The Crack

I cannot go swimming today. For an embarrassing reason. I have no swim shorts.

Yesterday was very hot. While I carried out my boat related activities I was wearing my swimshorts, my reasoning being that I could go and jump into the camp pool if I got too hot. And I did. It was sweltering.


On one of the bending and heavy lifting exercises, not only did my knees almost give way, but my shorts actually did. Right across the bum. A ragged grin from cheek to cheek. All the worse because I did not have on any underwear. Fortunately I was able to sidle into the caravan and change without anyone noticing. I think. It’s all old guys around here anyway.

My swim shorts are actually football shorts. At the time I bought them I could not find swimwear in my size that I was willing to wear. I am not the sort who can wear budgie smugglers. I guess the fabric in these is not one that stands up well to an almost daily exposure to chlorine. Another lesson learned. Glad it didn’t happen at the pool.

Budgie Smugglers.

Derogation Row

I’m collecting all the useless words and then I’ll knock them down

The streets are full of epigrams, there’s discomfort in the town

The constable is pacing slow, he’s trying not to dance

The drunkard knows he can walk a line if he only had a chance

The cheerleaders are goose stepping, they need somewhere to go

They took the evening off to visit Derogation Row


The single mother is wondering. There’s something she should know

She forgot her baby in the bank not too long ago

Then she saw the epigrams as they began to bleed

Like pesky pigeons in the park, pecking poisoned seed

She saw the space between her hands where something ought to go

And ran to find her baby back on Derogation Row


Now the moon must get a mention and the stars are quoted too

The prognosticators all predict, because that’s what they do

They spout obscure biblical references like scholars did of yore

At the Walrus and a carpenter as they staggered out the door

They’d laboured hard for seven years with nothing much to show

And ended in the gutter down on Derogation Row


Shakespeare’s words were rounded up; they all felt so afraid

They were accused of coinage once the charges had been laid

Portia donned her mantle and her mercy was not strained

She argued very strongly that all words should be unchained

A Noun, a Verb, an Adjective would not Decline to go

Where every word is equal, down on Derogation Row


Einstein can’t believe that quantum physics is a thing

His Universe is infinite, it’s not shaped like a ring

His sage advice to Schrödinger that he should get a pet

Was just ignored, without a word. He doesn’t have one yet

He thought he’d put one in a box, which only goes to show

Life’s just a thought experiment on Derogation Row


The word has gone around the world. And all across the planet

They dance the Time Warp in the nude, and pray to Brad and Janet

The songs are getting sillier, Bob Dylan’s clearly mad

Now I’m quoting Richard O’Brien, there’s little more to add

Nothing beats the madness of the Rocky Horror Show

Not even cultural references on Derogation Row


You have to be a gentle soul to like Bob Dylan’s verse

It seems to me that you can see this parody’s no worse

I could go on, and show you all the talent that I’ve got

I could go on. But you’ll be cheered to hear that I will not

So for your sake I’ll finish now. Because I’ve come to know.

When it’s time to end the song of Derogation Row.

© 2020 ARF

Tiddles, The Remarkable Cat

I got him when he was a tiny black kitten with faint watermarks in his fur, a white patch on his chest, and white paws. I was living in a bach at Whangaparaoa with my friend David. I don’t recall where Tiddles came from. As he grew, he turned into a Tabby. I didn’t really notice the change it was so gradual. Until one day I realised he wasn’t black any more. He was Tiddles the Tabby.

He was the latest in a long succession of Tiddleses stretching back to when I was eight, living in Bunnythorpe. I had tried to name that first one Ned Kelly, but my grandmother gave him the appellation Tiddles. There was nothing I could do about it. It was the name he answered to. The name stuck for all my cats in the following years; cat after cat.

None of my previous cats were as memorable as this Tiddles was. They were a succession of furry companions indistinguishable from each other except by colour. Tiddles was different.

From the start, he slept with me in my bed. As a tiny kitten he would curl up in the small of my back, or under my chin. Anywhere awkward. He never once, to my recollection, needed any toilet training.

I had a succession of jobs after I left university. My speech impediment prevented me being accepted into the careers I thought I wanted. I lacked confidence, direction and motivation for a time. In 1972 I switched from hospital orderly to dairy farmhand, and moved, with Tiddles, to a farm in Matamata.

Young McDonald, my employer, 1971 Young Farmer of the Year, and Total Dick, allowed me to bring my cat with me, but would not let him inside the house. Cats belonged outside, catching mice. I just opened my bedroom window for Tiddles. He joined me when I went to bed, which was early, and left in the morning at four, when I got up for breakfast before milking.

I loved the farming life, and worked at it hard and diligently, but did not get on well with my employer, who had no social skills at all. But that’s another story.

I returned home to my parents’ after I failed as a farmer, and lived in a room in the back of the garage for a time, with a large saltwater aquarium, and with Tiddles.

Tiddles was a hunter, and always shared his kills with me. Always the back half, neatly beheaded and gutted. A mouse, a rat. Whatever. Left neatly at the foot of my bed ready to eat. Then, for a few weeks one year, the haunches of a guinea pig would appear periodically. I have no idea where he obtained them. I didn’t ask. One day, a very different looking haunch was proudly left for my delectation. I puzzled over it for a time until I realised it was the back end of a chihuahua. My cat had killed, and half eaten, a dog.

I guiltily buried my share in the garden, with the guinea pigs and rats. I thought no more about it until about a week later a woman and her young daughter came knocking door to door with a picture of a chihuahua pup, asking if anyone had seen it. They had only just got it to replace some guinea pigs that had escaped, and now it had run away too. It had cost them three hundred dollars. A lot of money back then.

I was not aware of my legal liability as the owner of the canicidal cat, so of course I did not enlighten them as to the end of their lost pup.

Shortly after that I moved into a rented house down by the railway lines. At the rear were acres of vineyard, and next door was a poultry processing plant. Chickens that escaped often came to my place. Most never left. Now I could share in his kills.

Tiddles used to ride with me in my car. He happily sat on the back of the seat with his paws on my shoulder. I could take him for a walk and he’d follow like a dog. He would stalk me, and ambush me. He was always head-bumpingly friendly.

Until the first time he found me sharing my bed with someone else. Then he was out of sorts for a week. But he settled into married life, too.

When I brought home Mach the Dog Tiddles was out of sorts even longer, but the two of them finally settled into mutual acceptance. Tiddles would stalk and ambush Mach, who would run away. He could have killed Tiddles easily. I saw him snap the neck of a possum once. The possum is the most viciously frightening creature in New Zealand apart from the wild boar. Any dog that can deal with one of those could easily despatch a cat. Mach knew his place.

Many years and three houses later they were still chasing each other around. One day I was dropped off at home in Ranui after work by a friend because my car was in for servicing. The pets had not recognised the sound of the car, so were not aware I had arrived home. I looked over the front gate to see them both curled up together on the lawn, grooming each other with their tongues. As friendly as can be. An unusual and touching sight. The moment they saw me, Tiddles jumped away from Mach and started his harassment routine again. They really were playing.

They died about a year apart, Tiddles at about eighteen years of age and Mach at eleven. I’ve never had any other pets like them.

Architeuthis dux

I remember well my one and only encounter with the great giant squid, Architeuthis dux.

It was long ago, when I was young. So long ago, in fact, it was back in the days of pounds, shillings and pence. If you youngsters know what that means.

I was swimming in the sea near Goat Island when I encountered the huge squid, almost 10 metres long. That’s 32 feet as we called it back then. Huge.

Well this was a deep sea creature and was clearly unwell being washed around in the waves and surface currents. I grabbed a couple of its tentacles and dragged it towards the shore.

With a lot of heaving and hefting I managed to get it into the back of my beach buggy. It was pretty flexible.

I knew what to do. I drove straight to my friend John’s place. Luckily he was home.

I knocked on his door. “John!” I called.

“I’ve got that six quid I owe you”.

Mach the Dog

My best ever non-human friend. And a better friend than many humans I’ve known.

Ob. Ch. Rolynj Illusion, CDX, UD. Known as Mach the Dog. He was going for TD when the hip dysplasia made him retire.

Originally, when we got him from the breeder, he was nicknamed Max. But after his first night at home, whining and fretting, I renamed him Mac. Because “Macbeth has murdered sleep” (Shakespearean reference). Later, when he had settled down and I saw how quick he was, I renamed him again. Mach. The speed of sound. He did not find his name changes confusing.

Mach went where I went. Love me, love my dog. He sailed with me on my catamaran and swam with me when I snorkelled. We walked the bush and beaches where dogs were permitted. He went to work with me on days I was out and about.

He was very well trained, something I consider one of my great personal achievements, because when I got him I discovered he had a severe character flaw; his temperament. It took a huge amount of patience and encouragement to overcome his timidity. He became a great swimmer eventually, though the first time I had to throw him into the Tutaekuri river.

I still remember the great breakthrough we had when he overcame his fears to fetch something for me the first time, and the first time he stayed in competition without panicking at the distractions of the judges. There was a special moment when I could see he had finally figured out what it was I wanted from him and he was suddenly enthusiastic about anything I wanted him to do. Pretty soon he was thinking for himself.

I remember the first time I was threatened by a Napier citizen after I had spoken to him about desisting from a nuisance he was committing. The ratepayer became irate. He had scarcely raised his voice and his hand to me when Mach was out of my Landrover and growling and bristling beside me. I was so proud of him at that moment. probably more so than when he finally won an obedience championship, or gained the letters after his name. He was an enthusiastic participant in obedience, utility and tracking trials, but his hips finally prevented him from completing the agility sections.

I left him in the care of friends, to whom I had also rented my house, for the time I was in Solomon Islands, and I was so glad to see him when I returned.

The last two years of his life he was self-appointed guardian of my first daughter and rarely left her alone. He came to find us if she awoke, needed changing, or cried. I had to remonstrate with him for trying to climb into her cot with her. He never needed telling twice. I believe he had more affection for her than for me. She was two and he was only 11 when he passed on 29 years ago.

I’ve had a few dogs since, and I loved them all, but there was none like Mach.


I sit quietly, regarding the empty compartments of the weekly pill organiser.

Time to refill it. It is Saturday again.

These pills, ten and a half taken every morning and five every evening – plus an iron supplement taken every second day (because it causes constipation), keep me going.

Metaphorically – or not – they replace love, family, professional pride, enthusiasm for sport and hobby, pets, wildlife, aquaria and frog ponds. Things that kept me going.

Again. It is empty again.

I look into the compartments, each a morning or an afternoon, and try to recall how it was I filled them. How I took again from them the medicine of each hour, and used it.