Archive for October, 2009
He found himself in a railway carriage with three other travelling companions. Across from him was a gentleman of the cloth, his dog collar shiny bright against his purple blouse. He had that smarmy look that religious people sometimes do, like he knew the secret of life and somehow you didn’t. To his left sat a portly looking man, in a dark suit, and a bowler, which he still wore indoors. He was either ignorant of customs in this country or so above them that he could choose to ignore what was proper. The other passenger looked as though he belonged in the rear section of the train. His hair was long and unkempt and the stubble on his face looked as if he had not paid attention to his personal hygiene in some days. Beside him sat an old battered white fedora hat that showed a dirty sweat stain where it met the unkempt hair. The smell coming off him confirmed that he hadn’t bathed for some time. Frank attempted to establish eye contact with the man of the cloth but he averted his eyes, or more accurately, looked down his nose at Frank, and then cracked open a copy of the Bible and buried himself in the Scriptures, after lighting up a pipe. Frank, when he caught his eye, indicated the No Smoking sign on the carriage wall but the man of the cloth just ignored him. Frank noticed a wasp, desperately bashing against the carriage window, trying to get out into the countryside, now flashing by. The wasp became more and more frantic and alerted the other passengers to its presence. It angrily circled the carriage and smashed against the window again, then realising this was fruitless it lazily buzzed back into the carriage and alighted on Franks knee. Frank could feel it there, although it wasn’t moving. He could feel its presence, but it was of no concern to him. Suddenly the man of the cloth leaned forward and with his closed bible swatted the helpless creature to a messy blob on Franks tweed covered knee.
What the heavens did you do that for?” Frank said, angrily eyeing the man of the cloth.
“It was a wasp! It could have stung you,” he answered in a weak voice
Nonsense!” Frank said as he looked around at his fellow travelers, “it was a bee. If you leave it alone it will do you no harm.” There were smiles from the other occupants of the carriage, who now were warmed to the situation.
“It was a wasp – and it could have done you a mischief.”
“ Even if it was a wasp, it was one of Gods creatures,” Frank said, “and you of all people should know that.”
Should he use the blue paper and the black ink or the white? And should he perfume the paper or leave it the way it came? Frank pondered on these things as he tried to put words to his feelings. He wanted Mary to known how he felt about her but he was not a man who understood the process of writing a love letter. Give him a piece of kauri, a spokeshave, and an adze and he could manufacture something useful for a boat, but words and feelings were not his thing. He stuffed some No4 into his briar and, striking a long wax kitchen match to the stove, he slowly got the works alight to his satisfaction. He started to scribble on the paper at his side.
21 May, 1913
49 Harrington Street
We have met and been together on three occasions, which I have found to be most pleasant. When I am with you, I feel a different person. The last time we were together, you said that you had a chill and hoped it did not get worse. I hope you have recovered from that.
I have an invitation to the Masonic Ball on the first Saturday in June. It would give me great pleasure to have your company for the occasion.
Waiting for a reply was the worse part. She could read it and think him a complete fool. Conversely, she may have been embarrassed at his outpourings. He decided he would occupy himself in the garden while he waited on the mail carrier. He had the chicken to cull out this morning for the pot and a new batch of silver beet to plant. A woman likes a man who can provide from the soil. A man who can produce food for the table all year round. When he had left England to go to Ireland for work, his own mother had impressed that on him.
“Frank,” she said, lifting her tired old face from the tear-stained handkerchief “when you get to that new country always remember that we are here at home. Write to us. And Frank. A woman prefers a man who can show he is a good provider. Make a garden when you settle and raise chickens, pigs and rabbits.”
He had established a pretty fair orchard and he had over two dozen chickens and a tomato patch and he produced serious vegetables all year round.
He heard the whistle of the postman and he was out of the garden and down at the front gate before the envelope made the postbox.
“Morning Frank. Good one too. Looks like the sun might shine all day on us. Good to get over the frosts. Nothing for you today.” Frank felt himself shrivel. “Hold on. Must have slipped from my Harrington St bundle. There is one. Looks like a ladies hand.” Frank felt his face redden as he snatched the letter from the mans hand. He almost felt like he was being teased. “Something brewing is there Frank?” Frank hurried inside as he felt his neck redden.
27th May 1913
Dear Mr Agnew,
I thank you for your kind interest in my well-being and I can assure you that I have been in good spirits for the past while. I too enjoy the long springs in this new land and have found this year especially bright and cheerful.
As to your request to accompany you to the Masonic Ball I have asked Mama and she would like you to accompany Daddy and her and myself. Would you be able to meet us outside the Town Hall at 6.30 sharp?
Mary Gordon (Miss)
Well, it was a start. That gave him a week to get himself prepared. He would have to learn a few basic steps of dancing, he supposed. You could not go to a Ball with a young lady, without being able to dance a few steps. He would ask that nice widow down the street who took dancing lessons. He would also need a suit. He had his Lodge suit with the medals and chains but that was far too formal for a gay event like a Masonic Ball. He would need something in a lighter colour. And a hat. A majestic sweeping affect. And he would need to have a proper shave and haircut. No bathroom job for Mary. Visit Mr Crammond and get Ray to do him the full works. The hot towel, the luxury soap, and the sharpest blade. And new shoes. He only had boots. He wanted a pair of good quality leather shoes that would last him a few years. In case this whole courtship business went on and on. Frank wondered how the word court and ship came to be put together as he dreamed of dancing with Mary on the sprung floor of the Ports Town Hall.
The Masonic Ball had not gone altogether well. The dancing had been good, but the presence of Mr and Mrs Gordon had been very awkward. They seemed to disapprove of him. They almost gasped when they first saw him in his new suit, hat, and shoes. Mrs Gordon had actually asked him to ‘take off that ridiculous hat-young man’ before they went into the Town Hall. He noticed, though, that Mary grinned and although she was blushing, he thought she approved of the way he looked with the white hat and the red band. He was, after all, a Union man and red were the colours of the Cause. He was proud of the struggle and proud to be part of a group of men who fought for their freedoms. Mr Gordon was clearly not of the same mind. But, he though Mary might have shared some of his thoughts. Mrs Gordon had proven to be an even worse influence. She insisted that they leave at 9.30. Just when things were starting to heat up. Nine thirty, because she was feeling poorly and needed her beauty sleep. Secretly Frank wondered if there was another suitor. Then of course there had been Johnny. Johnny-who was supposed to be Frank’s best friend. Johnny who had accosted Mr Gordon over some business deal that had gone sour. Mr Gordon had not liked that. Johnny – slightly under the weather from drink- pouring out his woes with all in earshot. But the biggest gaff had been the chocolate. He had bought a box for Mary. It was the thing to do. Then he had forgotten or maybe just not thought too much about it and had some himself. The last time he had a chocolate he had come out in a rash. Blotches all over his face and legs and arms. Face swelled up like a balloon. This time he sneezed. Sneezed like there was no tomorrow. Sneeze spay everywhere. Of course, Mr & Mrs Gordon’s worse fears were realised. Thought he was a total idiot.
Frank sat back in his fireside chair. The coal range sizzled away and a kettle boiled on the hob. Inside the oven a chicken gently scented the kitchen. The sun cast its hand through the low window that faced the boat harbour. Fresh woodshavings were scattered amongst the monthly paper that Mother sent from Home. He took out his carpenter’s pencil and started to doodle on the fresh sheet of paper beside him on the table.
I thoroughly enjoyed the time I had with you at the Masonic Ball. I suspected that Mr & Mrs Gordon were not impressed with me, but I sensed that you and I got along just fine. I have written to Mother and told her about you. Her first comment was ‘is she a Catholic?’, when she heard you came from Ireland. I felt that we understood each other and that we are kindred souls.
I am increasingly worried about the Germans and it looks as though we are headed for war. If that is to be I would want to go. I have been led to understand that the war might last a good long time and if a soldier were to go, he might be away from his home for a good, long time.
Insert letter one – slightly hesitant in tone and then an encouraging reply.
He pictured it in his minds eye as he lay in his little bedroom and looked out at the gray Irish morning. He pictured morning sunshine, blood red sunrise turning to pinks and flecked with grays. Seagulls wheeling high in the sky. Two black birds darting in and out of the native vegetation, feeding their young. The cry of the gray warbler, the raucous cackle of the magpie. Bellbirds and fantails have come down from the bush clad hills to feed on the rata flowers. His brother, Sam, had described the young country to him. How the earth was so fertile it was black. How any man could make a fortune. About the gold in the hills, the abundance of food, and land. Land that was cheap and could be cleared and farmed easily. Where a man could raise a family, away from the arena of war. This would not be the end of the Germans and there were the Russians and the Japanese to worry about. Half of Europe was hostile to Britain. And the troubles in Ireland kept on, year after year. Frank closed his eyes and dreamed on.
The parting letter
3 June, 1914
49 Harrington Street
I am waiting for the boat to leave. Soon I will be sailing down the Thames and away from you and my love. I hope to make some difference. I hear that there is a great shortage of boat builders in New Zealand and that land is cheap and a man can make a fortune if he lands on his feet. I know that I have it in my heart to make a good nest for us. Ever since you agreed to be my wife I have been in the clouds.
You walk in another plane, I walk about in a trance. Mother cannot make out what has come over me. I can sleep anywhere and that must be a sign of contentment. Mother and father were against it, at first, but when I said that I would have to marry a Colonial if I didn’t have you, they settled down.
I plan to go to a place called Port Chalmers where there is a good shipbuilding industry. They have a yard that is outfitting ships for the effort. I plan to board until I can find a piece of land and have enough money to get started.
I cherish the days we had together last week and I am sorry that you sister saw the two of us kissing and told your mother. She is probably jealous of the true love that we show to each other. Keep your head high and remember that we will be married soon. We have committed no sin that we need be ashamed of.
I got to thinking about the work you are putting in with the soldiers. I think it is a grand thing that you do, but you must rest after your days tending to those unfortunates who have come back from the trenches. The boy, Billy, you talked of sounds a right mess. I don’t know how I would feel if I had lost both legs. I admire you for what you can do for them.
Waiting to hear from my twin soul, your darling boy, Frank.
Frank opened the mail as soon as he reached the ship. They had a scheduled stop in Portugal before the long haul to Capetown and he was glad to be able to walk around the town. He felt the evanescent pleasure as one glimpses a falling star. He was away form England and the arena of war, but he was also venturing to an uncertain future and he was to be away form Mary for an indeterminate time. They had made their plans but in this uncertain world things could change very quickly. It had been the war that had finally driven him away. The war and the promise of a new, bright future in a South Seas paradise. The Company had promised land, houses, and jobs in a place where a novice could have an orchard or small farm and could not help but succeed. This was a land of opportunities, a place where a humble man could build a fabulous future. Mary’s letter was a delight. Her parents had finally come to see the good things about him and were supportive of the relationship going further. Her nursing was a source of delight and fulfillment to her and, although she had worries about what the war would bring, she was optimistic about their future together.
P & O Branch Service
Between ENGLAND, SOTH AFRICA and AUSTRALIA
Head Office 32,Lime Street, London. E.C.
On board SS Borda – at sea, Saturday morning 10/3/14
My dearest Love Mary,
The ship expects to be in Capetown next Wednesday. There is too much class among the people here. If I had known the attitudes towards domestic and farm labourers I would not have taken this boat. There is a choice of more glamorous accommodation in other vessels but this is the fastest passage. There are some specimens of so-called humanity here you would never care to meet on a long days journey. They are mostly bound for Australia so I will be glad when they get off. The boat mostly has South Africans, going for a holiday, Australians, or New Zealanders returning home. There are two Irish sisters sailing out to New Zealand. They paid three pound each and are required to go into service for six months to pay for the privilege. Someone is making a lot of money from others misery. It makes me sick to my stomach to see the wealthy in other parts of the ship, looking down their noses at the mostly poor Irish. Some men make sport of courting these ladies. They somehow manage to get money from them and the women seem to encourage it. The married women are worse than some of the single girls and the Captain has had to talk to them. There was a suspicious fellow asking about them. He showed me a purse of gold he had accumulated. I called him a chump and a fool.
I find it hard to make friends amongst this rabble. If I put them all into a sugar sack and shook them up they would not equal the wee girl I left behind. I have read your diary over and over. I am that lonesome that I cannot settle anywhere. There is no one person to speak to, my Dear Love. You have no idea how I have missed you. You have awakened my dormant spirit and life will never be the same. You have changed me from a rough barbarian to a civilized being.
There have been sports on board. The crew organised a tug-of-war. The Australians were our equal. They are sturdy chaps and mostly work with their hands. The South Africans, mostly gentler folks, wouldn’t look at us. We ended beating them all and for our troubles were presented with an African stone in the shape of a heart.
I have got myself into the thick of it again. The Irish girls travelling to Australia and New Zealand to be domestics have been ordered by the Matron to do some of the hard work aboard ship. They have them down in the galley shining the silver and scrubbing pots. Some of them came to me and asked if this was right. I told them that if they had pride in their own thoughts they would know what the answer was. I secretly consulted a friend who belongs to the same Society as me and he is going to talk to the Justice Department in Sydney.
I enclose a photo. It is an enlargement of me sitting wearing my Masonic apron. There is much debate between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants on board about the war. The RC’s really hate the English with vengeance. When there is any war news they cheer if any Germans have had a victory. It seems strange to me that a country so close to England could have ideas such as this. There are some pious people. I went to the church service on board and the preacher did not half side with the backsliders. He mentioned in his harangue that the question had been raised in the Homeland was it necessary to educate the children. He maintained that all masters and teachers should go to war because if the Germans won then there will be no education for English children. He didn’t mention that his own cloth is only a protection, like that for all the other powerful and influential people who sit this war out. I would have liked to have given him a piece of my mind but I thought the better of it. I will never listen to him again. I have missed your advice and counsel.
I have sent a letter to my brother telling him of the ointment that you recommended. I am sure that the boils on his neck need the attention that your own sweet self could give.
I have been asked why I am not at the Front. I am called a rebel. I would love to be fighting alongside the Ulster boys and if it weren’t for the mark on my left eye I would be. I don’t come up to the standard that they require. I here the Roman Catholics are having a hard time because the Sinn-Feins are preventing them from enlisting. Strange how some of the RC’s are so against England and some with them.
After what you told me in your last letter about the new gas’s the Germans are using and the effects on our boys, I am glad that I am not there. In lots of ways the work that I do is just as important to the effort.
I wander from place to place and seem not to be here sometimes. I am asked to pass something at the table and do so mechanically. My fellow guests say that the poor man is in love, poor Frank is in love. They do not know what a pleasure is in that.
There have been two births (a boy and a girl) on the ship and one death. The poor fellow had sixty-one fits. He died paralysed down one side. He will be buried at se at sunrise tomorrow.
One of the crew mistook me for a German spy when I kept saying that I had been captured by an Irish nurse. He got a good laugh when I explained that it was my heart that had been captured.
I must go now my love and I hope that my letter finds you well.
Best love to my own Dear Loving Mary, my Twin Soul, from your ever-loving boy, Frank.
He had been out for his early morning walk on the saloon deck. He missed the feeling of earth under his feet after being at sea for more than seven days. He usually walked a good mile before breakfast to work up an appetite. He could see in his minds eye the porridge that was on the menu this morning and his mouth filled with the taste. He heard a terrible screaming and rushed down the companionway in the direction of the commotion. He felt a terrible anxiety as he rounded the passage and saw two young men struggling at a cabin door. One had shaving cream or soap around his mouth and the other seemed to be trying to get him back into the cabin. As he closed in on the pair he realised that something was terribly wrong. The smaller of the two’s eyes were rolling back in his head and he was kicking and writhing. He realised that he was having some kind of fit and would do himself damage unless subdued. He dragged him to the hatch and held him down while yelling at the other fellow to fetch the ships doctor. By the time the doctor arrived he had calmed down. When the doctor touched him he leapt to his feet. He looked like a demented person and was clearly having another fit. His friend said it was lucky that when he started having the fit he had thrown away the razor he was using to shave with or he would have done himself more harm. He said he was a heavy drinker and he came form Paisley in Scotland. The doctor did his best but he finally passed away.
It seemed such a lonely way to be buried. Buried at sea. The ships company, the same pious priest, and a small clutch of passengers braved the cold dawn as the body slid down the chute and quietly sank below the glassy sea hundreds of miles away from any land. Frank shuddered as he thought of his own far off home and the land that he now drew closer to. Had he made the right decision and would he ever see his Mary again?
P & O Branch Service
Between ENGLAND, SOTH AFRICA and AUSTRALIA
Head Office 32,Lime Street, London. E.C.
On board SS Borda – at sea, Wednesday 17/4/14
My dearest Love Mary,
We have left Melbourne after being held over for ten days. I must say that I found the city to be too much and I spent a lot of time onboard the ship. It was rumoured that the ship I was on was sunk on the way to New Zealand, but I can assure you, my dear love, my twin soul, that I am alive and well. News of the War is hard to get here. We heard that a German Man of War had been sunk. That would only leave two. These ships are the ones that make me fear for your safety my dear love. We have heard that the oceans are alive with mines. We heard of a battle fought off the Cape Horn. It didn’t take long for our ships to demolish the Germans.
That Matron who was using the Irish girls lost her job. When the Justice Department heard about it they talked to the Shipping Company and the Captain and she had been overstepping her command.
I haven’t told you about some of my fellow passengers. I have become friendly with a man who has a wife and a family of four who has only fifteen shillings to land with. I do not see people some days but there all always fresh faces, but I am in contact with one dear sweet girl, and that is you.
All my charges are doing well. People have heard that I have traveled out from England and that I am familiar with shipboard life. They come to see me for all manner of things. After dealing with them I am free to roam. I pass the time reading. Your diary has been read many time over, my love. When I look at your photo I recall many happy memories. When I was in Melbourne I found another horseshoe when I was out walking and it bought back many happy memories. The time will not be long, my love, when we will not be apart. Since meeting you my life has changed. Before I met you to assist a young lady was above me. All my sympathies were for elderly people, but now I think of you.
We passed a Union Castle liner yesterday, homeward bound and I wished that I were on her. She is first bound for Capetown and then seventeen days to Southampton. I am looking forward to a walk on the shore.
I was sorry to hear of the troubles you had with the English colonel. It makes me feel ashamed for my countrymen when they resort to the pettiness of that sort of behaviour. Just because you come form Ireland it does not mean that you act like a Roman Catholic. Even Roman Catholics don’t always hate the English the way that he accused you of doing. Keep your head high. If I had been there I would have given him a piece of my mind, even the taste of my fists.
To my dearest love, Frank
The moment Frank set eyes on the fellow he knew that he wasn’t going to get along with him. He had that neglected look, fiery red hair, unshaven, and rough around the edges. He immediately strode up to Frank and stuck his face closely to Frank.
“What do you want you whining, English, malingering bastard?” he said in an ascerbic voice, touched with an Irish accent. He must have been forewarned of Franks coming. He had been to the main office and given his papers and credentials to the wharf boss but this was the man he had to impress and he had obviously had forewarning of who and what Frank was.
“Well – don’t just stand there like a milk cow, out with it. What does the Englishman who is too much of a coward to fight for his home country want here in my yard?”
“I have come for work and I will ask you to speak in a civil tongue.” Frank brushed back his jacket, momentarily exposing his chain of Lodge symbols, the star, the .The man stopped in mid breath and extended his hand in the Lodge handshake.
“Sorry brother. I forgot my manners there. I had heard that you were fresh off the boat and from England and of an age to fight. I just put the wrong two and two together.
“ I have fitted out and worked on many fine wooden sailing vessels. Before I left Barrow-in-Furness, I worked on some cross Atlantic passenger ships. I’ve been in the ship building industry since I left school. I have my own fine set of tools. I can work from dawn till dusk. I don’t drink. I am of good character.”
Frank found that the work was indeed hard. He was expected to put in days where he literally crawled home form the docks and collapsed into bed. Sometimes he was so tired that he missed his evening meal and got by on the bread and cheese that he took to his place in the bowels of a ship that he was helping fit out. A typical started at 6am and finished after 7pm. It was dirty work and he was surrounded by men he would, if he had the choice, not be associating with. Some of them were proud of their criminal past. Others, he suspected, had committed deeds so foul that they did not speak of them. Conditions aboard the partially fitted out ships were hardly better. When it rained the hulls dripped water and he often worked in water up to his knees. When it was hot, and that was infrequently, the inside of the ships was like a steam bath. Many men fainted from the heat and the sounds of adzes scraping was punctuated with hacking coughs. What drove him on was the thought of Mary and of the house they would have.
. The pay was worse. He earned 2shillings a day and for a while his board was costing him ten shillings a week. He had to fall back on his meagre savings. The food was worse. Images of bread growing on trees were replaced with meals lacking any vegeatbles apart from potatoes. The meat was only barely eatable and was often rotten or from tiresd old beasts. He existed on mutton, mutton, mutton.
Letter from NZ
July 5th , 1915
I feel I am in my own home waters now, among my own people, my friends. There were a lot of unemployed men on the boat. I consider it a huge shame that for so many there is nothing else for them to do but to go to war. I maintain that anyone who has no ambition in life, and no trade, then let that class go.
I have been busy here fitting out troopships. It’s a crying shame how they herding men together. I am sure of the Officers were made to sleep down there themselves they would think twice. I am sending a greenstone pendant and the African stone heart we won at tug of war.
I will soon clasp my dear girl to my breast never to roam again. I leave by the SS Corinthic on August 5th, due in London September 18th.
There is such a scarcity of woodworkers here they are glad to take on anyone who can drive a nail. Some of the men’s work is not of a very high standard but they all think they are doing their duty. Let them think on. If the Germans come it will be different.
I notice that you have been having strikes at home. It seems a shame that now, of all times, that men, to get their just rights, have to strike. It doesn’t seem fair.
I am holding on to Dolly and I am leaving her with a friend when I travel back. The Government are trying to get all the horses for the War effort but Dolly is so old now I don’t think she would be of better use to them than to me. If they do take her I will expect a good price. The cost of things here is almost twice what it is at home and I am having second thoughts about us setting up home here. Also with the boys away at the war it is a pretty lonely place, although it still has the attraction of its natural beauty. I have been thinking of settling also in Nelson. The climate is more favourable there and I have had the offer of some good land that could be made into an orchard.
I will ask you to please put a sealing wax on your letters. I suspect that they are being interfered with and it may have something to do with the German spy business.
I am boarding with a women and her husband here. She is against getting married. Her three boys are off to war and she worries about them constantly. Her husband is a drunk and almost a cannibal he is so primitive, I have to pick him off the floor constantly and he barely reads or writes so that I end up spending my evenings trying to help him with his work.
My own twin soul. Do not think that I belittle your letters for your words are wisdom from the depths of your heart. You are my life blood. Your thoughts are my thoughts, like one soul speaking to another as if we are untied together in one body. Mother says that if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t have stayed so long in England. You are my comfort, we are made for each other. Oh! Mary dear you do not know how I feel in your absence, but trust in the Unseen Spirit to direct our paths.
Strange as though it may seem this is a true story. My grandfather, affectionately known as Poppa had a dark secret in his past. I accidentally came across this in a history of the Port and found Pud, my grandfather’s alter ego. Many things fell into place after this.
Saturday 12 May.
To demolish the old fishermen’s sheds to make way for the railway turnabout (what is the actual name for this?) was going to be a nice little earner though Pud. He estimated that, given everything went smoothly he could have the job done in three weeks with three men and the $10,000 would be split between the four of them. They would get $1,000 each and he would pocket $7,000, and, the sale of the scrap wood, iron and fittings would probably net him a further $4,000. Very nice, very tidy. He would finally be looked up to by his strict Calvinistic wife who thought she had married far beneath herself. He had started out as a shipwright in Ireland and migrated to this beautiful country but times had been hard. He had bought an acre block of land and thought that an orchard would be the ideal income earner to supplement what he could get working in the shipyards where work was sporadic. The orchard had failed, eventually beaten by poor choice of trees and lack of knowledge on how to care for them. People in the port were mostly self sufficient in vegetables and nearly every one had an apple, plum and pear tree so Pud’s crop died on the ground. His wife was too proud or snooty to make the windfalls into jam or relish which could have been sold for profit. Pud then moved to delivering coal in a horse drawn cart and that made a good living until the combination of his wives pride and a new carrying firm that used motorized transport, put paid to any hopes of secure future in household fuels. But Pud thought that he was onto something here. He had a line on something that everyone needed and whats more needed year after year. Pulling down old buildings and putting new ones up in their place would always we something that every community needed if they were going ahead and the port was certainly going ahead. The recent installation of a railway line from the nearby city linked the port with the rich hinterlands and exports of fruit, coal, dairy and sheep products. More storage space would be needed eventually but the pressing immediate need was a turnaround on the site of the old blacksmiths shop so that heavy engines could be simply turned around to haul empty wagons back to the city rather than having to traverse a costly and lengthy rail loop. Pud was talking to his friend Johnny who Pud had formed a relationship of sorts through his various business ventures. Johnny, Like Pud, was an immigrant who had come to make good in his new country. He had started off as a grocer in the port but had quickly realized that given even growth the prime commodity would be space. Johnny had bought a number of old fishing sheds that circled the port and hoped to make money from selling them as demolition projects when bigger and more modern buildings were called for. He also had a motley collection of boats that served as the port tug, the pilot boat, and a ferry to an adjoining seaside village. This was of much concern to some residents as they saw them as an accident waiting to happen and there were community moves to purchase vessels in keeping with the port new prosperity. They were further angered and hindered in these efforts by Johnny’s meteorite rise to political power. He had been deputy mayor for the past year and if the voters turned out as they had in the last election he was looking at being mayor in the next elections. He appealed to the largely immigrant population in the area and his blend of simple thinking, and business cunning had captured many peoples imagination. He was also a generous man as long as the generosity had some outcome, which would further increase his own personal fortune.
‘You know Frank “ Johnny started off, using Puds formal name. Pud knew of his nickname but hated it as he hated his middle name of Scott. Any mention of either of them could send him into hours of apolexy. Johnny knew and honored this.
‘You know Frank- OI reckon you could make more money out of this than you had figured. Why pay these guys for days of work when you could pull the whole thing down in an instant and just have them clear up the rubble. Save yourself – orr hh – reckon you could save yourself – given that it all works out – I reckon you could save yourself fifteen hundred in wages and bring the whole thing in a day or two earlier. If you were smart you could negotiate something with the railways so that you get a bonus if you do it in three days’.
Pud , who was not skilled in the ways of the world as Johnny was answered ‘ Fifteen hundred dollars ehhh? – negotiate a clause about finishing early? Hmmmmm . How will that work John?’
Johnnny had other motives. He was absolutely gutted by the decision of the railways to use the blacksmith’s shop for its site. His shed nearby was the perfect site but the local manager of the railways was one of Johnny’s detractors and, in Johnny’s opinion, he had deliberately used this other site to get at Johnny. Johnny wanted to sabotage the project and he was not above using his old friend (Johnny rationalized this that Pud was a silly, simple, man who would never come to anything in the port and therefore was no threat to Johnny and his ambitions.
‘Well it works this way.’
Johnny proceeded to outline his cunning plan to the gullible Pud.
Wednesday 23 May
Pud attached the last shackle to the wire loop and expertly screwed the pin home and slipped the loop so that it could run free. He stood back and surveyed the scene before him. The blacksmith’s shop stood before him. Surrounding it was an enormous wire hawser, nearly as thick as a mans forearm. This, in turn, was hitched to a steam locomotive which, at this very, moment, was building up a head of steam.
Pud thought through the exercise. Workers ready to clean up the debris, hawser in place-securely shackled and wired, engine ready – what else remained? Pud scanned his brain but nothing fell into place. He gave the signal to the locomotive driver who Pud had paid handsomely with a crisp $100 note – more than a months wages, to keep his mouth shut and most of all not to tell his employers who were away in their distant city office and only visited the port when something was to be opened or a politician was visiting.
The locomotives wheels initially skidded on the tracks as the twelve hundred horsepower of the mighty engine transferred power to driving the train back down the tracks to the city. She gradually gained speed and by one hundred feet the cable started to tighten and the timbers of the old shop started to shriek in protest. All to quickly windows popped from their frames, timbers splintered as the strain broke them free from nails and glue, roofing iron popped, and the building gradually lost its shape and fell to the ground. Pud was delighted and as he looked at the site the building was filled with the accumulated dust and grime of years as the chimney and then the roof finally caved in. There was an accompanying smell, which was very unpleasant, but he couldn’t place it at first but there wads no mistaking the fountains of water, which now sprouted from the site. Puds first thought was there must be an underground stream beneath the building. He had not seen any plans of the site as he wanted to get the project over as fast as possible. The locomotive had now come to a stop and thew driver was running back down the tracks frantically waving his arms and yelling something to Pud.
, Weather and glass’ – What did he mean weather and glass. It’s a bit late to worry about rain now thought Pud but he thought that maybe something else was wrong. The driver was within talking distance now and his reddened face and waving arms conveyed more than a little alarm to Pud.
‘ DID YOU CUT THE WATER AND GAS????’
My fondest memories of Poppa are of me, scrunched down in front of his dilapidated Morris chair, the seat stuffed full of old newspapers to make it habitable, listening to the Children’s hour at nine o’clock in the morning, in the school holidays as his pipe smoke drifted out the opened window to the exciting jungle of his back yard. Poppa never worked again. His career was effectively over after he was sued for the expenses of clearing up the mess that he had created. Johnny went on to become one of the most flamboyant and unliked mayors of the port. He ruled with a total disregard to the wishes and political ambitions of the local business community but retained enough favor with the population that he was returned term after term. He finally died peacefully in his living room and was discovered by my father as he visited to take him for his weekly drive.
He stood at the end of the Mole and looked up to the north. He could just make out the distinctive headline at Moeraki, through the heat mist of the day. He imagined if he could squint his eyes really tightly he could see all the way back to Ireland. The Pacific Ocean rolled into the end of the Mole and crashed against the rocks, worn by centuries of the assault form the wild Southern Ocean. Behind him the white sands of the Aramoana beach stretched out to the light at Heywards Point. Across from where he stood the lighthouse at the head of the harbour sat. If he turned around he would have been bale to see back up the harbour to the port that lay seven nautical miles to the southwest. His eyes misted over, partly form the salt spray, partly from memories.
Married for ten years, then illness and death. If only he had not bought Mary to this savage land. She had been happy in Ireland. She had been happy in Port Chalmers but the wet, cold, winters and the poor housing cannot have helped her frail constitution. The cough had got worse and then they found out that she had a weak heart. She just gave up after hearing that news. The new house he had built for her on the warmer side of the hill with its panoramic views of the harbour had not rallied her. She passed away quietly in their marriage bed. Now he had two young daughters to bring up.
The Shed Out Back
The old man awoke with a start. He muttered to himself. It was hard enough getting into the arms of Morpheus at his age but to be awoken by something after a few hours of precious sleep was beyond the ken. He thought he heard voices and laughter coming from the shed out the back. He shone the torch that he kept by his bed over at the clock. 2.30 A.M., the arms said. He thought to himself what a bargain that clock at been, and how good his eyes were at his age. His hearing was pretty good too, but he preferred to feign deafness sometimes. Amazing what you heard about yourself when people thought you deaf. Then he heard the noise again. A sort of snuffling and murmuring that could be a possum but could also be human. His shed held his precious tools and papers. Someone had broken into it a while back and a chest of ship’s tools had disappeared overnight. Tools that had shaped boats which were now but history in the seaport where he lived. Tools that he had bought from the old country. Tools that had shaped first sail and then steam boats that had transformed this country. He thought he heard the sounds coming closer. Coming into the house. He would deal to them. He reached over for his stick thinking he would give them a sound thrashing. He might be ninety-four but he still could deal with a mischievous thief who was so cowardly he had to sneak around in the dead of night, stealing an old man’s possessions. There were a lifetime of memories out in that shed. He hoisted his sturdy frame to the side of the bed and as he was pushing himself to his full five foot nine, the carpet slipped out from under his foot and he felt the sickening pain as he fell to the floor.
He came to and he still had his flashlight gripped firmly in his hand. He had wet himself, probably from the pain and shock, and he was very cold. He looked at the clock again. He had been unconscious for over an hour. He could not hear any sounds from the shed now. He tried moving but every movement caused a terrible, terrible, pain to shoot up his leg and side. There was also an ominous grating that suggested bone against bone. It bought a wave of nausea. He must have broken something, he thought. I cannot move, but I can reach over and get my stick. If I can hook it through that pillow I could perhaps drag it across and then lever myself up onto it. Then the blanket. Half an hour later, after passing out again, he had the pillow and blanket. Now, at least his top half was warm, and his hip wasn’t grinding into the floor. Now what, he thought. I guess the daughter will come looking for me when I don’t ring in. He usually rang every morning before she took off for work to tell her he was OK. She was a good girl but their relationship had been strained until she and her husband moved into their own home. She had lived with him into her thirties after Mary, his wife, had died giving birth to the dead baby that would have been her younger brother and his heir. Oh for someone to pass his wisdom on to. Then she had married, a late war bride. He could never work out why the son-in-law never liked him but his daughter always stood by him. If he missed the occasional call, she said she would get a neighbour to bang on the door until he just had to answer it. But he had never missed a call in the decade or so he had been doing this.
His daughter found him at 8.00am. She had a premonition that something was wrong. She often had premonitions, but this morning’s was strong. She used her spare key and found him unconscious, on the bedroom floor. Soaked in urine, so that at first she drew back from him and muttered ‘Oh Dad’ under her breath. Then she saw the rise and fall of his chest and knew that he was breathing, although it was shallow. He was shivering and he looked so frail and for the first time she was aware of how terribly old he was. She tried to get him back into the bed but he shrieked every time she moved him and she saw that he must have broken something by the funny way his leg was pointing. She telephoned the ambulance.
He woke in a strange hospital bed and surveyed the world around him. He was in a single room and in a hospital. His snoring and nighttime yelling had forced the hospital staff to put him in ‘the side room’. A narrow window to his left framed a view to the North East Valley and the University and Teachers College part of the city. The greenery of the hills contrasted with the blue sky. His room was painted that institutional green that was supposed to calm. He was propped up on his bed with his broken hip and leg encased in plaster and splints. The doctor had told him there was no chance of a replacement hip at his age and because of his other health conditions.
“You would not last the length of the operation. We consider that your best option is a wheelchair.” This would mean he could no longer go on living in his own home and his daughter had made it clear she would not take him back again.
“I couldn’t support you any more Dad. I’ve got the job and John would not have you living with us again. I’m getting on myself. I just couldn’t lift you anymore or supply you with the level of care you would need. I’ve looked at a few rest homes and decided that Birchfield is the best. You would have your own room and they have nice grounds. I’d come and visit every week. It’s for the best.” How many times had he heard those words ‘it’s for the best’. The daughter had said that as she burned all his precious possessions that he bought at the Friday auctions. She said that when she and the husband moved to their new house on the hill. The words still echoed around the incredibly hot hospital room. The bedside table had the cards from the grandchildren and flowers from neighbours. The RSA man had come and given him some chocolates and a kind word. The unopened box of chocolates still lay on the floor where they had fallen. The stupid man didn’t even stop to ask if he liked chocolates. Had been allergic to them since his teens. Silly fool. Funny how he still thought of himself as young. His thoughts drifted off to Harrington Street and his shed. He had called his home ‘The Anchorage’. It had been his and Mary’s refuge since they had come to this country. It had stayed his anchor when first Mary and then his daughter had left. One dead and one plucked like an egg from a warm nest. He had all his memories out there, in the shed. Memories and the roll of money that even his daughter knew nothing about. That had been his real fear when he heard the noises. Not the tools, though they were valuable, but the roll of money. His daughter had found the $2000 in $20 bills in his old overcoat in the wardrobe in his back bedroom, but she didn’t find the more substantial roll out in his shed. Who could he trust with the knowledge of that? Twenty-five years of saved pension and egg money. That and the Lodge money. Encased in waterproof wrapping and wedged in the back of the shed, under a floorboard beneath the coalscuttle. He drifted off into sleep thinking of the Anchorage, of Mary, of warm nests.
They watched as the shed finally crashed to the ground. Flames hungrily engulfed the new feast of timbers as they settled. A pall of white smoke rose to the sky and they shielded their eyes and ample bodies from the intense heat.
“I always thought he had a huge pile of money buried around the house somewhere but we have searched every nook and cranny and there was just no sign. I even had all the chimneys cleaned at considerable expense, but nothing. I reckon he frittered it away on all that junk he had in the shed. Just useless junk from second hand sales. You know Dad used to go to the sales every Friday after he retired. Always bringing home junk which just sat in the shed.”
Katarina glanced over at the table where the blond woman and her husband were supposed to be dining. There was only the woman tucking into her third vanilla slice. People like that disgusted Katarina. She had stuck to her Greek salad and she had only really played with that while the others ate their courses. It reminded her of her second to last assignment in the Aegean. It had gone particularly badly and, once again, older sister Mia had to come to the rescue. Katarina had killed the woman but her lesbian lover had fought back with a vengeance that bordered on the insane. Katarina had taken a knife wound to her upper arm and had been savagely kicked in the throat. Barely able to breathe, let alone talk, she had autodialed her cell and within seconds, Mia was through the door and onto the lover. She quickly disarmed her of the knife then drove her nasal bones into her brain. One minute she was standing there, the next, she wriggled to the floor, convulsed, then expired. Katarina was nearly unconscious from the pain, when they doused the dismembered bodies in acid in the hotel bathroom. Sulphur fumes made her eyes water, but Katarina marvelled at our her older sister’s dedication and cunning. She also despised her for her success. Here she was tonight, dressed down in a denim suit, designed to look cheap, but Katarina knew that it cost the best part of $2000. She dripped with diamonds and gold, making her look like a queen to Vasili’s king. Vasili, poor Vasili. He dressed like a king, but like his brother Joe he was a three-time loser. They often worked as a foursome, husbands and wives enjoying a holiday together, reunited from the old country. The men did little though and only formed an image. They talked of the old days and got canned. Already, they were on to their forth double bourbon and cokes and had dropped close to $500 on the casino. Katarina and Mia stuck to orange and tomato juice. Katarina looked enviously at Mia’s plate. She had put away the grilled trevalla with fries and a plate of marinated calamari rings, and now she hungrily eyes the dessert menu. Mia looked up at her dowdy sister. Plump, fake-blond, dressed in a frumpy gray dress she looked less like her sister than her mother. She whispered across to her. “I think the death-by-chocolate. Most appropriate don’t you think.” and she gave a sinister little laugh.
At the adjacent table, Madge adjusted her watch which doubled as a highly sensitive listening device. It was a little on the blink tonight and she only picked up the beginning of the death by chocolate reference form Mia. Special Ops briefing said that these two Russian sisters were the business. They had been sent here to kill the NZ man who had a block of Huoun pine in which was a test tube containing the deadly SARS virus. He travelled the world trying to sell it to the highest bidders and sop far had been successful in China and Canada. He was supposedly here in Australia and NZ to put a halt to Asian immigration. He usually travelled with his wife but although Madge could see her, she couldn’t make out any 99 kg six foot New Zealander. The blond woman was now ordering another vanilla slice and another bottle of junk wine. Possibly she as drunk because she kept talking to the empty chair opposite her. What was she saying? Something about ‘at least try another glass of water dear, you’re fading away’.
Trang put down her the forth vanilla slice and bumped into the back of Mia as she did so, safely depositing the tracking device amongst the jewellery. She saw Madge glance over at her but the Australian Secret Service were four steps behind in this particular game. But where was the husband? She saw a faint shape shift in the chair opposite the blond woman and there was a smell of ketone in the air. She shrugged and moved back behinds the servery.
Dawn thought she had seen it all even though she had only been working at Banjo’s Bakery & Pizzeria for three years. Tourists, notorious for being loud, noisy, and obnoxious; the locals weren’t much better. There were a couple of them outside now at 7.30 am, riotously drunk and making a nuisance of themselves. Fishermen. Say no more. Then there had been the Irishman with more facial furniture than a New Guinean tribesman. Dawn couldn’t wait to see how he ate his Hawaiian special, and she hadn’t been disappointed. It bought a new meaning to spearing pineapple. But today left all that in the dust. It was a little before 7.45 and the bakery had produced enough rolls, pastries and breads to last until mid-morning when this tourist couple walked in for a full Continental breakfast. $15, all you can eat. He, the guy, looked a little off. Like he was rubbed out or something. Smudged around the edges. Dawn couldn’t place it but when he sat down he sort of melted. When he grasped his utensils to eat, they formed a liquid pool and even though the eggs and bacon disappeared off his plate, she couldn’t see him put anything in his mouth. She, presumably the wife by the way she nagged him, kept looking around in a concerned sort of way. Dawn didn’t feel like she could ask if there was anything they could do because she felt this paralysis. Like she was glued to the spot or something. It was just plain weird. Even weirder than the Irishman. When they left there was this little puddle on the floor under where he had sat. Dawn didn’t want to touch it but Banjo looked at her in that funny do-it-or-you-will-be-walking-down-the-road-with-no-pay sort of way and she had to get down there and scape it into a pan. It looked like liquid, but when she pushed the brush through it, it turned into dust. Dust that smelled of electricity. Like someone had lit a match, but instead of turning into charcoal, it had gone gray and powdery. Dawn realised that there were some things in life that she had not seen yet.
Congestive Heart Failure
As deaths go, it’d be better
the self slipping off
in a sea
of morphined tranquility.
But for you, mother,
is this the good night
You who could single-handeldly
Fight demons and monsters, with your bare hands and shrill voice
I can hear you laughing and calling me a little shit
From beyond the grave.
A porcine valve
might save you,
but you just whistle
through your teeth.
“Pig gristle in my heart”
Look, I argue,
Once paved in gold
Is now finally at rest
The restaurant was illuminated by built in wall lighting so that parts were bright but pockets of near darkness were scattered throughout the room. A posse of early evening clientele were seated, talking, and sipping their pre-dinner cocktails. Through the kitchen doors, the faint sound of a busy kitchen could be heard. Delicious smells wafted out from behind the same doors. Paul was seated at a side table and was just finishing his second Manhattan. He had already made his mind up that he would opt for the fish dish tonight. Maybe the salmon. There was just something about the smell of salmon on a hot grill.
The tall, gracious woman glided into the room, her coat flowing behind her, a small hat with a green feather on her head. She scanned the room and her eyes settled on Paul; I small grin crossed her face, a face that bore the unmistakable signs of recent botox injections.
“Hello Paul, how lovely to see you.” Her approach was preceded by a subtle scent that Paul could not quite place. It reminded him of something or someone.
Paul, seated in a dark corner of the room, away from the other diners, rose to his feet politely. He felt rather light headed. Was this the woman of his dreams or maybe he was really, really hungry.
“Er, good afternoon, er, evening.” He pushed his chair back, moved around the table, and pulled back the second chair at the table, indicating for her to sit. The chair made a terrible noise and some of the other diners looked over at who or what was causing a disruption to their deliberations.
She looked down at him, a hint of a smile on her face. She raised her hands and sat down next to Paul. “How are you doing? How are the roses?” She placed her expensive leather handbag open the table. Paul looked to see if he could see any identifying initials. Who was this woman? But he had identified the scent. It was Opium or some such name as that. His wife had used it a lot. And what the hell was all this about roses. He wouldn’t know a rose from a daffodil.
Paul’s brown frowned. He was unsure what she was talking about. He tried to cover his confusion by a quick response. “Um, er, they’re doing well, thank you.” In his haste he dropped his napkin on the floor. Would it be impolite to reach down for it or just leave it where it had fallen? She might think he was trying to do something else, something entirely different than retrieving an innocent napkin. One of the wait staff dropping a tray of plates interrupted his thoughts. The noise in the restaurant seemed to be intensifying. Now the kitchen noises were raised and it seemed all the diners had started yelling at each other.
The woman seemed to take his response in and snapped back. “Betty well? I haven’t seen her for a while. And how is the new grandchild. It’s a girl isn’t it. Madison – something. What an unusual name. You must be thrilled.” She adjusted her wrap and to Paul it appeared she was actually looking down her nose at him.
Paul was now completely confused. Who was Betty? What grandchild was she talking about? Who was this woman? Now he wasn’t even sure about the perfume. “Yes, yes. All well.” Best, he thought to leave the napkin where it was and just hope that this woman, who was now glancing around the room, would just leave him alone. Seeing no one else she could sit with she noisily drew back her chair, picked up he bag and rose.
“I won’t keep you. Have a lovely day.” She turned on her heels and walked out of the restaurant. Paul, in his haste to be polite and stand, knocked his drink over. The smell of spilt whisky and the woman scent made for a heady mix. His head was spinning and the room started to go in and out of focus.
Paul sat down heavily. He must be getting Alzheimer’s.
Meanwhile the elegant woman looked back into the restaurant. I sly grin came over her face. She quickly adjusted her hat and strolled down the road to the next restaurant on the high street