Bloody Hydrangeas

I haven’t seen many hydrangeas since I was in Australia. I came upon a bush the other day while exploring the area around Toorbul. I immediately had a distinct feeling of dislike and anger. I was repulsed by this innocent and seemingly attractive flower that changes colour with the pH of the soil in which it grows.

I had almost completely forgotten how my self-esteem had been smashed by a hydrangea way back in 1959. We then lived in Palmerston North, in New Zealand, and I attended Westend Primary School. In those days the school fair was a popular annual event. Bring and buy, cake stalls, funfair activities, and art and craft competitions for the pupils.

It was decided that my class would participate in a flower arranging competition. On the Friday before the fair we were to bring flowers to school and arrange them artistically in a saucer of wet sand. These would be judged at the fair the next day and the best three would win a prize. I told mum and we went out looking for flowers around the block of flats where we lived. We found a few dandelions and a hydrangea bush. That was it.

By the time I got to school the dandelions had wilted. I threw them away. That left me with a couple of hydrangea inflorescences. I picked apart the individual flowers and florets and arranged them in an artistic spiral with the colour graduating from the palest on the outside to the deepest blue in the centre. When it was done, I did not think much of it, and I knew it would not win a prize, but it was the best I could do.

Next day, with a shilling in my pocket to spend on anything I liked, I went to the fair. In our classroom on a trestle table I found the flower arrangements, arranged in order from best to least favoured. As I expected mine was not amongst the top choices. I went to the other end of the table and was surprised to see it was not there either. Maybe it was better than I thought. I searched along the table to find it, and see exactly where it fit into the scale of artistic expression. After several passes, I could not see it anywhere. I was perplexed. Where was it?

Then with a sinking feeling in my stomach and a sense of foreboding far more serious than the occasion warranted, I spotted the rubbish bin beside the teacher’s desk and went over to look inside. There, inside was a pile of sand, and my hydrangea arrangement, now tumbled in disarray. I saw the saucer on the teacher’s desk.

I still cannot express how very devastated I was, not that my flower arrangement was not any good, but that it was not even considered worthy enough to be put on display with the other failures. It was the utterest of utter failures.

And therefore so was I.

I still fuckin’ hate hydrangeas.

Many years later…
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Circumnavigation

Writing my short piece of blank verse about my expedition into Mayor Island reminded me of another small odyssey undertaken in the same month. I was camped in South-east Bay for a couple of months. I had originally gone there with Glenn for a fortnight but I was having such a good time I stayed on after he went home. I was getting on right well with some of the other campers in my own age group, though I don’t recall their names now. We dived and fished together, shared meals, and drank at the big game fishing club where we also traded crayfish for supplies. The demand was high and the payments in kind were generous.

It was mainly through that illegal activity I was able to stay on camping so long, though at one point when the weather was bad and I couldn’t fish or dive, I was down to half a bag of onions and a loaf of mouldy bread. It was then I learned that if I trimmed off the mouldy crust and the black fruiting bodies of the mould, I could fry the bread in butter and it tasted like Madeira cake, because the hyphae of the fungus had grown through the bread and turned a lot of the starch to sugar. Fried bread and onions. Great sustenance.

I was even recruited as deckhand on a charter boat for a couple of days. I worked for food. The skipper loaned me a dinghy for a day. I took it out to the eastern side of the island where I caught the largest snapper I had ever seen. I took it back to the big game club and they weighed it for me. It was, as I recall somewhat over thirty pounds in weight. There was much excitement and the manager went off to consult the books (no internet back then).

It turned out I had caught a pinfish. A new weight record. Unfortunately as I was not a member of any fishing club it did not count. No pin. No record. But for a time I unofficially held a record. I heard later next year that a larger fish had been caught. The internet tells me that the latest record holder is Kiwi angler Neil Gorringe who caught a 32.5lb (14.75kg) snapper on 8kg line in 2016.

The biggest adventure was a snorkeling morning that turned into a bit of an odyssey. Five of us set out from western bay and at some point, far from where we had entered the water, we wondered how far we had come. I decided it was far enough to have go at continuing all the way around the island. The others were not so keen. In the end, being young and foolish, I decided to go it alone. The others turned back.

I was fit, I had flippers. I knew I could make it, though I had no real idea how far I had to swim (turns out to be just over 11 km).

It was an adventure. I experienced a lot of firsts on that trip and logged a lot of new sightings in the logbook I kept in those days. Particularly on the ocean side of the island, where the cliffs went deep below the surface, there were species I hadn’t yet encountered. Morays, congers, sharks, grouper. Most notably an electric ray. One of about 14 electric ray species in the world, Torpedo fairchildi, is found only in New Zealand. Exciting.

I was in the water seven hours or so, without a wetsuit, and even though the water was warm I was pretty drained by the time I got back to camp. The others said they had been about to send out a search party. As I said, I was young and stupid then. Now I’m old and stupid because I’d probably try it again. The sea is still my spiritual home.

Now that I think about it, I did not really complete a circumnavigation after all. I set out from Western bay and emerged in south east bay. I didn’t swim round the promontory between the two bays. I may have to go back, and do it again.

Tuhua

The trail leads up a bush-clad mountainside
Singing with birds, redolent with earthy attar
Rustling with hidden afternoon activity.
I catch an occasional glimpse
Of furtive feathered ground dwellers
And fleeing lizards.

The path is rough; rock and root-strewn
I need my stick to steady my steps
The summit touches the sky, above the highest trees
Which are shrouded in evening mist that washes
In slow floating waves as on a time lapse shore
Branches reaching out like dark coral rock.

Above the washing white tide
Here at sunset, I made my camp
With one desire;
To sleep, and awake at dawn
To the bellbirds’ famed chorus.

The morning came bright
The birdsong, sublime under a clear sky, echoed.
The island below me a taonga of poenamo
Set in lapiz: Around my camp
Came curious weka
Enquiring after crumbs from breakfast.

On my descent I followed no path.
I had set my course on line of sight
Towards the green and black lakes
And beyond, to the obsidian cliffs
My second objective.
Though taking the obsidian is forbidden
I had set my heart on finding a piece
Suitable to nap a knife.

The going was slow. The bush impeding.
I came upon a place of silence
No birdsong, no rustling in the undergrowth
Eerie. The nape of my neck tingled
I fell into a hole
Unhurt I climbed out
And saw the overgrown hole was regular, square
And there were more; many more, man made
It was a place where people had once dwelt.
Lived and died.
I moved on as swiftly as I could

One lake was black, one algal green
I cooled myself but did not drink
I had a feeling Lethe might live within
At the foot of the cliffs I found
Tumbled shards of shining atramentous
The volcanic glass I coveted.
I took some; perhaps there and then
Began the curse that follows me yet.

I cannot return the tuhua; I no longer have it
I left it somewhere, some time, I don’t recall.
It is lost. It does not matter.

 
© 2019 ARF

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The Angry Nurse.

My last post celebrated the wonderful people in hospitals and surgeries who are the backbone of the health system and almost all of whom have been amongst the nicest of all people I have met. I have always – well, almost always – found that nurses have a robust and earthy sense of humour and they appreciate a patient who is cheerful and jocular – and I don’t mean sleazy.  I’m funny, not crude.

But there was one. I am sure she was nice most of the time. I am sure she had a sense of humour. She must have. She was a nurse!

But. It may have been something I said (it was).

The year was 1991. Our younger daughter was a toddler. June had not had an easy time having our two girls, in fact it was a bit touch and go both times. So we agreed it would be sensible and safer for her if we had no more. The risks are fewer for a man to have a vasectomy than for a woman to have her tubes tied and besides, June had already done her fair share of going under the knife, so it was agreed I would have the operation.

It all went according to plan, keyhole surgery, a single stitch at each site and sent home with instructions to return the following day to have the stitches taken out.

Tomorrow? Yes, cell division is quite fast down there. You will be healed enough to have them out. Fair enough.

I was driven home by my friend Jeff, and limped into the house to recover.

Next day I returned alone and after a short wait was taken into the surgery where once again I sat in the strange chair with my feet in stirrups and my tackle dangling in the breeze.

A middle aged spinsterly looking nurse came in. She had assisted with the operation the day before. I had got the impression she was single, and that she was very devoted to her surgeon.

She examined the site and was clearly pleased with the healing process, or perhaps she admired the fine work of her surgeon.

In any case she breathed “Ah, that’s beautiful!”

You know me, or you should by now.

I responded “Thanks. But I’m sorry, it is already spoken for!”

I thought that was pretty funny. A little humour to ease the embarrassment of the position I was in.

She stormed out of the surgery.

It was quite some time before she returned with a pair of nasty medical-looking plier implements in her hand. Without a word, she quickly clipped then yanked out the stitches. Not at all gently. Then she stormed out again.

Clearly I had offended her. I needed to apologise and point out it had been a joke.

Also, I had been told to expect to be given some post op instructions and a little jar that I would have to fill after a certain time in order to be sure the procedure had worked. So.

I waited patiently.

About 20 minutes passed as I sat there. I didn’t even know if I should get out of the stirrups and dress. Did I need anything else done before I covered up?

Eventually she poked her head round the door.

“Are you still here? You can go.” She disappeared again.

I dressed and left.

Months later I received a phone call from her, still sounding grumpy, demanding why I hadn’t followed instructions and brought in a sample bottle for a sperm count. I told her I had not been given the instructions and the bottle, but I did not remind her why. Best forgotten. So I had to make another run to collect them.

And that is the only nurse I remember who did not think I was a fun patient.

Boomerang

(Yes folks. It came back).

The Kimberley Hotel has two garden bars. One is out the back, beside the pool.  On the sunny cooler days of the dry season, when there is no need for air conditioning, it is a popular place for patrons to sit and drink.  There is an open passage past the restaurant dining room to the main bar.  There, the pool tables are populated by players, who bet money, cigarettes or beer on the outcome of the games.  In the front, there is a veranda with tables where bar meals are eaten and another garden bar where on Thursday nights the weekly trivia quiz is held.
This particular Saturday afternoon I was out on the veranda drinking my usual lemon lime and bitters.  I was only there on the off chance of a conversation with someone interesting.  My bike was parked outside and I was hoping to have a chat with any bikers passing through. I figured the best place to meet them would be the hotel.

The pub was noisy as usual with the buzz of conversation, the knock of billiard balls, and the occasional shout of victory, or a cry of “unlucky!” after a missed shot.  On a high stool at the bar behind the pool tables, an old aboriginal gentleman sat quietly alone, sipping a beer. He stepped out onto the veranda for a few minutes to smoke a thin, carefully rolled cigarette. Then he returned to his stool with his beer.   He was a handsome old man, with white hair and beard, bushy eyebrows and a weathered face from which his dark eyes twinkled with cheerful humour. He looked for all the world like a kindly old blackfeller Santa.

Outside, a tourist bus pulled up and disgorged its passengers. There seemed to be dozens of them, mostly retirees, by the look of it.  They all made a rush for the bar and ordered enough beers and glasses of wine to keep the bar staff busy for a full fifteen minutes.  Some also ordered meals and went to imbibe their drinks on the veranda as they waited for the food to arrive.  The noise of conversation doubled.  One of the tourists, an elderly Englishman with a northern accent, eyed the old Aboriginal gentleman for a while. He seemed to make up his mind about something.  Picking up his beer he sidled over and sat on the next stool.

“G’day” he said. “Are you local?”

“Yep.” Said the old man.

“And you’re Aboriginal, right?”

The old man held his arm out beside the Englishman’s. His black skin was answer enough, but “yep” he said laconically.

“Can I ask you a favour then?” said the Pom. We’ve just come up the Tanami from Alice Springs. I bought a boomerang down there. I did not get a chance to ask anyone to show me how to throw it.  And I’d like to get a few shots of a real indigenous person throwing a boomerang, to take home. Will you throw it for me?”

The old man looked dubious. “I don’t think so mate” he said.

“I’ll buy you a beer”.

“Alright then. Where’s the stick?”

The Englishman went out to the bus and returned in a few minutes with an enormous boomerang and a digital camera.

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The old man took the boomerang and walked out past me to the edge of the veranda.  He raised it and threw it towards the bus.  Then he turned round and walked straight back to his stool by the bar.  He finished his beer in a few swallows, in anticipation of the promised fresh one.  The Englishman had started clicking with his camera as soon as the old chap stepped on to the veranda.  He walked out, still clicking, following the boomerang with his lens as it veered left away from the bus, lifting and spinning through the air. Over the bus it flew, out over the road beyond and back around high over the trees beside the pub.  He ran around behind it, trying to track it as it flew.  Chasing it, he disappeared from my sight around the corner of the building.  I expected the projectile would land in the pool. I waited to hear the splash, but I was surprised at what happened next.

The boomerang came flying down the passage from the back of the hotel and skittered past the old man’s feet, coming to a halt under the pool table, not more than two metres from where he sat. The pool players went silent looking at it, and at the old man sitting calmly on his stool.   A few seconds later the tourist followed it, gushing with enthusiasm.

“That was incredible! That passage is only a few feet wide!” He took a few shots of the boomerang where it had landed and picked it up. Then he went over to the bar and bought the promised beer. “Could you do that again?” he asked. “For another beer?  I didn’t get a shot of it flying around the back of the hotel”.

The old man shook his head. “I only do that once a year” he said. “Come back next year.”

The tourist looked disappointed, and for a moment seemed about to try to persuade the old fellow, but it was plain the old man was resolute, so with a sigh of resignation the tourist accepted the decision and patted the old man on the shoulder.  “Thanks again. That was really amazing. Wait till I tell them about this back in Kettlewell.”

He went over and sat down with his fellow travellers.  He showed them the pictures he had taken on the screen of his camera.  There was a murmur of appreciation as he told the story of what they had missed.  A few of them raised their drinks to the old man, but he was not looking their way.

After a minute or so the old gentleman rolled himself another cigarette, picked up his beer, and came out onto the veranda to light the rolly.

“That was a great throw” I said.

“Bugger that” he said. “I was taken away when I was eight. I was raised at the mission.  That is the first time I’ve ever thrown a bloody boomerang”.

Look on My Works…

Ozymandias

 

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

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Easter 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse –
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

W.B. Yeats

 

24 April 1916
It was the most significant uprising in Ireland since the rebellion of 1798. Organised by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Rising began on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, and lasted for six days.