Category Archives: Uncategorized

1700. The hand we’re dealt

Look at that! 1700 is a round number if ever there was one! Usually for such a significant number I deviate into some true narrative or other. This time I’ve hit a complete blank. I don’t believe in “writer’s block” but I must admit that these last ten or so postings have been like trying to get blood out of a stone. I wanted to get to Story 1700 before Christmas and then have some time off until sometime in the New Year. And so I’ve drawn a blank. Let me think…

Well I’ve thought of something… but I don’t know if I should chat about it or not. Counting up it happened 33 years ago!

The photo incidentally is not of what I am going to talk about – it’s of another group unknown to me, but it gives the general drift.

I dare say those involved have long since moved on. I was teaching Music and English at St John’s High School in Hastings, New Zealand. Hastings had a pretty “varied” population. St John’s High School was a boys-only school and the only High School in the city that would accept students who had been expelled from other schools and couldn’t find another school to attend. That’s how I ended up teaching a class of 24, 14 of whom had a “history”. They were all aged 14. Montzie, for example, had a criminal record since the age of six.

The school didn’t have a great number of resources. My classroom was an old shed set apart from all other classrooms and in the middle of a field. We called the shed “The Shack”. The record player and all the stuff for music were in The Shack. The trouble was: The Shack couldn’t be locked. I told the class that if anything was ever stolen from this shack I’d “have their guts for garters”. (I also had to explain what garters were).

“Don’t worry,” they said, “we’d never steal from you.” We were the only school Music Department in the whole city that hadn’t had all its electronic equipment go missing. And then it happened. One night, the classroom was stripped. The policeman was very nice about it. He took notes and said he’d keep an eye out. That wasn’t good enough for Montzie and friends. Did not the policeman want to know the names of those who took the stuff? Did not the policeman want to know the place in the city where these thieves stored their stolen goods? The policeman was kind of stunned!

With such information it still took six months for the police to act. In the meantime insurance paid for new equipment and when our goods were returned we had two of everything. And Reuben, a master of the “five-finger discount”, would most days bring five or six long-playing records that he’d “got from the shops during lunch break” to replace the records stolen. I explained it was wrong. It was above his comprehension. He was helping out. (And I might add that not even the shops wanted to know because the packaging had been removed).

Many other things happened during the year which can wait another time, except to say I am a master pickpocketer; for they passed on skills you wouldn’t believe. I was never party to their activity, but they were surviving in the only world they knew.

The highlight came when I was selected (because I was pretty good at it) to represent New Zealand at an International Youth Theatre Festival – with theatre performances from Germany, England, India, South Korea, Australia, United States and New Zealand. It was inordinately expensive to get a theatre team to the festival and to survive a week. That is when I started to write little musicals for elementary schools and market them. Within two easy weeks, we had enough money to travel. I suggested we do a performance about New Zealand’s many endangered species. And would you believe? The class wanted to dance it, and from all the five-finger discount stolen records to dance to they chose extracts from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé”. At least I’d taught them something!

It was street-dancing. They did the choreography themselves. It was an outstanding hit! The boys were so well behaved and more charming than I could believe. At the end of the performance the audience didn’t clap; they stood and sang a song they all knew. It was very moving. The newspaper reviews were stunning.

I dare say these kids would be heading for their mid-forties now. Those who aren’t dead are possibly in prison. I know a couple have done murders and some are destroyed by drugs. A teacher can’t keep in touch with everyone.

But they were one of the nicest and most talented group of kids I’ve ever taught. A pity they weren’t dealt much of a hand.

(A Happy Christmas and New Year to all! See you some time in 2020!)

1695. An unapologetic promotion

Wally was bored silly over the holiday period. His mother was up the wall. She’d asked him again and again to mow the lawn and in the end the only way she could get him to do it was bribery. Bribery usually worked as a last resort. The lawns got mowed and Wally was slightly richer. But he was still sour, sullen, and selfish.

At least he had his computer, but that had long since ceased to provide any sort of novelty.

“Being on the computer is no different from being at school,” said Wally. “I’m bored.”

“I know what you could do,” suggested his mother. “You could read Bruce Goodman’s Bits of a Boyhood about growing up in rural New Zealand. I think you’d like it. It’s available online for free.”

The online version is HERE.
The downloadable pdf version is HERE.

Wally reluctantly went to the site and began to read.

“I couldn’t put it down,” said Wally. “I texted my girlfriend and now she’s reading it. I told my friends and now they’re all reading it. When my father gets home from work I’m going to tell him to read it and get everyone in his office to read it, even while they’re at work. The whole world should read Bruce Goodman’s Bits of a Boyhood. It’s the best thing to happen since Adam was a boy. I have no idea why it has never been published. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he got the Nobel Prize for Literature.”

When Wally finished reading it he wanted more. His appetite was insatiable. But sadly, although there are other momentous works by Bruce Goodman, the autobiography finished when the author had just turned eighteen.

Filled with enthusiasm, Wally went out and mowed the lawn a second time. This time there was joy in his heart and a spring in his step.

The same could happen to you, dear Reader, if only you would let it. I wish each and every one of you a happy day!

The online version is HERE.
The downloadable pdf version is HERE.

P.S. If you find yourself mowing the lawn don’t say you weren’t warned.

1694. Mum’s not the word

Some time ago, 11 August 2017 to be exact,  I posted about how sometimes living in different countries with the same language we presume that every word and phrase means the same. Some found it interesting, so I’m going to dig up another handful. I’ve lived only in Quebec, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and New Zealand, so it’s not improbable that some words and phrases are also used in other places.

1. Quite
It took me thirty years to realize this, but when New Zealanders say “quite” we don’t quite mean the same as Americans. I realized this when I had an American friend visit and my sister invited us both to dinner. At the end of the meal my American friend thanked my sister and said the meal was “quite good”. My sister said to me later that he could at least have said the meal was nice.

As I understand now “quite good” in American means something is very good. In New Zealand, “quite good” means that really it could’ve been a lot better but I’m saying “quite good” to be polite. If something is “quite good” or “quite nice” then it’s struggling to be average.

2. Ta
“Ta” means “thank you” and is heard a lot more often than “thanks” or “thankyou”. It’s said like “tar” with a short A.

“Could you pass the sugar please.”
Henrietta passes the sugar.
“Ta.”

Speaking of sugar, I once said at table “Sugar please”, and the voluptuous blonde answered, “Is that a request or a term of endearment?”

Ta is not to be confused with “ta ta” which is a little kid’s way of saying goodbye.

“Say ta ta to grandma.”

3. Wop wops
Living in the wop wops means living beyond the black stump (as I think they say in Australia) or living in the boonies (as I think they say in America). I used to think that when Americans used “living in the boonies” they were saying “living in the bunnies” so naturally I took it to mean they were living a long long way out of town.

My Aunty Flo (hands up those who don’t have an Aunty Flo) was a raging extrovert and when she came to visit us from the city she would go on and on about how she was visiting the wop wops. As a little kid I was transfixed.

4. Bach
This word is pronounced “batch” – so it’s not the composer. I presume it comes from the phrase “Bachelor Pad”. A bach is a beach house (usually not very fancy) that a family (if they can afford it) lives in during weekends or holiday breaks. There is a difference between the term used in the North Island and what is used in the South Island (New Zealand is made up of two main islands). North Islanders call it a “bach” and South Islanders call it a “crib”. I have no idea what they call it anywhere else in the world, but if you know…

The only other trans-island difference in New Zealand English that I can think of is the word “couch” – that invasive grass that once you’ve got it in your garden it’s there to stay. North Islanders are inclined to call it “couch” and South Islanders are inclined to call it “twitch”. I have no idea what they call it anywhere else in the world, but if you know… Apparently both “couch” and “twitch” are variations of the Scottish word “quitch” for the wretched pest.

5. Jandals
Jandals are what Australians call “thongs” and some other countries call “flip flops”. I have not a great idea as to who calls what where. Jandals is short for Japanese sANDALS. Apart from Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom, Jandals are New Zealand’s sole contribution to Western Civilization. That and the automatic postal stamp vending machine – which has fast become obsolete because of email.

When I broke my ankle and had 4 pins screwed in, I was wearing jandals at the time. These days the foot is so deformed that I cannot fit into a shoe, but I do fit in when need be to a large pair of:

6. Gumboots
I think some other countries call them wellingtons, or galoshes – you’ll know what you call them from the picture. Galoshes for me are quite different; they are a rubber sheath that one pulls over the top of regular shoes when it’s rainy or muddy. So I’d be interested to know what you call both of these things in your country. When I was growing up on a dairy farm we lived in our gumboots. The back door would usually have a dozen or so pairs of gumboots of different heights and sizes all higgledy-piggledy so that mother would say nine times a day “Pick up those gumboots before someone trips on them.”

7. Dag
A dag is a bit of dried you-know-what hanging off the wool on a sheep’s bottom. When the sheep runs along the dags rattle. This gives rise to the common expression “Rattle your dags” which means “Get a hurry on”.

The other common use of the word dag is in such expressions as “What a dag!” or “She’s a dag”. It can refer to an amusing person or event. “She’s a dag!” would amount to the same as “What a character!” and “What a dag!” would amount to the same as “That’s very funny!”

8. Pack a sad
As far as I can see the expression “Pack a sad” is not universally used, but is common over here. If I’m wrong I’d be happy to be corrected. “Pack a sad” means “Throw a tantrum”.

And then the teacher packed a sad.
There’s no need to pack a sad just because I smashed up your car.

That’s enough for one day. Thanks for reading, and I hope you found the occasional thing a bit of a dag.

1550. Where angels fear to tread

In the “old days” – like a year or so ago – when I was new to blogging, I would excitedly celebrate each 50 stories with a glimmer of revelation into my REAL life. It could be a wander through my garden for example, or a posting about the cat. Once I even endeavoured to show photos of my crockery! Today is Story 1550, and since old habits die hard, I thought I would tell of a particular event.

About forty years ago, when I had a ponytail and torn jeans (because I thought it was cool), and went around in bare feet (because I thought it was cool and you can still do that in New Zealand), I earned just enough to live on by writing to every primary school in the country and announcing that I had a brand-new short children’s musical they could use at their end-of-school-year celebration/event. It was not copyrighted. It was a photocopy. Teachers could make as many copies as they wished and change what they wanted. The only thing they couldn’t do was pass the manuscript on to another school. Each musical cost a mere ten dollars. It came with a tape.

At the time there were roughly two and a half thousand primary schools in the country. Although the letter itself was photocopied, I signed each one personally, and then addressed each envelope by hand and licked each individual postage stamp. Getting a hand addressed envelope with a postage stamp on it was more likely to be opened and noticed than getting a printed envelope with “POSTAGE PAID” slapped coldly in the corner. About 70% of the schools purchased and used these musicals. Towards the end of the school year I could grab any local paper in the country and there would be a photograph or two of the local school rehearsing or performing MY musical!

I did this for about ten years. Many schools used a different musical for each of the ten years. Then other people cottoned on to the idea. Suddenly there were about twenty other writers. They ran seminars on it! Teacher Resource Centres started advertising their own home-written end-of-school-year musicals. I was shut out, usually by cunning and corrupt Resource Centres pretending they wanted to do the advertising for me. My little empire collapsed and died. The last gasp was when a publishing company in America wrote and said they were suing me for pinching their title and idea for a musical. I explained that my musical was quite a few years older than theirs. I had written it years ago for a school of eight pupils and no electricity on Pitt Island to perform in candle light!

So where is Pitt Island?

At the height of such commercial success (one year I made around $14,000 – think about it) I thought I needed a logo! I began to knock on a few doors. There were Graphic Designers galore in the telephone books. The first Graphic Designer was down a dark alley. It had a doorbell. I pressed it. An inside contraption played Für Elise, rather like the electronic music one hears on a phone when put on hold. I fled.

The second Graphic Designer was in a large messy attic. Two women were sitting in armchairs sipping coffee. They stood and excitedly exclaimed: “Oh God! We have our first customer!” I told them I was sorry to disappoint, but I was looking for directions!

This went on all day. I had about two hundred dollars to spend on my logo. I didn’t want riff-raff ruining the opportunity.

It was then, near the centre of town, that I espied a Graphic Designer with a decent billboard and signage, in a rather nice skyscraper. I went in and explained that I wanted a logo for “MUSICALS FOR SCHOOLS”.

I was ushered into a luxurious reception room. My ponytail, torn jeans, and bare feet felt a little out of place. On the coffee table was a brochure advertising logos they had designed. Here was the header for a resort hotel’s restaurant menu that had cost a mere $94,000. Here was a logo for a hotel chain that a President of the United States had stayed at while playing golf. A mere $140,000 had been paid for the logo. The logos were certainly attractive but I thought “I gotta get the hell outta here!”

A woman suddenly appeared. She was smartly dressed and meant business. “How may I help?”

I splurted out about the Für Elise doorbell and the “Oh God! We have our first customer!” She laughed. “And now, here I am in a place that’s thousands of times out of my league. And all I wanted was a simple logo for my MUSICALS FOR SCHOOLS.”

Well, would you believe? The woman wasn’t the receptionist or the undersecretary’s secretary. She owned the company. It was a multinational company. It was the largest company of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. I explained how silly I felt.

“You give me $50,” said the woman, “and I’ll tell you what we’ll do. I’ll run a competition this week among all the company’s graphic designers. For a bonus of $50, a winner will be selected for the best logo submitted for MUSICALS FOR SCHOOLS. Come back in a week and we’ll make the selection.”

I came back in a week. She had dozens of designs. Can I take the lot? No! You must pick one. I picked one. “That’s the very one I would’ve picked,” she said. I was given copies of the logo in all sizes and colours. There must have been several hundred lasered variations.

A few months later I bumped into that lady in the street. She asked me how things were going. She was enthusiastic about MUSICALS FOR SCHOOLS. I couldn’t shut her up! She was off to buy something to congratulate the grandchildren. They were in an end-of-school-year production and she was so excited. Would I mind if the school used the logo on the program?

And that is how I got a $140,000 logo for a few bucks.

1538: Lancelot Grope’s calling

(The opening sentence for this story was suggested by Nitin at Fighting the Dying Light. If you want to join in the fun of suggesting a future opening sentence for these stories, click here for a peek as to what’s what.)

When he looked at the clown in his greens and reds, his raging coulrophilia kicked in. Lancelot Grope couldn’t help it. He was only too pleased that he himself was wearing baggy clown’s trousers.

Lancelot’s coulrophilia had made his teenage years almost unbearable. The trouble had been that his mother had been obsessed with a relatively muscular trapeze artist named Standish Nikolayevich, and Lancelot was dragged from one circus performance to another. It was okay for his sister to admit that she was obsessed with circus horses (and for his mother to be obsessed with Standish Nikolayevich) but to admit to coulrophilia was another thing altogether. Things came to a head when Cocoa Craven Hook, one of Lancelot’s favourite clowns, took Lancelot out the back.

Cocoa Craven Hook was wearing his greens and reds and looked amazing.

“Judging from looking at your trousers,” said Cocoa, “you seem to be pretty enthusiastic about clowning. Can I show you a thing or two? Let me pull a surprise out of my pocket.”

Suddenly a bunch of flowers appeared from nowhere. One of the flowers squirted water in Lancelot’s face. Lancelot laughed.

“I’ll show you how it’s done,” said Cocoa kindly. “First let me put these flowers in your pocket.”

Lancelot was hooked. He’d never experienced anything quite so exciting. There was no going back. He would be a coulrophiliac for life. Coulrophilia would be his life’s calling. He would use it to cure those who suffered from coulrophobia. And indeed he did.

Today, especially in Hollywood, there’s many a former coulrophobiac who is now a practising coulrophiliac. They’re in the News, and some of them even made it to the circus.

1537: The trials of Andrea

(The opening sentence for this story was suggested by Lindsey at Itching for Hitching. If you want to join in the fun of suggesting a future opening sentence for these stories, click here for a peek as to what’s what.)

She sighed deeply and wondered if this would ever stop. This was the third time this afternoon that Andrea’s husband, Thomas, had phoned the Waste Management Company and let them have it.

“Why was my trash taken away late last Wednesday? You call yourself a garbologist?”

“Do you think you can take the trash away when you like? Wednesday morning is the time stipulated that the trash will be picked up at the gate. I don’t care if it was Christmas Day – it was Wednesday.”

“The guy driving the trash truck needs a bomb under him. I wished him good morning and he grunted at me like I was a.. a pig… Where’s the customer service?”

“Don’t you think, dear,” suggested Andrea to Thomas once he had put the phone down, “don’t you think you could just let these people get on with their job? They seem to do it reliably enough.”

“Rubbish,” said Thomas. “I want better service than that.”

When Thomas dialled the number a fourth time, Andrea had had enough.

“I’m going into town,” she said, “to the library. I shall return once all this nonsense is over.”

“You don’t understand,” said Thomas.

Andrea drove into town. What a trial the trash collection company saga had become. She sighed deeply and wondered if this would ever stop. It had been going on ever since her husband had bought the Waste Management Company almost a month ago.

1536: A real s.o.b.

(The opening sentence for this story was suggested by Sarah Angleton. If you want to join in the fun of suggesting a future opening sentence for these stories, click here for a peek as to what’s what.)

Jim Mackey was a real s.o.b., but that wasn’t what Rudy admired about him. Jim and Rudy had known each other since they were at school. In fact when they started school together aged six, Jim had shown Rudy how to chew on a bit of paper, roll it into a ball, put it in the hollow tube of a ballpoint pen, and blow it at enormous speed at the teacher when she wasn’t looking.

“Ouch! Who shot the pea-shooter?” asked the teacher.

“It was Rudy, Miss,” said Jim.

“Jim Mackey, you are a good boy for telling the truth.” She gave him a chocolate fish as a reward. “As for you, Rudy, you are a wicked, wicked boy.”

Jim would betray any friend for a chocolate fish. He would set up other students to do dastardly deeds and then tell on them. It was a method that served him well now that he was all grown. He was an asshole. He was an archbastard. He would arrange for criminals to steal and would then report them to the police. He got rich on the crimes of others.

But things came to a head when Jim Mackey reported to the police that Rudy’s wife was peddling drugs. Rudy shot Jim Mackey dead. There was blood everywhere. Being dead was what Rudy most admired about that s.o.b.