Monday, August 31, 2009

Poems as a Camera


Your head thrown back
at something I said

your teeth irregular and tough
your lips colloquial with laughter

your fig green

in your hair
the summer

cool as white wine
tawny and lovely and loose …

Bob Orr


Tiny fangs of yachts
in the channel.

Last night I felt an earthquake
it shook the house
like someone sitting down suddenly
on the edge of the bed.

Walking up the path one time
I thought you’d hung a blue sheet on the line

it was the sky

that today wears the white and ragged half-circle
of the moon
like the trace of a peeled-off price sticker.

No word from the piano.
It is saying nothing
since I closed its dark brown mouth
the day you left for England.

Kate Camp


She came so close – so curious-
he thought he’d caught the scent of her thinking.

She said her heart a bird-in white-
had long left the nest, because it was restless

and hadn’t returned
so he built a screen in white

around her heartlessness:
these are the hopeless movies he projected

because she offered nothing
and he accepted

Andrew Johnston

The camera was one of the defining devices of the 20th century. It’s use altered literature as well as art. .At one level poetry can be defined as an arrangement of words, striking and/or entertaining. There’s an element of composition, just as in the use of a camera. Then there is organisation, there is craft behind apparent casualness.

Sometimes its use is a simple snapshot like Orr’s poem with its lovely last stanza, a moment of sheer pleasure. Other times it’s a collage of experiences, like Camp’s Beauty Sleep with its shifts of mood and tone. Shortly after I read this poem I went to a friend’s house, high in the Wellington hills – the yachts were like little fangs darting across the water.

The snapshot metamorphosed into the moving image. Film enhanced techniques of movement in time. ‘Cut and paste’ entered our narrative. Johnston uses these techniques to capture aspects of a one-sided love affair – the poet in the director’s chair. Minimalist I am not. My poems, like my life, are cluttered. Orr’s, Camp’s and Johnston’s poems pare down to essentials, models that I envy. They represent in their different ways a generation shift and new poetic directions, ‘cool’ as it is in contemporary jargon.

Things Being Various

a) A very stormy night, gale-force winds and heavy rain has been a prelude to a very warm sunny afternoon. I turned the heaters off. Meanwhile Wellington mops up after flooding and slips and the rail is closed north of Pukerua Bay.

b) It was fitting weather after watching last night the final of the TV programmes about the planet. It ended with a warning about global warming. I learnt that the moon is slowly moving away from Earth. At some immense time in the future it will cease to affect us with its gravitational pull. Apparently the massive size of Jupiter means its attracts much of the matter entering our solar system, thus protecting us.

c) I watched the replay of the South African/Australian rugby match. There is no doubt that the Boks are the best team in the world at present. While the Australians made many basic errors, especially in the first half, that was the result of pressure.

d) New Zealander’s faith in the might of the British Empire took a pounding with the fall of Singapore. Darwin was bombed. Japanese subs in Sydney Harbour added to our unease. My grandfather Pop’s brother, Uncle Jim, was a Cabinet Minister. He told me that the hardest decision taken during that period was to leave our troops in the Middle East. The Aussies made a different decision. Pop spoke highly of a general called MacArthur. But the fact that after the war Britain still took all the butter and as much of our lamb and wool that we could produce hid the fact of a power shift. Power can change rapidly. The USA assumes top-dog status in perpetuity. Not so. China waits in the wings. Though some futurists argue that its ageing population and lack of human rights will hold it back. They point to India as the dark horse. Who knows what’s brewing in the seeds of time?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Niggle

I applied twice for a principal’s position. I was an inspector of secondary schools when I was interviewed for a Christchurch school. I knew the interview had gone well, indeed I subsequently learnt that the Board argued for hours but eventually gave it to someone else on the casting vote of the chairman. It was touch and go.

Looking back the decision was the right one. The successful candidate was the deputy principal. I have long held the heresy that boards often make a mistake and go past a loyal DP to take the apparently glamorous outsider.

I also suspect I wasn’t ready. That’s a hard one. Thrown in the deep end I might have managed. But I was still fairly callow then in terms of people management skills and very young and rather cocky. Up till then I’d always got a job I’d applied for. Ahead of the baby boomer tidal wave I’d stayed afloat by dog-paddling.

Shortly after I won a position in the Head Office of the old Department of Education housed in the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere. I’d just started when a new school near Wellington advertised for a principal. I sent in my application forms.

Short-listing came up. I wasn’t on it. I learnt that my name had been withdrawn without my knowledge. Furious I sought an explanation. My boss said ‘well we thought seeing you’d just started here you’d made a choice. Didn’t realise you were serious.’ I said things that probably did not advance my career there. But life turned out well. While I have a niggle of regret – it would have been nice to have run a school - I have enjoyed the subsequent years.

32 Men Got Away From Colditz

I wrote this poem four years ago.

32 Men Got Away From Colditz

After the war, book & film
capitalised, Colditz, The Great
Escape, The Wooden Horse. Boys’
own games, valour amidst boredom

The grudging respect Wehrmacht
had for their captives was on the
whole reciprocated. The duty to
escape balanced the duty to prevent it.

The Swiss ensured ‘fair play’.
Towards the end things got ‘dicey’
to use the vernacular. The SS didn’t
play by Geneva rules. Neither for that matter

had the German army in Russia.
Demonise your enemy & it demonises
you back, a lesson Berlin learnt at its cost.
The prisoners took control in Colditz to

the annoyance of the American film crew
eager to shoot a liberation. My teenage image
of war - sporting encounters with possible
lethal consequences. Belsen justified our side.

Now, fresh pictures of degradation and torture
midst all the rhetoric about the need to combat
evil. Blame a few scapegoats, not those who
say Geneva cannot count for terrorists.

Harvey McQueen

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Quake, Talk & Poetry

a) Two nights ago there was a strong earthquake. I came awake to the bed’s shaking thinking if the power goes off I must sit up and take the mask off. It passed. Apparently I slept through the aftershock. Little damage done. But a reminder of the precarious nature of it all.

b) This morning Kim Hill interviewed Marilynne Robinson the author of Housekeeping, Gilead and Home, three novels I have enjoyed very much. Robinson is critical of what she calls modernity, the down-playing of the human mind. She and Kim played around with concepts of theology and the good life – a very thought-provoking discussion.

c) Vince O’Sullivan lent me his copy of Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack’s Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets. The anthologist in me is always curious about the selection but also in the contents. The glaring omission it seems to me is Johnston himself but I understand his decision. I was surprised to see Curnow included but I see what the editors have done – it’s entirely late Curnow. They have done a good job of the selection of O’Sullivan, Wedde and Manhire. I find Manhire’s elegy to Michael King very moving every time I read it and his The Mountain from the Erubus series is very powerful.


Going through a pile of old papers I discovered in her faltering handwriting Mum’s recipe for pig’s head brawn. I’ve never made it. But here it is if anyone wants to try it. Unfortunately I don’t have her recipe for passionfruit flummery, another one of my favourites. I did make it. That’s probably why the recipe wasn’t in that pile.

1 pig’s head cut in half length ways
1 uncooked pork hock if you can get it or a few pig’s trotters.
1 tablespoon golden syrup
half a packet of whole cloves
6 chillies
3 heaped teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Boil all for 3 hours just covered with water.
Then separate the meat from the bones, fat and skin.
Cut the meat into small pieces
Put the pieces into a smaller pot and strain just enough liquid to cover the pieces
Taste and add more salt and pepper if required
Hen boil for half an hour or so
Pour into cups or bowls
When cold (or lukewarm) leave overnight in fridge (Do not deep freeze).
Dispose of bones, skin and fat.

Do not put too much water in when you first boil it otherwise you have trouble setting it.
Near the outside of the cheeks you will find some white meat in long strips. Just cut them up. Also the dark meat from around the eye sockets.


There is an old Greek about Atalanta, a king’s daughter, who was left to die on a hillside – he wanted a son. It’s a common ancient story – she was raised by bears, then peasants. She could outrun and outfight any man.

Adult and reconciled, back at court, suitors besieged her. She announced she would only marry if the man could beat her in a running race. Several tried and failed and were put to death. But one, more cunning than the rest, sought help from Aphrodite, goddess of love. She gave him three golden apples. Whenever Atalanta drew level with him he threw one down. She stopped to pick them up and in the end failed to catch him. So he won her and as far as I know they lived happily ever after.

Jan Kemp uses this legend to express sexual desire.


He keeps tossing her
those golden apples
just as she draws level
with his elbow.

she lets them fall.

She wants to range with him
a huntress
and let fly her brilliant arrows

but she’s enchanted
by the slow arc
of his arm
and his enticing smile.

Jan Kemp

Friday, August 28, 2009

Daffodil Day

a) Spring is here. We have daffodils out. Anne picked seven windblown ones and put them in a vase to brighten up the living room.

b) Today is daffodil day, fund-raising for the Cancer Society. I was involved in the initial discussions about this day. Ross Vinter, David Lange’s first press secretary, formed a public relations company, Bloom, after he left the Beehive. After I left in 1998 I took a holiday in Europe. On my return, Ross rang. Bloom had won an education contract. Could I help. So for several months I worked there. The Cancer Society asked Bloom for help to organise a fund-raising day. Someone suggested daffodils as a colourful symbol of spring and hope and we brainstormed the idea. When I see the adverts for the day I feel pleased to have taken an early part in that particular process.

c) I quite often watch Parliament’s question time on the new digital TV. Yesterday, several MPs were wearing daffodil buttonholes. Two friends, Rory and Ken called and joined me in watching the bunfight. They like me were impressed by Lockwood Smith as Speaker. He is developing into a very good one.

d) The neighbour’s snowball tree is sprouting green shoots and on their kowhai flower buds are appearing. Three tui either fight or court in that tree. I suspect it’s a mixture of both interests, three’s a crowd.

e) Yesterday also, Susanna my caregiver took me for a walk around the garden and to sit in the sun on the wooden seat at the west end. Camelia, daphne and daffodils in flower, and self-sown parsley sprouting in the herb patch that Anne has created. It was idyllic but I could see several things that needed attention. It’s wearisome feeling useless. I can but serve and wait.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Secondary Education Review

My first stint in the Head Office of the old Department of Education came about because of the secondary education review. It was an activity that altered my life. Peter Boag; former PPTA National Secretary who had joined the Department as Director of Secondary Education, launched an initiative whereby every secondary school closed for two days to review its direction, structure, curriculum delivery - you name it, everything was up for grabs. It was an exciting concept - an attempt to let teachers take ownership. Peter said, "no custom is too sacred to be unquestioned."

Each inspectorate supplied a coordinator who was taken off ordinary duties. I drew the lucky marble for South Auckland. If the concept was exciting the experience was even more so. I attended as many reviews as I could. Sometimes I facilitated the day, usually by leading off with a series of questions. Many principals felt wary, concerned that their actions could be questioned and their authority undermined. But a few took the lead and in their schools the day was a roaring success. As word of this spread more and more schools followed confidently.

Ripeness was all. PPTA's 'Education In Change' and 'Teachers In Change' had proved leadership documents. Peter Boag made it clear that he visualised a two-step process. The teachers review first, and then widening it to involve the community. It was an attempted reversal of the top-down model, an attempt to stimulate reform by getting the practitioners involved.

Ormond Tate, the national coordinator won a scholarship to England. Peter invited me to work in Wellington to continue Ormond's duties in his absence. It became obvious there was a need for scrutiny of the proposals flooding in from individual reviews. Many things under the control of the school and its board of governors could be changed immediately. However, in many other instances, central rules and regulations blocked change.

Boag decided to ask Government for a review committee to investigate and report on those central blockages. His request got caught up in politics. Norm Kirk died. Bill Rowling succeeded. As part of the consequent re-shuffle, Hugh Watt, Kirk's deputy, was appointed High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. The incumbent, Sir Terence McCombs, last Minister of Education in the First Labour Government and after that principal of Cashmere High School, was brought home to chair a revamped group - the Secondary Education Review Committee. Ormond and I were joint secretaries.

Reflecting the times it was a large group. A cynic described it as a group formed to validate Sir Terence’s return home. True enough to sting but not the whole truth. Sometimes the right thing is done for the wrong reason. Makeshift the group may have been but it contained people of ability and conviction. The ex-ambassador with his dry wit proved a good chair, very concerned to do the right thing for secondary education, and determined to cut through the rhetoric.

The Committee first met in July 1975 and reported to new Minister, Les Gandar on 31 March 1976. Two members on the committee in particular stood out - John Rangihau, Tuhoe elder, from the University of Waikato, and Margaret Young, Hawera High School Board of Governors. John brought not only the Maori perspective, but also wisdom in a Confucian sense and a deep sense of compassion. At his request we met for one of our meetings on the Tira Hou marae in Panmure. Margaret, a Cabinet Minister's wife possessed energy and time - she became almost an unpaid third secretary. In swirling political currents she provided a lifeline to the policy-makers.

As the task neared completion Ormond and I brainstormed various titles. We liked "Towards Partnership", cribbed from Norman Kirk's "Towards Nationhood". The committee accepted it. We divvied up the writing of the various chapters. One Monday morning, fogbound at Hamilton airport, I sat down with a cup of coffee and started to write the final chapter. It just flowed out. Several coffees later it was finished, just in time, I had not heard the boarding announcement. I popped it into my brief-case and raced out onto the tarmac to the waiting plane. “You cut it fine,” the hostess said, pulling the door behind me. It barely needed an editorial pen. In it I developed ideas which I have written about consistently ever since.

‘Schools are increasingly caught in a paradox. They are expected to be humane places, where human dignity is respected and self-esteem fostered. At the same time they are expected to serve the modern industrial and technological world. The cry for educational decentralisation is a reflection of a larger social issue: the feeling by many individuals of powerlessness, alienation and distrust when faced by the large institutions our society has created. There is a further paradox for schools and society. Autonomy cannot be granted by decree, but the increasing demand appears to be for such a decree. Individuals desire freedom, but they cannot use this freedom to create a better life without support and encouragement. The secondary education review illustrates these paradoxes. The teaching profession and the Department of Education should feel encouraged by the success of the review to date. Teachers see it as making school-based decision-making legitimate and have asked for it to be continued.’

The tentative title is interesting now. The group saw the review as steps towards partnership. One interesting recommendation was that: "Each secondary school establish a Community-School Association and the Education Act be amended to enable such an association to be the major constituency of the school board of governors and to elect the majority of the members of the board".

A path-finder for the Picot reforms, at that stage the idea never left the hangar. Also, interesting and reflective of the era, in the chapter "A National Identity" there is no mention of The Treaty of Waitangi.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Shunter


The engine-bars are splashed and scarred –
They’ve killed a shunter in the yard.

‘He never seen how he was struck,
And he died sudden,’ someone said
The driver coughed – ‘That flaming truck
Came on the slant and struck him dead,’
The fireman choked and growled ‘Hard luck!
As he was carried to the shed.

The engine whistles short and low,
(His blood is on her ‘catcher-bars’)
We had to let his young wife know
His soul has passed beyond the stars,
Where he will hear no engines blow,
Nor listen for the coming cars.

She stared and stared – until he came,
On four men’s shoulders up the hill.
She sobbed and laughed and called his name,
And shivered when he lay so still –
She had no cruel words of blame –
She bore no one of us ill-will

They’ve washed the rails and sprinkled sand.
(oh hear the mail go roaring on!)
And he was just a railway hand –
A hidden star that never shone –
And no one seems to understand –
Her heart is broken! He is gone!

The engine-bars are cold and hard –
They’ve killed a shunter in the yard.

Will Lawson

About the time H.G.Wells was writing his science fantasies Will Lawson, who has been called the Wellington Kipling, was writing prose and poetry about machinery, mainly rail and the engine room of steamships. And the men who manned them – often grueling and dangerous work. The comparison with Kipling is apt – poets usually have little to do with technology. Lawson eventually settled in Australia – more accurately it became his base to roam the world.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Food of the Gods

I’ve been asked why I did not consider Wells’ Mr Polly suitable for New Zealand school students. They find it hard to comprehend the English class system, which of course was even more hidebound at the end of the 19th century.

I’ve finished reading The Food of the Gods. Wells’ mellow vicar and lady of the manor might be comic to the reader but they are representative of the era. It’s an interesting read – the first part, mankind’s heroic efforts to cope with the result of a scientific experiment’s unexpected natural consequences - giant wasps and rats. It’s Boy’s Own Stuff. The second part concerns the chasm separating the new giant humans and the ordinary beings trying to get on with their lives. It is the latter who have become ‘petty-minded, pygmy, reactionary, corpselike’ – Roger’s description.

We are left up in the air at the end of the story. But Wells’ sympathies are clear. He is a visionary futurist. The giants signpost the way to a better world. But my abiding memory of this compelling read is the young giant Caddles – alone, lower class, bewildered, uneducated – a sad and comic figure. Well’s Dickensian mixture of pathos and caricature makes his predictable death even more tragic. The other giants by contrast are straw figures

The other memory is the Kent countryside. Let Wells have the last word. ‘The whole prospect had that curiously English quality of ripened cultivation, that look of still completeness that apes perfection, under the sunset warmth.’


Non-teachers are often unaware of the time-consuming nature of preparation and marking. The actual lesson is the tip of the iceberg. When I was teaching the word “reflection’ was not part of education jargon. Now educators talk about reflective teachers. It’s always been so. Out of sight is the reading, the thinking, the arranging, the resource preparation, the planning, and then the assessment.

There was not just marking one’s own work. As English HOD (Head of Department) I tried to ensure quality assurance across the school. To this end the various teachers set and marked portions of the mid-year and end-of-year exams.

For a period I marked University Entrance – a chore in that I did not know the students whose work I was assessing, and a depressing task in that nearly all the best students had been accredited. The process, however, helped me gain an overview of what was taught nation-wide in Sixth Form English. I realised my Melville choice of texts was fairly adventuresome though at the time Lord of the Flies had gained the status of a national text.

One year there was a question along the lines that higher education was a waste of time for girls. I marked a considerable number of indignant essays from girl students and a small number giving what would now be called ‘politically correct’ answers from boys.

Then the second batch of papers arrived mainly from the Islands, especially Fiji. Essay after essay reiterated the same line – it was a waste of time. In a large family only the boys could be sent on to higher study – they would be the breadwinners for the extended family in time. Indeed, not all the boys should receive it, only the brightest. Certainly it was a waste to give such a scarce commodity to young women. Gritting my teeth, (I, too possessed my share of ideological correctness on this one), I endeavoured to mark according to expression, argument, clarity of prose and grammatical and punctual accuracy. It was a good illustration of the values inherent in cultural context.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Amongst my grandfather’s books was a novel Bealby which I read when still very young. A boy is sent to work in a big country house as a lowly servant. He discovers a secret passage but gets lost. His scratching and fumbling irritate a house guest, the Lord Chancellor. I did not have a clue who or what was a Lord Chancellor but it sounded grand. The boy found his way outside where he was befriended by three young women who were having a gypsy caravan holiday. Shades of Toad of Wind in the Willows fame. After a series of adventures and misadventures the boy was returned to the house to find gaping holes in it as workmen frantically searched for the missing child.

The author was H.G.Wells. Even though I did not catch much of the material the pace and zest of the story carried me along. At Akaroa District High I read The Time Machine in the school library. Learning I had enjoyed it Mr Arnold lent me his copies of The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds. Incredible science made credible. He also lent me the Outline of History which I am sure gave me a sense of the sweep of history. While I like particular incidents I like books that present the big picture.

Over the years I’ve read many of Wells’ social realism novels. He is excellent at comic relief and his narrative never fails to engage me. I was surprised to find The History of Mr Polly as one of the set books for the fifth form at Thames High School. It did not seem to me to be a good book to engage the attention of Kiwi teenagers – too English. It is still a book I get pleasure from.

I mentioned Bealby to our good friend Roger. He had two copies so he kindly gave me one. I read it with greater appreciation, especially the comedy, than I had as a lad. I was pleased to welcome it back to my shelves. Roger turned 70 the other day. A friend had arranged for him a limited edition of The Food of the Gods, one of Wells’ lesser known scientific romances, for which Roger had contributed a foreword. Roger gave me a copy. I’m half-way through it.

Three things shine through – again narrative strength. One wants to know what is going to happen. Then there is unexpected comedy – even the hunting of the giant rats has its humour. Thirdly, his brief descriptions reveal his love for the Kent countryside. It reminded me of Orwell’s novel set in the same county. It’s a good gift, Roger.

Before the Poison, Did They Kiss?

Before the Posion, Did They Kiss?

Macabre. Magda playing patience,
after killing her six children
laying them out in white gowns
delaying her own death. Her
Doctor soon to die with her
wrote ‘No war can be won
without optimism.’ At this stage
they had none & the Russians
were closing. She’d done her
duty. Goebbels also stated
‘a woman’s job is to be beautiful
and to bring children into the world.’

Their end the last twitch of
the Third Reich. No Greek tragedy
just evil’s horrifying banality.

It is hard to imagine the emotional climate in that Berlin underground bunker after Adolf and Eva Hitler’s bodies were taken out and set alight. Four years earlier it had looked like the dream of a thousand year Reich would be realised. Now it was the ashes of defeat as Goebbels and his wife played out the final act. It was with such thoughts in mind that I wrote this poem with its question as the title. Did they? Or had all passion except despair departed.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


When I got up this morning I learnt Anne had woken early and decided to read the Sunday Star Times. But it hadn’t been delivered. Apparently a new contractor. I said she looked disgruntled. That got us thinking about that word. Can people be gruntled. At one time I would have gone to Onion’s Etymological Dictionary but it’s very large and heavy. So I decided to look at the web. It’s derived from the word grumble. Fascinating what’s on the web.

As the days warm up we are not pulling the curtains so early in the evening. I’ve been admiring to the west the silhouette of the oak’s bare boughs and twigs against the darkening sky and to the east the stark shape of the cabbage trees.

We need rain. July was well down on the Wellington average and its mid-August and we’ve only had about a third of the average. Anne watered the outside pots last night. You could almost see the plants responding. It’s extremely frustrating for me – to see chores needing to be done and can’t do a thing.

Jennie Roache


Who are you Jennie and how do you look
are your eyes rounded blue does your hair
tumble or twine do you have cheeks
curved and full and when you smile
do your lips incline ruefully down
are you the child in every woman the
one who runs water through her hands
and watches, as if water were new
her hands unknown who cannot touch
plum apple grape or peach
without experiencing fulsome pleasures
roundness smoothness roughness taste
do you sleep at night then wake
hugging the dark as if it were a friend
conscious of the liberties you take
and are your stars so bright they want
no polishing are you sad enough sometimes
to know that happiness always borrows
that nothing it owns is ever kept
have you dolls and do you read books
do you bake or cook take singing lessons
ever pause just to sit and look
listen to other children play who
taught you and how did you learn to spell
where could you have got so early soon
years before such facts are due your
fragment of the truth how could you have
laughed so much wept long enough to know
that there's flesh beyond your flesh
and bone beyond your growing bone where
did you learn of the need Jennie Roache
and what was the impulse prompted you
to write your declaration on my fence?

Alistair Paterson

Another poem I like – its theme combined with lovely liquid sounds. Like most of us, Jennie Roche uses the word ‘love’ without much understanding. However, her innocence means it does carry a sense of a universal truth for the young often possess a simple wisdom way above their years. At the same time this is a very masculine poem in its yearnings and queries.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

An Inspector

The aura of authority meant being an inspector of schools was a corrosive occupation. One learnt to go through doors first. The job entailed judgement. And suspicion. But there was an upside. What can be said to assist or improve? What makes a good teacher tick? It was not what people said they taught or how they taught that counted - what did matter was their actual classroom practice. Remember this is over thirty years ago. I am in no position to make judgement about present classroom practice.

Most youngsters I speak to today seem content with their schooling. Adolescents probably buck authority more readily than they did in the past. Not only does modern technology loudly present this attitude it also holds out the lure of quick gratification. Research shows the onset of puberty for both boys and girls is happening earlier and earlier. The concern over obesity in our young people suggests that the media is more powerful than the health curriculum in forming attitudes and habits. This is not just a Kiwi problem. All over the affluent world the same thing is happening. Today, no nation is an island.

As an inspector I learnt about the stress and loneliness of the long distance principal. South Auckland inspectors covered from the Te Kauwhata to Taumaranui and Turangi, from Raglan to TeAroroa and Wairoa. Concerns about Maori under-achievement were beginning to emerge. Some with foresight identified the problems as systemic and structural but all too often the individual or the group was blamed.

The principal often could talk to no one else but the inspector about their deepest concerns, teacher shortages, (particularly Maths and Physics), disputes, even combat, with boards or the local community, truants, curriculum change, (“do I phase out Latin?”), personal ambitions, a new building, a change of subjects, the end of streaming, even sometimes their own marital problems. "Tough being a principal's wife in a one-horse town." There were concerns about individual teachers, not coping, drinking too much, getting near burnout, ready for promotion.

They had queries about the nature of assemblies, school uniforms, and university entrance. Dress codes and boys hair length were particularly bothersome challenges. "Wish the bloody Beatles had never been born." Usually principals wanted to hold the line while younger staff in particular were not prepared to police the policy. (Even today the topic of school uniforms arouses heated debate amongst teachers). But sometimes the principal wanted to be innovative and to be the risk-taker, and the staff would be more cautious and reluctant to support change. One listened, encouraged, advised, but above everything else acted as a sounding board. Individual concerns and hopes merged into a general picture.

I travelled for five years. It meant getting to know the physical region well. Driving presented no problem, it was an activity I enjoyed - the road to Whitianga the most exciting, to Te Kaha the most interesting, from Turangi the most never-ending. One got tired of hotels and motels, but there was usually paper work in the evenings - quite often a meal with the principal and sometimes senior staff. I always volunteered if there was time to meet in the evening with the teachers from the English Department.

The first fortnight in the job I spent in Wellington. As well as English I was given the guidance counselling and special education portfolios. There was a national training course for a group of newly appointed counsellors so I attended - in-service training, for me, as well as the appointees. These positions were new. The course contained an air of excitement and mission, the lecturers stressing these people were 'change agents" in the system. Participants held heated discussions about the ratio of time to be spent on personal and vocational counselling. Most appointees supported strongly the personal side. Departmental officers stressed the vocational side; already unemployment figures were on the rise.

But back in Hamilton some of my new colleagues were scornful, or at least guardedly pessimistic about this new deal. "Schools exist to teach subjects." "Enough missionaries amongst the teachers without adding another lot of dogooders." "They weaken school discipline." “Let’s not fudge it, there are sad kids and there are bad kids and these guys don’t separate them.”

I found while on the road that these counsellors were another lonely group. Tough dealing with negativity, drugs, family distress, personal unhappiness, excess in manifold forms, with many of your teaching colleagues unsympathetic. Who counsels the counsellor? Who deals with their demoralisation? In my case, it was the inspector - a supportive role for which I had no training except the one course. Much more than anticipated I discovered myself defending them and their place in the system.

Paper work piled up when one was away from the office. Much of it consisted of requests. Some of this was granting approvals. For example, a school librarian allowance was available. This had been awarded on a grace and favour basis. No, that's a bit unfair. Where my predecessors thought it would be well used on the basis of performance they authorised it. Once granted it had never been revoked. I discussed the issue with the District Senior. "If I wait till I visit all schools then some may never get it. Why don't we give it to all schools and then I and the other inspectors can police its use when we visit." Persuaded by my argument he gave it to everyone.

This decision was typical of the times. There were many similar blank cheques. My motives were worthy. If it was an allowance that Government had allocated for use, why not use it. But everywhere other inspectors and officers were making similar rulings and so educational expenditure crept continually up and up. Each year there was an Appropriation Bill to add the necessary finance, not just in education but in nearly every branch of the public service.This was the seedbed in which Rogernomics was taking root.

Over the years a vast hotchpotch of education discretionary allowances had been granted. Projects would start with seeding money, which rolled over and became in time an anticipated part of the school’s annual income. Well-established schools on the whole had accumulated more of these. A persuasive principal could win more assistance for his school than their more scrupulous fellows.

When a new District Senior Inspector, Noel Scott, later to be MP for Tongariro, started, he took one look at this shambles, pulled in all the local principals, told them to work out a more equitable distribution and left them rather astonished to do it. I, and the rest of the team, anticipated horse-trading. It didn't work out that way. They worked out a just redistribution that made allowances for socioeconomic unevenness. When I visited Mangakino High School shortly afterwards, the principal was exultant at his windfall. "All my Christmases at once. The equivalent of 3 full-time teachers. I can give more remedial reading and guidance help." It was an excellent lesson in empowerment. Not only did Noel deserve praise but also the principals - one of those moments when one was proud to be associated with the enterprise. The learning that I got was to give ownership of an issue as much as possible to the practitioners.

I recall the most distressing lesson I witnessed. When the team arrived the principal very proudly said, "I'm thrilled to have got a local kaumatua teaching Maori. You must see him." I drew the lucky straw. It was an embarrassing experience. The almost all pakeha class of girls sat with heads down while the poor man lambasted them for not understanding what he was saying. He did not know how to present his material, and they did not know how to respond.

After the lesson I stayed to talk to him. "They're stupid", he raved, "they don't understand”. Tentatively I tried suggesting that maybe his instructions were’t very clear. He reared back in anger, what did I know about it, he'd been speaking the language for years and these kids were deliberately not listening to him. And the few Maori students in the class were the worst. It was the best example I ever saw of the need for training to be a teacher. Equally, it was sad for the man had immense deserved local mana. The situation was tragic. The principal saw me as an out-of-town interloper criticizing her success story. Regretfully, no one in that class passed School Cert Maori that year.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Leaving the Chalkface

I had been teaching for six years at Melville High School when I applied for the position of inspector of secondary schools in the Hamilton team. I flew to Wellington for an interview. The year raced past, nothing happened and then halfway through the third term I was offered the appointment. I accepted. A watershed decision. The fact I was doing well was irrelevant. I was eligible for promotion, I just took it. The question would I miss the class-room never crossed my mind. There were regrets but no doubts.

I had cast for a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I had never produced a full Shakespeare play. That was not to be. My selected Puck was a girl, a tomboy who seemed a monty for the part. It proved a hospital pass to my successor. Puberty set in, she suddenly discovered boys and pimples became a disaster. But during the evening that I was offered the position as I policed the grounds during a school dance, (one of the least enviable of a teachers' tasks) it seemed a good choice though there were several regrets.

I had been asked to stand for PPTA National Executive. (Of course, I may not have been elected). I would have to give that away, though I would be in the ambiguous position of a departmental officer delivering a regional president's annual report critical of the Department. It would have been an exciting time to be involved with PPTA. In that era it led the secondary charge, but I sensed a deeper affinity to being in government with all its frustration but ability to deliver rather than in opposition with its freedoms but also impotence.

Yet down the years there has been a niggle – I chose the side of authority. Somewhere in me remains a rebel and sceptic who would like sometimes to take the mickey out of the powers-that-be. I realise now that my masters in the Department of Education were conscious of that streak. Ultimately, I was not to be trusted. “After all he writes poetry”, I overheard one day. They were probably right. Looking back I value the independence of the staff-room at Melville.

The third regret was Melville kids had been great. My student librarians said "You can't go" when I told them. Principal B.T. Smith ran a good school – it’d been a privilege to work under his direction. But I was ready for fresh and wider challenges. I have seen too many good teachers vegetate not to be aware of the importance of moving on while one is still successful.

The thought did cross my mind that I would not teach Shakespeare again. After a few years history teaching the origins of the second world war lost their freshness. But every reading of Hamlet opened up new vistas, new thoughts, plus the sheer miracle of the language. Across the centuries Shakespeare remains a marvel of language and plot. No one has ever strung human dreams about existence better. It was a privilege to bring his text and students together.

The Train Song


It is hard to remember parents in their loving

In the austerity of wartime, the bravest front was home

And after, in the bleary dawns of milking morns

Farm hands were made for sickles and lips for whistling dogs

Still in ’43, when I was three, in a night train full of Yanks

He in blue, she in best, my heavy lids spied hands locked fast

Fiona Kidman

I particularly like this poem. Part of the loss of childhood innocence is the realisation that your parents are sexual beings. Kidman catches in her poem the security that exists before this discovery. When that handsome soldier, Dick, began courting my widowed mother, a naïve but sensitive child I watched the romance blossom and then saw Mum’s fears when he was posted overseas. He survived the Italian campaign and returned to marry her. They were idyllically happy together breaking in a run-down farm.

Kidman’s poem fits my experience, he in uniform, she in her best, hands locked fast, a gesture of emotional solidarity. Emotion subdued in public, if not in private. The shoo-sh-shoo-sh-shoo rhythm is like the quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle of Denis Glover’s magpies. I’ve always been a sucker for a chorus.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


The most beautiful city I have visited is Ishfahan in Iran. I went there in 1970 when the Shah still ruled. It is 340 kilometres south of Teheran. After the small low-flying Friendship flight there, all that barren earth sliding underneath, it was a surprise to see lush greenery and sparkling fountains while brilliant turquoise tiles on mosque and minaret soared towards the sky. At one stage we’d flown over an army convoy -. Alexander, Timur, Genghis Khan and all the rest - sunsets on forgotten empires.

Ishfahan, Iran’s third largest city, was once the country’s capital. It’s world-renowned for its glorious buildings - boulevards, covered bridges, mosques, minarets, palaces. Many date from the reign of Shah Abbas 1587-1629. In the centre of the city is a huge square or Maidan. Our guide told us they used to play polo there – with the heads of defeated enemies. I recall luxuriating in the splendour of the view - rose beds everywhere.

On the square south side is the Shah Mosque with its twin minarets – a masterpiece of Persian architecture. On the west side is the royal palace. On the east side another mosque. And on the north a massive covered crowded bazaar – carpet stalls everywhere, we bought camel bells as our souvenir. The only unpleasant aspect were the ever-present raucous crows.

Our guide hired a car and a driver for a day in the country. On the way out of the city we stopped to admire Pul-e-Khaju, the famous arched bridge and weir. In the centre of the bridge there was a hexagon pavilion, decorated in the characteristic turquoise tiles. Buses laboured across the upper span, men and boys clinging to the outsides. Downstream, women dressed in churdar washed clothing and bedding, spreading it on the steps to dry in the winter sun.

Shah Abbas had built it at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The sight drove home the sense that the New World lacks a sense of architectural past. Several camels, bells tinkling, ambled across the bridge, and overburdened donkeys; as it a little piece of the past had been preserved intact into the quarrelling present. .

We explored a qanat, an ancient underground water channel. It was by a small village, walls of sundried brick, topped with rough thatch, and several tall pigeon lofts. Food and fertiliser. A blindfolded donkey circled endlessly a primitive wheel from which water flowed to a few green fields. We negotiated a visit with a group of men who had come out to welcome us. Discussions and barter were held over cups of sweet black tea which a procession of boys, trays around their necks, brought out. Under a thorn tree another small boy watched a few scrawny sheep scavenging for food.

An old lady waving a battery torch led us down the narrow, gentle slope. Bats fluttered around. Down by the flowing water, about a dozen women, the light so dim you could hardly see them, were beating the hell out of their washing. A noisy lot, chuckling and chattering away, they used a surprising amount of detergent - modern plastic squeegee bottles. I identified the lingering taste from the tea.

The guide took us to a high mountain village where his widowed aunt. "a cross between Mother Teresa and a battle-axe", welcomed us. Her grandson moved forward offering water from a goatskin bag. I realised I had to push aside thoughts of hygiene. I took a small sip. The old matriarch beamed. "She is honoured by your presence," he translated. One of the many grandsons started pouring sweet tea as we settled into bargaining over our wish to take photographs,

We asked to see carpet-making. They took us into one of the clustered mudhuts. Two thin teenage girls squatted cross-legged on the floor, worked rapidly at a large loom in the poorly lit room. "This is how our world-famous carpets are woven." "How much does the family get for such a fabulous carpet?" we asked. It was a pittance; age-old, each middle-man takes his whack, the producers get little. I recalled the fat stall-keepers of the previous day’s bazaar. The only part of the girls we could see was their sunken eyes, but they appeared emaciated, they coughed all the time. the room stunk of urine, blood and sweat. The experience put me off ever buying a Persian rug.

One of the youths appeared with a platter of freshly-baked unleavened bread. A half-grown donkey, nudged me, the soft muzzle quivering hungrily at my bread. Without thinking I broke off a piece and shared it with the animal. Even as I did I sensed the villager's consternation. My explanation that at home I’d fed horses like that eventually mollified them. How many horses does your father have? Three! I obviously came from a rich family. Shame drove me to a fairly generous tip.

It sounds like I did not enjoy that day. I did. It was fascinating. And it must be remembered this was forty years ago. Today Ishfahan is one of the centres for Iran’s nuclear programme. Saddam Huissen’s missiles have destroyed some of the glory spots. The country is a very different nation now. But I recollect the hospitality of the people. And the magnificence of those buildings, a reminder that at one time Persia led the world in architecture, science, mathematics and literature. I am pleased to have seen them.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

At Melville

When Melville High School, a new state school in Hamilton, reached the stage of having a Sixth Form I was given new responsibilities. I was made Dean for that form. And the principal asked me to run a sixth form programme called Liberal Studies – unexplored curriculum terrain.

Being Dean meant many pastoral and guidance responsibilities. Personal problems I handed over to the guidance counsellor as soon as possible but career and curriculum took quite a bit of time. And tact. Kids would try to change classes in order to get the better teachers. They believed they knew where they would get the best deal whereas I had to look at it from the school's end. It was no good having one very large class and one small class on at the same time. Sometimes they got it wrong - popularity was not necessary the sign of the best teacher.

This pastoral dimension is interesting. Our State funded system is secular. In 1877 when it was founded the issue was hotly debated. Since then, however, as in America and Britain, the teaching profession has taken on a priestly role, not in terms of dogma, but in terms of values and care. Some argue that it is not a function of the school - the job is to educate. Others claim it is and actively promote the role - the ending of ignorance will bring in the blessed state.

The vast majority of teachers see it more simply. If they see a vacuum, (or is it a niche), they fill it. "The hungry mouths look up and are not fed". Any teacher worth her or his salt recognises demand and attempts to deal with it. A hungry, sleepy, distressed student will not learn unless these basic needs are met.

For Liberal Studies a double period was allocated, every Wednesday afternoon. I formed a student committee to help me organise the series of guest speakers. The venue was the library filled with beanbags as well as chairs. We ran the sessions fairly informally. Policemen on drugs, clergymen on faith, lawyers on rights, farmers on production, old soldiers defending war and pacifists attacking it, Ruakura scientists on research, university lecturers out to sell their subjects and politicians - Mike Minogue then the local mayor or Sir Leslie Munro, the local MP on the United Nations.

The Russian cultural attache came - the security service checked out that my invitation was genuine, "what are you doing letting him brainwash them. Why are you teachers so leftish?" "You're probably on some list in Wellington now, sir." His attacks upon Pasternak saw the students counter-attacking. There was little chance of him gaining any sympathisers. Someone came from the South African embassy. Again, my attempts at being even-handed got lost as the students got stuck in to him over apartheid. The students themselves ran sessions on issues. It developed more and more as an idea think-tank. The only rules I strove for were courtesy and a fair hearing. Passion (which includes intolerance) was permissible provided it was expressed with civility.

Other schools followed suit. We organised a seventh form student political seminar for all the Hamilton schools - Sir John Marshall and Arnold Nordmeyer. Sir John made a mistake when he began ‘boys and girls’. Nordie didn’t, ‘ladies and gentlemen. I didn’t hear much of Sir John’s speech, I was outside the lecture hall physically preventing a group of university students from entering and delivering a verbal message to the Deputy Prime Minister. I bluffed them down, "Tory bastard" one shouted at me as they left.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Games, Banks and Conquests

Outside my study window the red camellia is in early bloom. It’s at that stage where there is no brown decay stains so it looks splendid.

Jamaican Bolt impressively won the 100 metre sprint at the world athletic championships in the record time of 9.58 seconds. The Jamaican women are also beating the Americans in the sprints. It was the same Berlin stadium that Jesse Owens won the Olympic title in 1936 and our own Jack Lovelock won the 1500 metres. Valerie Vila won the shot put.

The Australians were playing cricket at Canterbury. Their fast bowler Lee clean-bowled a local batsman. The bail flew off and a sea-gull swooped down and took it away. Obviously mistook it for a chip. It would be a disappointed bird.

Citigroup which was bailed out by the American taxpayer with $45 billion wants to pay its top 25 executives an average of $10 million each this year. Unbelievable check to demand such princely sums when Americans everywhere are losing jobs. Obama, however, is in a bind. If the bank’s too big to fail the taxpayer will have to prop it up. If his government refuses to let the bank reward its top executives he will be pilloried by Wall Street lobbyists.

The argument will be used about the need for talent. Wall Street has shown an amazing lack of talent in recent times. If Obama said to these big banks you’re on your own and they did fall over the results would be catastrophic. I can’t see an easy resolution to this bind.

I finished Douglas Porch’s Conquest of the Sahara last evening. It is a book of interesting facts but somehow it didn’t grab me. It wavered between travel and scholarship. The story itself is interesting - France’s struggle to explore and dominate the vast, arid, inhospitable desert, a tale of foolhardiness, bravery, brutality and opportunism. All colonialism comes at a cost. This one seemed to contain more folly. And dying or dead camels.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Melville High School

As I’d shot through the grades, after six years secondary teaching I was eligible for promotion. With the baby boomers reaching the secondary stage existing schools were bursting at the seams and new schools were being opened in the new suburbs. Such a school in Hamilton, Melville, was in its second year of existence. It advertised a position of Head of Department, English.

I applied and went across for an interview. B.T.Smith, the principal, said, "if we appoint you I want you to do English 111 extra-murally." I agreed. A few evenings later he rang to offer me the position. It never occurred to me to stay on at Thames High School. Any secondary teacher worth their salt those day assumed upward mobility and promotion. I was nowhere near running on empty but the grades gained it was time to shift the caravan. (Unfair, my first wife was just getting established too).

The English Department at Melville had up till then been run by the Deputy-Principal. BT appointed me in time to select the fifth form set books - Cry The Beloved Country, The Time Machine, Animal Farm, Macbeth and Pygmalion. A new library was being built. "Except for basic stock we have left ordering until the new HOD was appointed." Heaven, to begin a library from scratch. A new school means lots of new staff - usually good people, the principal has a wide selection from whom to choose. Eagerly I wrote a new scheme.

BT, a devout Baptist, one of nature's gentleman and an excellent principal, appointed good people and let them get on with their job. At the same time he held deep pastoral concern for his students. The school already housed a deaf unit and a special work experience class for students experiencing great learning difficulties. His leadership was the good shepherd model. Self-critical, he was quick to praise and slow to blame others. The brightest kids in Hamilton tended to go the single-sex schools but he quickly established a reputation for Melville.

The third form English class I got, (still streamed), first year up was the sharpest class I ever taught. The School Cert class was also very keen. Indeed, a student in that class passed School Certificate English with 97%. My reputation was made. In terms of value addition I had done much more with some of her peers. A few of these had worked their hearts out. But they still failed. A brilliant student, she had a high IQ and came from a home where books and conversation were valued. The co-relation between the IQ and School Certificate English was 89%. She had the ability to pass the examination long before she entered my classroom.

It was no good arguing that correlation to parents or students. Indeed, carried to its logical conclusion it suggests the teacher is redundant. But 97% meant parents and students assumed my capacity to get people good exam marks, an assumption I did not confidently share. What her mark did, however, was give me an authority in the classroom and the ability to demand assignments be handed in and be well done.

BT's pastoral concern meant, however, that students suspended from other schools tended to be picked up by Melville. Many of these were tough nuts. Despite pleas from the staff BT kept them on - they were souls to be saved. Reaching these people in class was a test of teaching skills.

However, then, 1966, I was young, confident, indeed cocksure, creative, and in a dynamic situation. Growth breeds success. Further, I was in charge of my Department. Although my staff and I met regularly, I set the curriculum objectives in English. BT insisted I take the top classes, he knew the importance of exam successes for the school's reputation. At the same time he wanted me, an objective with which I concurred, to take the bottom fourth form with its collection of misfits and slow learners. From my second year on I did the school timetable. The first block I put on the chart was my bottom fourth form English last period on Friday. That never shifted. As the rest of fourth form English coincided, most English teachers always taught last period of the week at Melville. They did not appreciate that.

Doing the timetable proved an invaluable professional experience. One saw the relationship between subjects and how the curriculum worked. Choices had to be made that affected learning and lives. There was a need to balance morning and afternoon periods. Certain subject teachers wanted double periods, others detested them. Woodwork liked doubles, French and German in the same column wanted a period every day of the week. When the senior exam classes left in mid-November I started on this task but always came back to finish it in the last fortnight of January. My aim was a draft model in place when school started, and as soon as possible – the final roll number was crucial - a definitive version. Staff movement during the year could cause another reshuffle.

Hamilton was grounded in its surrounding, prosperous, dairy countryside. The last time I made a winter visit to Waikato University the acrid smell of ensilage reminded me of the agricultural origins of the city. When I lived there they had just planted the trees that now make it such a lovely campus. Melville was part of this growth. Its kids were suburban kids with a few bussed in from the farms south of the city.

My first TV was bought in Hamilton. There was only one channel. .

Soon it was time to choose the texts for the seventh form - a mixture of old and new, Arden, Auden, Emily Bronte, Hardy, George Herbert, Keats and Orwell. The Shakespeare choice was laid down in the exam prescription. I never questioned the need to teach his drama - indeed, it was the highlight of the year. I took the students out to the tennis courts or the hall-stage to walk through the scenes from their plays - bike pumps for rapiers.

I advocated English teaching based around literature. Entering a text in the company of students is slipping into unknown territory. Like a guide leading a big game hunting party one anticipates adventure but there is often the unexpected as suddenly beneath the hackneyed response appears a hurtful truth, a genuine insight, a burning desire as words and student collide and strike sparks.

Ever restless, once an activity was mastered, I took on new tasks, producing the school play, Sixth Form Dean, membership of the Parent-Teacher Committee. I became the branch PPTA (Post-Primary Teachers Association) chair and then was elected to the Waikato region executive. This meant attending annual conference in Wellington.

It was a time of teacher shortage. Graduates were recruited from Britain. Some of them were given pressure cooker training at Melville. I was in charge. In one term we turned them into teachers. Later, when I inspected these people the pitfalls of such training were obvious. They had learnt my style but had little to compare it with. It suited my personality, often not theirs. The lesson - teacher educators need to and indeed do separate professional skills from personality traits. Some good teachers use humour a lot, others very rarely. Some are extroverts, some introverts. But all have a range of skills which enables them to engage attention and promote learning.

Wild Honey

Alistair Campbell has died. Our poetry establishment has lost its sweetest voice. Of his poems Wild Honey has always been a favourite and I’ve heard him read it many times - always a pleasure. . But Sam Hunt’s rendition of it from memory at a launch for one of Alistair’s collections was a virtuoso performance – poetry at its most powerful. He brought out all its radiance.


Stuart's gallantry ... I recall how once
he beat a bully who had called his girl
some mildly offensive name ... Wild honey.

Margaret's passion ... She danced a hula once,
for a Director of Education,
on a cluttered supper board ... Wild honey.

Lilburn's solitude ... Alone he paces
an empty beach, creating in his head
bare harmonies of sand and wave ... Wild honey.

Meg's loveliness ... In that absurd boatshed
how it glowed, while the tide chuckled and slapped
below us-God, how she glowed! ... Wild honey.

These things: gallantry, passion, solitude,
and loveliness-how they glow! ... Wild honey.

Alistair Campbell

Alistair’s search for his origins has produced a rich collection about identity and family. Here’s an example.


Yes, I remember the transport Southland –
a tub of a ship with a contingent
of Aussie larrikans, and a few of us
from the other side of the ditch –
real New Zealanders and proud of it.
We found their boasting pretty hard to take.
Then a torpedo struck us amidships
and the blast knocked me unconscious,
I floated to the surface entangled
with ropes and every kind of debris.
What an approach to the Dardanelles!
There was no sign of the ship –
only an oil-slick, bilge, torn uniforms,
naked bodies, dead horses, and men
clinging to spars and planks, and cursing –
real blister-raising curses from the Aussiess.
We had our differences, but you can’t
help liking men who rush into battle
yelling Imshi Tasllah, a cry picked up
in a Cairo street. The legend that we share
was born when our joint forces fought
and died together in Anzac Cove…
I am lying here in Tahiti with my dear Teu.
It’s quiet here away from the guns, the screams,
the nightmare that was Gallipoli. I can’t
make out what she is murmering, but I think
it’s all about forgetfulness and peace.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back to the Future

About the time I started teaching two American futurists, Kahn and Weiner speculated on the shape of society in the year 2000. They correctly guessed the electronic communications revolution - home videos, automated banking, pervasive surveillance systems, and global business use of computers. But they got the consequences wrong. They foresaw a growth in leisure and pleasure for all, and they completely missed the widening gap between rich and poor. Neither did they spot the environmental and women's movements.

How things have changed. One area, however, that has changed relatively little is the secondary school classroom. It has not kept pace with the many changes that have happened elsewhere. In stating this I am not engaged in the too-popular sport of teacher bashing. Secondary teachers themselves are caught in a structural bind. Indeed, when you talk to them, many express dissatisfaction with their lot. They feel besieged and under-valued. In my early days we encouraged bright young people to think of teaching as a rewarding career. Nowadays, there is much disencouragement.

Education is still being delivered in an Industrial Revolution model - a production line. Whereas the Information Revolution consists of interactive networks. Maybe we should get rid of the age cohort concept. It is not how people learn naturally. I count myself lucky that I went to Okuti, a little sole teacher country school where we all learnt together in the one room.

The cohort model also makes another assumption; that one finishes learning when one leaves school. The modern knowledge society assumes life-long learning. The shelf life of much information is short. As work patterns, both paid and unpaid, continue to change, people of all ages will increasingly require upskilling or new skills. Schools should be transformed into community learning centres which, as well as delivering compulsory education, and necessary upskilling, are also be places where digital technology is available for all?

In most societies the old help educate the young. We have an increasing number of senior citizens. Fresh learning for such people is more than beneficial to them personally; it widens the opportunities for them to make continued contributions to the community. In the context of a learning centre this would mitigate against the atomisation of society that many present American futurists predict. Some call for a return to community to counter a number of current trends. The local learning centre where people of all ages from the community mix and learn together could be a powerful lever in such a return.

Just as Kahn and Weiner did not foresee the environmental and feminist movements, there are no doubt at present seeds germinating for social change of which we are unaware. Maybe a re-emphasis upon the local could be one of them. A responsive, flexible, responsible, local learning-centre could be a means of empowering people again. The present model is becoming outmoded. That is not the fault of those who designed it. That was for their times. We need to foresee our different future. And this is not just an educational truism. It fits many aspects of contemporary society.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tim Upperton


Scrape margarine across eight slices
of white bread, raspberry jam and Nutella
and Marmite and jam again. Eight sandwiches—
two each. Cut and wrap. It’s not enough.
Add four bananas that will come home bruised
and blackened mid-afternoon. Seal in four
plastic lunch-boxes. It’s not enough. A thump
of backpacks and a wrenching of zips,
this daughter smiling and this daughter
sullen, and these two in a stumbling panic—
Don’t slam the door, don’t leave me here
beside myself—these two, my hatchlings,
my little ones, are gone, fallen through
that bright rectangle to where the world
waits with its claws and teeth, its every kind
of sharp and sudden thing . . .
I would halt traffic to let you pass,
I would snarl and swipe at the dogs
that bound from driveways, I would
smooth and make safe and contain but all
I am is here, I am always here—I wipe away
the slopped cereal, inhale the sour smell
of your rooms as I make your beds,
the sheets in which the grains of your hot,
dry bodies threshed all night already cooling.

Tim Upperton

I am delighted that friend Fiona sent me a copy of Tim Upperton’s poems A House on Fire.

I was once introduced as having poetry as a hobby. It is more than that. Passion is too strong a word. Love is better. Poetry is a rather strange love. After my father was killed – I was five – we lived near Mum’s parents. Granny had a store of nursery rhymes and songs which she taught me off by heart, `little pig, little pig where have you been’, ‘pop goes the weasel’, ‘Jack and Jill’, ‘see saw, Marjory Daw’, and ‘oranges and lemons, the bells of St Clemens’. A better seedbed for poetry is hard to imagine.

I have no recollection of learning to read. All my life I’ve read – a born bibliophile. Granny used to say “always got his nose stuck in a book that boy”. In my primer years at Little River and Okuti schools the teachers used me to teach other pupils. I quickly read all the children’s books in the local public library and moved on to the adult section. It irked me that the librarian vetted my selection. During the war years books were scarce so my own small personal library slowly grew only on birthdays and the annual Christmas pillow case. So I reread my books again and again – a good habit for poetry reading.

The war over, Mum remarried. My stepfather, Dick, got a rehab loan to buy a farm at the head of Okuti Valley, a side valley off Little River. The farm was a place of country silence. Valleys, like islands, form a unity. This one provided shelter and challenge. Years later when I studied Wordsworth’s poetry and read his claims about the healing power of Nature they made sense - Okuti. The school-teacher there, Mrs Bulman, the post-master’s wife, had come out of retirement during the war. She made us learn poetry off by heart. I am grateful to her influence - hard stuff like Keats’ Ode to Autumn. ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ and a sound dosage of Georgians, Mansfield’s Cargoes, Davies’ Leisure, and Brooke’s Grantchester.

I went to Akaroa District High School for the first three years of my secondary schooling. We had two poetry texts, Mount Helicon and Grass from Parnassus. I still have them both - in those days one bought one's school texts. Miss Greenwood took us through them, with emphasis on the late Victorians. She read them to us, we chanted them together, we each chose a stanza, copied it out and illustrated it. I pored over both books at night. (I didn’t tell my classmates about this. I sensed their disapproval or at least misunderstanding).

Many lines linger, part of a literary midden: ‘There's a breathless hush on the close tonight’; ‘I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree’; ‘Oh England is a pleasant place for them that's rich and high’ and ‘the highwayman came riding, riding.’ Miss Greenwood’s conviction that poetry mattered proved contagious – it entered my bloodstream, though she missed an opportunity - we talked about the poems and ideas in them, but she never suggested I write poems nor did she give any creative writing lessons.

She did one further useful thing. She put up on the blackboard - no banda or zerox those days – a few New Zealand poems for us to painstakingly copy, Dora Wilcox's Onawe, McKee Wright's Arlington and Blanche Baughan's The Old Place. All three deal with questions of displacement and change as well as reflecting the pioneer values of my childhood. It was a revelation. Poetry was not something from the other side of the world. Poems could be made in New Zealand.

And so I’ve gone on reading poetry all my adult life. It never ceases to amaze me how year after year slim little volumes of poems continue to appear. I can’t keep up. When I was reviewing regularly I used to get most volumes as they came out. Now I mainly just buy on known name or after high praise in a review. So I might have missed Upperton.

I was captivated from the prologue about a trout – ‘its mute, quivering grace.’ Acute observation and skilful language use. To which I add, wisdom. ‘We all fall, always, and falling, grow old.’

A few more examples. ‘The fitful flap of sheets pegged on the line/ is a kind of sadness.’ History is ‘the burning of a thousand thousand libraries.’ ‘Girls become wives.’ ‘What does a vegetable know/ of decay’s indifferent fact’

If I were doing my garden poetry anthology ‘The Earth’s Deep Breathing’ today I would include at least two of Upperton’s poems. And he is splendid on children.

Thank you Fiona. .

Major & Minor Matters

The Key Government is experiencing the same honeymoon period as Clark did in her early years. If towards the end she’d banned the use of cell-phones while driving there would have been an outcry of ‘nanny-state’.

But from where I sit there seems to be a lack of Cabinet cohesion. For example, in electricity the Commission is to be disestablished. In Health there is discussion of creating a new authority to disburse funds.

For decades on Saturday morning I rang Mum regularly at 9 o clock. Now the weekend feels different without that ritual.

The next door neighbours have two cats. They got them as kittens on their 25th wedding anniversary and christened them Silver and Annie. Before I learnt their names I’d named Silver with its striking markings as the Snow Leopard. Both cats use the top of our dividing fence as a track. I enjoy watching the Snow Leopard gingerly make his way along the rail.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Sixth Form Year

After my initial rocky start – see blog 22 June regarding cadets, caning and the hostel - in the sixth form at Christchurch Boys’ a sense of coherence slowly returned as the scholarly mainstream current took over, a sense of pattern and direction challenging me intellectually. I enjoyed the massed singing at assembly – I sensed ritual and fellowship. Clifton Cook the music master was one of those legendary teachers. There was also the attraction of a new library, crammed with late Victorian and Georgian books.

I, along with one other sixth former, studied Latin with a fourth form class. I found the subject stimulating and fascinating. Old Boys of the school still reminisce about Spud Moffat who taught that class. I am grateful for the experience. The history master inspired me to do that subject at University, for which I am also grateful.

The school also introduced me to Coghill’s translation of Chaucer. The English teacher, after handed out a class set of Penguins, and telling us to read The Pardoner’s Tale, went out to roll his beloved cricket pitch for a forthcoming inter-school match. As soon as he went through the door someone suggested we read The Miller’s Tale. The sound of sniggering filled the classroom as we read the crude, rollicking yarn. The description of the heroine having “a weasel’s body, softly slender” appealed to this country boy though I was a bit shocked at the seducer having his bottom branded. Having watched the Little River blacksmith at work over the years I knew the burn the brand could inflict.

My Akaroa School Cert marks counted. They earned me places in the second streams in English and Geography. The top groups obviously scholarship material were given the best teachers and pushed. The rest were "also-rans". Fortunately, my History mark scraped me into the A stream; probably that’s why I enjoyed that subject so much. Narrative has always gripped me. Thinking about that narrative was an enlivening activity. Biology ran in several blocks so I went into a mixed ability grouping. I still recall information about liverworts and dogfish and seeing a speck of my own blood full of lively dancing cells.

At the end of the year I knew quite a while before the lists were posted I had gained university entrance by accreditation. While the master was out of the room someone picked the lock on his desk and we all had a look at his record book. There was a tick beside my name, indeed most of our names. Our knowledge of who had passed and who had failed was never revealed to the powers that be. There were student codes then as now.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fairburn & Byron


What is there left to be said?
There is nothing we can say,
nothing at all to be done
to undo the time of day;
no words to make the sun
roll east, or raise the dead.

I loved you as I love life:
the hand I stretched out to you
returning like Noah’s dove
brought a new earth to view,
till I was quick with love;
but Time sharpens his knife.

Time smiles and whets his knife,
and something has got to come out
quickly, and be buried deep,
nor spoken or thought about
or remembered even in sleep.
You must live, get on with your life.

A R D Fairburn


So we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart still be as loving,
And the moon still be as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul outwears the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

Lord George Gordon Byron

Word quickly got round that Inspector McQueen liked poetry. So I saw a lot of poetry lessons. Once a teacher read Byron's "So We Will Go More A’roving" and then Fairburn's "Farewell." It was a comparison I had made myself. It plucked a chord of nostalgia. Indeed I had talked about it at an in-service course. Clever teacher! I settled back prepared to watch an interesting lesson. Instead he said, "both poets use the same theme, but let's look for hidden meanings." The heave of the two poets turning in their graves was discernible. He found hidden meanings in those two simple poems I never dreamt could exist. They were not The Waste Land and it was irritating, watching the passion for poetry being stifled in this way.

When the kids left the room he said, "There. I know you like poetry. Went well didn't it?" After a noncommittal sound I commented something to the effect, why didn't he look at the obvious comparison between the end of two love affairs and different poetical responses. "A bright class, they see that straight away. It's the profundities I'm interested in."

I cursed T.S.Eliot as a role model all the way back to the principal's office. When it came to the grading I said "I can't support an increase, he's not as good as he thinks he is".The principal, doodling on his pad, rapidly looked up and said, "you blokes amaze me, if anyone could pull the wool over your eyes it would have been him. A con-artist from way back."

It was not all bad news. Poetry well taught was amongst the best lessons observed. Nearly always Baxter and Tuwhare engaged attention and discussion. Another impression I gained was how popular Wilfred Owen's poems were. Rachel McAlpine’s contemporary research confirmed my observation. They were safe poems to present in front of an inspector, soldiers frantically scrabbling for their gas masks, the disabled remembering the trenches, that unanswerable question at the end of Futility, "what made fatuous sunbeams toil/ to break earth's sleep at all"; certainly so in the post Vietnam War era. The kids responded well to them.

I wonder how many of the seeds of New Zealand's late 1980s anti-nuclear policy were laid down by English teachers in the previous decade. It was not just Owen. Many lessons were observed about the horrors of the First World War based upon the writings of people like Graves and Sassoon. If my generation had the imperial writers, Newbolt, Brooke, Buchan and Kipling, this one had the trench writers. The heroes of my youth, Alan Quartermain, Lord Jim, Sydney Carlton personified issues of sacrifice, duty and service. These students were learning an anti-authority message.

Likewise in History and Social Studies I saw many lessons on apartheid and South Africa. Cry the Beloved Country was one of the most popular set English texts. Again, I observed the 81 Springbok tour protests in the making. But I saw very few lessons on race relations in New Zealand. Teachers used a safe distancing in their content selection.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Anne – a good cook - had been looking at apple tarts in famous French chef and restaurateur Joel Robuchon’s book. I picked it up and have been flicking through. It’s full of mouth-watering recipes. I had used and adapted several of them. A favourite was roast lamb with a red pepper, garlic, olive oil and breadcrumb crust. I’ve had guests drooling over that one.

One of my regrets is that I’d hoped to develop my culinary skills in my retirement years. For over a year now I’ve not trusted my strength enough to put a casserole in to the oven, let alone get it out. Last time I made pancakes I ran out of steam stirring the mixture and had to ask Anne to cook them.

I came late to this interest. When I finished varsity I’d flatted with two other ex-students. We took it in weekly turns to do the cooking. One of them Bob and I loved our roast meat. So I learnt to roast. But when I got married my first wife and I both accepted customary role models. She did the cooking. I washed the dishes. Except in the weekend, when I often made breakfast - scrambled eggs, cheese toasties, pancakes, sausages.

When I started living with Anne she had a wider range of food and I became interested in dabbling in the kitchen. She introduced me to garlic and olives. That dabbling turned to usage. I began to pickle onions. I chanced a casserole. One wet Saturday I said to her eldest boy what pudding would he like. ‘Lemon meringue pie.’ That was a challenge. I cheated in that I did not make the pastry. I learnt a valuable lesson, make sure the ingredients and implements are available before you begin.

On the Monday back at work a colleague asked what had I done over the weekend. ‘Made a lemon meringue pie’ I said. ‘Can’t Anne cook’ he replied assuming that would be the only reason I would descend to such a menial occupation. After all real men only cook on the barbecue.

When I’ve been at home as a consultant we took a week and week about. For a while Anne was going off to work so I did most of the cooking. Then when I was director of the Teachers Council I was too exhausted at the end of the day to do much so she took over the activity. I’m a meat man. I love my roasts so until recently I’ve cooked most of them since we’ve been together. Pork cooked in milk proved a discovery. Winter casseroles became a specialty, cooked in wine or beer. Steak and kidney made with a dark beer is superb.

Cooking for and eating with friends is a great act of fellowship. I recall one particular meal. We couldn’t go to friend Rae’s 65th birthday party. Our present a few day's later was to cook a meal from the Loire valley recipe book she’d given us after visiting that area. We did buy the entrée, a home-made pate. For the main course I cooked pheasant. Anne did the dessert, an apple tart from the same recipe book.

I hadn’t eaten pheasant since I was a boy when Uncle Charlie gave Mum an occasional one during the shooting season. She plucked and dressed the bird – such impressive plumage. However, I bought a frozen one from the butcher.

I began by stir-frying in a small amount of butter medium-sized chunks of smoked bacon with sliced red cabbage leaves (Savoy would do equally well). At Anne’s suggestion I add a few crushed juniper berries. I worried about the mixture sticking so I added a slosh of white wine but I don’t think I needed to, the cabbage sweated and the bacon’s fat provided a little liquid. When that dish was cooked I set it aside.

I then laid strips of streaky bacon over the bird and cooked it in a large baking dish in a high temperature oven. The book said 220 but I did it at 200; even then the bacon crisped considerably. After half an hour I placed the cabbage and bacon mix around the pheasant returning it to the oven for a further half hour. I was surprised how little fat emerged from the bird even though it was farm reared.

Only after it had been placed back in the oven did I think of looking at Elizabeth David. Her recipe for pheasant is very similar though she said that juniper berries are a must. She also uses white wine. Another idea she put forward was that beef stock and kirsch could replace the white wine. Her suggestion of adding pork sausages to the mixture opened up further possibilities, pheasants being expensive as well as hard to get. Mashed garlic spuds with chopped parsley completed the course.

(A few weeks later Anne did cook pork sausages with cabbage and bacon – it proved a very tasty dish).

The Old Place

Looking back at my teaching days I realise I always had a sprinkling of rural kids in my classes. That meant a poem like this one would have some in the group who would understand the described event.

So the last day's come at last, the close of my fifteen year-
The end of the hope, an' the struggles, an' messes I've put in here.
All of the shearings over, the final mustering done,-
Eleven hundred an' fifty for the incoming man, near on.
Over five thousand I drove 'em, mob by mob, down the coast;
Eleven-fifty in fifteen year ... it isn't much of a boast.

Oh, it's a bad old place! Blown out o' your bed half the nights,
And in summer the grass burnt shiny an' bare as your hand, on the heights:
The creek dried up by November, and in May a thundering roar
That carries down toll o' your stock to salt 'em whole on the shore.
Clear'd I have, and I've clear'd an' clear'd, yet everywhere, slap in your face,
Briar, tauhinu, an' ruin!-God! it's a brute of a place.
... An' the house got burnt which I built, myself, with all that worry and pride;
Where the Missus was always homesick, and where she took fever, and died.

Yes well! I'm leaving the place. Apples look red on that bough.
I set the slips with my own hand. Well - they're the other man's now.
The breezy bluff: an' the clover that smells so over the land,
Drowning the reek o' the rubbish, that plucks the profit out o' your hand:
That bit o' Bush paddock I fall'd myself, an' watched, each year, come clean
(Don't it look fresh in the tawny? A scrap of Old-Country green):
This air, all healthy with sun an' salt, an' bright with purity:
An' the glossy karakas there, twinkling to the big blue twinkling sea:
Ay, the broad blue sea beyond an' the gem-clear cove below,
Where the boat I'll never handle again, sits rocking to and fro:
There's the last look to it all! an' now for the last upon
This room where Hetty was born, an' my Mary died, an' John ...

Well, I'm leaving the poor old place, and it cuts as keen as a knife;
The place that's broken my heart - the place where I've lived my life.

Blanche Baughan

This is one of my well-loved poems. When I boarded in Akaroa to go to the secondary school there I was fascinated to learn that the old lady slowly pedaling around on a creaky bicycle was Blanche Baughan. To my school mates she seemed a figure of fun but I knew better. Poets were flesh and blood, not just something in a book. On my grandfather’s death I’d inherited his copy of her poems, Shingle Short.

He had at the time for a farmer a large library – Dickens, Sapper, Buchan, Haggard, Left Club books and one poetry book, Blanche Baughan’s Shingle Short. I devoured them all, Oliver Twist side by side with Bulldog Drummond. I'd looked at the Baughan. With few reference points I found the poems hard to understand for at that stage my reading was almost entirely narrative. One long poem about burnt logs scattered all over the new land intrigued me. The rotting remnants of such logs remained on Banks Peninsula - my first connection between New Zealand and the world of books.

We studied The Old Place at the District High School. It struck a chord. I’d seen retiring farmers with tears in their eyes, heart-broken, as they said goodbye to the land they’ve worked for decades. Later, I taught the poem myself. Several times I set an essay topic, ‘what happened to John’. While there were always fantasies – captured by pirates or flying saucers - a considerable number wrote about a father’s grief, a testament to Baughan’s capacity to evoke a feeling.

Indeed, I harbour a secret heresy, that our poetry began not just with Bethell but began to shift from Old Country imitative with Baughan, especially her two longer poems Maui’s Fish and A Bush Selection. But then she wrote about Banks Peninsula my homeland and I can hardly be called impartial. An anthology I was pleased to do I titled The New Place: The Poetry of Settlement in New Zealand 1952-1914. The last poem in it is The Old Place. When the new place has become the old place, settlement has taken effect.

I know roughly the life history of most New Zealand poets but I little about Baughan. Researching the internet I found an story of gothic dimensions. She was aged 10 when her mother murdered her father, insane homicide. Baughan resolved never to marry, which she stuck to, though at a finishing school in Switzerland she fell in love with and ran away with a bear trainer from a travelling circus. Family members quickly intervened to bring her home and to her senses. To run away with a bear-tamer - heroic as well as foolish.

Baughan graduated from university with first class honours in classics. While nursing her sick mother she worked in the London slums and was active in the suffragist movement. In 1900 on her mother’s death she migrated to New Zealand, living on Banks Peninsula. In the brief period before the First World War she wrote her poems and travel essays.

She had inherited from her father a modest private income, but heaven knows why with her abilities she felt impelled to live a virtual recluse. Her poems suggest she saw hope of a better life in the energetic new world. But she stopped writing saying that her “poetic muse” had departed. She devoted the rest of her life to good works, penal reform and an exploration of Indian spirituality.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


A youngish friend coming in to our kitchen and looking at the array of implements hanging on the wall said innocently they were such a motley lot, why didn’t we buy a modern uniform set. Anne's response wavered between outrage and amusement. Every piece has its history, part of the narrative of our existence. She and I were both brought up in households shaped by the Great Depression and wartime austerities. We pre-date the throw-away society. In some aspects we have very different temperaments but there are others we share. One is the capacity to cherish things for the memories they carry. We know in time they rust, fade or wear away and will need replacing.

We accept the need for a sense of proportion. Alexander Pope’s lines spring to mind
'When husbands or when lap-dogs breathe their last;
Or when rich China vessels, fall.n from high
In glitt’ring dust and painted fragments lie'
Pope makes an assumption that women are the people who react foolishly.. But men can equally make unnecessary fuss about insignificant matters. All human beings do. A broken vase no matter how treasured on the scale of human disasters is trivial though I’m aware that a rare piece is irreplaceable.

Nevertheless, neither of us are clean sweep sort of people. Such liking for memorabilia carries the seeds of a problem. Sooner or latter we will have to downsize and get rid of a lot of these things. Most only carry meaning for us.

Chaplin and Garbo

Anne has just brought inside a bunch of sweet-smelling daphne, a harbinger of spring.

There were two disks in the Chaplin City Lights DVD. Last evening I put the second one on, footage of the actual filming, discussions about the film and other Chaplin movies, casting problems, a visit by Winston Churchill to the set, clips from other movies and a bonus – an early Chaplin movie The Champion in which Chaplin won the boxing match.

Chaplin himself said the ending of City Lights was his finest bit of cinema. Other critics agree. The realisation of the girl, her sight restored, that the down-at-heel tramp was her benefactor is a real tear-jerker. As I discovered the previous night.

It was fascinating to see rehearsals. Chaplin was a perfectionist. I had not realised that he wrote the music for the film himself. He decided not to have voices - he saw the tramp as universal and for the character to have a voice and in one particular language would diminish the image.

Earlier in the day I’d been surfing the net. I got into a Mata Hari site. There was a short video clip of Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro in the 1931 movie about the dancer executed on the suspicion of being a German spy.

Garbo asks Novarro why he has a candle burning before the Madonna. He explains his mother asked him to light it and he has never let it go out. She flirts with him. He tells her he loves her. She asks how much. More than God or country. He claims to. She then says its too light. He puts out the lamps. She says it’ still too light, would he put out the candle He refuses. She pouts and says he doesn’t love her. Reluctantly and asking forgiveness for his action he blows out the light. It was powerful theatre, the femme fatale brilliantly acted.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Choice and Trade

I make few claims to be economically literate. Passing Stage I Economics in 1954 does not qualify me to make profound statements. I may regret aspects of globalisation but I feel its unstoppable.

Quite a while ago my mother rang up on the warpath. She’d been shopping and bought a new cardigan. The label said New Zealand wool. But when she got it home and checked she was disgusted to find it was made in China. She was in a good mind to take it back and get it changed for one made in New Zealand. I told her that’s just about impossible now; nearly all the clothes I was wearing were made elsewhere - Vietnam, Germany, Indonesia, China, only the old jersey and underwear were Kiwi. No wonder the country’s going to the dogs she declared.

In some ways I agree. At the end of the 19th century liberal Minister of Labour Pember Reeves was very proud of legislation which insisted that shop-girls be provided with a chair to sit on as part of their working conditions. That’s gone. One of our large supermarket chains was recently taken over by an Australian company. They’re insisting that our pork suppliers drop their prices to the same levels as their Australian counterparts. Otherwise they’ll import their pork from across the Tasman. Part of me says that’s neither sensible nor right. I am told I have more choice now. I wonder; especially for the majority of us. Butcher’s pork is nice but more expansive.

There are basically two foodmarket chains. Like the oil companies whose fuel price seems to rise and fall in lockstep fashion these two companies have little variation. Shopping around takes time, is more difficult for the elderly. Anyway I’ll enjoy Anne’s pork and tamarillo casserole tonight, a recipe I created years ago.

There’s nothing new in these concerns. When the Dutch conquered what is now Indonesia they tried to corner the world market for cloves by concentrating production of five small adjacent islands and cutting down clove trees galore on the other islands. Likewise they tried to create a monopoly for nutmeg by concentrating its production to the Banda Islands.

Things BeingVarious

I’ve been watching a blackbird foraging on the lawn. He keeps finding worms. There must be scores of them in the patch. He’s a colourful character, sheer black except for beady eyes and a lovely shining bill. The six polyanthus that Anne planted over the weekend provide a good foreground for the scene.

I’ve just received in the mail from friend Fiona a copy of Tim Upperton’s poems, A House On Fire. By coincidence the other day when I was reading Tim Jones’ blog I enjoyed reading an interview with Upperton. I look forward to reading the volume.

After a good previous day I had a bad day yesterday. My bowel played up. Utter embarrassment. And frustration. Poor Anne had to tidy up. I felt tottery and fragile. The several things I’d planned to do were not done. The sad part is that it effects my confidence. I wondered about putting this dirty linen on my blog but to be honest it is part and parcel of my present existence.

I’ve been looking at Louis McNeice’s poems. There are two I particularly like. The first is Snow. It is snowing outside but inside in front of the bay window is a huge bunch of roses. Here is the middle stanza.
'World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.'

The other poem is The Sunlight On the Garden. It’s about the inevitability of death. It begins:
'The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;'
And ends.
'But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.'

For much of yesterday I was a couch potato in front of the new TV. I watched the replay of the rugby between South Africa and Australia. Newlands looked spectacular on the larger screen. When our critics were baying for the blood of our coaches I had the heretical thought that probably the Springboks were the best team in the world at present. And so the match proved, the Aussies no better than the All Blacks when outplayed.

During an ad break I flipped channels, Even the trots in Invercargill looked spectacular on the wide screen.

After the news we caught the end of Wild Vet, a cheetah being introduced to Orana Park in Christchurch. Then Antiques Roadshow and then Earth. This time the topic was the atmosphere. Two intriguing pieces of information. One, the prevailing wind carries Sahara dust westwards. Much of it falls into the Atlantic Ocean but a considerable amount is precipitated onto the Amazon rainforest where it supplies nutrients.

Two, when the earth was formed the atmosphere was poisonous to life. After aeons bacteria in the ocean began to release oxygen. At first this combined with the iron atoms in the water to settle into the formations that now are iron ore. As the iron was all used up the oxygen began to increase in the atmosphere and thus the conditions for life were created. Marvellous.