Wednesday, 14 November 2018

When will they ever learn?

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The nutty Greens are craftily convincing the gullible New Zealand public into allowing them to legislate to decriminalise cannabis for recreational use. “Decriminalise” and “recreational” are buzz words for open slather for anyone who wants to partake of the psychotic substance known as THC, but surveys show the Greens may well succeed while the sleeping giant of the so-called silent majority slumbers.

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick wants to take an even greater leap forward for mankind. She proposes decriminalising all drugs and if she has her way this means heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine will be readily available on acquiescent streets of ‘Godzone.’

Inexplicably The New Zealand Drug Foundation, whom I naively assumed where there to dramatically reduce drug habitude, agree with Ms Swarbrick’s potty proposal. And then, to complete the unholy trifecta, in weighs regularly-quoted economic commentator Shamubeel Eaqub who reckons if Chloe’s ambitions are realised the New Zealand government stands to make tens of millions of dollars of savings.

Conspicuous by their absence to mount any form of opposition to all of this are the Ministry of Health and their attendant District Health Boards (DHB’s) who have been striving for years to reduce smoking to an eventual zero tolerance goal by 2025 and will now have to deal a whole new raft of inhalers passing around ‘roll-your-owns’ with higher-rated carcinogenic elements than tobacco.

DHB’s have more cause to worry. Most are already struggling with crippling deficits, but these are likely to blow out even further. According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety (Colorado has legalised the sale of marijuana) hospitalisation rates (per 100,000 hospitalisations) with possible marijuana exposures, diagnosis or billing codes increased from 803 per 100,000 before commercialisation (2001-2009) to 2,696 per 100,000 after commercialisation (January 2014-September 2015.)

I do however sense some method in the left’s madness. The Green Party make no attempt to disguise their socialist roots and the only way to install socialism in an otherwise successful society is to drag down that society to such an extent it is willing to try something new. They will be ably abetted by comrade Jacinda who before entering parliament was the president of the International Union of Socialist Youth and was reported as saying during the election campaign that ‘capitalism was past its use-by-date,’ or words to that effect.

Jacinda and Chloe then are deadly bedfellows and these two kids are too young to know the terrible past tragedies of communism and appear to have little knowledge of the pernicious experiences of Eastern Europe, Cuba and North Korea. Nonetheless they need look no further than across the ocean where the dispirited citizens of Venezuela are wallowing in yet another failed socialist experiment.

Ageing and conservative, and perhaps even a conspiracy theorist, I’m probably past my own use by date. Leaving the planet (by natural causes) before all that I fear comes to pass, may be a Godsend.

“Marxist socialism must always remain portent to historians of opinion – how a doctrine so illogical and so dull can have exercised so powerful and an enduring influence over the minds of men, and, through them, the events of history.” - John Maynard Keynes 


Saturday, 3 November 2018

A sermon for Saint Luke

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I was a tad surprised when I got a call from Reverend Dashfield  asking me to do the sermon tonight. His reasoning being that this was a time to celebrate the feast Saint Luke and as he was a physician and as I was on the District Health Board it seemed entirely appropriate.

On the health board yes, but I am not a doctor, though in a previous vocation I did call myself a heart, liver and kidney specialist. When customers came into the shop and asked me how much kidneys were, I’d tell them sixpence each or five for half a crown.

Now those old enough among you who remember the old imperial currency, and who can also do the math, you will see that there was no real bargain in that offer.You’d surprised however, just how many people bought five at a time.

There were other tenuous connections. Most of you probably wouldn’t know that the Reverend Dashfield’s late great father-in-law was a doctor, a general practitioner. He was Dr Berney- and as a youngster he was our family doctor.

Doctors were much venerated in those days and they deserved to be. If you were perchance to fall ill and rang your doctor, he would jump in his car and come to you. These were known as “house calls” and it’s an expression that has completely disappeared from the lexicon. If you asked today’s generation - the generation Xers or a millennials - what a ‘house call’ was they wouldn’t have a clue, any more than they’d know what a half a crown was.

My sister and my mother and I referred to him as Dr Berney, but my father called him Hugh. This was because they both belonged to the Masterton Rotary Club, and a tenet of membership is that you must call your fellow members by their Christian names. Today of course we have to call them first names, rather than Christian names, in case we cause offence.

So next I went to Google to see if in fact I was a fit and proper person to be making this address tonight. And Google sent me to Wikipedia, another 21st century name, and there I found some pretty startling information about Saint Luke.

I’m going to read what it said, word for word, and I took a screenshot of it on my iPhone to prove to those skeptics among you as to the veracity of my claims. (Screenshots, Google, Wikipedia, IPhone. If dad and Hugh Berney were still alive - and here tonight - they would think I was talking in a completely different language.)

Anyway, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Saint Luke. Word for word remember, The Roman Catholic Church and other major denominations venerate him as Saint Luke the Evangelist and as a patron saint of artists, physicians, bachelors, surgeons, students and butchers. And I’m not kidding.

Artists, physicians, bachelors, surgeons, students and butchers. That’s a fairly eclectic mix!

So, at last I feel justified and at home in this pulpit.

And so now to the reading about Jesus and the rich man.

One of my favourite songs is “If I were a rich man” from that wonderful musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” I even have it in my iPhone, and the version I chose to download is by Roger Whittaker.

It cost me a $1.94 to download the song - and if Mr Whittaker’s version is popular worldwide, as I suspect it is, then collectively we will have made him a very rich man.

You all know the words. The lead character in the play, Tevye, is pleading with God to make him a rich man. He wants a big tall house with rooms by the dozen with three staircases. One for going up, one for coming down, and a third one, going nowhere just for show.  And the final plea, which ends the song perfectly: “Lord who made the lion and the lamb, you decreed I should be what I am, would it spoil some vast eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man.

He’s taking a risk here of course if he wants to receive eternal life.

Now I am not a rich man and my bank manager would confirm that.

But wealth is subjective. Someone in South Auckland sleeping on the streets or in their car, might well consider that comparatively speaking, I am rich. But looking for a real rich man I might point to the immediate past CEO of Fonterra, a Mr Spierings, and suggest that he’s taking a risk if he’s longing for eternal life, but to extricate himself from that accusation he might well point to Bill Gates and say “Now that’s a rich man!”

Bill Gates can’t go any further up the chain because he’s the richest man in the world.

But I reckon Bill must have read Luke chapter 18 verses 18 to 26 because he and his wife have determined that they’re going to give away all their money through the Bill and Melinda Gates Charitable Foundation.

Rotary International, the head office of the Rotary club that my father and Dr Berney belonged to, resolved in the mid 1980’s that, as an international project, they would rid the world of polio, and in recent years the Gates Foundation has given tens of millions of dollars to Rotary to ensure they complete the task - and they’re almost there.

There are just a few pockets on earth where poliomyelitis has not been completely eradicated.

Incidentally, in Dr Berney’s day, polio was more often referred to as infantile paralysis.

Now Luke tells us that Jesus said it is going to be much harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Which on the surface seems like a rather unusual declaration.

But Jesus was not prone to say things that didn’t make sense.

I was going to bring a needle along tonight, to expose just how small the eye is, but needles are notoriously hard to find, particularly, I understand if they’re in haystacks. Incidentally when did you last see a haystack? Haystacks were abandoned long ago, along with half crowns and house calls. Now the hay is rolled up in unattractive green plastic wrapping and left out in the paddock. The plastic eventually blows away and gets caught up the fences, despoiling the environment.

Anyway, I’m sure you would have some difficulty in imagining a camel going through the eye of a needle, so this needs to be more fully explored.

In Christ’s time, the cities were walled. Jerusalem was a walled city and even today I understand Damascus still is. The main wall had a huge double-doored front gate so people and carts and donkeys and all manner of commerce could go in and out freely during the day. But at nightfall the gate was closed and locked securely so marauders could not enter and plunder and pillage the city.
The problem was, folk often needed to leave the city at night or alternatively seek entrance when arriving after dusk. So when they built the wall they created an entrance, a building block wide, so that people could slip in and out of the city at will.

Now some travelers arrived after dark on camels and the entrance, which was known as the needle, was barely wide enough for a camel. I’ve seen some wonderful illustrations in old bibles of camel owners pushing and shoving their animals, endeavouring to get them through the needle gate.

Camels of course had saddles - and saddle bags, and in the saddle bag was usually all the owners worldly goods. In an effort to shove the camel through the needle gate the owner needed to take off the saddle and the saddle bags and therefore dispose of all his worldly goods.

Therefore Jesus’s explanation was in fact perfectly illustrative.

And so I left the needle at home.

And so that just leaves me to somehow work in hospitals with Saint Luke.

In fact hospitals were originally established by the church. Not just hospitals, but all our learning institutions. The great universities - Oxford, Cambridge Harvard and Princeton were all established by the Christian Church.

But about century or so ago men started to leave the church and sought camaraderie and fellowship in organisations like Rotary Clubs, Lions, Freemasonry and a host of other secular associations where they could do their good works.

In fact one wag said: "Rotarians are a bunch of self-made men who gather together once a week to worship their maker."

There’s a bit of self-deprecation here, as, like my father and Dr Berney, I am a Rotarian.

And so eventually the government had to take over these places and whenever the government gets involved there tends to be a little bit of inefficiency, and of course you lose the volunteer aspect that was a hallmark of church involvement.

However Saint Luke the physician would be amazed to see the advances in medical science today, and our magnificent hospitals and the wonderful staff who care for our sick. You might be surprised to know that the Wairarapa hospital has 300 nurses and 45 doctors, plus a host of ancillary staff to care for the 40,000 people that live in our wider environs.

Doctors and nurses, camels and needles, and rich men and poor men. I think I have probably covered the gamut of subject material Saint Luke might have expected of me.

And so the moral of the story is this:

When you leave here tonight, before you go out the narrow front door, I want you to leave your wallets, credit cards and jewelry on the table in the foyer.

Just kidding; the government’s going to tax you to death anyway!

As for me, I’m hugely disappointed that I spent 38 years behind a butcher’s shop counter - and didn’t know that I had a patron saint!

Jesus saw that he was sad and said, It is much harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. –Luke 18 verses 25 -25


Sunday, 23 September 2018

The towns biggest enterprise

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My very earliest recollection of life is visiting my father in the Masterton Hospital when I was two-and-a-half years old. I vividly remember this for two reasons. First we weren’t allowed to go into the hospital proper because he had diphtheria and was therefore isolated. I clearly recall my mother holding me up to the window where I could talk to my father from the wide concrete window ledge above the solid brick wall.

The main reason the memory lingers however was that my father told us of a disturbance during the night when a large contingent of Japanese prisoners-of-war had been admitted who were seriously wounded. The word Japanese, given the state of the world at the time, struck terror into the heart of an impressionable two-and-a-half year old.

The Japanese had come from the POW camp at Featherston. The Japanese never did invade New Zealand despite widespread fears that they would, but around 800 prisoners who had been captured at Guadalcanal were brought to Featherston in 1942.

They were mostly civilians who had been drafted into the Japanese navy, but later captured military personnel were also interned at Featherston. These military prisoners regarded capture as the ultimate disgrace and some wanted to commit suicide. In February 1943 there was a sit-down strike and a subsequent riot that saw the guards open fire, although there had apparently been no order to shoot.

Although the one-sided altercation only lasted about thirty seconds 31 Japanese were killed instantly, 17 died later and about 74 were wounded. If 91 wounded and dying Japanese had been admitted to the Masterton hospital the night before I was taken to visit my father perhaps I had good reason to be alarmed.

Of the historical accounts I have been able to read on the subject there is no disclosure about where the wounded prisoners were taken. The whole incident was hushed up at the time in case there was retaliation in the Japanese camps on Kiwi POW’s.

It’s entirely possible then that I was the only infant in the country to have been briefed about the episode.

Having lived in Lansdowne for the greater part of my life, to some extent the hospital has tended to loom large. Various visits for minor ailments; having my tonsils and adenoids and then my appendix removed causing my older sister to taunt me by saying that “I wasn’t all there.” A cruel description back then of someone who was mentally deficient. She was probably quite right on that count, but it was unfair to blame the extraction of body parts.

I’ve always wondered if the medical profession will one day discover that there is a vital role for the appendix and advocate to have them all put back again.

Later I did my courting – now there’s an old-fashioned word - at the hospital; eventually marrying a nurse whom I constantly remind is the luckiest woman in the world; though I suspect that she does not necessarily share this view.

In 2006 the government presented the town with a  brand spanking new hospital, now renamed Wairarapa rather than Masterton, despite being contained within the same grounds as the original infirmary. Perhaps the government "presenting" is a misnomer. Actually the Wairarapa District Health Board (WrDHB) have to pay back the cost out of the population-based funds the government meagerly provides.

Solid brick walls have been supplanted by a temporary-looking Hardiplank structure and outwardly the single-storey fabrication looks considerably less imposing than its predecessor which still lingers forlornly in the background.

One option was to upgrade the existing hospital however the WrDHB's resolution to go for a totally new structure was probably the sensible decision. It is exceptionally well configured and is filled with hi-tech equipment, no doubt some of it manufactured by the Japanese.

The wards contain a number of single rooms with en-suites and lead to a centralised nursing station and this looks suitably efficient. There are accessible, well equipped out-patient facilities set in bright and airy corridors and the well-planted courtyards which provide a healing outlook from most corners of the building.

You almost wish you were sick so that you could experience the place first hand. 

Back in 2006 when I first visited the new edifice I asked where the entrance to the nurse’s home was, hoping one day to be able to pass on this vital information to my growing grandsons. Sadly, I was told these institutions are a thing of the past. No wonder dating apps are so popular.

The old hospital had over 300 beds with about 12 doctors and 100 nurses to cope with the infirm. Despite a massive increase in population since the original hospital was established the new institution has only 94 beds, but is staffed by 45 doctors and 300 nurses plus the usual plethora of administration people. There a message here somewhere, but I haven't a clue what it is.

If my appendix had been kept in formalin no doubt it will have been lost in transit during the shift from the old to the new. So if modern medical science does decree that reinstating this once non-vital organ is now essential for your ongoing good health I'm probably going to have to miss out.

“After two days in hospital, I took a turn for the nurse.” - W. C. Fields.


Thursday, 30 August 2018

At least I'm consistent

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This was my first weekly column written for the Wairarapa Time-Age in January 1998. Below that is a copy of a letter I wrote to the same paper this week. In the intervening twenty years my opinions haven't changed much!

1984 came and went with a whimper. George Orwell’s dire predictions for that year never did materialise.

1998 isn’t shaping up quite so well. Big Brother’s first action was to deny tobacconists the right to have a sign above their doors advising what the shop actually sold. And New Year’s Eve saw revelers at Riversdale and Castlepoint denied the privilege of having a beer or something stronger on the beach to herald in the New Year. (Homeowners in adjacent-to-the beach sections however could imbibe as much as they liked, which puts a new spin on the expression private privilege versus public desire) 

Don’t think New Zealand alone has the “thought police” problem. As from January the first it was illegal to light up a cigarette in any bar in California. I feel for the hapless bar owners in that sunshine state who will now surely see their turnovers diminish and the receivers over the horizon. If you think about it, where better to have a drag than in a down town bar in the twilight atmosphere; a cold beer and a Cuban cigar, as you watch the Superbowl final?

Clamping down on smokers is the new prohibition yet strangely alcohol marketing is being given a free ride. Despite this alcohol still causes staggering devastation. It kills hundreds of New Zealanders a year, not only from disease but also from accidents. It creates huge economic losses and untold suffering. So too does tobacco of course, but alcohol is far more deadly than tobacco to innocent bystanders. A hard headed fact is that premature death from smoking usually occurs at the latter stages of an abusers life and is probably an economic boon to society. The money saved on pensions and health care probably far outweighs other costs incurred.

Police say that domestic violence is almost always fueled by alcohol; in N.Z. 41% of fatal road accidents are alcohol related and all ages are involved. Drunk driving kills toddlers, teenagers and whole families whereas tobacco strikes late; its victims have at least had a chance at life.

Cigarettes shortens lives, alcohol abuse can deprive people of it. Just think about it: if you knew your child was going to become addicted to either alcohol or tobacco, which one would you choose?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not for one minute suggesting we impose the cigarette-style restrictions on alcohol. But I am curious to know why we as a society are so selective. Is the lobby of the liquor barons more powerful than their tobacco counterparts?

Despite the war against cigarettes I get the feeling that younger folk are smoking more than ever these days. Also Hollywood, which now operates in a suburb where smoking is not allowed in adjacent barrooms, seems to have its stars lighting up more than ever in the current crop of blockbusters. No doubt if you want to make something more popular give it a bad name.

What really concerns me is how many freedoms we have taken away from us each year by Orwellian legislators local and national. With the very best of intentions they may be choking us to death.


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Another friend passes on

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My very close and dear friend Brian Davey died suddenly in Australia a couple of weeks ago; my wife and I went over to the funeral. Here is my tribute:

My name is Rick Long, I’m from New Zealand and live in a town called Masterton where Brian and his young wife Joyce came to settle from New Plymouth in 1963. Brian had bought a physiotherapy practice in the town.

Masterton is 90 ks north of Wellington and about the same size as Ballina with a population of around 25,000 people. Last year it was voted New Zealand’s most beautiful city.

My wife Marion got to know Joyce when they were in the maternity ward at Masterton hospital together where they had their firstborns, both sons, Gregory for the Davey’s and Brandon for the Long’s.

I had already met Brian as he had become a regular customer in our family butcher’s shop.

The Davey’s bought an imposing house looking down Masterton’s main street just around the corner from where we lived.

Their house and ours both backed on to my parents’ home which had a quite substantial in-ground swimming pool where our growing families spent lots of time together.

Brian and I became firm friends, having an occasional drink together (and I can see both Joyce’s and Marion’s eyes roll when I said the word “occasional”) and we were both invited to join the Masterton Rotary club where we were both very hard-working members.

Brian in fact made a big impact on the town with his enthusiasm and energy and besides being very active Rotarian he was also chairman of the Crippled Children’s Society and chairman of the finance committee of the local Catholic Church.

Brian and Joyce had all their children in Masterton; after Gregory there was Susan and then Fiona. A few hundred yards from where we lived was Lansdowne primary school; our kids all went to the school and Brian and I were both on the school committee.

We used to get away with murder, well almost. On one Saturday morning Brian and I took over the local radio station at gunpoint, binding and gagging the announcer and then reading out ads we had pre-sold to local businesses to raise money for the Plunket Society. You’d never get away with that today.

Few of you will know this, but in 1972 Brian and I started up a very successful business.

Some background; Masterton was dry for 40 years up until 1947. By dry I mean you couldn’t buy alcohol in the town. The citizens voted for restoration in 1947, but also decided the town would own all the liquor outlets and the profits would be returned to the community. A Licensing Trust was set up with a six man board of directors who were voted in every three years at the same time as the local body elections. Incidentally there are twenty six licensing trusts in New Zealand; many other communities followed our lead.

In 1972 the Masterton Licensing Trust built a splendid new lounge bar which they called the Elizabethan Room. It was built Tudor style with high wooden beamed ceiling and a parquet dance floor and a stage for a small band.

It was to be a ladies and escorts bar, but it never took off. A friend of ours who was an elected trustee on the licensing trust board took Brian and me in there one Friday night and we were surprised how few patrons there were. He told us the three piece band on the stage was costing the trust $37.50 a night and the takings over the bar were around $35. Charles Dickens’ Mr McCawber would have been appalled. “Nightly income $35, nightly expenditure $37.50 - result misery.”

Brian and I had had a few drinks and with our usual misplaced optimism we told our friend to tell his fellow board members to give us the room and we’d show them how to fill it.

To our amazement a few days later the trustee rang us and said he had discussed the offer with his fellow board members and they said we could have the premises every Friday and Saturday night for $5 a night, they would keep the takings over the bar, but we could set a door charge at whatever figure we considered viable and that would be ours to keep.

So now we had to put our money where our mouths were.

Discotheques had just come into being though there were few if any in New Zealand but Brian and I did some research, had a local sound technician build us a desk with two turntables, attached to a 400 watt amplifier with four huge speakers which we suspended around the dance floor. We put coloured lights that danced to the music hidden underneath the curtain pelmets, projectors that played psychedelic images on the walls and we installed a large strobe light.

We called all this The Light Fantastique (you Aussies would pronounce this fantasteek, but then again you never ever did learn to speak properly English) and invited dancers to join us every Friday and Saturday night. The fire department decreed we could only have 150 people in the room, we upped that to 200 and charged 50 cents per person at the door. I was the disc jockey playing 45 rpm records on the turntables and Brian was the genial mine host.

Thanks to Brian’s incredibly good welcoming manner at the door and my choice of the right music our enterprise really took off. After the second weekend we had to have a “house full” sign made. Closing time was ten o’clock, as required by law back then, so it wasn’t too much of an imposition. Many of our friends came to join us and in fact we were really just having a party every Friday and Saturday night and making money to boot.

We were taking $200 cash over the weekend which meant a $100 each into our pockets; good money in 1972. The only expenses we had were buying new 45 records from time to time; the trust never ever charged us the $5 a night rent. They either forgot or were so pleased with their bar takings they decided they really didn’t need to.

But all good things must come to an end. I got elected on to the board of the licensing trust at a bye-election when one of the trustees died. Four others stood against me, but Brian was my campaign committee chairman, so I couldn’t really miss.

I worried that there was a conflict of interest with being on the trust and running a business in their premises and Brian said he would like to go overseas and find a new place to settle with his family.

So we sold the business in 1973 after a year of solid trading. Six weeks later the new owner went broke which just proves butchers and physiotherapists really know how to run a disco!

Brian settled in Sydney with his family and I settled down to selling sausages.

In 1990 I rang Brian to boast that I had just been elected the national president of the New Zealand Licensing Trusts association. He countered with the fact that he had just been elected the World President of the Physiotherapists Association, so my news paled into insignificance.

Shifting to Australia didn’t mean the end of our friendship. We have regularly visited the Davey’s and them us. We have been on lots of holidays together in both Australia and New Zealand and on one occasion we took our respective families to America.

And there are constant phone calls and emails.

I rang Brian on the 4th of August, the day after his 78th birthday and a few minutes after the Crusaders had beaten the Lions in the Super 15 final just to remind just how good New Zealand rugby was. He was in high spirts then, unbelievable that he passed away two days later.

And those emails. The last one from him was just a couple of weeks ago and it typically went like this:

A Canadian walks into a New Zealand bar and there was immediately some tension among patrons thinking he might be, God forbid, an Australian. The barman served him a beer and then said, “What do you do for a living mate?”

“I’m a taxidermist,” the stranger replied.

“A taxidermist,” said the barman, “Does that mean you drive a taxi?”

“No,” said the man, “I mount animals.”

“Relax fellows;” said the barman, “He’s one of us!”

You Aussies never let up.

Rest in peace old friend.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Aids not necessarily a death sentence

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I’ve just received a letter from Joel George. Mr. George you will recall is the genial gentleman who runs our public hospital. Been there a while too; which says something about his tenacity and fortitude. It must be frustrating managing an organisation where the funder underfunds you to ensure your frugality. But I digress. Attached to his letter was a survey form which he asks me to fill in as I was, according to his records, latterly a user of his facilities.

I struggled to recall when I had been a patient at his institution in recent times. Apart from visiting the odd indisposed friend I have had no cause to use the services he administers as far as I could remember. It wasn’t always that way. Before I was married I was a regular visitor to the hospital. My sojourns at that time however were centred around the Nurse’s Home and if a survey had been thrust at me back then I would have revealed that the matron was crabby and made strenuous efforts to hamper my progress into the building, but that the nurses were wonderful. They must have been; I married one of them.

But then the penny dropped. I had visited Choice Health in Chapel Street, which is of course an outpost of the Joel George empire and no doubt his questionnaire related to that attendance. The awful truth, which I shall now reveal publicly, is that I have aids. Those of you who would look forward to the inevitable demise of the column and the columnist will be disappointed to hear that the aids are of the hearing variety and sit snugly and almost anonymously into both my ears.

I came about these appendages virtually by accident. Walking past Snowsill’s friendly chemists some years ago I spotted a sign offering free hearing tests. I marched in and demanded an appointment forthwith. I told the lady, visiting from Auckland, who conducted the tests, that I needed a credible certificate showing conclusively that my hearing was perfect. I was even willing to pay for such documentation. 

For years my family had been chiding me for having the TV turned up too loud, accusing me in the process of being deaf. My grown-up children reckoned that when they visited they could start to hear our TV three or four streets away. The little brats. During their upbringing I told them hundreds of millions of times not to exaggerate. 

It reminded me of when I was a kid and our next door neighbour bought a new radiogram. For the uninitiated ‘radiograms’ were the forerunners of ‘hi-fi’s’ which were themselves the precursor’s of ‘stereos.’ The proud purchaser suggested over the fence to my parents that perhaps they would like to come over to his place and listen to his new radiogram. Dad’s callous response was that the neighbour could just as easily come over to our place and hear his new radiogram.
But again I digress.

The friendly lady at the chemist’s shop told me after conducting the tests that she had good news and bad news. The good news was that my family was very perceptive, the bad news was that my hearing was appalling. “What do you do for a living?” she wanted to know. At the time I was endeavouring to sell real estate. She looked puzzled. “Have you ever had any other vocation?” she enquired. Well, I admitted, I had spent 36 years as a butcher. “Did you perchance use a bandsaw?” was her next probe, and I allowed that I had used one for about four hours a day during the duration of my tenure in the meat trade. 

Her examination was complete.

Using impressive alliteration she reckoned ‘butchering beef bones on a bandsaw’ was the worst thing you could do to ruin your hearing, though perhaps she really meant it was the best thing you could do to ruin your hearing, but whatever, “You’re lucky,” she gushed, “ACC will pay for your aids.”

I was glad I hadn’t told her that from about age 17 and into my early twenties I had played in a Rock’n’roll band. An unkind but not entirely uninformed music critic, writing in the Manawatu Evening Standard after a concert in Palmerston North wrote this about our performance: “What the band lacked in talent they made up for in volume.” The lead singer - and that was me- he went on to say: was “Unimpressive” and “over-amplified.”

ACC may not have been so generous had they known about the routine punishment I had given my teenage eardrums.

But the aids, state of the art seeing I didn’t have to pay for them, have put me in the class of the six million dollar man. Well, in his hearing section anyway. Eavesdropping is easy. I can now hear intimate conversations from across crowded rooms and people who want to keep confidential information from me ought to learn sign language or resort to written memos. Rather than hasten my departure from this earth they supply such clarity that I confidently expect to live to 120, an age I have worked out I will need to reach to get all my taxes back.

Meanwhile I will reply to Mr. George’s questionnaire in a positive manner. The treatment I received at the hearing clinic was exemplary and I will tick all of the boxes at the highest end of the scale. But he may not necessarily get the answers he wants from all he surveys. An acquaintance, presenting for surgery, got as far as the front door of the hospital when he saw a sign on the building saying: “Guard dogs operating.”

He hasn’t been seen since.

(First published on the 31st of January 2001)

“My doctor gave me six months to live, but when I couldn’t pay the bill, he gave me six months more.” - Walter Matthau 


Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Lest we forget

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The phone rang frighteningly in the middle off the night. I picked it up with trepidation, as you do. Calls at this hour seldom bring good tidings. I needn’t have worried. It was around midday in England and a gentleman with a polished British accent announced that he was a spokesman for the R.A.F. It seems the good people in the village of Dennekamp in North Eastern Holland are unveiling a memorial to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of a bomber crashing on the outskirts of their village in Holland in 1941 with a total loss of life. My father’s brother Frank was the pilot. The unveiling is to take place on the 13th of March, sixty years to the day since the tragedy.

I was to let other members of the immediate family know and if any of us were to make the pilgrimage to the ceremony he promised we would be made extremely welcome.

It reminded me of this coming Sunday’s airshow at Hood Aerodrome and the heroic pilots who made it back, some of whom will no doubt be in attendance to watch with respect a display of some of the planes they flew that helped win the Battle of Britain. The fact that some of the planes and their pilots still endure is a testimony to their fortitude. These men and their aircraft played a huge role in allowing us to live as bountifully as we do today.

They might well reflect, however, that in the interim we have become a nation of wimps.

Last week for instance ACC announced that anyone who has witnessed a traumatic event may be eligible for compensation. Whilst I have the greatest sympathy for those folk who have observed a tragedy at first hand, I am mystified to know how throwing money at those traumatised, by whatever the event, is going to make the unfortunate images dissipate.

But that was just for starters. It was also disclosed that the precious people who work for the N.Z. Qualifications Authority had been given $2000 each for the severe discomfort they had suffered when they shifted from one centrally heated/air-conditioned office to another centrally heated/air conditioned office, just up the road. This was on top of a $1000 performance bonus for presumably doing the job they were being paid for in the first place. And not all that well according to students who rang the 0900 number to get their exam marks and were told that they had got 0! “A glitch in the computer,” explained the Qualifications Authority spokesperson as he or she no doubt downed their caviar with champagne.

Then there were the highly indignant Air New Zealand passengers who threatened, through their lawyers, to sue the hapless airline for not disclosing to them the risks they took flying in economy class and contracting a form of thrombosis that could prove fatal. Never mind that Air New Zealand reported that since its inception it had flown millions of passengers with no known clots.

An ex-RAF pilot rang last week after reading about these litigants and wondered how he and his colleagues survived World War Two. My caller flew Lancaster bombers for up to 12 hours at a stretch in cramped conditions and the thought of blood clots never entered his head - nor his legs. The Catalina crews, he told me, were in the air for up to 22 hours. He didn’t say so in so many words but I suspect neither those Lancasters nor the Catalinas had stewardess service, with drinks and nibbles, in-flight movies or stereo headsets. I’m not sure that they even had toilets.

My uncle survived dozens of bombing raids before the one that killed him and a magazine interview he gave in 1939 after a reconnaissance flight over Germany, gives us some idea of the discomfort they endured so that we might live in comparative luxury today.

“ As the temperature, increasing with our descent, approached freezing point a snowy type of ice grew on the control column, on the insides of the windows, and on the instrument panel....the visibility was I opened the window to see better. It was snowing. The navigator table and the instruments were soon covered again with half an inch of snow.

The front gunner could see nothing from his cockpit but white snow - when he came back to see us his helmet and his shoulders were buried beneath an inch of the stuff. Shortly afterwards a blinding flash, and a bump bigger than the others, took away our trailing aerial - and knocked all the snow off the instruments.”

Later in the article he said the discomfort had been shared with other planes in their group.

“In one machine the tail gunners eyebrows became frozen when the aircraft was at twenty-one thousand feet where there was 72 degrees of frost....Two of the gunners of the other machines suffered from frostbitten fingers.”

The Whitley bomber had much of its wings shot away on this trip and its safe return to England was described as “a miracle” by the newspapers of the day.

“We thought we should have to land in the sea, so the navigator went back to prepare the rubber dinghy and collect the rest of the crew. However as we got down to 500 feet the engines began to pick up and when the navigator returned to report “all OK for landing” we were maintaining height at one hundred and ten miles per hour and it seemed that we might be able to make England.”

Those brave men and women who served in the army, navy and air force could never have envisaged at the time that we, as a result of their sacrifices, would have inherited a society that today has so many creature comforts. Not that they would have begrudged us these, but those ‘so few’ might have been disappointed to know that it now takes monetary compensation to help us overcome those uncomfortable events that life throws at us from time to time.

A phone call in the middle of the night might even be worth a couple of hundred dollars. I must check with ACC.

(First published  on the 24th of January 2001)

“Older men declare a war. But it is youth that must fight and die.” - Herbert Clark Hoover