Friday, 29 July 2016

I Greatly Admired Robert Muldoon

I had a great deal of respect and admiration for Robert Muldoon. Well he was Prime Minister for quite a long time of course, long enough for even me to get used to him. And I needed to get used to him, coming as I did from a political system that was supposed to be the same as that in New Zealand but in practice seemed to differ substantially. In England back in those days even Labour diehards carried more of an air of old fashioned gentility along with them than Robert Muldoon was ever able to muster. I’m thinking in particular of Frank Cousins whom I met on several occasions in the mid nineteen sixties, and an intransigent friend of his whose actual name now escapes me now because he insisted on calling himself `Red Ned’ . Robert Muldoon stood a long way to the side of those two gentlemen and I was just a bit nervous of his ominous reputation – as I say, coming from England where cartoonists simply did not get thrown out of press conferences, it was a bit of a learning curve. Everyone I knew in the seventies and eighties loathed and detested Robert Muldoon but that was because they leaned rather more to the Left than I had ever done. One thing was certain, he was not a man who was ever going to be universally adored. Luckily, being a simple wife and mother at that stage in my life, I was able to stay under his radar for the most part – until the matter of the Missing Opening Speaker at the Gifted Education Conference reared its ugly head. I was on the organizing committee and when somebody suggested we invite a highly gifted young politician called Simon Upton along to open the event we gave each other hearty pats on the back. Young Upton had distinguished himself by gaining degrees in English Literature, Music and Law. He was also a Rhodes Scholar and as such an infinitely suitable person to open a conference dealing with educational opportunities for the intellectually gifted. We congratulated ourselves for days on this most excellent choice. Two hundred parents and teachers rapidly confirmed their attendance. So when a woman announcing herself as Simon’s secretary rang at 5pm the night before Day One to convey the message that unfortunately due to circumstances beyond his control Mr. Upton would no longer be able to make the event, as you can imagine it caused a great deal of consternation. For some reason I was elected to solve the problem, to rapidly find a new opening speaker. At the time Robert Muldoon was my local electorate MP because I lived in Tamaki. `You should ring him and ask for advice,’ advised the Chairwoman of the Organising Committee and when I tentatively suggested she might like to do so herself she said that was impossible as she lived in Titirangi – No, it had to be me. To my great surprise his telephone number was listed in the directory (remember them?) and I dialed (yes, this was back in the long forgotten dialing days) the number with foreboding in my heart and prickling in my arm pits. He answered the phone himself, so instantly I was for a second or two struck silent. He listened patiently as I outlined my problem and then was silent for a moment or two himself before saying, `Well you know, Mrs. Harris, Young Upton is a fairly inexperienced young fellow – he hasn’t learned yet some of the guiding principles that go along with being in politics – things like not letting folk down…doing what you say you’re going to do...I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll have a word with him and if he finds he still can’t turn up tomorrow, I’ll come along and open the event myself. Now how would that be?’ I was delirious with gratitude and if he had been physically nearby I would have kissed the hem of his garment. He said he would ring me back in precisely thirty minutes. And when thirty minutes had passed he did exactly that. He said in his slow, gravelly voice, `I think you’ll find Young Upton will be there tomorrow Mrs. Harris. I’ve had a bit of a chat with him and he’s decided to come along after all.` And he was of course quite correct. The next morning young Mr. Upton was there bright and early and gave a very well received opening address. From that day forward I found myself greatly admiring Robert Muldoon

Monday, 25 July 2016


Apparently there are some suburbs of the city plagued with rats at present and irate citizens are not only calling radio talkback lines and contacting local MPs but even writing to newspapers demanding action. Fortunately, so far the hinterlands of leafy Parnell seem to have escaped this problem. We lived in Kohimarama when the children were growing up, a veritable stone’s throw from the city. What I mean I suppose is that even in those days Kohimarama was not the back of beyond and certainly had running water and electricity – in fact all the mod cons one could possibly expect considering it was the nineteen eighties. We even had a home computer on which the kids played exciting games like Apple Panic. Who remembers that edifying game I wonder? But I digress. We also shared our property with a large number of rats, most of whom seeming to feel they had prior rights to the place. Over weeks they became utterly fearless in their invasion of our space and as time progressed, rather than waiting for us to retire for the night, they scuttled across the carpet between us whilst we watched evening TV and invaded the kitchen cupboards for tasty scraps, and if they could not find any they chewed their way into previously unopened packets of cereal and sultanas. Our three cats, Hector, Harriet and Heidi became sick to the back teeth of trying to get on top of the problem and after a while they simply gave up and scarcely twitched an ear or whisker as the intruders scampered past in the half light. During this period I learned that rats are agile creatures and can scale vertical surfaces with absolute ease and no discernable decrease in pace. I saw them do it, more than once. It was The Husband who eventually suggested that we might attempt to deal with the problem by engaging the services of Rentokil. Gareth arrived within a day or two and laid poison and told us that the average rat did not come inside all year round which was reassuring because as he spoke one fossicked at his feet. Gareth said they only came into the house to look for water because unlike mice they were unable to live without it. He managed to make this latter statement sound almost, but not quite, distressing which I imagine it would be if one happened to be a rat. Sinead, age eight at the time, had the glimmer of a tear in her eye. Seamus, a year or two older and less emotional wondered how long it would take the average rat to die from the effects of dehydration. What they did begin to die of was the very effective poisoning procedure. Then a new problem emerged as we attempted to trace the rotting carcasses in ceiling, walls, and behind furniture. Retrieving dead rats was much worse for me than avoiding live ones. One morning I entered the kitchen to find a long rodent tail emerging from under the stove. `Just pick that dead rat up,’ I said to Sinead, `And take it outside to the rubbish bin.’ I think I added, `please’. But she resolutely refused. `Why on earth not?’ I demanded, `It’s clearly dead.’ She gave me a withering look and said that it might simply be sleeping and I should do it myself. It was some months before the last ratty corpse was scraped from behind the washing machine and we could really call ourselves rodent free. It was a huge relief and so on the demise of the most senior cat, when Seamus fervently demanded that a pet rat should replace him we were most reluctant. Despite protest, however, a large cage was soon installed beside his bed inside which Blanche resided for several years. `The cats might dispose of it,’ The Husband had suggested doubtfully, but of course they never did and in the end she outlived them.

Monday, 18 July 2016

The Sudden Unbearable Sadness of Photographs

`Sinead has sent some photos,’ The Husband called up the stairs just as I was sitting down before the laptop determined to get on with writing something – anything, perhaps even the beginning of the new novel provisionally titled `Does Anyone Here Speak Portuguese?’ `Photos of what?’ `Of all of us…..on The Ghan, at Alice Springs, and lots from Edinburgh and London.’ I opened the packet gingerly and out spilled at least three dozen images. The Ghan in all its magnificence, stretching for almost a mile under unbearable heat. The two of us boarding the train, navigating the narrow corridors, exploring the restaurant car, sipping cocktails in the bar and the same scenes all over again, this time Sinead with her father. A number of images featuring the extraordinarily extravagant meals served on board. Several of us getting ready for bed – oh the excitement of nights on board a train! Then, the train trip over and done with, oddly unfamiliar pictures of Patrick, Seamus and Sinead together in London, on buses, in pubs, in restaurants, looking only slightly self-conscious to be together for the first time in years. Other hostelry and transport pictures featuring Yang at the side of Seamus and he looking just a tiny bit proprietorial, a strange mixture of protectiveness and possessiveness. More photos spilled forth, this time with a background that was distinctly Edinburgh. The `children’ breakfasting together in the strangely rustic bar of the Grassmarket Hotel. Some lovely pictures of Patrick with his cousin Merlin, those two so alike they could be twins and then again this time with Seamus too – he looking quite different from the cousinly duo. Me with Merlin or was it Patrick? I had to stop momentarily to establish which one of them it might be. Yang and Kyunghee together looking for all the world as if they had known each other for years and had not simply met for the first time just days previously. Then Edinburgh was left behind and we were all back in London once more, the last visit to The Mayflower, the last lunch together at The Pheasant captured for ever. A strangely evocative photo of Patrick hesitating before the door of 26 Northampton Square the place where he was conceived, he now pretending to reach for the knocker. Oddly uplifting that image, he defiantly at the door as a man at the place we had been hounded from when he was five months embryonic, both of us under attack from his now reassuringly deceased father. `Lovely pictures aren’t they?’ announced The Husband emerging from below with his lunchtime sandwich and a precariously balanced cup of coffee. I nodded but could not speak being suddenly taken by surprise by the final images – The Husband himself wearing my brother’s green gumboots and posing outside The Lodge at Cape Wrath. Both of us with Bernard and Irene in a restaurant somewhere in Edinburgh in late 2014. Sinead and Bernard sharing coffee and conversation together. And finally Bernard and me laughing at some clever quip, some banter between us that invariably bored those around us. Bernard before the advent of that final unhappy year of his life. Startled by surprise and a little surge of tears, I searched for words and could not find them so simply nodded but more emphatically. The Husband took the pile of photos from me and began to bite into his sandwich.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Scottish Law - No Room For Smoke & Mirrors

My first realization that Scottish law differed substantially from English law came when I was a teenager planning to run away to Gretna Green to marry an impossibly handsome young man called Peter Grenville. We were to meet in the foyer of the Cumberland Hotel at six pm before catching a fast train North. He clearly was not as keen on the idea as I was because he failed to keep the date. I waited until just after nine and then went home disappointed and disillusioned. I recall that his justification later (because I did pursue him for explanations) had something to do with his sister organizing a Fireworks Party for his birthday. It was an excuse that did not seem good enough at the time and to be honest, it still doesn’t cut the mustard. I don’t know if young people still run off to Gretna Green or not but I have become aware recently that Scottish law is still at variance with English. Take the edicts pertaining to Wills for example. In England a marriage causes any previous Will to become invalid and a new one must be made. This is not the case North of the Border where also a Will can be signed by the Testator without any witnesses and if there is a witness he or she can even be a beneficiary although this needs to be clarified in a written statement. None of this sits easily with we Southerners. In Scotland the term `children’ refers not only to standard run of the mill sons and daughters but also to any illegitimate and adopted children although not to stepchildren. If you want a stepson or stepdaughter to receive part of your estate you must specify this clearly when you write your Will. The age of collecting any legacy would also seem to be extraordinarily young to the English, Scottish girls can inherit at twelve and boys at fourteen if you don’t add a clause dictating they should be somewhat older. Under Scottish law, a spouse and children have `prior rights’ meaning they cannot be deliberately excluded from a Will no matter how much they have upset you. They absolutely must inherit house, furnishings and cash to a certain amount and once these prior rights have been attended to they also have the right to fifty per cent of what is called `moveable estate’ which includes cash and investments. What is left, including property such as a second house can then be distributed to others as the maker of the Will sees fit. The Testator’s spouse is entitled to be the sole executor of the estate unless others have been named as Reserves and again, this idea would make an Englishman squirm a little. And whilst in England you must be over eighteen years of age to make a legal Will, in Scotland astonishingly you need only to have reached your twelfth birthday for your Will to be taken seriously. My friend Joanna who spent a great many years helping Aucklanders write Wills, says that all this is because strangely enough, Scottish law is based more firmly upon Roman Law than the mish-mash that has been allowed to develop in England. `Generally speaking,’ she said, draining her coffee cup, `The Scots are much more sensible in the way they go about matters, particularly the things that really matter.’ Well she should know, apart from anything else she grew up in a little town to the North of Gretna Green.

Monday, 11 July 2016

A Dichotomy Perhaps....

I could not help wondering why those Londoners who were so breathlessly enraptured a few short weeks ago (or so they claimed) to have a Muslim Mayer in the city now expressed such doubts about having a practicing Christian as a Prime Minister. I discussed it with Joanna, recently arrived in Auckland to stay with a daughter who needed help with the children during the school holidays. Could it be that Theresa May’s Christian affiliations lay with some strange extreme Right of Centre cult, rumoured perhaps to go in for child sacrifice I wanted to know. `No, of course not,’ said my friend who had recently so applauded the choice of Muslin Mayer, `She’s an Anglican I believe.’ Aha, an Anglican, `Well anything’s possible then’ I nodded. She looked at me with just a fraction of doubt crossing her face before saying, `Well that’s what I mean of course.’

Saturday, 9 July 2016


Writing is not everyone's favourite pastime, or as my mother would have said, not everybody's cup of tea. Sometimes I wonder why I bother and I will do anything to put off the much dreaded moment of actually starting - even ironing if only I still owned an ironing board. Sadly the last ironing board went the way of the piles of paperbacks, chipped cups and clothes that hadn't been worn for more than a year when we sold up in the Beach Suburb of St. Heliers and moved to the City Fringe Suburb of Parnell where, in our new bijou residence I was going to embark on a great deal of creative writing. It did not actually pan out quite as I'd imagined though to be fair, I did manage to finish EIGHT TEN TO CHARING CROSS and I’d love anyone who feels so inclined to have a look at my latest book IN DISGRACE WITH FORTUNE (A Chronicle of Harlotry) at Smashwords ( and also available on Amazon. This latest is a very personal slice of life in nineteen sixties London where I worked as showgirl and hostess. Highlights feature something of the Stephen Ward drama and a peep into the combined psyche of the Kray twins. Now even I thought such snippets would attract some of the over seventies among us but I have to admit this particular age group has not been as keen as one might imagine. The books are not exactly selling like hot cakes. To give a little background IN DISGRACE WITH FORTUNE is the third and final volume of what was supposed to simply be a personal memoir. It is what my friend Bridget calls `the spiciest of the trilogy' by which she means it contains a number of titillating sex scenes. Titillating if you happen to be a masochist or a rubber fetishist that is and not particularly so if you are of a more straightforward disposition. The first two volumes, CHALK PITS & CHERRY STONES and EIGHT TEN TO CHARING CROSS sold, and are sporadically still selling, somewhat better though not tumbling off the E-Shelves it must be admitted. And if anyone's interested they can also be found via Smashwords and Amazon without too much trouble. This duo may not have increased my bank balance to any discernable effect but they certainly seem to have upset some members of my family. I am reliably informed that irate cousins have bridled (yes, bridled) when quoting from the first volume and maintained that the family I write of was never, ever quite as bottom-of-the-heap dysfunctional as I describe. Poor they may have been but not as grindingly impoverished as I seem to imagine. I was wrong, say the cousins; we were poor but we were honest, and we were respectable which is of course not quite how I recall things. And as for `the other things I claim' well they of course are complete nonsense, figments of my over active imagination of which I had a surfeit. Presumably it was something I had written in volume one that promoted the vitriolic comments on the tribute I placed on this blog to my brother, Bernard Hendy, upon his death in early April. Hurtful? - oh yes indeed but of course those who don't enjoy the heat should stay firmly out of the kitchen....and there is a part of me that still enjoys cooking.

Thursday, 7 July 2016


We decided to venture into the city this morning to Britomart Transport Centre to be precise and face the depressing prospect of upgrading our At Hop cards – the variety that gives free travel around the city to the elderly. I had attempted to do this in late May, prior to our hasty trip overseas with a singular lack of success following a confrontation with a bus driver who reprimanded me for `persistently not tagging off’. Infuriated I talked of this injustice to all and sundry whilst away, so much so that in London I was urged by my daughter to `read Auckland Transport blog’ in order to keep up to date with this unfolding transport botch-up and I did so with mounting exasperation. It appeared that a growing number of card holders were very upset to find that there would be a charge involved for the upgrade, an extra fifteen dollars. Two days ago The Husband was also chastised by an Inner Link driver for the sin of `not tagging off’ and further enraged we descended upon the Transport Centre today our rejected At Hop Cards, our Gold Cards and our driving licenses at the ready. There were reassuring notices on the walls of the Help & Assistance office - `We are here to help you’. The nice young man who appeared to be the supervisor had a very helpful voice. Having assured himself that we had brought `photo ID in the form of a passport or driving license’ he told us that luckily we did not need to update our At Hop cards at this stage; we could wait another year because our cards were totally valid. `Then why was my husband asked to leave the bus the other day?’ I asked. My voice was belligerent, I could hear it myself. `And what would happen if we held neither a driving license nor a passport?’. He looked confused, but still helpful and said he would find out; he would enquire further into our case. He went away for a moment or two and when he came back, smiling still, said again that our cards did not need upgrading at this time. I told him that we wanted them upgraded regardless. In fact we were not going to leave without an upgrade. He decided not to explain further and with a look of resignation told us to wait whilst he organized it. It would take at least ten minutes he warned. It took a total of sixteen minutes to complete the process and when he reappeared he was bearing the much sought after SuperGold Travel Cards and looking vaguely relieved that we would soon be gone. We were relieved too and as we headed towards Queen’s Arcade for coffee I observed to The Husband that the nice young man had not told us what happened to those with rejected cards who neither drove nor traveled out of the country. He agreed and added that he had also failed to charge us the fifteen dollar upgrade fee. We quickened our pace a little and decided to order lemon muffins with our coffee!

Random Executions Not Good For Race Relations

If local early morning radio is correct yet another black man has been randomly executed by a white police officer in some American state, the name of which I didn't catch. The car the victim was driving was pulled over for a minor traffic infringement apparently and whilst the driver was compliantly reaching into his pocket to retrieve his driving license as directed he was indiscriminately shot dead. His passenger recorded the incident on her cell phone. Her young daughter was watching. You can hear their voices, calm, non threatening. The three of them appeared to be perfectly courteous. The police officer on the other hand sounded slightly hysterical. Now I’m no old fashioned Trendy Lefty seeing Racism in every corner, in fact I rarely give Racism a thought except when I’m accused of it but you have to draw a line somewhere and it is surely not good for the future of race relations to take the casual execution of black men by white policemen casually. What I cannot understand is why there is not more social unrest generated by these events. I’m not one to protest at the drop of a hat but I think that if I lived anywhere in the United States at this moment I would be out with my banner. In fact I would be painting my banner at this very moment.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A Swift Suggestion?

I loved Matt Heath’s proposition that the elderly should not be entitled to vote because they will not be present to witness the outcome of their voting. This idea certainly ruffled a few feathers up and down the country. To be honest I had no idea who Mr Heath was until he made his outrageous recommendation so he may be experiencing a modicum of dislike at the moment but at least he has made an impression. Oldies like me now realise that this young chap is a force to be reckoned with. I wonder if he sought inspiration from Jonathan Swift who made a similar impression on the locals in the early eighteenth century by suggesting that if the poor were hungry they should simply eat their unwanted babies. I bet that went down like a lead balloon too.