Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Five Score Years And Ten

This day has dawned with a singular lack of salutation.

Not that it matters in the broader scheme of things, but I am entitled to reflect upon the fact that sixty years ago I came into the world.

At that time a person retired from the workforce but in this day and age we aim for a longer life and shorter retirement period.

I was born in Waitara, a small town in Taranaki which is a regional province of New Zealand. Waitara's sole claim to fame was a large and very dirty river on whose banks a freezing works had been placed. This slaughterhouse processed the livestock from the agriculturally rich hinterlands.

In its early history sailing ships and other small lighters would ply their trade up the river to the wharf braving a treacherous bar at the river mouth. Each spring tide would in later years reveal the steel bones of those who perished doing so.

As a youngster my school friends and I would take our large muslin nets and go whitebaiting in the river or using a treble hooked 'spinner', jagging at the Blood Shoot. The latter action meant hand casting one's line as far out as possible into the offaly murk and then pull it back in swiftly in a jerky action. There was no finesse about this fishing but it brought results.

My father was the town's barrister and solicitor and in later years, a Judge of the Maori Land Court. My mother was an English bride who met and married my father as a result of their meeting when he was in service in World war Two. Captured in Crete he spent several years in Prisoner of War camps in Germany, an experience which he rarely spoke about until much later in life.

I recall I spent my formative years in a modest weatherboard house at 90 Brown Street and would make my way to Waitara Central school when I was a little older, descending a set of steps near Clifton Hill, known as the Zigzag.

Entertainment was kicking a rugby ball around the front lawn and abiding passion for conjuring with pocket money saved and purchases made through deLarno's Magic Centre in Christchurch's Chancery Lane. Our next door neighbour at the time, Jack Olliver, was a gifted amateur magician who proved added motivation. My other love was entertaining my friends with handmade puppets courtesy of my mother's sewing prowess.

Circuses also figured highly in my aspirations at the time and the visiting Worth's and other large circuses are fond memories. I recall being able to balance broom sticks on the tip of my nose from an early age which probably explain a lot about my nasal profile in later life.

Another thing I recall from my first decade of life was an interest in radio. Blobs of hot solder etched their way into my bedroom floor as I struggled to make crystal sets that could pick up the local New Plymouth radio station 2XP. An enormously long aerial wire was strung up from my bedroom window to a pole attached to the chook house.

The value of ceramic insulators was reinforced when I experiences a riveting 'tingle' during a particularly severe electrically storm. Hand winding coils on old toilet roll cylinders was another skill I mastered and they served as a crude tuning apparatus.

Learning to make crude gunpowder out of saltpetre, sugar and charcoal was another lesson in life. Motivated by each passing Guy Fawkes Day we would pack this explosive into old golden syrup tins, insert a wick and detonate the crude devices with glee. Not that my parents were aware of this and we were lucky not to blow ourselves up in the process.

Now sixty years on I am living in Singapore, surveying the world from a marbelled condominium and commuting each day on a doouble decker bus.

It seems a lifetime away from a small Taranaki town and today at sixty reminds me that it is.


Barbara Broughton (née Olliver) said...

Thanks for the memories Roger. Nice to see my Dad get a mention for his conjuring tricks .... but there should be 2 "L" in the surname. As dad always said, it makes an "L of a difference" 😊
My brothers often speak of you and the adventures you shared.

Roger Smith said...

have corrected the text to include the two 'll's :-)