

Click HERE to hear the extract of Nathaniel Dett’s “Juba”.

The moment had come. It was time to bring the Emperor over the bridge and down onto the stage. I began with a flourish. There was a great kerfuffle back stage and no one appeared. I repeated the music and the Emperor of Japan and Attendants made their imposing entrance. Except I was four scenes too early. The Emperor looked both embarrassed and confused. I played the piece again and the Emperor majestically marched off. Two scenes later he made a second opulent appearance.

At the third attempt and four scenes later I got the entrance just right!

(Note: With this Story #2600, I am taking a break. It’s summer over here. The lawns need mowing. The garden needs weeding. It’s no time to be sitting inside at a desk! So I shall be back after the New Year (d.v. = Deo volente. D.V. was a common expression 50 years ago. It is not seen so often these days). I won’t be able to frequent the blogs quite as much as usual – unless it rains. Have a wonderfully Merry Christmas and a wonderfully Happy New Year! I shall! D.V.)

2584. Why I celebrate American Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States, and although it is not celebrated in the country where I live (except in my house and possibly a few others) it got me thinking… What is something when I was studying in the United States that I am particularly grateful for?

I was living in Waltham, Massachusetts, and studying at a university in Cambridge. About every second Saturday or so I would go to a nearby hall where two women I had met would be tidying up the hall. Their names were Claire and Bernadette. We would have a coffee and a donut. They both worked in a factory that made secret parts for some highly classified military machinery. What the parts were for they were never told. Massachusetts is full of factories like that where people make parts off a blueprint and they don’t know what the parts are or what they are for.

The summer break was approaching. Apart from taking a couple of summer papers, the rest of the summer was free. To be honest I was a poor student. I wasn’t intending to go anywhere but that hadn’t stopped me from looking at the map!

During one coffee Claire and Bernadette asked me, “Where are you going for the summer?” Not wishing to say I would be staying in my little room in Waltham I said, “I am thinking of going to Arizona.”

“And we’re paying for it!” declared Claire. “Provided one thing; provided we can do the planning. We’re not able to travel ourselves so it would be a thrill for us to plan the adventure.”

They explained what they did. There was no coffee facility at the plant they worked in. Bernadette and Claire provided coffee, sugar, and cream. People had their own mugs. There was a tin there for workers to drop in a coin. There were hundreds of people working in the factory. Claire and Bernadette had a policy: any money made they would not spend it on themselves, but spend it on other people, and that would give them a thrill! I didn’t agree to taking their offer at first, but I quietly asked around and everyone said the same thing, “Goodness me! Can those two afford it or what!” So I accepted their kind offer and were to meet them at the hall the following Saturday.

Well! They had maps. They had airline tickets. They had a rental car. They had vouchers for motels.

“We’ve marked on the map places of interest, but do what you want and go where you want! And here’s an envelope with some pocket money.”

When I got home I opened the envelope and there was $2000 in cash.

I set out. It was 115°F when I got off the plane in Phoenix. I loved every minute of my stay. I went everywhere from the Grand Canyon to Tucson. Quite my favourite bit was the Sonora Desert. My biggest thrill was in Walnut Canyon where I saw my first hummingbird! I saw, some quite by accident, snakes and scorpions and road runners and coyotes and ancient ruins and barrel cacti and… goodness! Every moment was pure magic! The saddest bit (and this is true) I stepped out of the car to take a photo of the road sign that said POISONOUS SNAKES AND INSECTS INHABIT THE AREA and I trod on a tarantula and squashed it.

When I got back to Waltham I had hardly spent a dime. I went to give the money back to Claire and Bernadette.

“Don’t be silly,” they said. “Go to New York! Go to Washington DC!”

So I did!

There were many instances of people’s generosity in my time as a student in Boston: the young man who about once a month would call with a can of Fosters beer to share because he didn’t know the difference between New Zealand and Australia (and I never let on); the man who called and said we’re going for a drive and took me to a shop where he bought me the warmest winter coat there was; the lady who sewed Christmas decorations to send home to my mother; the couple who lent me their holiday home at a lake for a week; the Native American at the lake who let me use his traditional canoe every day!  People’s generosity knew no bounds! When I finished my time there the locals had a farewell evening, in which they all sang the New Zealand national anthem that they had secretly learnt!

What I learnt in America wasn’t so much in my studies at university, but in simply living there. They taught me to be generous. In my opinion, of all the nations in the world, the people of the United States would be the ones who best would know how to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving.

And that is why we celebrate American Thanksgiving in the place I live. HAPPY THANKSGIVING to one and all!

At the White House

2555. When in Suva

Yet another true story to celebrate an eventful number!

Years ago, it must have been sometime in the first half of the 1980s, I was sent to Fiji to attend some sort of education meeting. To be honest I can’t really remember much about the meeting. Suva was hot and tropical and humid. It poured down with rain at the same time every afternoon. I went out and bought a fancy multi-coloured umbrella and in the first rain shower it dripped all the multi-coloured dyes over my white shirt.

Suva, where the meeting was held, is surrounded by mudflats and mangrove swamps. With the heat there was a constant smell of stinking swamp mud. In my room there were big pink lizards everywhere and they would zap the mosquitos. At night you would hear a plop on the floor as a lizard on the ceiling had eaten too much and couldn’t take the weight on its ceiling-clinging suction pads.

To wander through Suva was to be hounded by merchants selling their wares. A cruise ship came into the harbour. Sale signs appeared and prices doubled. Fiji is a place where you bargain when buying. It was a new experience for me. At first I was terrified because it felt so rude, but I got the hang of it after a while.

The phone went. It was the Prime Minister of Fiji, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.  I taught his son George back in New Zealand. Would I like to come to dinner at the Prime Minister’s residence? Naturally (and humbly) I accepted the invitation. He would send a car around to pick me up.

My life was suddenly thrown into turmoil! What do I wear? What do I call him? What do I call his wife? Do I take my shoes off at the front door? Won’t my socks stink in the heat? Can I wear open sandals? What is the Fijian protocol so as not to be offensive? I asked around.

The time came for the car to pick me up. It wasn’t an ordinary car; it was a chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz. The chauffeur got out and opened the back door for me to enter. Finau, another of the Prime Minister’s sons, was in the car to accompany me.

We arrived. The Prime Minister himself came out to greet me.  We shook hands. There was a huge farm tractor parked at the front door. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara said, “We like to keep our priorities right!” We had a delightful meal of raw fish and all sorts of other goodies. The waiters, of which there were two, a man and a woman, brought the food in while bowed right down so that their heads were lower than Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara’s – and he was sitting! I felt like getting up and giving them a hand. With the occasion over the chauffeur drove me back to where I was staying. It was a memorable experience.

Sometime later, back in New Zealand, I saw photos on the news of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara wearing traditional Fijian garb – tapa cloth and skirt and all that. Someone remarked that “You’d think these dumb Natives would know how to drag themselves out of the jungle.” They clearly didn’t know that Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara had studied to be a medical doctor in New Zealand, had a Master’s degree in Political Science from Oxford University in the UK, and subsequently graduated from the London School of Economics.

Oh – and inside the Prime Minister’s house we all kept our sandals on!

2550. Ethnomusicology

A true story to celebrate round figure Story Number 2550.

In my younger years I was teaching fulltime and trying to complete a music degree in between classes. I would turn up to class with a banana, teach about Wuthering Heights or Richard the Third or something, and the minute the class was over I’d leap into the car, and eat the banana for lunch while driving off to my university lecture. Choice of music papers studied was largely dictated by what was available when I wasn’t teaching. In this particular year I was taking An Introduction to Ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology is the study of non-Western music and this particular year it focused on the music of Polynesia.

The lecturer was Allan Thomas. He once stopped me in the corridor and said, “Bruce, have you ever thought of coming to university full-time and learning something?” Just so you can envisage the time scale, the New Zealand academic year runs roughly from February to November. Around March Allan Thomas announced that there would be no examination at the end of the year but everyone must submit a detailed study on an approved topic about Polynesian music.

I continued to attend lectures, but the detailed study on an approved topic somehow went on the back-burner. I used to try and avoid Allan Thomas outside of lecture times. It was September. I still hadn’t had a topic approved; in fact, I still didn’t have a topic. And there, coming along the corridor with no side corridors to escape into, was Allan Thomas!

“Bruce,” he said stopping me, “what’s the topic you’ve been studying this year on Polynesian music?”

“Oh!” I exclaimed, saying the first thing that came into my head, “Jock McEwen is helping me with it.”

“Jock McEwen!” said Allan Thomas. “That’s wonderful! We’ve been trying to get information out of him for years!”

My heart fell. Jock McEwen was an old Maori local man who knew absolutely everything about New Zealand Maori music. He was the guru of gurus. I went home having leaped from the frying pan into the fire. What to do?

I went to see the local priest whom I knew to be a great friend of Jock McEwen. He said he’d see Mr. McEwen and explain the situation. I waited. Back came the answer.

A local Maori woman known as Aunty Dovey (“Aunty” being a title of respect for older Maori women in New Zealand) had composed songs all her life and they had been recorded but never written down. They had never been copyrighted. The Greek singer, Nana Mouskouri had released a new LP and some of Aunty Dovey’s songs were on it. So too had the Australian singer, Rolf Harris. Would I write down the music of all of Aunty Dovey’s songs so they could be copyrighted? I was given recordings of her songs. Incidentally, Aunty Dovey’s full name was Hera Katene-Horvath but she was known as “Aunty Dovey”.

The day the assignment was due had passed. I had been up all night transcribing. In the morning I drove to Wellington where I knew Allan Thomas lived. I would leave the manuscripts in his mailbox.

There at the mailbox was a woman. I explained that I had an assignment for Allan Thomas. She said he was her husband. She would give him the assignment. What was the topic?

“Oh!” said I. “I have transcribed the music of Aunty Dovey’s songs.”

There was a stunned silence. The woman’s name was Jennifer Shennan. She was a well-known choreographer and dancer. She was doing her doctoral thesis on the dance movements of Aunty Dovey’s songs, but had never been able to get hold of the written music – only the recordings. This was a God-send!

Meantime she had missed her bus. A tom-cat had pee-ed on her woven flax bag at the mailbox. Could I drive her to her studio in downtown Wellington? Off we went with the stinking tom-cat-pee-ridden woven bag held out the window.

Oh! And I got an A+ for the paper!

2525. The Worm from Hell

I guess that Story 2525 is a significant enough number to depart from (as is the custom on this blog with a significant number) the usual fictional plot, and branch out instead into reality.

New Zealand doesn’t have snakes. It doesn’t have ferocious animals. It really doesn’t have too many horrid insects – unless you’re allergic to bee stings.

What you could encounter if you visited from overseas and was fossicking around the undergrowth of a forest (or even someone’s garden) would be a giant worm. Below is a picture of a worm that a boy in Christchurch (New Zealand) picked up in the garden last week. They grow to about a metre and a half (about 60 inches, about 5 feet) and can be as round as your wrist.

To be honest, I know you’d ask, I’m not sure if they are edible. I’ve never seen a recipe. The boy in the picture said he put it back in the garden and he wasn’t sure if it was dead or alive.

So if you’re planning on coming to New Zealand be prepared to encounter giant worms (of which there are about six different species).

On a brighter note: I’ve lived here for 73 years and never seen one! The boy’s mother described the find as “The worm from Hell”. I quite agree.

2500. Hither and yon

Although I enjoy cooking, and relish even more the eating, I have never been much good at it. I think I’m too impatient. Why measure out half a teaspoon of salt when you can just grab a pinch between thumb and forefinger?

There are also some recipes that one doesn’t need to look up, as the frequency of their creating has impinged the formula clearly on the brain. Such in my case is the recipe for muffins. And here lies the rub…

I think I will bake a cake, but first I’d better make some muffins. Oh dear! There’s now no time to bake a cake and the oven is being used for muffins.

I think I will make Dijon Kidneys with rice for dinner, but first I shall bake some muffins. Oh dear! There’s now no time to make something different for dinner, I will simply reheat something from the freezer.

I think I will make a delicious dessert. The photograph on the food page of the morning paper looks spectacular. Oh dear! I’m out of blueberries. I used them in the muffins.

Perhaps today I will try to make some rye bread for a change. Oh dear! There isn’t time. I spent the time in making muffins.

And so, dear Reader, having reached Flash Fiction Number 2500 I am going to try and make time to cook some different things. Now and again I might resort to making a muffin or two, but for the time being I want to try some different things.

Here then is the last batch of muffins. Don’t argue over them. Enjoy with my thanks for the company, and no doubt we will bump into each other

hither and yon

here and there

out and about

far and wide

back and forth

this way and that

2468. Chants and hakas

Story 2468 is significant enough a number to deviate into reality. When we were kids, “Two four six eight” was the grace before meals when mum and dad weren’t there:

Two four six eight, bog in, don’t wait.

Two four six eight was also the prefix to a chant at sports gatherings:

Two four six eight, who do we appreciate?

The winner’s name would then be chanted.

Another chant in that ilk was to spell the sports person’s name:

Give us an S
Give us an M
Give us an I
Give us a T
Give us an H
What have you got?
SMITH! SMITH! SMITH!

Of course that chant doesn’t work if the name is Barakat-Bentinckstokes.

My favourite chant (apart from Let’s go Brandon) requires a bit of explaining:

The High School I went to (and also taught at for a decade) was situated in the countryside. It was a large all-boys boarding school catering mainly at the time to sons of isolated farming families throughout the country. Hence the school itself was attached to a farm. The biggest (and oldest) annual athletics occasion was called the McEvedy Shield. Four major all-boys schools met to compete in some large stadium. The entire roll of each school would attend. Chants and hakas abounded. A haka is a traditional Maori challenge and each school in New Zealand has its own. The video shows two opposing high school teams challenging each other before a rugby match. (Incidentally, a “College” in New Zealand is the same as a High School).


At the McEvedy Shield around 2 o’clock the three opposing schools would unite and begin chanting at my school:

Go home! Milking time! Go home! Milking time!

I always found the Milking Time Chant very entertaining, and if anything it highlighted the positive camaraderie between the four competitive schools.

Perhaps you have a favourite chant?