228 Allen & Eyre Road, Onewhero, New Zealand
January 2012 – February 2014
Despite vowing never to move our own belongings ever again we had not learnt our lesson. We made 13 trips with a loaded down ute (pickup), 16 trips in the car, and 6 trips with a large borrowed trailer. Thank goodness for kind friends to help out, especially with the piano.
This house was an old farm house and had been the childhood home of the current owner who was moving to run a farm several hours drive away. The husband and wife owners wished us good luck and set out for their farm job. The property we had moved to was a few acres of hilly land, and had an implement shed, a fowl-house, and a large barn and pigsty. It also had a lawn tennis court and an overgrown large bank garden designed as a rockery. It had wonderful pear and orange trees. The owner kept his four cows on the land. The neighbouring farm was a cattle farm, and Molly the cow enjoyed cavorting with the bull when it jumped the fence. There is no stopping a determined bull. The first time resulted in the birth of Prince – which the owners said we were welcome to rear and keep. We did that. Prince was short for “Prince of the Freezer”. The second fence jump resulted in a little girl called Lexie.
It was a typical farmhouse set up. The house sort of meandered with no particular plan. This room had been added over time, and that room had been altered over time. It had an excellent log burner.
Eric cleared the rockery and grew wonderful vegetables. The watermelons were the tastiest ever!
I kept a new-for-me breed of chicken called Coronation Sussex. They were very pretty chickens; white with a silver neck and tail. But after several months I learnt that they were violent. I couldn’t go near the hen house without walking backwards to keep an eye out for the attacking rooster and, believe me, he could peck and draw blood like a vampire. Anyway, they were lovely to look at and even lovelier to eat. I replaced them with ducks; a creature I had never kept before.
These were called Magpie Ducks – black and white. They were enchanting. At school a parent was one of the few breeders of these ducks in the country. She was delighted when I asked if I could breed them as well.
The property had sections where wild blackberries grew rampant. Blackberry in New Zealand is classed as a noxious weed. When I was offered a goat at school, left over from the Calf Club Day by the headmaster’s son, I said I would take it. It would eat the blackberry, and after it had done its job we would put it in a stew. Billy arrived. Have you ever kept a goat? They are totally loveable and utterly affectionate. Who would possibly ever want to put him in a stew? That was years ago, and to keep this narrative brief, he now eats the blackberries on the property of one of my brothers.
Billy learnt to escape the fenced field. He learnt to ring the doorbell. He learnt to open the door. He learnt to go into the bathroom and eat the toilet paper. Not knowing how he escaped his field, Eric watched him for an hour to determine the method of escape. All with no luck. Eric gave up and returned to the house only to discover Billy sitting on the sofa. The goat, the dog and the cat were inseparable. Billy taught the dog how to climb things. “I never knew I could do that!” said the dog. Eventually we got Billy a long chain for his own safety.
I was given a greenhouse for my birthday – made in China. The assembly instructions were atrocious. It took us three days to put it together. It was wonderful for about a month. And then a wind came and blew it into a crumbled heap. It wasn’t our fault; it was simply poor quality.
I played the organ at the local Anglican Church for weddings and the like and for their choir and sometimes on Sundays when the Anglican bishop visited.
Eric was able to cut up and stack in the barn a huge amount of firewood.
Disaster often lurks in many guises. We were about to run out of good luck.
The headmaster at school (I shall call him Arnold to give the bastard anonymity) thought he was thoroughly modern and considered the future with the internet meant libraries and books were obsolete. He was keen to do away with the librarian and save money. He frequently came to the library on the pretext of doing something else but really it was to check to see if I was hopefully doing nothing so I could get fired.
Our next door neighbour, a horse-loving housewife, decided to hang herself from a tree. She had a son at the school. I was asked to play the piano during and after the funeral. I asked the headmaster for permission to attend and that was fine. A good number of the teachers were present as well. The next day I was having a cup of coffee in the staff room and I said to another teacher that I was a bit surprised that Arnold hadn’t attended the funeral of the parent but went to a rowing regatta. She said he was usually great when something like that happened, and I said yes, that’s why I was surprised he wasn’t there. Another staff member had overheard the conversation apparently.
A short time later I was called to the headmaster’s office. Had I criticized the headmaster behind his back? Had I undermined his authority? He ranted and raved and foamed at the mouth. I left his office without a job. I began looking for another job. Fortunately I had several pipe organ and piano students that I continued to teach privately.
Now some goats don’t like rain. They can’t get wet. They have no fat. They get cold and die. Occasionally Billy’s chain could get caught in blackberry and if it rained he wouldn’t be able to get into his little house. The weather began to spit. I went to check on Billy who was on a steep hill. My footwear slipped and I went arse over kite down the bank. I had broken my ankle. They kept me in hospital for a week waiting for the swelling to subside before they operated with three screws in the ankle. It was a slow recovery, which included stays in hospital for pneumonia, and hernias, and clots on the lungs. It was almost a year before I could walk again without crutches. It’s when I started this blog with “A Story a Day”.
The next thing the house owners turned up. The man had been sacked from his job on the farm. Would we mind ever so much if they stayed in the house for two weeks while things were sorted? We asked if they wanted us to move out but they said they wanted us to stay. Two weeks was all they needed. We cleared out the main bedroom for them. They set up their gigantic television in our living room. Seven months later we were still paying their food, their internet, their phone, their electricity, and their heating, as well still paying the weekly rent. Picture me trying to vacuum the house with crutches while they sat on the sofa with the television turned up high and massaging each other’s feet.
Eric asked if their daughter, who worked on a farm and came to stay regularly, could stop saying the F-word ten times in every sentence – especially when we had visitors. Neither of us have much against swearing but this was over the top. The mother explained that the daughter worked on a farm and such things were normal. My father was a farmer and I never once heard him swear.
Eric and I began to occasionally go away for the weekend. Secretly we were looking for another house. We would return to hear from neighbours that rowdy parties had been held in the house, one even with a huge marquee erected on the tennis court.
And then they went, with daughter, on a three week vacation to tropical Rarotonga in the Cook Islands! How wonderful is the unemployment benefit! They came back for Christmas. We had put up the Christmas tree. They erected their own Christmas tree in front of ours. Enough is enough! We said we were going in a week or so. They packed up everything of theirs in a huff and ostentatiously moved into the barn. We packed up our things except for the firewood and calf which they would not let us collect. In fact they covered our firewood with a tarpaulin and tied the tarpaulin down.
We left for Palmerston North where one of my sisters lived. We arrived, Eric and I, with a cat, a dog, a goat, and the remaining ducks that the mad landlord hadn’t killed.
There are some lovely people living in the Onewhero area. But after all this, and the gossip promoted by the “lovely couple”, our name was dirt.