Category Archives: Reflections-Awards

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?

2450: Welcome to Verona

A roundish number and a solid fifty before getting to story 2500! So here is a true saga – as is the custom on such occasions. Some may regard this tale as “inappropriate”.

It was New Year’s Eve. I had been staying with a friend in Passau, Germany (once again trying to find my way back to New Zealand after studying in Massachusetts). The next leg of my journey was to be Italy. The train left Munich at 10 p.m. and would arrive in Verona early in the morning of New Year’s Day. As the train departed my friend presented me with two bottles of red wine – to celebrate the New Year.

I waved farewell. The train was on its way.  It was already New Year’s Day in New Zealand! I shall toast the New Year there. I had recently been in England. I shall toast the New Year there! I had visited Ireland. I shall toast the New Year there!  I had been in many countries all over Europe. Well! I was given two bottles to celebrate the New Year. The train arrived in Verona.  It was three in the morning. I left the empty bottles neatly in my carriage compartment.

Aha! There was a café in the station and it was open. I had exchanged some German money into Italian currency before I left Munich. I said to the lady behind the counter: “Coffee please”, and what did I get? One tiny cup with what looked like a teaspoon of molasses.  I noticed other customers “knocked it back” and went on their way. I hovered and listened how to order a decent mug of coffee. I was successful!

And then I wanted to go to the toilet. Urgently.  Number 2. But to get into a cubicle you had to pay with small coins and I didn’t have any.  I handed the guarding janitor a hefty note and he let me in.

Let me explain before I go any further…  I am not exactly a fashion model but it was midwinter and I dressed warmly. I wore jeans and boots. The jeans were held up by a pair of suspenders (we call them braces).  Over all of that I wore a pullover and a heavy coat, a scarf, and gloves. And – oh dear – the toilet was not sit-down but a beautifully tiled hole in the floor.

Let me get over this bit quite briefly… One can’t lower ones jeans without undoing the suspenders. One can’t undo the suspenders without taking off ones coat, scarf, and gloves. One cannot squat on the floor with pulled down jeans. One can’t take ones jeans off without first taking off ones boots. One doesn’t want to get ones socks wet on the bathroom tiles. To cut a long story short, there I was (ever so slightly inebriated) totally naked in a freezing toilet in Verona at three in the morning. I have no idea how Italians do it.

Emerging (fully clothed) back into the station I checked the train timetable. No train to take me out of this God-forsaken place. The train station was some distance from the centre of town. I decided to walk – in the dark – and arrived in Verona town centre at dawn.

What a marvellous place! I fell in love with it and I was sad a few days later to leave this wondrous town! I even saw the balcony where Juliet said, “O Romeo! Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” It was magic and my real introduction to the entrancement that was Italy.

2434.  Tonsured

Not an actual photo of me but pretty close

Today is a true story because the well has run dry!

You know those old pictures of monks with a ring of hair on their heads called a tonsure? These days the meaning of it escapes anyone with a pulse. For hundreds of years, possibly for more than a thousand years, monks in the Roman Catholic tradition had tonsures.

Now I make the dates up because I can’t remember, but after more than a thousand years I was the second to last person in the history of the world to get a legitimate tonsure. My friend, John, was the very last, he being several months younger than me. In those days everything was arranged in age from oldest to youngest. The bishop came to do the deed. It was around 1972/1973. Let’s say it was arranged to happen on the 22nd of May.

The pope had issued some decree or other that did away with the tonsure. A new ritual was to replace it. The new ritual was to become valid on 23rd of May, the day after our arranged ceremony. The bishop sent a telegram to the Vatican: can we use the new rite the evening before? He had another urgent task to do and had to go away. Back came the answer: Negativo.

And that is how I became the second to last person in the history of Western Civilization to get tonsured.

Don’t panic! I was still young and within a few months had curly ringlets down to the centre of my back. Perhaps the tonsure had been there to safeguard against vanity!

2408. ANZAC Day 2022

Today is ANZAC Day in New Zealand and Australia when those who served and died in wars are remembered. Ironically the date is not the day of the most celebrated victory but the occasion of the bloodiest battle for these two countries in World War I: Gallipoli – Australia lost 8,141 and New Zealand lost 2,779.

About half a mile from where I live is a little school: Stanley Road School that began in 1895. It has now closed, but the school buildings are used and maintained by the local rural community (mainly sheep, dairy, and cattle farmers).

In the school playground is a large American Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). Kids used to play and climb in it from the turn of the 20th century. Are kids still allowed to climb trees?

The original Tulip Tree

In the year 2000 the community decided to plant an avenue of trees along the road past the school using grafts from the original Tulip Tree. There are 25 trees in all that I could count. They form a lovely avenue as you drive along the road when going to town. Each tree was planted by the family of a former pupil of the school killed in the First World War. The deceased soldiers as kids would have played in the mother tree.

The avenue also reminds us of the extent of loss in each little rural community. Twenty-five to die is a high number of kids from a single-teacher little country school. The section of road is known as the Peace Tree Avenue.

2401.  A reflection on the Easter Bunny

Rabbits come in all colours and sizes. A lot depends whether or not people intend to eat them.

The sad fact is that if people intend to keep a rabbit as a pet most prefer a white rabbit. Does not the magician pull a white rabbit out of the hat? Does not little Felicity want a white baby bunny for a pet?

This is systemic racism at its worst. People will tolerate a black rabbit if it’s all there is available. Brown ones are wild, out-of-control, under-developed rabbits that should be exterminated and eaten provided they don’t have a disease, which is not an uncommon condition among feral brown rabbits. Patchy rabbits look like they can’t make up their minds. But fluffy white rabbits… oh! ah! oh!

Strangely however, chocolate Easter bunnies are almost inevitably made of dark chocolate. They are too dark to be considered to be brown. They are closer to black than brown. And they lay dark-coloured eggs. Some of these black eggs have white centres – which is an insidious plot by the white eggs to invade the space of the black eggs.

Look at the chocolate Easter Bunny. It is usually hollow. There is nothing inside. Nothing speaks louder than this extraordinary proclamation of chocolate rabbits having no brains. Or no heart.

Now watch the white middleclass bigot get stuck into the Easter Bunny. First they strip it of its beautiful shiny clothing. Then they might descend into breaking off its ears. I know of one white systemic racist who hit their black Easter bunny with a hammer while his children oohed and aahed their approval. It broke into a dozen little pieces.

There is only one solution to all this systemic racism: ban Easter altogether. There is no need to have a whole season devoted to this exultation of white bunnies and the extermination of chocolate ones by redneck hillbillies. Those who disagree should be condemned to eating hot cross buns for the rest of their lives.

2400. A country bumpkin

Happy Easter to the many who celebrate Easter!

By a happy circumstance this story, numbering 2400, is a nice round figure and occurs on Easter Day. Usually when a round figure arrives this blog deviates into some hitherto unexplored area. Hence, today I have boarded the Google Maps Bus and thought I’d show you photos of a few significant and insignificant places in my early life.

How time changes things! As you will see, memorial edifices have eluded me as there’s hardly a building in my past that is still standing. There is nowhere for adulating fans to erect a commemorative plaque apart from my birthplace.

1. Riverlea Private Hospital, 15 Helmore Street, Whanganui, New Zealand.

This is where I was born. Back then (1949) it was a private maternity hospital – presumably because that’s where the midwife lived. These days it looks like it is a private home. There was one amusing thing about getting to 15 Helmore Street in 1949. Mum and Dad were new to the city. It was 3 in the morning. They couldn’t find the street and had to stop and ask the milkman. Apparently the part the milkman played in my coming into this world was a bit of a joke in the pub my father ran.

2. Wakarara Road, Hawkes Bay.

This was the site of our house when Dad sold the hotel and bought a farm. I started going to school from this house. We would have to walk to the top of the hill on the right to catch the school bus as it passed.

3. Corner of Wakarara and Hardy Roads, Hawkes Bay.

Here at the top of the hill is where we waited for the school bus. There was no shelter so in the rain the school bus would come the extra half mile to our house. The teacher at our one-teacher school, Mr Allen, drove the bus.

4. Wakarara Road, Hawkes Bay.

There was never a building here but there was an old wooden gate obviously replaced by this one. It was while swinging on this gate that Sue Cullen (a year younger than me) told me that Father Christmas wasn’t true. A picturesque setting for dramatic news.

5. Wakarara Road, Hawkes Bay.

This is not far from where we lived. Back in those days it was a gravel road (unsealed, unpaved). By the little bridge (which back then was just a culvert) I skidded on my bike and fell off, and the car behind me stopped a fraction from my head. It was a blue Holden station wagon. The driver got a heck of a fright but from memory I didn’t seem to mind.

6. Springhill School, Wakarara Road, Hawkes Bay.

This is the site of my school. It no longer operates and the single old classroom has gone. The tennis court is the same, and that is where a nesting magpie chased me. Dad (a qualified plumber and chairman of the School Committee) put in the swimming pool the year we left the area (1960). There were usually around 20 pupils attending the school in any one year.

7. Main Road North, Waikanae.

In late 1960 we moved to a dairy farm hundreds of miles from our sheep and cattle farm. Here is a picture of where our house was. In fact my bedroom is now in the middle of the road!

8. Tongariro Street, Paraparaumu.

Here is a picture of where my new primary school used to be! The school has since moved and the land has been sold to a developer. These tennis courts are where Peter Lopez told me that Marilyn Munroe had been found dead IN THE NUDE!

9. Heretaunga Road, Trentham.

Here is a photo of the gates of my high school. The buildings (which you can’t see in the photo) are all new. Years later I was teaching there and germinated gum tree seeds in a little container on my window ledge. You can see in the photo one of the gum trees that sprouted. (It’s the big tree in the middle!)

10. Stanley Road, Te Popo.

Given the rurality of the pictures, you can probably see why I like living in the country. To conclude, here is a photo looking out my current window. I keep the binoculars on my desk, mainly to see if I can spy any edible field mushrooms!

2300. Pantomime Season

As has become the norm on this blog, a round number (in this case Story 2300) calls not for a story as such but a conversation about something taken from real life.

Since we are nearing the feast of Christmas I thought I’d tell what I used to do once upon a time when I had a bit more energy than I have today.

The last ten years or so of my teaching were at a mixed sexes high school. The thirty or so years teaching before that were in all boys’ high schools. I think New Zealand has a higher percentage of single sex schools than some other parts of the globe. The New Zealand School year goes from early February until early December. The Summer Break is December-January. It follows then that Christmas and New Year fall in the longest school break.

It used to be that secondary schools finished a week or so earlier than the primary schools. Every year I would write a Christmas Pantomime about an hour long. I would then ask for volunteers from the students and between 12 and 20 would be about the right number. We had wonderful painted sets (we used most of the same every year!) and the students had only a few days to learn the script and rehearse the pantomime.

In the meantime I had written to every primary school in the Province and given times of performances. It would be 50 cents entry per child – and “You know the ones who can’t afford it so just let them in!” There would be three performances per day – one at 10 am, one at midday, and one at 2 pm. They would have to book by phone. On top of that, they were welcome to use the expansive school grounds for picnics or sports or whatever.

Whole schools would come, often paid for by a school’s Board of Governors as “an end of year treat”. The auditorium held around 700 and it was full for each of the 15 performances.

Local businesses donated prizes for a colouring-in event which had the theme of the pantomime that year.

Buses would arrive in droves. For the week there were kids all over the place! And they were allowed to make as much noise during a performance as they wished – shouting at the Dame, and calling out at the Wicked Witch, and applauding the Prince and Princess. Each performance was always a great success.

We did this for ten years. Secondary School education lasted 5 years; that meant that an actor at the end of his time at school had done 75 pantomime performances. They were masters at controlling a crowd! Throughout the school year, for theatre performances, it was a breeze. They already had a huge experience. That is why, I think, that at inter-secondary school Drama Festivals our performances always stood out, and we were even selected to represent New Zealand at International Festivals.

The waiting list to come to that school was enormous – almost every primary school boy in the Province wanted to come to the secondary school that did the pantomimes!

Oh! And I forgot the most important thing. At the end of the week the student actors would divide the spoils. It was always a healthy sum. It was after all their “holiday job”.

Unfortunately I have only one photo of the ten years! It is the Big Bad Wolf in the pantomime called “The Horse’s Wedding”.

My Neck of the Woods: Chapter 15

422 Stanley Road, Stratford, Taranaki, New Zealand

November 2017 –

We had been looking for a home for some time. We had a list of necessary attributes a rental house must have. For example, allowing tenants to have a dog automatically cut out 95% of the houses. It must have space for a garden. It must have access to the internet. It wasn’t an impossible list, but it was impossible to find!

A house for rent came online. It was near a town called Waitara. It seemed to fit the bill. We expressed interest and drove the four hours to see it. Contrary to what the photographs conveyed, you had to turn sideways to squeeze past the dining table to reach the front door. And then the crunch came: of course the owners will be storing their furniture in the garage. Uh-oh! That was a warning sign. This would be a fleeting and temporary abode. We began the long journey home.

As we passed Mount Taranaki near a town called Stratford, Eric commented that in all the searching over the years for a place he had never once seen a house come up for rent from Stratford. Travel-weary, we decided to stay in Stratford for the night. The motel had a complimentary “Village Newspaper”. In it was an advertisement for a house to rent. We drove for a look. It was perfect. The next day we went to the rental agency. The woman who had responsibility for the house was away. We filled out an application form and left.

Not long after arriving home the phone rang. It was Maureen from the rental agency. The house we applied for had already been rented out, but she had another if we cared to come for a look. We arranged a meeting time and once again began the long journey in our old ute.

Maureen wasn’t there at the house. We hadn’t come all this way not to look so we went around the house ourselves. I remember commenting, “If they knew we were coming for a look you’d think they could have made the beds.” We went back to the ute and phoned Maureen. “Where are you?” she asked. “We’re here,” we said. Except – we were at someone else’s house on the wrong road!

Quickly we made it to the correct house and loved it. It filled all our conditions, except it didn’t come with any land for a cow. It had room for a garden. It was a fairly new house on a beef and cattle farm. It had a double garage, three bedrooms, and a spacious open sitting-room-kitchen-dining-room. It had a log burner. We said we’d take it, and would move in after the current tenants moved out in a month’s time.

So that is where we are today – four years later and the longest we have lived anywhere! Much has happened over that time. COVID19 struck and the business collapsed that Eric had spent years building up. Clients went from 112 down to 2, and those 2 didn’t pay. We were not an essential service. Friends helped – even blogging friends helped out. Yvonne from Australia for example sent a gigantic box of wine! What a wonderful thing to have done! We have survived! Linda and Barry, our wonderful landlord-farmers, said if things get tough forget the rent for a time and we’ll sort things out down the line. So far we have managed to pay each week if sometimes a little late!

I have never in my life had anything published and then out of the blue, resulting from the blog, two publishing companies – one in Britain and one in the States – asked for poems to go into anthologies. I am a published poet! Not many from New Zealand seem interested. In fact, as far as I know, the only person from New Zealand who follows my blog is Sylvie from Nelson – and Sylvie is French!

About two years ago our wonderful Springer Spaniel, Bubble, developed epilepsy. How terrifying to see such a lovely dog throw an uncontrollable fit. He went on medication which controlled the epilepsy. Then one Friday night he had a seizure. And another. And another. We phoned for an animal vet. Didn’t we know it was the weekend? Animals don’t take ill on Saturdays and Sundays. No vet was available. The next ten hours were the longest ten hours of my life as Bubble had over forty seizures. And then he died. We buried him in his favourite garden spot where he liked to sit and watch the farm animals pass by.

The farm is huge as is the neighbouring farm. During lockdowns we can wander maskless over hundreds of acres. There’s always something new and something different to see and do. There’s firewood to chop and gardens to weed and lawns to mow. There are preserves and jams and breads to make and new recipes to try. There are walks to take and TV and internet to watch. There’s a piano to play and books to read and blogs to maintain. There are poems and stories and music to write. There’s work to do – although sparser than we would hope.

What an adventure it has been! It is a ridiculous thing to ask “Who knows what the future holds?” But there has been a Providence directing these adventures in the past twenty years, and I have no reason to doubt that Providence has further adventures up its sleeve.

Out my window as I write