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Say Boo to a Goose

Let me tell you the story of my life. It hasn’t been exceptional, but it’s been interesting, and I hope in the telling it can be memorable.


I would like to thank in particular my dear wife Jane in all her support, love, and encouragement; and to my son Josh, my mother Del, my wider family and friends, for their contribution to my being who I am.


I am indebted.

The Land of My Birth

Te Ika a Maui, which translates as the Fish of Maui, is the North Island of New Zealand. Funnily enough it looks like a fish.


Which begs the question, did the Polynesian tribes that first inhabited these islands know that, or is it just a coincidence, this name? There’s a lot of mysteries in the world, but rather than indulge in conspiracy theories to explain these, perhaps it’s best to just revel in their beauty. And let’s face it, even life on earth itself is a bit of a mystery.


The South Island, or Te Wai Pounamu, means Green StoneWaters, and collectively they all are Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud.

About 1/3 down Te Ika a Maui is a small peninsular jutting out into the Pacific Ocean, and at the base of it is a small town (pop 3500) called Paeroa, about 20 miles south of Thames, and 15 miles from Te Aroha and Waihi respectively, each no more than mere dots on the map, none no more than 5000 souls. 


The phone book for the whole of the peninsular certainly could not be used as a door stop, as it’s about an inch thick, and that’s including the yellow pages and sundry advertisements.


This peninsular was named the Coromandel Peninsular, after a ship that visited here in 1820, which in turn was named after a region of South Eastern India. So the British expropriated and plundered, and over time this became animosity to the home country, even if those expressing those views were themselves the descendants of those same British.


The passage of time of course was needed to bare this sentiment. Certainly at the time, the indigenous populations of New Zealand, Australia, United States, etc were used and abused with little regard, but time has tempered those same white settlers’ relatives to be on side with the indigenous populations, or maybe it’s just the birth of nationalism over time.

Whichever way you look at it, it just means we like to beat the poms at rugby and cricket.


The Maori people had discovered this land some 1000 years ago, and perhaps it was also populated sparsely by others (the Moriori?) before they arrived; however the invasion by Europe hungry for timber, whales, gold, and farming all had an immense and unique effect on their way of life and on the landscape. 


The Coromandel peninsular was once clothed in vast forests of Kauri trees, which were decimated, leaving just tens of these magnificent trees left, and in the late 1800’s, gold was discovered in the gorge between Paeroa and Waihi, flooding the river with cyanide in the refining process. The wealth from these enterprises no doubt resides in Whitehall, London. It does not reside locally. 


The appropriation of the lands of Aotearoa  though were no less bitter than in South Africa, Australia, or the USA, and yet towns named such as Thames, Auckland, and Hamilton, sit happily side along Maori named towns such as Taupo, TeAroha, and Paeroa, though ‘happy’ is a subjective word. In most of New Zealand, there is racism, as is probably in the whole world, but New Zealanders will generally deny that. ‘Crisis, what crisis?’ is the national call to arms in most aspects of life.


The backbone of the Coromandel Peninsular is a vast range of mountains that were once home to the ever mighty Kauri trees, highly prized by the Royal Navy for masts, and the gum for varnishes. The hills are still forested though the predominant industry is farming on the plains that head off westwards from their eastern mountain border. 


On these plains the dairy farmers hoist themselves out of bed early mornings to milk their cows, and on the lower reaches of the hills are sheep farms, which is where I grew up.

Black Rock

So named for its rocky face, this spectacular backdrop to the township of Paeroa is part of my earliest memories, of a Sheffield furnace- like fire enveloping the whole mountainside, as the local farmer Poly Kelly burnt off the bush that enveloped it and turned it into a corrosion prone steep for his sheep to graze upon, and for us kids to climb after school and on the weekends. 


There were odd bits of forest left, notably through the valleys that tumbled down on either side of the rock and onto the Hauraki plains that spread off chasing the setting sun westwards. The other side of the rock, facing east and far more inaccessible, was left largely untouched, though it would have been milled at some point.


Growing up in this environment was as stable as one could wish for. Our first home, when I was a baby through to two years old, was on a farm a few miles south of the town, which was run by my father Rodney and my mother Del. I had been adopted by them from birth, but delivered in the local maternity home. Del and Rodney had trouble having children, and Del had had two girls Diane and Delia each sadly dying within a day of their birth before I presented myself on the scene in 1952.


Prior however to Del’s marriage, she had had a fling with a local boy, a catholic, and she being a protestant, they had not been allowed to marry. She was forced to go some two hundred miles away in secret to have this child, another Dianne, to have and to dispose, and return as if all was well.


Del and Rodney met and married a few years later, and to my knowledge Del retained her secret. Sadly, Rodney died when I was just two, from a lung disease, while my mother was in hospital herself giving birth to their third newly conceived baby Debbie. I believe Rodney met his daughter before his life ended, he so young at the age of 29. From all anecdotes he was a very fine man, so my life was blessed. It is hard however to understand the pain that Del must have felt in those several years  just before and just after marriage, all the anguish, grief, and death, and yet love, and gain and loss.


My birth mother and father, Barbara Law and Rex Benner, obviously had a liaison that had no future, and any details of that are not to my knowledge. Ironically, the Paeroa Maternity Hospital became some twenty years later the Paeroa Old Peoples’ Home, so those born there could die there, although now it has reverted to Maori ownership and is sadly disused. I was named David Shelley Law, but on adoption renamed Rowan James Vuglar.


Barbara was a nurse at Hamilton Hospital, where she met an aunty of mine on Rodney’s side, and that was how the adoption was arranged. Rex as far as I know was a farmer in the Bay Of Plenty, so maybe he got lost one day in the big smoke that is Hamilton and was brought in from the cold by Ms  Law…? 


Rex has since passed away, and I was unfortunately unable to meet him, though apparently we look very much alike.  Barbara went on to marry Brian Gray, and had four children, and is happily living in Nelson, though I fear she suffered the same as Dell did in having to give up a child.


Life on the farm must’ve been quite fun I guess. I know I got my very own car seat made out of wood and of course in those days of no seat belts, maybe it was tied in with a bit of baling twine. A friend of the family nicknamed Jumbo, a Maori chap, apparently took to me, and I to him, and he became my mentor in life, at the age of one or two. My nickname was Baldy.


As I was so young, the farm has few memories bar a few black and white photos, but I did develop a fear of horses as I remember being put on one and not liking the height of it. I still am not fond of horses, my loss I guess, but then I do like cats… We also had possums, lots of them living in the roof, and if you can imagine rat like scuffling, then that is what it’s like having possums in the roof. Not nice.


When Rodney died his family decided that it was Del’s fault, and from that point on I had very little contact with the Vuglar family until my late teens, when another turmoil sent my life into a spiral. So my mother, then just out of hospital with the new born Debbie, and two year old me, left the farm and went and lived in a house in the middle of Paeroa, in Bennet St, which is on the top of Primrose Hill.


On top of Primrose Hill is the Cenotaph, which as kids we all thought held within it the bones of the dead soldiers of the two world wars, and at Xmas there would appear alongside it a burning Cross of Jesus all Ku Klux Klan- like I am sad to say.I hope the locals may have missed that irony. Or maybe they understood the symbolism…actually it wasn’t burning as such, just lit up with lights.


In that home I remember many nights sitting around with my sister and mother, learning to read and count, and Del taking us outside at night to show us the stars, as that was where our father was. In the front lawn mum planted a tree, a liquid amber, in memorial, which still stands some 60 years later. Debbie and I would spend many happy days playing together and we would have six years of relative peace there. Because we were in the actual town we had lots of friends within yards of our house, Paul and Heather Grant, Donald McMillan, and Gary, Bruce, and Pete Nevin.


A house was being built just over the road, and the chippy’s nickname was Rice Bubbles,and we would spend many a happy un- health and safety conscious hour playing amongst all his tools and saw dust, asthe house went up. I remember learning how to use a hammerand saw there. I also remember fixing my mother’s Morris Minor’s windscreen wiper, by climbing up on the bonnet and attending to it. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t, but I’m sure a hammer wasn’t called for in that particular case. I was a bit of a hands on child.


I now had a three wheeler trike, with a loader tray on the back which was convenient as a place to put Debbie, and if she wasn’t available, other things that needed transporting. As we were living at the top of a very steep hill, fast getaways on said trike, especially in later years, made it a   miracle that we didn’t die, or get seriously hurt. 


I did however get a stone in my eye one day as we were throwing stones on the roof of the Grant’s house and watching them fall back down, and one accidentally got me. I had to go to hospital in Thames, and had to wear an eye patch for some months.


Del also had to have boarders in to help pay the bills, these were mainly school teachers, and I would treat them as useful playmates when others weren’t available. Times were a bit tough financially I think.


When we got to the age of 5 it was the start of school, and for us there it was a short walk across and around Primrose Hill, along a short forest track, across a sheep field, and we were there, Paeroa Central School, run by Bulldog, the headmaster. 


Well that’s what we called him and to give him credit, some eight years later when he finally gave up the post, he said how honoured he was to have had that nickname. Little passes by in small country towns.


Primary school days were a mixture of games, learning, and mystery. Mystery because half the time I had no idea what was going on, one minute we were doing this, then something else. For instance, I played Rumple Stiltskin in a school play, but how I got there, or learnt my lines I had no idea, but suddenly there I was on stage doing it.


There were some stand out occasions, and in particular folk dancing. This happened every Wednesday morning. Anelectrical lead would be run out of one of the classes into the quadrangle to a record player, and a scratchy old record would light up with folk tunes to which we would all heel and toe and do- ce- do to, with much glee. 


Admittedly, us boys said we hated it, but did we really? I absolutely loved it, and that’s the joy of folk dancing, the sharing, all holding hands philosophy. This was for me life enhancing, and will remain for me one of the most important things of my life. 


Dancing aside, we had top spinning at break times, and to the boys’ fascination the rope skipping games of the girls. In lunchtimes often the whole school would pop over the fence to the sheep field on the slopes of Primrose Hill and play British Bulldog en masse. When it was mixed boys and girls, it was just tag British Bulldog, but with boys only it was full on tackle and dump, no doubt with selection into the rugby team in mind.


The top spinning was something I have yet to see elsewhere since, maybe it’s gone out of fashion, but the idea was firstly to make a grand design on your top so that when it was spinning it created lovely patterns, then the other boys would try to smash your top with theirs. Sharpening the steel point up on a concrete surface helped make them deadly. 


Another game was marbles, and sadly I remember getting beaten up in a fight over one game, but that was very unusual. And we boys would have pissing competitions, seeing how far we could piss up the wall in the loos, or even disgustingly, grip your foreskin and then piss until the foreskin would fill up like a balloon, then burst everywhere. Perhaps that’s why we wore shorts. Trousers would be a bit messy after that. Not all could indulge in that one though as mysteriously, some were circumcised. Circumcised penises were called bulldogs, uncircumcised were poodles.


School life was sometimes tempered with sadness, and in particular I remember a sadistic teacher Miss Martin who loved strapping students on the hand with a leather strap, and in our first class, Primmer One, when we were just 5, the whole class weeping as she got stuck in on her evil pleasures. My friend Gary’s father had a strap too, which he used on his boys, so I was always very careful when I visited there.


I was also caned once, four times across the backside, in my first year at secondary school, with three others, having beencaught in behind the science block trying to dunk Andrew Merhtens in the horse trough. Why was there a horse trough I don’t know, but it was handy and seemed like a wheeze at the time to give Merhtens a dunking.


Another fear was the visit to one’s classroom by some poor sod who’d just been to the dental nurse (dental clinics were a feature of many primary schools) and he or she would blurt out the name of the next in line due to visit Mrs Fisher. In those days, the drills were not water powered, but were driven by a belt which would smoke and grind as the drill bit hit tooth enamel. Nor it seems was anaesthetic yet developed, or perhaps not readily available more like, so most of the visit was spent climbing up the walls with pain. At least we learnt the importance of cleaning our teeth. But as my friend Gary said, at least we could rest our heads on Mrs Fisher’s ample bosom as she drilled away.


Summer months meant regular trips to the public swimming pool for swimming lessons, though I remember first learning to swim at a church outing to the Matamata hot springs, when I finally cracked it, at about the age of eight, and spent most of the day going back and forth in absolute delight, being confident enough to open my eyes under water, and just enjoying the freedom of all the dimensions of the pool rather than struggling around on top of the surface spluttering for air.


Church was my bete noir, as I was made to go to Sunday School most weeks, and I hated it. Mostly because we had to put on shoes (school days were mostly bare foot) and smartclothes, and to be honest, religion didn’t appeal. I mean, most people knew to be good to other people, and so why listen to some old bloke rabbitting on saying just that? I guess though that that was what made Paeroa what it was, a real bible belt town with more churches than are necessary one would’ve thought.  


On the other hand the church buildings were magnificent, late1800’s wooden structures with gloom to die for. Low Church, singing was just about allowed. There was also a C of E in the town, and a Catholic church, but we would never share congregations, forbidden fruit there belongs. There was also a Masons’ Lodge, all very Greek column and forbidding. I went in once as a young adult; as I went past it was open, but I wasn’t welcomed.


My Grandparents also had a very fine wooden Victorian church, and my Grandma was very similar in appearance to Queen Victoria, and was born in 1891. They had a farm half way to Thames, in a village called Puriri, and had a grand old farmhouse with wooden verandahs that went right around it, and a milking shed just over the road. Down a small slope there was an orchard, and the horse and sledge would bring the fruit back to the house. A sledge was used because wheels would’ve gotten away on the slope.


I recall sitting on the back step with my grandpa peeling and eating oranges in the sunlight, and feeling very cosy with life. They had trouble with me as a crawler baby, and had this toy grey rabbit which frightened me, so they would pop it down as a child gate to keep me safe. 


My Aunty Ett (Narny) also lived with them. She had contracted polio at a very young age and had a humped back and grew no more than four and a half feet high, and had not married. There were four girls, Del, Ett, June, and May, and my mother was the tom boy and her father’s favourite. He did take a pop at her with an air rifle as she hid up a tree though after her transgression in getting pregnant. They went to school on a horse, all four of them.


My Aunty Ett got me into the habit of reading, and she gave me Look and Learn journal subscriptions from a very youngage, and every year gave me a diary. I foolishly burnt them all, in a sort of teenage angst thing at the age of 15. I can however remember that a lot of them had drawings to illustrate the text, of sunrises or sunsets, camping sites, and so on. Narny was a lovely person, and very gentle and I think a great help to her parents as they grew older. She was herself adopted, from one of my grandfather’s sisters, Frieda, again illegitimate.


At primary school I was fond of two Maori kids, Willie Thompson, and Teddy Legan, and one day me and Willie went up Black Rock and watched the fertilizer plane come and go loading up with manure to spread over the hills, some sort of phosphate I think. It was a regular thing, and we would watch from very close by. Teddy was the biggest kid in the class, but he was very gentle that I can remember. 


Sadly I have not kept in touch with either of them since leaving school. White kids and Maori kids usually kept to themselves, the Maori kids lived on their maraes and the white kids lived in the towns.


It was many years later, in 2006, that I took a bicycle along the old railway track between Paeroa and Te Aroha, and along this are maybe three or four maraes that the original train line connected, and which I didn’t even know existed. The modern road doesn’t make that connection. To a large extent, there are two New Zealands, even today, but most people will refute that in the name of social cohesion. 


Music and radio was a big thing, with the modern day Rock and Roll emerging. TV was nonexistent pretty much throughout NZ until about 1960, so in the evenings people would sit around the old valve radio and listen to radio plays, and that led me to an episode of nightmares and sleep walking as there were plays based on space exploration and I would fear being lost in space. 


On Sunday mornings all the kids of NZ would tune in to the stories that would be repeated and repeated and never be boring, tales such as 1001 Nights and stories Grimm, and a tale of a little fire engine called Flickwho wasn’t allowed out to put out fires, until one day of course he became the Hero.


My favourite tunes were Sugar Sugar, and You Are My Sunshine, and strangely enough, given my location, I wanted to grow up and be a ballet dancer. When television finally arrived, it was the deathknell of the local cinema.  The world and Paeroa was shocked to the core by the gyrations of Elvis Presley, one of the very first TV shows I remember. There was also Robin Hood, and TV would start at around 5 pm, and finish with the national anthem at 10.


At school we would take stretches of elastic and practice the Limbo. You may have to google that.

In the winter months we would have potbellied stoves going in the classrooms to keep warm (though most of us would still be getting about bare feet) and one thoughtful teacher would collect together all our free quarter pints of milk into a big pot and make hot chocolate on the stove. 


In the summer the milk was also warm, after being left out in the sun all morning, but that wasn’t quite as nice. Most children brought in their own lunches, usually sandwiches and an apple, but occasionally for a treat our parents would give us money to order in fish and chips, or pies, or just chips, which were delivered to the school from the local fish and chip shop. Sometimes I’d take in bread and butter and order chips to make chip butties. 


Just occasionally, you’d spend a few solitary, private moments in a class alone with your finger and a loose tooth, and eventually you’d work it out, fold it into a handkerchief, and look forward to the tooth fairy later that night.  


On frosty days I’d go up to Gary’s place and we’d spend an afternoon drawing on the frosty glass of his living room windows. His forte was Pegasus, as his father drove a Mobile petrol tanker so that logo was familiar, and I drew flowers. My mother with her green fingers would’ve been proud.


At some point around when I was eight I guess my mother had a faulty radio that took her to the premises of one Jack Keith who had a repair shop just on the outskirts of Paeroa, on the road to Thames. 


Fate drew a bad apple there, because there were other repair shops in town, or maybe she had another reason to visit him. Either way he was due to become our new step father, and in a grand ceremony of about 5 well-wishers, my mother duly married the bastard.


We changed our names to Keith (even though he didn’t legally adopt us, as I found out later) and we moved to a new house on the top of a steep hill with a garage and workshop at the bottom of the property.


To give the man his due, he was incredibly talented in electronics, making several inventions that were bought by the Plessey electronic company, but there his talents stopped. He was locally seen as very controlling and seditious, and we kids knew our good times were over. 


He particularly took to harassing Debbie as she was weaker and often ill, having inherited the asthma that had killed her father, and as I grew older and bigger thoughts of killing him were never far away. He was truly that bad.


His masterpiece was an intercom system between the house and the workshop, so that if he needed to contact us or vice versa, we could buzz like a phone. The trick was however that his end of the line was always open so that he could eves drop on whatever was being said in the house, big brother style. 


Was he paranoid or what I don’t know, but he had to have control over our lives and when he did interact it was malicious. For instance his idea of teaching Debbie to ride a bike was to set her off on the steep walkway down to his workshop and to laugh when she crashed, and similarly his ideas on teaching her to swim nearly drowned her, and she never did learn. 


What Del saw in him I don’t know, but if there was romance at the beginning there certainly wasn’t at the end. Many years later after I had left home for university she and I went for a walk up Black Rock and discussed her leaving him, and I would quit uni and help her, but she decided not as he’d taken all her money. They were hard times indeed. 


Luckily, for us kids Paeroa itself hadn’t changed so we kept going to the same school albeit by bus, and we were young then so the hardships sort of slipped by us, but Debbie who was then six started bed wetting and that continued for at least a year so it really affected her more.

Interlude - Poem: ‘The Old Man’

                       With no sickness, and an unfolding mind

                       He rests alert to the visions

                      That he has

                     The curtains let the light into his room

                     That he needs to live by

                     And yearns.


                     In another room, a dusty piano and a dirty plate and fork

                    To all passersby, there was no sign of life

                     Just the sweet smelling roses in an overgrown

                     Front garden.

                     And the windows never opened.

                     There were no lights at night,

                     For the Angel of Darkness.

Black Rock was now right on our door step, it was just fifty yards up to Poly Kelly’s shearing shed which became a favourite haunt for us, and from there maybe three quarters of a mile up to the top of the rock, and the trig station at the top of the highest bit. 

On one of our trips up we came upon a baby goat with no mother, so we brought it home, named her Rosco, and she became a family pet for several years until one day mysteriously vanishing. Word was that someone of an Indian origin had nicked it for their pot. 

Life as a country kid had its pluses and minuses, but racist undertones were never far away and they were deeply upsetting even at our then young age. 

My fascination with possible eye damage continued. We would stand in the middle of a big paddock and shoot arrows vertically up into the air, and wait for them to fall, and run away at the very last minute. Luckily none got us. 

Another fun game was to light fire crackers, holding them in our fingers, and at the very last minute drop them into water hoping of course that we’d got the timing right and they’d explode underwater. Mostly they went bang in our hands.

At school I had taken to reading the essays of Pope and the like and fancied myself as an essayist, to the point of writing a polemic on the evils of American slavery. I was probably picking up on the struggles of the black Americans that were happening then, around 1962. 

We got to read out our essays in class, so I hope I had some influence on my peers, as we were living as it so happened in a society that was not so different to that in the states, a society that castigated by corporal punishment the speaking of Maori in school, and was as much at fault as so many other colonial countries of the world.

I entered an essay competition for the Tauranga city council, to showcase their new developments of their harbor. Up till then, the city had been a minor fishing village, but the newly developing paper and timber industry meant it had become a major exporting harbor, and the council wanted its new developments seen in a good light. 

Needless to say, I took the opposite tack, deriding the new developments, and was duly surprised to have, if nor won, at least to have come second in the competition, the reward being to visit the city and meet the mayor and his council. Unfortunately, life under Jack precluded such niceties.

Another pet I had was another rescue, a mother possum had been run over on the road, and in its pouch was a joey, which we brought home and fed on milk and Weetabix and we watched it run up and down mum’s curtains. 

We kept it for about a year, until it finally decided to shoot through as one does, if you’re a possum. It had been a great pet, we’d taken him (Percy) to school with us, and single handedly had caused more mayhem on the NZ forest with the saving of yet anotherdestructive introduced pest. Along with deer and rabbits and humans the NZ countryside has a hard go of it.

Another pet we had was a budgie called Joey, blue, and even bluer when he died. He was in fact a pretty boring pet, mainlybecause as kids we had not much to do with him, as he was mums bird, and he wasn’t lucky enough as some birds are to fly freely around the house. We also had quite a few cats.(Maybe that’s why Joey was cage bound). 

As we were on the main road to Thames, the death toll was usually one cat a year. The roads in NZ are quite lethal, even to humans, because they are usually very quiet, then whoosh. Unlike more densely populated countries where the roads are usually busy nonstop, the wildlife soon learn, to an extent.

And so with the new marriage came along a new baby, Greg, and it was generally made known to all that yes, Del could have fit and healthy babies (as her very first was, but still then a secret) but she was still blamed for not only the still births but also the death of Rodney. 

That there should be this animosity is beyond my comprehension, but it’s not unusual and particularly so in such small communities. It was a good thing that the anti-witch laws had been by then outlawed, or my mother would’ve got a fair old dunking.

My grandparents had by then moved to Thames, selling the farm and buying a new townhouse for their retirement. It was opposite a working saw mill that was still then milling some of the Kauri trees that were coming out of the Kaurangavalley just outside Thames, and these logs were massive.

I spent many a happy hour there watching the spinning blades, and taking photos with my trusty box brownie camera. Black and white, film. 

Our family visits to their house was always a bit fraught, with Jack hating being there, he would take Greg into the garage to raid their fridge they kept there while we other family members would patiently watch grandma swat flies with her swatter from her comfy arm chair, and Narny would supply tea and biscuits. 

Pa would take me over to the mill, and often down to the wharf, which was a spindly little thing (and still is) with a smattering of fishing boats, a shop to buy fish, and sprats in the water for us to try and catch. It was a bit hit and miss, as it was very tidal, so mud was often the only thing visible for a good hundred yards.

One day Gary Nevin and I decided to ride our bikes down to Thames, twenty miles, and were bemused to get there in about two hours. We thought it should’ve been longer, as we were only about ten, and for us it was a big adventure. Never the less we stayed overnight at my grandparents, and rode back a bit slower the next day. 

We were both members of the scouts, or cubs as it was at that age, dyb, dyb, dyb. Dyb was a chant, repeated three times, meaning Do Your Best. Whoever invented that (Baden Powell) needed seeing to, but there you go, it seems to have been successful and who am I to criticize.


The good thing was all the camping, often without grownups once we were in the scouts, and all the badges gave us something to learn and achieve, though knots would come back to haunt me as a fifty year old, standing on a sloping roof with a slack line hanging around my ankles, when it should have been a safe and secure bowline knot around my waist.

We once quite foolishly camped out in a cave on the same level as a creek that ran by the open mouth, and if it had rained heavily in the night we would’ve drowned. It was not uncommon for that creek to flood, so I guess we were lucky

The valleys all around were strewn with the remnants of the 1850’s gold rush, old crusher batteries, mines, and tracks leading off into the hills in every direction. There was one old battery in Waihi that resembled a castle, and for many young years Debbie and I thought a giant lived there.

The influence of these gold fields was evident in our school, as our school houses were named after some of the mines, Talisman and Woodstock, Silverton, and Wentworth. 

One of the delights is in a museum in Waihi, a thumb severed by one of the miners to get compensation for the hard work. It would not have been an easy life, and the current modern gold mine which is a huge open cut crater, has exposed the old tiny rabbit runs that criss cross many metres below ground through which the miners from the past would have crawled.

My grandfather, before he took up farming, was in the timber industry, working on one of the massive hand saws that operated above and below a log, the chaps below working in a pit that had been dug below the log. There was alongside this Kauri gum collecting, the resin from these trees was used to make varnish. Work in the nascent New Zealand was not easy.

Life back at Jacks was a mixture of work, and more work. We had wood chopping to do, roof painting, stone wall making, and commuter winding (electrical). 

My biggest regret was the piano, which was present when we moved there, but was soon sold. I would have liked to have learned how to play it. Jack would always make life difficult, and always would argue in the veg shop over pennies, and if I was sent to pick up fish and chips, he would make a point of driving me back to complain about something.

Unfortunately my mother had been brought up with a fairly common saying regarding reading, ‘haven’t you got something better to do?’ Perhaps it all came back to gut busting breaking in the land, surviving on one’s wit, not one’s intellect. 

However I pride myself in dutifully reading out the Paeroa library as much as I could, as much as it was. So in this austere upbringing I could at least find solace. Unfortunately Debbie was not so bright, and struggled at school and away from it, so life for her was not easy.

Secondary School

Progress to secondary school happened when we were thirteen, and the very first day was bad cop day. 


My friend Bill Snelgar, who was dux of our primary school, corrected very politely the vice principle when he was called ‘William’ instead of Bill, and got a right bollocking for his trouble. We were shocked, what was the man on about? We soon found out, he loved to cane people. Which was his other job apart from vice principle and maths teacher.  


The rebellion basically started there, and if you’ve ever seen a film called ‘If’, you’ll know the origins happened right there in Paeroa.


Mind you, this was the 60’s, we had been deprived of drugs, so there was a fair bit of angst about, not to mention long hairand attitude.  


However, as freshers, the fight back had to be delayed a bit, so it was a case of oops, duck and cover, while we came to grips with this new way of doing things. Such as different classes in different rooms, set schedules and timetables, and so on. 


It all took a bit of getting used to, and I think I spent most of my time in a muddle with the wrong books, or just dreading the maths lesson. Oops again, Mr Borrie. Please don’t cane me. I did cop it with the horse trough incident though, four whacks on the arse. I was surprised how much it hurt. 


Where we used to go to Cubs and Scouts, we also now had ATC, or Air Training Corps, a sort of recruitment arm of the air force, where we would all get given snazzy uniforms and strut around like demented army louts and do marching, and learn stuff like taking apart engines, and radios, and do Morsecode, and yes even better, shoot rifles and even machine guns.


The latter obviously happened not in Paeroa (we were not yet America!) but in air base camps where we would go for weekend trips. We also got to ride in a helicopter, the overall aim of course was cannon fodder for the forces.


Personally, I liked it and was ready to sign on the dotted line; that is until the targets put up at a particular camp included human shapes. Sanity kicked in, and I duly quit. However I did get a taste for flying that sadly never materialized. But, I did win a competition run by a local airfield, the prize being a flight in a glider which was absolutely magical. 


The thing takes off being towed by a rather noisy struggling Cessna or similar, up to a given height; then a loud bang as the rope is disconnected and a sudden quiet descends and the world is a very different place. The wind whistles, the plane lifts and dips and serenity holds sway. 40 years later I returned to the same airfield with my son, who repeated the experience.


The evil Jack though still had that elusive fear factor about him. He was widely known as a nazi amongst my peers, and he did own a dagger that looked very nazi like with an eagle handle; and there was the unanswered questions about what happened to his first wife, and his three children, none of whom ever visited and none of whom I have ever met. 


Jack’s abuse of his wife and us kids continued, it was dark times for us all. If folk dancing had been my highlight, this was the exact opposite. It’s hard to quantify, and sometimes it’s best to leave it all unsaid.


In school, the new regime included, unlike primary school, a different teacher for each subject, and different rooms, so we spent many baffling months wondering where next? Well I did, and I’m sure most did as well. There were options for woodwork and metalwork (boys), geography, history, French, home science (girls), and core subject such as maths and English. 


Maths now included trigonometry, algebra, geometry, and calculus and being taught by Mr Borrie cane ‘em six times, any love for maths went out the door.


Being an existentialist, I opted for geography over history. One of my life’s regrets. Sport was also big, taking up the whole school every Friday afternoon. 


Rugby was the big one, as well as soccer, basketball (girls), softball, cricket, andtennis as there was a tennis club right next door to the school. I was very keen on tennis, but my parents (Jack?) couldn’t run to the expense of the compulsory white uniform so that was that.


It’s hard to describe rugby. In NZ it was mana to play, and the Allblacks were heroes, but it was a tough game and in those days it was rougher than the version that you’re given these days. For instance, rucking meant going in with studs, which is not allowed these days. When I was 10, my friend David’s father built him a set of goalposts to practice kicking over but at secondary school I quickly bottled out, being a bit on the short side, and opted for soccer. However rugby was so intense that one fellow died, at about the age of 16, after a school match. 


The start of secondary school did have an embarrassing moment for me. My friend Max had a 13th birthday party, in the evening, and I was the only schmuck who turned up in shorts!! In fact I’m not sure I had trousers, so that would explain it. Ah, the joys of yesteryear. 


Of course trousers soonfollowed, and in particular blue jeans with the obligatory flower power patches, sewn on by myself with the skills of a true boy scout. These were accompanied by raggedy worn out sneakers, the combo of which was later unceremoniously burnt (martyred) by my mother who saw correctly the first signs of hippy. I never forgave her for that.


Secondary school however appealed to my intellectual curiosity, and I thrived though I also saw deep flaws in it, especially as is saw my dear sister struggle with second rate teachers, and the streaming system cut out the collective responsibility that nowadays seems so essential.


One thing I did enjoy was art, but we had a natural genius in our midst, Ian McIndoe, who was very talented. However, it was all a time for learning about ourselves and the world, and being such a small school of only 600 or so students, it was very laid back and friendly.



It was in 1967 when I turned 15, which was the age of getting a driving license in NZ at that time. It was also the age of the Beatles, and long hair on men and short dresses on women, the mood of our generation was certainly rebellious to say the least. 


At school we would have weekly inspections where male staff would walk along the ranks of male students, flicking the back of their hair with a ruler, and if it fell below the collar, remedial action was called for. Similarly, girls had to kneel, and if the skirt was above the knee, ditto remedial action. Can’t quite see that happening these days.


These practices were punctuated by myself turning up looking like Marlon Brando to school assemblies, and other similar mutinies. 

The film ‘If’ was a parallel of our sentiment, although we didn’t know it as the film hadn’t been made yet. Also we didn’t have a handy arsenal, but the thought was there. 


Into this atmosphere which was a worldwide phenomenon no doubt succoured by Rock and Roll music from 1960 onwards, we participated very happily. Our particular year group was a really special bunch. It wasn’t repeated in classes either side of us, and I feel quite lucky to have been there. I can remember this, as we hadn’t discovered drugs yet. There was though the Tui coffee bar, where we hung out, being beatnicks, on the way to hippyness.


My first taste of freedom was the purchase of a scooter, a Hobby, a German import, automatic which was quite rare then, green, top speed 35 mph. To start it, it had a pull start cord like a lawn mower, which was very uncool. I bought it with the proceeds of a paper round I’d been doing for several years, from a student a few years older, a mod type Christian so not really my type. 


However it got me wheels and for $60 a bargain. I had to get my license to drive it, so I drove it into town to the cop shop, and the copper asked me to drive it around the block, and whilst I was doing that he went inside to write out my license. I guess if I didn’t come back, or had come back with bruises, I would’ve failed. I think it was the same bloke who 3 years later booked me for going 60 mph with a pillion on a Matchless 500 when 45 mph was the open road speed for motorcycles with pillions. A bit daft, but there you go. 


Two up, it’d hit 85, when the cop wasn’t looking, but stopping wasn’t so brilliant.

So with license in top pocket, yours truly could piss off into the sunset whenever he felt like, which given my family life, was a blessing. 


One trip I well remember was to the Auckland Museum some 80 miles away, which I always enjoyed, so you can see I was no beer swilling yob, but just loved the open road and the sense of freedom. 


The museum though does hold cannibal forks, for eating people with, so that might hold an insight…? Of course eating your enemy was mana improvement, and I was only 15 so that was no doubt in my mind.


My brother Greg was then about 5, and I would sit the helmet on his head and he’d stand on the running board between my legs, and we’d do a few drives around town.


Laws then were a bit like Asian laws are, you could carry your family about, or twenty chickens, as long as you didn’t see a cop. On the other hand seat belts for cars had yet to be invented, and the death toll was horrendous. 


Having such a simple little scooter gave me much needed knowledge on their workings, and I’d traded in my paper run for working at the local lawn mower fixer’s shop, owned by Sid Barron, where I learned to decoke heads, gap piston rings, hone cylinders, and lap in valves. As well as learn from the esteemed man himself, we also had the joy of listening to parliament on the radio, as he ate lunch from a plate balanced on a beer gut.


Many men had beer guts then, and In NZ therewas 6o’clock shutting, so blokes would down tools at 5 and race to the pub for an hours inebriation and for many a bit of family abuse to follow. Still happens, without the time clock ticking to 6 pm. I was saddened to come across Sid’s grave a few years ago now, he was a good man.


The need for more speed raised its lovely head, and to raucous laughter (many years later) I went off to Hamilton and traded in for a 175cc Jawa. Yes, motorcycle friends, you may mock.Top speed around 50. Basically a heap of shit, it didn’t last long in the stable before another opportunity arose. 


However it served its purpose, as I learnt to ride properly on it, taking it to its limits on gravel roads up into the valleys and making good progress without ending up in a ditch on one side or the creek on the other. 


The trick was to avoid the creek, the ditch was far preferable, and I did see that a few times. The fact that I was on this learning curve usually alone and in remote locations meant I had luck on my side to eventually tell the tale.


About then it was announced that Grandpa was dying, so I borrowed Paul Hogan’s Thunderbird 650 and drove down to Thames with tears in my eyes to see him. He was in bed at home, and he told me not to drink or smoke. I wish I’d listened. 


I drove back home doing my first 100 mph. When I got home Jack had a good laugh, saying I had just been there to see what I could get. This was how he was. Without human decency. Grandpa’s funeral was about a week later, grandma survived him by about 15 years.


Friends of mine, such as Paul and Richard who were a few years older, had 650s and 500s.Sadly they were both to die before their 20th birthdays, riding the Karangahake gorge on their new Norton Commando. 


My peer Bill Snelgar, who was the ringleader of The Fight Back, had the longest hair, the intelligence, and the longest grudge from the Bad Cop Day to amend. He decided he needed a bike as well, so got a 350 Velocette which are not very easy starters, as he soon discovered. I had discovered someone in Te Kuiti who wanted to swap my Jawa for a 500 Matchless, so off I went to perform said swap. 


On my return Jack threw me out of the house, and I spent the night in the neighbour’s garage. The next day I met Debbie at school, and we discussed the dilemma, she being none too happy with home life as well.


What followed was a very tetchy year of my living at home/shed as the day would offer, and Jack deciding my mother was a punching bag. Finally I ran away to my girlfriend’s parent’s beach house, hoping in that act to alert the police to my mother’s predicament, but I was told wife beatings were no concern of the law. Being consequently ignored, my uncle Gray decided to take me in, motorbike and all.


This one act of kindness by him and Aunty Elspeth probably saved my life. My brother Greg was of course still at primary school, being about 7. I often wonder about how everyone back at home managed, and not without a fair share of guilt. 


The saddest part was meeting up with Debbie every day at school and discussing how things were going, and she still unable to move out, being only 14. It was a terrible time, but I was in a safe place…but at what cost?

Interlude - Poem: 'High Bells'

                  High bells, low bells,

                  Church bells, cow bells

                  Bells over a meadow

                  Bells over a moor

                  Mountains over a valley

                  Rain falls soft and sleepy.

                  Clouds rumble, clouds gather

                  Storm is imminent,

                  Bolt the gate,

                  Shut the shutter.


                  High bells, low bells

                 Crying sound asunder.

                 High bells, low bells

                 Can you hear the thunder?

                 High bells, low bells

                 Does it mean another?

                 High bells, low bells

                 The worm begins to stir.

In those days we did a lot of hitch hiking, and on my rucksack I had a mandala, which I had painted and sewed on. I gave this to Debbie on my departure from home. 
Looking back I think I was the catalyst for the upset in the house, but not the cause, and although my leaving probably was the best it didn’t help much. I wish it hadn’t had to be. 
Life at uncle Grays and aunty Elspeth’s was refreshingly normal, no daily angst, and being treated as a human being was refreshing. How you get used to abuse and intimidation, so subtle yet encompassing! 
I had an outside annex to live in, which was brilliant, and finally I was let loose on a piano, where I diligently but ultimately unsuccessfully attempted to play music from Romeo and Juliette. Which probably said more about my state of mind than anything else.
I was also let loose on the farm, where my first near death experience happened in the form of driving a tractor for the first time, and dropping a huge wheelie, which could so easily have flipped over and killed me. I’ve not been keen ever since on silly road driving escapades. Not that Id meant to wheel stand the tractor, I just had the wrong gear. 
However I did indulge in some ‘antics’, unbeknown to Gray, as he’d lent me his car, a Hillman Minx, (even though I had no car driving license) and I’d gone to a local open space and done a few spinouts in pursuit of some fun. 
I also indulged in a very short ride one beer fueled night, with I think maybe four people on my motorbike, one on the tank and three sort of hanging on the seat, so while I can claim now at the ripe old age I have attained, that I have accumulated zero points on my license, it’d be foolish to say I’m a saint.
That we were trouble was not to be disputed. The school rule at the time was no vehicles by students were to be brought into school, but we had an ally in the guy who lived next door to the school, the town jeweler Mr Mudford, who also had an interest in motorbikes. 
He let us take our machines there of a morning, and we’d walk the last few yards to school. Needless to say, after school there were a few revs up and down past the staff room, and on one occasion I was asked to visit the vice principal’s office after assembly as I was wearing a leather jacket (which I’d borrowed as I couldn’t afford such) with adorning chain epaulettes. 
Car escapades too were common. Bill Snelgar would wait until his parents were asleep, then sneak out of the house and push his father’s Hillman Minx down the road, start her up, and hoon off into the night. Until said hooning ended him up in a ditch. There were also nightly races over the hills to Whangamata, which was a local surfing beach, and where all the yoof hung out on the weekends. 
I wasn’t part of that scene, as I lived out of town, so largely missed out on that particular network. However one night Bill Bedford had borrowed his sister’s car, an Austin Metro, and myself (with motorcycle helmet on as a lark, in the back seat) and Bill Snelgar up front, with a boot full of beer, hit a corner just a tad too fast and rolled over a couple of times and ruined a perfectly good case of beer. My helmet had ding marks all over it, so a good thing I was wearing it. Bedford’s sister had a few words to say, I believe, shit and fan were mentioned to me later.
There were however less frantic moments in our driving careers, like leisurely trips around the Coromandel peninsular, and my riding style was evolving into a very laid back style. I had for instance fashioned a ‘sissy bar’, a type of back rest for motorcycles, made out of an old pair of lawn mower handles. Speed was not a priority, escapism was. 
And anyway those old British bikes were prone to breaking down or dropping bits off, such as the gear lever around Lake Waikaremoana, so astuteness was a trait to be nurtured in relation to our wheels, two or four. Nowadays people say these old vehicles have ‘character’, which is a euphemism for ‘things falling off’, or ‘always breaking down’.
By now though our last year of school, the 7th form, was coming to an end. We were the first year to have a 7th form, and we had a grand total of 7 in it. Plus our form teacher, who was just a few years older than us and very attractive, until she married the gym teacher.
We all said goodbye to Paeroa College in the usual way, by dropping our school caps off the bridge into the river. And for most of us, we headed off to summer work for funds to continue at university, me and Max to Auckland, and the others to Hamilton, or others to work, or Bill Bedford to Papua New Guinea on VSA. 
That particular assignment gave birth to an amazing letter correspondence between us two over a couple of years, sadly lost now. When he came back, he had an Aussie girlfriend in tow, and they borrowed my Morris 8, which was the last I saw of it or them for 6 months as they travelled around the South Island.

Interlude - Short Story: ‘Letter From a Friend’

She sat on the bathroom stool, and looked out into the back garden. It was hard to imagine where the year had gone, when all the work and effort had resulted in such small changes, the worry, the mortgage, and now the loneliness. 


Chris hadn’t been much help; in fact his parting shot in their separation had been too bitter for remembering. In truth, the separation had been good, but it was the emptiness that it left behind that hurt. Their friends had tried to remain impartial, but their silence wasn’t much help, and socialising on her own wasn’t the gaiety that she aspired to.


Steam from the running bath misted over the window, forming rivulets of tears that condensed into streaks, and clouded her view. Wiping back her own tears, she finished undressing, taking care not to wrinkle her blouse that she needed for work the next day, and lowered herself into the warmness of the water.


The card that arrived with the usual morning post brought some unexpected news, and some welcome relief from an innocent past. She devoured the words in between her toast and tea, and the surprise correspondence almost brought to calamity her usual routine of getting off to work. 


She was still clutching the letter for another reading as she chased the bus to the lights, where she was able to join the bank of bland faces commuting via the Battersea Bridge to their work places. It was not a journey she could say she remembered, outwardly her attention was nil. She was riveted to the words she had before her, and daydreaming to a long gone past, feasting on the memories.


The Scottish address was news to her. The last time she knew where Phillip was, and that had been more than a year ago, was that he co-managed a wine bar in Greece in summer, and worked somewhere on oil rigs in winter. He was a cook when she knew him. She’d met him at a friend’s party, and was it his eyes, or his smile? 


She never could tell. Obviously he shared the same feeling, and instantly it seemed they had both been transported onto some ferris wheel, laughing and shrieking, around and around, as high as kites. 


For a month she felt liberated, before his new job took him away, knowing at the time logic reasoned, and anyway you can’t change plans mid-stream. Life’s jiltings, she thought angrily, clutching the letter tightly, reading it one more time, filing it carefully into her handbag, next to her heart.


Things weren’t all that easy with long term relationships. Time eroded, and changed the valleys for hills, the beach cottage for prison, and perfect became imperfect. In the end she’d said to Chris, “Look, I don’t want to spoil your life”, and he left. She knew any man that was meant for her wouldn’t have let her down, and he sure did. That was what hurt the most, he’d let her down.


She actually suspected he’d been seeing someone else, and he didn’t seem to have any problem knowing where he was going when he left. He’d left a phone number, but they only spoke from work; the chances of hearing another woman’s voice was a risk she didn’t want to take…. ‘Odd chat’ was a joke. 


One civil conversation and two arguments in the space of two months hardly amounted to any deep friendship, but in truth being bitter was one way of coping with it.


It would change suddenly, a whole day feeling on top of it, and then something, like finding an odd hour with nothing to do, would bring on the worst pains. It wasn’t just enough to stay busy, but she also felt resigned to it. In a way you could explore the pain, like a scientist, experiment with it. It was a bit perverse, and she liked to sit in front of the fire in the nude when she felt morose, it made her feel primeval, wretched almost, and primitive. ‘Insanity’ she thought ‘must save a lot of people’s sanity’.


Now there was something new to occupy her mind. A visit from an ex-lover, and very soon too (must tidy the place up), she could almost smell the scent of roses, her fantasies were loose.

After all this time. She read the letter again. Her evening bath, the only time she could relax outside of sleep, was ready. The water welcomed her, and lulled her. Outside soft breezes stirred the trees, and for once she felt like not moving, this was her home, and she was to have a visitor. Yes, a visitor.


‘Better tidy the spare room’, scrubbing the soles of her feet, massaging those tired ankles. Control. No point throwing away the paddle, knowing what you know, getting what you want.

“Yes. Better tidy the escape hatch. What a good idea”


Outside, through the trees and the hustling night, a full moon shoved its way up, then lay back fat and contented, and shone awhile. 



Summer work for me entailed abbatoire work in Auckland, which I’d got via my mother’s friends Mary and Ray, who she knew from childhood. I also got to stay with them for the 2 months of holidays before my first digs in Auckland. 


Abbatoire work was insightful, in that each day saw the death of some 9000 lambs, and pigs and cattle, as well as some fast track learning of life in the big city, which I was definitely not used to. 


I escaped at least one duffing up by some local ruffians, and nearly got run over by a shunted cattle truck in the yards, but escape it I did. The money was very good, in the summer months I could earn enough to live on all year which was great, with occasional office cleaning jobs to supplement. Pushing around trolleys full of calf heads never felt better! 


My first student accommodation was with a family in a posh suburb, but while safe, it was not at all adventurous. I went flat hunting, and came upon a house full of students in the student area of town, the whole 5 bed house costing $25 a week, with great surrounding verandahs and a roof top hideaway room with panoramic views of the city, which was mine. 


The others in the house were older, Caroline was doing a PhD, Susan was an exchange student from the USA, and Darius had an old model T Ford, which was little but a frame with motor and wheels and which needed cranking to start. 


There was no roof, no body or doors, no windscreen, just a steering wheel and quite a few gaps between the floor boards which was a bit concerning. However we had many enjoyable trips out into the country.


It was in this house I first came across marijuana, and it soon made an impact on my life. The first time I tried it I was alone, and I’m not sure why, but I really enjoyed the experience of detachment from your body, and a pureness about thought. 


In those days smoking dope was quite uncommon, and only really for hippies, so it seemed I was now one. After all, my hair was long, and my inclination was to peace and love, all of which came to me in that particular house. 


At about the same time I was also experimenting in what were called ‘encounter groups’ which were to some extent as informative to my soul as was folk dancing at primary school, setting some kind of template for myself.


Unfortunately studies were proceeding badly. I had originally enrolled at uni with a view to becoming an optician, and I was finding the course work way out of my ability, or perhaps not ability, but appreciation. I was becoming politically aware and active against such causes as the then ongoing Vietnam War, and apartheid in South Africa, so dissecting frogs was not high on my wish list. 


In despair, I approached the authorities and asked to change course, to teacher training, and two new uni subjects of Politics and English, which they accepted for my second year.


I’d swapped my Matchless for a BSA  650 and also had at this time a Morris 8 car which had a windscreen wiper that ran off the vacuum created by the engine running; the faster you went, the faster they went, and vice versa. It also had a windscreen that opened out to the front with a screw thread, so that you could ventilate the car. Which was handy, as it had a leaking exhaust pipe. 


I decided to wrap a rag around said leak one day, then we all hopped in the car with Darius’ dog Bombadil, to head over the harbor bridge for a run. As we pulled up to the toll booth, the car quickly filled with smoke, and the siren sounds soon thereafter of the approaching fire engine, who queried which idiot had wrapped the exhaust with a rag? The dog was very displeased.


My next accommodation became another life changing move, as I moved in with a couple Allan and Rose. Allan was a French language student, who played guitar, and who also taught Transcendental Meditation, which was becoming quite big then as the Beetles had taken to it. 


He taught me, and soon I too became a teacher, and went on over the next few years to teach several hundred people in Auckland and later Hamilton. 


Allan was also a keen motorcyclist, and we shared many a happy moment drooling over the latest Yamaha XS650, which was a Japanese incarnation of the British twins that we mostly knew then. 


However it was also music that Allan introduced me to. I had owned a guitar from my last house, so learning now set a new pace, and he was able to help me with the all-important rhythm, as fingering the keyboard, whilst difficult, was just practice.


In that year my sister finally moved also to Auckland, and she had inherited my aunty Ett’s yellow mini, so she too finally had freedom and was also living with Ray and Mary where Ihad first moved to. She had a job with NZ railways, as a typist, and was very happy. 


However she still had bad asthma, and was one of the first guinea pigs to try out the new inhalers, which were full of steroids, so her demeanourchanged from petite to quite chubby, but still lovely! 


Many years later I knew someone who whenever an asthma attack was imminent would smoke a joint to alleviate it, I wish I knew that then.


Jack had been ill for some time with a brain tumour, and was in hospital. On my brothers birthday I went down to Paeroa to see him and mum, and as I was there she didn’t make that trip to Thames hospital that day, and that evening Jack finally passed away. 


I can’t say I was displeased at all, but for my mother who had now lost two husbands, it was not such a great time. Nor for Greg, to have his father die on his birthday.


My daily routine now began with yoga, then meditation, followed by Tai Chi, which became a pattern of my life for several decades. My studies however were not quite as focused, as I’d read the writings of Summerhill, and was definitely of the new age teaching philosophy, so my studies, while progressing well, were not followed by the passes that I needed. 


My university studies were also enhanced by Maori language studies, and I became great friends with my tutourand together we wrote essays for my teachers college student newspaper which were not in keeping with the authorities. 


These were just about too radical for the time…not 10 years ago children were getting corporal punishment for speaking Maori in school, and here we were advocating it. My second year teacher training was not looking bright. 


That is, until I went on placement to a very rural school way up north in TeKao, which is but a smattering of houses on the way to the tip of the north island from whence the spirits of dead Maori people left for their next adventure.

Which is what it felt like to me. Not dead, but spiritual. 


This school had about 40 kids all up, 90% Maori, and all the joie de vivre that such a small community can bring. Not only that, but the headmaster with whom I was staying was one very fantastic teacher, who gave me fresh inspiration in my life quest.


Getting there had been exciting. I’d travelled up on my motorbike with a guitar strapped to the tank, and hit a patch of sand on the road at about 60 mph. Luckily I managed to stay sunny side up, and the guitar was very thankful.


One of the occasions of the local community was a raft race down the river, with all the onlookers waiting on the bridge with all their old fish guts and rotten eggs to turf on us as we paddled beneath. 


However my return to Auckland brought that all down, and in a sequence of events that I find hard to assimilate, I decided to pack it all in and head south to Hamilton and a new life. My university days were over, but I wasn’t too fussed. 


The things in life that interested me were not material, and I knew I could learn by myself with my own motivation, and having a degree or certificate to teach in a system that I couldn’t agree with was not what I wanted.


Helvetica Light is an easy-to-read font, with tall and narrow letters, that works well on almost every site.

Gardening wasn’t my first job in Hamilton. My first job was for the post office, and driving down to the railway station at 3am was one of the shifts of twelve I did before quitting. The station at 3 am was very amazing, stoned, with steam and hiss, and I don’t even think there were steam trains then either!! Either way, it was all very enjoyable for 12 weeks.


My next job was on the council as a gardener, which if I’d stuck at it could have been bright, as gardening was something I really enjoyed, and still do. Gary and Bill and Ian from school shared a flat, with a couple of nurses, which is how I got to meet Barbara, a friend of theirs. She was to become my first long term girlfriend. 


For entertainment we would pop down to the local fountains and stand in the pond and read poetry to the shoppers, and headed off to the local spotlighted Mormon temple at night with various drugs, and run naked around the local lake at night, as streaking then was quite fashionable. 


On weekends I would adopt a serious persona, and teach meditation, or head out looking for black sheep so as to ask the farmer for wool. My hobby then was to come home after work and sit on the verandah and spin wool, which I’d give away for others to use. Barbara tried her hand at knitting once, but it all went a bit pear shaped, literally. 


My gardening skills took a battering one wet weekend. Gary and I had planted sweet potato (kumara) and we’d been unable to find any amongst the vegetation. However one wet Sunday, as we sat around with our feet in the wood stove to keep warm, and a bottle of rum, we suddenly realized kumara grew underground, so donning wet gear headed out to dig up our dinner. Gary was busy in his spare time working as an artist (he was gardening with me) and our house and garden became festooned with sculpture and paintings and I’m pleased to say he has made it after all these years.


One day I came home to a letter from a solicitor, who wrote,’blah, blah, Rowan Vuglar, the adopted son of Del and Rodney Vuglar…’ This was the first I’d learnt that I’d been adopted, though when I visited my mother next, she said she told me when I was 5…! So that was interesting, to say the least. Up until then I’d gone under the name of Keith, so I then changedback to Vuglar.


Shortly after that Barbara and I went for a tour around the South Island, and eventually to Stuart Island which is at thevery bottom of New Zealand, very isolated, with nothing but a few houses and walking tracks, which we took to. We had lots of food with us, and at the end of each day’s hike there would be cabins to stay in. 


One such was populated by a bunch of eager scouts, who were off well before sparrow’s fart, but at another we came upon a starving Aussie, Steve, who we fed. He’d been hoping to live off his fishing skills, but had fallen short. He was from Perth in WA, and we became very good friends. He invited us to visit him. Barbara and I discussed this, and agreed to that plan. I set off first, she followed a few months later. It was a tearful farewell to Debbie and Mum at Auckland airport, my first excursion out of NZ, in 1975. Aged 23.


I landed in Melbourne. At first, my accommodation was a camping site (being a kiwi I had a tent and sleeping bag), and my first impression was great excitement, with a certain amount of trepidation. In Melbourne there was every imaginable language being spoken, well Italian and Greek mainly, but also such a different air about the place, given that Melbourne then had about the same population as the whole of NZ. I loved it. The fear was the unknown, and that I loved just as much. There was also a lot more wealth than I’d seen in New Zealand.

The plan was to meet up with the ever hungry Steve, and drive over to Perth, a mere 3400 km. A good part of that, over the Nullabor Desert, was at that time unsealed, and Steve’s method, no doubt sound, was to drive flat out and bounce over 80% of the ruts, and suffer the other 20%. And it was very hot, and very dusty. The road was littered with the rusted out debris of failed crossings, and the occasional dead roo. As in kanga.


At one point we stopped to speak to an aboriginal elder on the side of the road, who spoke the Queens English, when Steve gunned the motor away from him, covering him in dust, and I got my first taste of aussie racism towards its ancient people. However who am I to speak...? We are all products of our upbringing and I too have been guilty of prejudice (hopefully diminishing rapidly over the years !!) Where racism existed sub text in NZ, in Oz it was as blatant as you like, neither of which I like. Several days later we drove into the first turquoise and pink sunsets of West Australia, and Steve settled back into his life, and I tracked down a flat, and a job as a gardener at King’s Gardens, on top of a hill overlooking Perth city.

My first concern was to keep an eye out for red back spiders and snakes. Apart from that, all was good. It was very hot, so I bought a little Honda 125 to run around on, but that was like driving in an oven. Temperatures in Perth are 40* C for 3 summer months, so riding a bike with flip flops and a sarong seemed the best way to go, until parking the bike one day the sarong fell down. I was of course naked except for the flip flops and my helmet. I was however very much enjoying my new life, and when eventually Barbara came over I proudly took her down to the nudist beach, but was surprised to find it wasn’t where I thought it was. We picked up our clothes and marched on the required 100 yards to the correct spot, to the amusement of the many other people on the beach who of course were correctly costumed.


Barbara had a job at the hospital, but one day she had borrowed my motor bike, and she and a friend went through a stop sign and had an altercation with a car so she was back in hospital, on the wrong side. Fortunately she just had a broken jaw, however the next few months were spent feeding with a straw through a gap in her teeth.

The third Hillman Minx in my life was an unsound purchase, the seller had put heavy grade oil in the engine, so it was only when I got it home I realized my blunder as the motor knocked and grumbled. We could do nothing but park it up, but a few weeks later we had a knock on the door by Ivor, who was a fixer of old motors, who did the deed, and fixed it. Ivor was part aboriginal, and a traveller, and he and his partner Debbie became very good friends over the years. Their lives were fascinating, and always took me by surprise how chaotic life can be.

After the motorcycle accident, I changed jobs to baker’s assistance, an eastern European man who made lovely bread, and then truck driving. Jobs were so plentiful then, you could pick and choose whatever you wanted to do. Eventually though the guts of our relationship fell out, when Barbara met up with a handsome Aussie by the name of Phil, with a big Moto Guzzi motorbike, so that trumped me, and off she went. On the plus side we had a number of very exciting years together, on the negative side it broke my heart and it took me some time to get over it. But I did.

I decided to have another crack at teachers college, and signed up. It was there I met up with Ruth, who though she was married, was unhappily married, and after an adventurous armouring, we moved in together with her two young kids Ashley,2, and Julia,4, and goat. The goat was of the milking variety, but I never got the hang of it, and the goat was often making a break for it, which was a bit disconcerting in a big city, trying to catch a goat. One day I made a drawing of a polar bear for Julia. And that sparked a spark. That I know. The year that followed was easily my best relationship up till then. I’d never had a desire to be a father, but I loved it, and we entertained many parties, played music, and loved each other with a passion. We took many trips into the country, sometimes of the LSD type, and had adventures which bring back fond memories.

A year into the relationship I got a letter from Mum to say that Debbie had died in Auckland hospital from a heart attack. She’d had many stays in there, I remember one when I went to see her, she struggling to breathe with an oxygen mask attached, and looking so vulnerable. She had little cute pigtails tied up with ribbons. I wept and wept when I got the news, but there was nothing I could do. By the time I’d got the letter the funeral had already been, and I was bereft. I was also without funds to even go back, which I suspect my mother knew. She was only 22. She had she died so young, I miss her so much.

At the time I had a Honda CB 250, on which I got my second speeding ticket (and to date, the last) when I decided to see how fast it could go (not very) and had forgotten to look behind me first, to see the grinning traffic cop. However that particular bike didn’t last, as up until then all the four stroke bikes I’d had were British, with a constant loss oil system, not a voluntary system I hasten to add. Nevertheless changing oil was just a matter of topping them up. Not so the Honda. No oil leaked out, but I’d forgotten to change the oil, and it consequently went bang, at just the same time Ruth told me it was over… I think my friends thought I was a bit soft weeping in the back of the van when we went to pick up the Honda, but it wasn’t the bike that brought the tears.

My relationship with Ruth I believe stopped when she had an entropic pregnancy after having her tubes tied. She wept. I had also not been on my best behavior on a holiday to Bali where I had discovered I had a liking for magic mushrooms. We were destined to part, but with the sadness that as a soulmate, it must be. She went on to become a masterful maths teacher, teaching often in the outback, a brave lady.

Another friend I made at college was Ian, who played guitar, and was a great influence on me, in particular that he helped flatter my own strumming, such as it was, and is. Another friend was our art teacher, Serge, who brought in a youthful dynamic to our training, and we developed a play I wrote, about art and discovering that life was art, not vice versa. Doing something like that pre Serge would’ve been unimaginable.

Sadly my future as a teacher was slowly slipping away to the angry sounds of a young man against the orthodoxy that seemed to be my nemesis. It had been thus at uni and my first attempt at teaching, and even as far back as primary school, feeling so often at odds with the world, yet still managing. Life can be a bitch.

So freed from the shackles of relationships and education, I and three others hopped into a trusty Holden motorcar and headed north up through the state of Western Australia towards Darwin in the Northern Territories. This journey was some 4000 km, mostly through desert, and very often over unmade roads and over rivers that needed fording to cross. That we made it is down to the fact that we met up halfway there with a couple that were in a four wheel drive, which saved our bacon on a few occasions.


These roads are not very busy, and it’d be very easy to disappear forever if bad luck and bad roads combined. We made many off piste excursions, and saw some lovely billabongs, and caves with aboriginal drawings, and many dangerous snakes as well. Along the top reaches in the mangroves, crocs hang out, but thankfully we missed those, though friends have encountered them north of Broome. It’s fair to say the Ausssy bush is not a friendly place, but it is very beautiful. At one point we were speeding along a dirt road with bushfires on either side, certainly very scary, and so easily could have been fateful.

What was not beautiful was the discovery that the aboriginal populations were isolated into grubby little backgrounds away from the towns, often surrounded by empty cans, and a smell that comes from people that are decimated by methylated spirits and booze of any kind. To see a proud nation of people reduced to this was so saddening, and as we drove into Darwin, the state there of the aborigines was such I very nearly left in disgust the same day.


Strangely enough this vision had not until then entered my vision, as cities such as Perth or Melbourne have almost no aboriginals, and their existence which has been so cruel over the centuries of white invasion, has been so marginalized. In fact it was only by visiting Australia that I learnt that whites had routinely hunted aborigines in the 1800’s and indeed had totally decimated the indigenous population of Tasmania. We’d ‘done’ Australian history at school, but never been told that, surprise, surprise. Not that it was much different in NZ, or the USA, or India, or Africa, etc etc.

One of the first houses I visited in Darwin was awash with stolen aboriginal burial totems, taken from the outback, no doubt without permission. The owners were nice respectable middle class folk… bathing in their own spleandour. The urge to leave resurfaced.

Darwin had been devastated by Cyclone Tracy about ten years prior, and it was a thriving town busily rebuilding itself. Most houses were on stilts, so as to help with cooling and these would’ve taken a real battering in any storm.


Living upstairs was probably wise in an environment awash with snakes and crocs, and the local beach warned you of swimming or not, in the season for man of war jelly fish. The harbor was known to have the occasional croc come in for a look around. On the plus side, it was a lovely tropical environment, with amazing ant hills and fauna and flora in the surrounding area.

Work was readily available in a sort of Dickensian fashion; you would wander down to the employment office in the morning and bosses would come by and pick whoever they fancied for a days’ labour, or longer. My first stint was in a factory that made roll up and down garage doors, which I did for several weeks, until I took on a stint at the local dump directing traffic and dingoes, then a stint driving for the local council.

My accommodation was in a huge hippy house, there were 12 of us, and two would take turns each night to cook for everyone. We had a veg patch, and some crazy parties went on there. Several of us were Kiwis, and two in particular, Warren and his sister Lorraine from Gisborne, became good friends. They ran a wholefoods sandwich bar in town, and Warren was missing a fingertip from an accident with a lawnmower as a kid. He’d tried taking the top off an acorn by holding it under the mower. He had a Honda 750 but the bastard wouldn’t let me ride it, very sensibly.


My road to work would pass by an aboriginal reserve, and after visiting a few times, myself and another couple would regularly take ourselves and art materials along there for the kids to play with. I had a Datsun car at the time and I let them paint it up with house paint, as it seemed like a good thing to do. The resale value dropped, but it was certainly distinctive. One of the women in the house dabbled in a bit of painting, copying from a well know First World War scene onto a board, and another spark sparked.

On the weekends the house would all load up into a couple of cars and head off into the interior to a particular favourite spot, where two streams converged into two spectacular pools, maybe just about 200 km south of Darwin, a mere nothing in that part of the world. There we would take acid, and swim with the freshies (fresh water cocs). As opposed to the salties (salt water crocs).


The difference being freshies grow to only about 1.5 metres and are assumed to be quite safe, and the others are definite man eaters and to be avoided at all costs. It was all quite surreal floating in the water with little croc snouts and croc’s eyes about 3 metres away whilst tripping. At night we slept in the open on the banks and could hear them splashing about. However my primeval self still has nightmares from time to time about crocs. But they were magical trips, in all senses of the word, and very much unforgettable.

I’d been joined in Darwin by my last girlfriend Barb 2 (as opposed to Barbara 1) and we’d decided to stay just for the dry season as the wet season was the ‘troppo’ season, ie everyone went troppo, or mad. Probably just a euphemism for too much alcohol, which was a big problem up there. Either way, we weren’t staying for that.


Beer drinking in Darwin was a joy to behold. Everyone had a stubby around their neck, which is a small fist size bottle of beer in a leather necklace holder, so you could do stuff without your beer being too far away. There was a festival held in the harbor, where you paddled a raft out to a rock, and sat on it and drank beer, and when the beer finished, the festival was over. That is, several days later. To us hippies it was all a bit much, and even though we did not eschew the odd beer, the excess was a bit much.

There was a sort of lawlessness about the place as well. When I first got there I was offered a job driving out into the outback shooting camels. Camels are a bit of a problem up there, with them taking over where kangaroos should be, and being an introduced pest, the Ausssy way was to shoot them. The job appealed in a deep primeval sense but common sense prevailed.

I was also offered a job on a fishing boat, but when I went down to the harbor to check it out, the rust hulk said ‘no’ to my inner self. Regulations seemed a bit dodgy, shall we say. For instance in those days you could run a car without any sort of safety check in the Northern Territories. The guy who offered me the fishing job also offered me heroin, and I politely said no thanks. He went out and got some, and OD’d, so there’s a good reason for drug regulation as well. I like regulation. It makes sense.

I had an Ibanez guitar that I’d bought in Perth, and I took a fancy to a Scimitar guitar that’d been left behind at the hippy house by some past traveler, so with the blessing of the house I did a swap. I still have it, some 40 years later. One weekend I decided to pedal out to Kakadu which is an aboriginal reserve to the east of Darwin. I seriously underestimated the amount of water I needed to carry, and the distance I could do, but I spent a few nights under the stars with some aboriginal blokes with a cool sense of the universe about me.

I hadn’t been back to NZ since I first came to Oz, so with the wet season approaching, and some pretty vicious rain storms on the horizon, Barb 2 and I packed up an old Ford Falcon and headed south east fleeing the flooded roads and landscapes that would’ve held us back and passed over the state line into Queensland, and headed to Brisbane and finally Sydney and a plane to NZ.


The trip down was another woozy, about 4000 km, so took a good while. There were two moments to remember. One was a visit to a farm just out of Brisbane, with wild horses running. The other was my first visit to the Gold Coast, the Las Vegas of Australia. Arrived in the morning, left in the evening. It wasn’t my idea of beauty, with high rise hotels running down to the sea, after such an epic journey it was all so false.

My mother had moved house, to another part of Paeroa, this time in town rather than out, and at the base of Primrose hill. The garden she’d created reflected her love of gardening, but sadly her prejudices came through when she pulled me aside to mutter “but she’s black” regarding Barb 2. So? I asked. Good old New Zealand.

Interlude - Short Story: 'Coming Home’

It had been a long time. (What a thought, it kept recurring to him like a bad dream). And a lot of Concords had flown a lot of miles (nothing quite like first class, ruefully). What was it? This urge to self-destruct, for only apprehension clouded his vision of what it would be like. Thankful enough to be sitting in the comfort of a cheap room, the sparsity of life scattered around, a dirty ashtray and a bed that lacked linen, the only reality the walls with thoughts bouncing off them.

Music from another room and another culture drifted up the liftwell and disappeared over the top and down into another courtyard, mingling with the cats, and lost to the muzzled traffic noises. Hot tin welcomed an evening rain; steam, cooling, rising, escaped invisibility, life inched forward.

Someone had accidentally left the lift gate open, and he couldn’t get out. An instant of fear, but a shout to the courtyard brought assistance. And today a museum had offered its treasures like a god to a mortal, defying belief, showing all. It had been hard to leave. Tomorrow, to go back. Too much to see, to know, everything new, like a child let loose on the world, orange groves, evening shadows, the nights, and their hardships.

An umbrella would be needed, it was light rain and gentle. Here you wouldn’t know, dry and safe, with nothing but a grey sky to betray the wetness. Life inched forward. The walls reverberated. A corner of the table, daydreaming on a cup, became the river that fed the town, brought in the tourists, used to be a port, the corner where that church had a fire, and they put it out, and one year it snowed on Xmas day and they all went walking. The years began to count like objects. Light switch. Desk. Curtain. The bare boards. An obsession. The memories counted like heads and tails, love-hate relationships, good and bad. ‘Going hone’ was itself in that balance of known and unknown, and good and bad. It had become a decision, and that reflected his past; but this was a past beyond his reach, an already lodged quantity, fixed and immovable. The same river would be there. It was chilling.

Moving in a small room was difficult, but the light was poor, and with few distractions it was necessary to create some. The light that came through the window at sunset was quite delicious, spilling yellow dripping off the woodwork of the doorframe and settling on the pine floor, underpinning everything with its aroma.

That had gone now, and the fresh wind necessitated closing the window, and taking up a new position on the bed, where the darkening skyline could be seen against a marine blue sky, and charcoal bands of cloud. It was May. Blossoms. Lots of them. Cathedral bells. Cathedral walls. Small passageways. And frescoes you could touch, and mosaics you could walk on. Bliss.

The decision to leave had been traumatic. But mother was on her own now, and getting no younger and more resolute, she was as difficult as a can of worms. It could be worse, and he secretly thanked his travelling life on the advantages of good health, and prayed for the loss of those who have not. Tears wrenched at his heart, hurting longer than expected. He remembered the grave.

“I love you, my sister”. Whisperings in the night, the soft sounds of life inching forward.

“Creep you darkness, creep into my soul, fill me with your unknown, and a prayer for my country, whichever that is”.


My brother Greg was now about 15, and had developed into an artist with incredible air brush skills, and he’d recently completed a mural at Paeroa College depicting a gorilla trying to escape from the bars of a cage. It’s since been removed, no doubt the message was just too stark. But for me another spark sparked, number three.

I’d received a letter from a solicitor stating that I had a legacy, which if I kept paying monthly would give me $45000 at the age of 45. That was a lot of money, but it meant for me a need to stabilize my life, which I didn’t want to do, so sadly passed up on that. However I did get a payment of $3000 which I splashed out on a yellow VW beetle, and Barb and I headed off to tour NZ, north and south. Money savviness has never been my forte, and perhaps I should bemoan that; however my life would never have evolved as it did if I’d settled down to a proper job, and I will never regret that (although there were times of extreme poverty when I’d wish for something better).

On our trip around the South Island we got to stay in a hotel that was due to be flooded by the creation of a hydro dam. A sad moment. However, as exciting as the trip was, NZ was not for me, and although Barb and I got on very well, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind if we separated, which we did on our return to Sydney. I settled down in Sydney and she returned to Perth.


When I sat my 15 year old external exams in art, we had been asked to paint a picture involving a landscape. My landscape was from up in a tree looking down, for which I got an A. I was chuffed, but thought no more about it. Now, I had resolved to explore those parts of myself, that inventiveness, and a need to ‘have an opinion’. I still had money left over and I took a cleaning job in the nights that helped with the bills, and launched into an artist’s career. I visited the art shop and asked the staff how to stretch canvasses, and initially started in acrylic paints, as well as drawings in pencil and charcoal. The spark had flamed.

I was also living quite a bohemian lifestyle, ie drugs, alcohol, and poor diet, and eventually I got ill with gout which ended me up in hospital in a ward of old men, which was a bit of a shock. They drained my knee, and pumped me full of cortisone, and after a week I was discharged to find my job had been lost, even though they knew of my circumstances.


That was a blow, and so I decided to hit the road back to Perth, and enroll in an art college. I packed up a few things and put my thumb out and hitched the 3000 km, this time thankfully the Nullabor desert was fully sealed. I got a ride with some folks, and we ended up in Ceduna, which is in the middle of the desert, at midnight. We found an unlikely green lawn, so lay down under the stars in our sleeping bags, and woke at about 5am when the automatic sprinklers came on.

It wasn’t so strange getting back to Perth, as I had now a mission in life and quickly enrolled in art school, and set about my life’s work. What followed was so intense in that I would be painting all day every day. I had a bicycle to which I’d attached a frame to carry canvasses (I was using oil paint now, so the paint would be wet for several days) and a mini van which I used to go out into the country to paint canvasses. I would also attend lectures, and hand in course work though my real life was outside college, using the college as base camp and library.


Eventually the inevitable happened and I dropped out, but the time there was invaluable and I had enough resource to continue otherwise. From that point on I was an artist, 24/7, at the age of 28, and I was working like a demon.

 My method of working was to go out and paint in the open air, and bring that canvas back home, collect another and go out again in the afternoon. I would have 5 or 6 canvasses on the go, and work on them back at my studio, which was in essence my bedroom, or a shed, or the back garden, depending on where I was living at the time. A very nomadic life within the city.

 One of my first portraits was an old Italian lady who ran a corner deli with her husband. Another was a friend Angela, who’d just put her hair in braids, and one of which I have no record was of two old ladies sitting on a bus stop bench, with the remains of Skylab, an American satellite, crashing to earth behind them.

 Early landscapes included beach scenes and then more abstract scenes such as the sun with a 2001 type of obelisk, which was an interesting picture in the making. It originally shimmered, and trying to enhance that shimmer only succeeded in destroying it, so lessons were being learnt about when to stop, and when to fight on. I found paintings only really came to life when I became angry with them, a battle had to ensure at some level almost, to make them worthwhile.


That was in contrast with drawing, which gave insights only, or directions of travel, but which were so important in their own right. It was all very exciting, life being this palette, and various experiments had some success, some not, and always a sense of ‘what next?’ being at the forefront.

I once decided to try painting while on LSD, so I put aside two canvasses, and also my guitar, and got down to it. Sadly the canvasses got mere brush strokes and much time was spent looking down the hole in the guitar. Another lesson learnt. LSD did get used from time to time though not over much. I think I took trips about 8 times all up over the years, and only once used cocaine.


One very enjoyable moment was introducing myself (on LSD) and a two year old in my care to the wildflowers of the desert, the wee boy being an ideal sounding board to the fascinations of nature. His parents were well aware of our adventure, and I thank them for that from the bottom of my heart, I’m not sure such innocent adventures could happen these days. The wildflowers of WA are famous for their beauty and miniature precision, and well worth the desert brutalities to view.

My first exhibition was held in a house in Freemantle that had just been rented by friends Sharon and Tim, and so before they moved their stuff in we created a gallery. I had some 90 paintings, drawings, ink washes, and pastels, and some of which sold which to an artist is the ultimate praise, as the message has been sent and received. However financial gain is usually not enough that the rent and bills can be paid. I believe the statistic is that some 10% of artists make a living from their work, and that is usually at some minimum wage level. Ho hum. Of the paintings at my first exhibition, I have no record. These now are moments of grief.

Two friends Peter and Marianne lived about 300km south of Perth, and had nearby a block of land on which they hoped to build a mudbrick home. They asked me down, and for ground rent ie living in a tin shed, I made mudbricks, and pursued my art as well as diverging into sun dried apricots which were locally abundant.


There was a lake on the property, and I made a jetty that went out into it, so I could collect clean buckets of water for my use and for the garden, and practiced carrying water coolly- style, which is more difficult that you’d think. A lot of time was spent keeping an eye out for snakes, as I was bare foot and naked for much of the time, but also a lot of time was spent meditating in the isolation, as the neighbours were a good distance away.

Back in Perth a friend of Tim and Sharon’s, Roxanne, attracted my attention (all those days naked in the bush might have had something to do with it) and after a brief time living together, we packed up our old kit bags and headed off to Melbourne. I’d been persuaded to buy an old Ford Falcon, 6 cylinder, 4 litre gas guzzler which nearly broke us financially, but which did provide a comfortable trip over said Nullabor again. We went via Esperance in the bottom of West Australia, which was very beautiful. I had tried once before to get there, with Ruth and the kids in a Morris Major, but that poor old car was just not up to it really, and we’d turned back short of half way there.

 Distances in Australia are truly phenomenal, and the exciting thing is if you get out and wander around, what seems as ‘just a desert’ is really packed with wonder. Having got into the state of Victoria, we headed around the Great Pacific Highway before heading up to Melbourne. If we’d been two weeks later we might have been fried in a great bushfire that ripped through the whole area we’d come through. Lucky escape.

Interlude - Poem: 'The Storm'

The gutters are filling with tears

And the floor is littered with wet hankies

My pillow is soaked

 And the drains of my heart

Are exposed overflowing ditches.

The floods are loose

Disgorging their swollenness

Letting the pressure go.


Rain, Thunder, Lightning. The lights go out

Rumbling, no sleep.

Knowing that calm will follow.

Wondering how to cope with the front door

Hanging off its hinges

And the tornadoes tearing back the curtains

To our thoughts.


Overhead a sun shines

Through broken cloud and blue.

Roxanne had good financial sense, and immediately got a decent job, and I picked up an equally exciting job in an artist’s paint factory, overalls and all, but we were both happy, for a while. Spectrum Paints was a nascent paint manufacturer, and the factory in Fitzroy was straight out of the arc, tin roof, rusty, but functional. The work force totalled 6, and there was an outlet shop in the more fashionable part of town where the products were sold. I was chief mixer.


The paints were made in giant vats with paddles like cake mixers, then the mix ladled onto roller mills similar to printing mills, where it was rolled through twice to mix and grind the pigments, then transferred to hoppers where it was siphoned into tubes and tins and packaged.  I felt I was doing my artist’s apprenticeship of old. Naturally my painting time suffered, but I did press on with it in the evenings and weekends, but not very satisfactorily.


Sadly Roxanne got pregnant, and having decided on an abortion, that was the end of me. I moved out of the posh flat into student digs and went part time at the factory, and normal service continued. Such are the stark choices. A productive arts life does not equate easily with normal life, many sacrifices are made that most would shun, and being penniless, choices are of beans or paint, with paint always winning.

The first student digs was very satisfactory, albeit I was older by some 10 years over everyone else, and no doubt seen as something of a loser. However I got on with my work, and produced probably some of the worst paintings of my career. A learning curve. I once put some 200 paintings in bin bags for the rubbish collectors, but there were some bright points too.

I had developed a style of work that encompassed a lot of therapy writing, perhaps it could be poetry, which went alongside my drawings in my sketch books. It was often painful, though also galvanizing around the message I wanted to convey. It was hard work, and success was not coming. Some of my bleakest moments were there. Certainly my paintings before and after were better, but the donkey work needed doing and that’s what was required in that particular place and time. I was struggling to find and define a style, but of course many years later I found that ‘my style’ can so easily change, like language, it’s a progression.

Interlude - Entries from My Diary

29.12.83… on the 23rd I painted, on the 25th I painted, on the 26, 27, and 28th and today..all my paintings are wet and all my stretchers are used…27 nudes, with each new picture there is new ease, I’m painting on the floor now, to hell with an easel, and things are happening…


24.3.84 …if I were to paint the scene in front of me now would it necessarily include the warm house behind me, the verandah, and the chair that holds me, and the journey that brought me here..?

29.3.84…the first function of art is ‘magic’ distance reality at the same time it was invoked, to take away the fears, and then re present them. When I use the word ‘fear’   I’m also talking about the little waves rolling around the hull of a boat as you land it and they seem perfect when you look at them…hence the desire to be immortal, or gain success as we commonly call it; and hence also the reciprocal which is the attunement totally into the present moment…

20.6.84…auctioned off my paintings last night for an average of $20 each…enough to pay the rent at my new home…

20.7.84…woke up very drunk this morning and didn’t quite sober up till a letter from Ian and Mary finally, I’ll have to write to them and tell them to burn the paintings I have unfortunately left upon them, all 500 of them…

25.7.84…the bills leave me again with a grand total of SFA till next Thursday…will this never end

27.7.84…every time I sit down and write, the better the painting becomes…hence however a few short entries, because the painting is usually awaiting some attention less than 3 feet away and this is the preparation work…

6.8.84…I shall begin my ‘Paradise’ series, depicting man as I know it in a world of idealism, a world of fantasy…

I eventually moved on from the student house, especially after it was raided by the police, as Tom had been growing 6 foot marijuana plants on the balcony. We all got done, with a fine, which was a bit unfair.


My next house, but briefly, was unique in that the kitchen ceiling was decorated with tea bags that had been slung up there and had dried in place, by the all-male, all singing housemates. When one of them moved, he backed his car up to the window, opened the boot, and slung all his stuff in. Resourceful.

Melbourne was a great city to work in, the second largest Greek city apparently, and in Fitzroy there were some 120 ethnic clubs active. English was very much a second language. I loved the bohemian way of life I’d adopted and the freedoms it allowed me to pursue my art, but I was ambitious as well, and spent all my savings on mounting exhibitions.


I was however getting itchy feet, and it was fast approaching the two year period that I’d imposed on myself, to move on, so I loaded up my possessions and headed for Sydney.

Sydney School of Art

I’d enrolled for art school there, but if you’ve been following this tale you should be able to guess that this did not end happily either. I used the place as a library, and a place to educate myself, but not in any way to attend exams of any sort. In short, I had left by year’s end, and to keep myself had taken up work in a pizza place in Glebe, run by an amicable Greek guy called Tellis.


We became bosom buddies, and made a film for his local Pasok political group, which went down well. Life at the pizza front was demanding time wise, a shift starting at around midday, and ending past midnight.  I would then walk home to my bedsit, crash out, and get up to paint madly until the next round of work began. I made some of my best paintings there, I think the change from Melbourne helped, new environment, and new horizons.

My plans firmed up, I set my sights for a trip to Europe, and saving money for that was my priority. However I was still holding exhibitions, notably at Bondi, and in various cafes around town, with some success. I had also made acquaintance with Leo Robba, who was an eminent local artist, and we spent several days together painting and prepping canvasses, and influencing each other. I’d met him via my new girlfriend Gisela, a German lass who as well as Tellis, had made my mind drift to overseas.

The pizza shop had its moments, one in particular when I was confronted by a very drunk Turkish guy who took umbrage to the Greeks, and had a very large knife in his possession. Needless to say, I took flight poste haste down the road. In dangerous situations, fleeing is my default option.

 My wheels at the time was a jaundice VW beetle, which as well as being very clapped out, had a very interesting array of 50’s women’s hats on the back seat, where I would choose one each day as I felt necessary. I’m not sure where this perversion came from, but I loved it.

Two years flew by, and my allotted time came to an end, so I packed up a big roll of canvasses of some of my best work and shipped them off  to New Zealand (never to be seen again!!)  and prepared myself to also head there for three months, before my trip which was to Athens, with letters of introduction from Tellis.


Sydney School of Art had been brief, but art school was all around me, and I was very excited. The painting that I most miss that went missing, was a clown figure with flowers and balloons, and the colours of the balloons were the colours of the rainbow. More so, I was becoming confident with my directions, and while it’s one thing to make pictures, its’s another thing to have a purpose to them, which is why I rank high my own personal development via folk dancing and encounter groups.

When I got back to New Zealand, I naturally enough went to my mother’s place, as I knew I would not be seeing her again for some time, but it was a bit surreal being back in bible belt. However my good friend Gary had made a success as a potter, so he was an inspiration, and with his help I mounted an exhibition of some 70 paintings I had completed in my three months there, in the local Paeroa Town Hall, which was well received. I also took up some woodcut printing, which was a bit troubling for Dell as the continuous tap tap tap of chisel from the garage drove her nuts.

Weirdly, the flight from Auckland to Athens stopped off at Melbourne, a fact of life that everything comes around again at some time.


Tellis had provided me with several letters of introduction, the first I used was to contact his grandmother, who had a spare flat In Piraeus where I was more than welcome to stay, and which became my base for the next month. I had got off a plane before in Indonesia, and been struck by the smells of clove cigarettes in the air. Athens struck me visually, architecturally, and also on the human scale of that, with market places and traffic, and just two lines of metro seemed totally inadequate compared to Sydney. With great enthusiasm I threw myself into my new environment.

Visually of course Athens is dominated by the acropolis, but what I found even more interesting was that the surrounding area, Placa, was almost like the builder’s yard for the Parthenon, with odd bits of column just lying about amongst the weeds, waiting to be recycled. It is of course changed these days, and I guess that before I got there (1986) many more changes had happened. It was lovely chaos, the je ne sais quoi which is the inexplicable that makes art more interesting and have a human element.

My flat, in the port of Piraeus, was rustic, and while I should have made some pilgrimage to the islands, I chose instead to visit instead the galleries and historic sites of the capital itself. I hardly ever saw my host, however one day her other son, who did speak English, came by to collect me for a trip to their country holiday home up in the hills around Marathonos, in a little stone bothy, where grandma made pasta by rolling it out on the kitchen table, and we ate local yoghurt, honey, and wine. The good life. I was starting to understand.

For the first time too I became aware of politics as a force within society, not apart from it as was the case in NZ and Australia. There were demonstrations in the squares, and the inequalities of existence became obvious, something which also was not readily obvious down under. There was a collective meaning, not an individual one. Several contemporary art shows were extremely overt in their outlook, not just pretty pictures or thoughtful sculpture, but interactive with the audience, which has become of course quite normal nowadays. Theatre. Art was not an institutional commodity, it was open air, a part of everyday life, inclusive, and meaningful.

One of my favourite places was Ceramica, with its out houses crammed with lovely clay pots and sculpture. For the first time I was beginning to admit I should’ve studied history at school. I became obsessed with the geometric period, 6th c BC, and spent days in the museums drawing what I saw and drinking in at the same time the life all around me. This was my Grand Tour as done by the Victorians or in the parlance of today’s students, my gap year. However as with students, my funds were limited. Working in the pizza shop was never a high earner, so the funds I’d saved to pay for flight and everything else had to last until…? I had no plan, though I did have a return on my ticket if necessary.

I eased my way into life in Athens for a month, then took the boat to Rome. I thought I could not be dazzled further than what I’d already been, but with apologies to my Greek friends, Rome blew me away. It’s not called the Eternity City for nothing, and I felt I was following the history books in my travel plans as well, going from the ‘first’ great civilization to the following one, with the standout spleandour of the Vatican at its apex. For the first time I saw demonstrations being policed with weapons, and the civil collective again being so apparent, so obvious, as brollies are to the City of London.

The text books would describe the Greeks as the pure art form, I saw it as a simplicity compared to the baroque, but both uniquely beautiful and alluring. As a budding artist, I was a very happy man. I knew then the return ticket was never going to be used, I could happily die here, though only if I lived for an eternity.

Again I resolutely stuck to the galleries and museums, and again drawing each and every day as if my life depended on it. I had much to learn, and still do. And at the age of 34, I was in peak form. My back pack, which I could hardly lift, was full of paints from the factory in Melbourne, so I needed to be in peak form. The Vatican was easily my favourite place in Rome, for its sheer over abundance. Room after room, masterpieces in every niche. God bless religion!!

It was spring of 1986, and along the banks of the Tiber were cherry trees coming into blossom. Again, the contrast from the antipodes was so fierce, so compelling. The word ‘Empire’ took on a new meaning. Up until this point in my life, the only real grand buildings I’d come across were modern; in Sydney, Auckland, Melbourne, and so on. I had been to Indonesia, but architecture I had seen there was quite modest; in fact I had watched bamboo scaffolding go up on a scale very human and modest. In contrast, the temples of Athens, and now in Rome were of the gods, on a scale hitherto unimaginable and at the same time ancient.

So once again I was in an alien city full of delights, and with great plans for the future. By this time, I realized my end point would be London, hopefully to catch up (stay?) with my cousin Jenny, but more importantly to stay awhile to work and make enough money to continue to stay. Consequently with two weeks allotted to Rome, I got the overnight train to Paris, and found to my great pleasure yet another way of life/architecture with which to communicate. One of my great influences had been Picasso, so my favourite place quickly became the Picasso museum, where amongst other things I came across enormous pastel drawings, perhaps 20’ x 20’. I resolved to make some as well and did so about three years later.

I had learnt French at school, up until the 7th form, and was saddened to note that French spoken with a New Zealand accent was unintelligible. At least I could read signs and papers, to an extent. It was interesting too to note the northern Europe vs southern Europe attitudes, in many different ways. What I also found interesting was the compactness of the cities and villages, no urban sprawl as seen in Australia, town planners kept a sense of place rather than expediency.

Another two weeks went by absorbed in the galleries and museums, my next stop being Amsterdam via a train ride that went past the tulip fields in full bloom, so that one of the first things I did was take a tourist bus tour of those same fields.

Amsterdam itself was rather weird, as the red light district was right in the region of the central train station, and quite unfettered. I had not seen anything quite like it before, but I scurried on to the usual ports of call, the museums and galleries, and high on the list being the Van Gogh museum. Amsterdam was offering up an architecture on a more real scale, commercial and domestic, the ancient gods of Athens and the empire of Rome being subdued by the reformed Christianity that dominated these countries, perhaps more Calvinistic.

This scale was often echoed in the art works, on a scale and theme more interior than exterior. You had a sense that winter could be cold, whereas in Greece, maybe you could flounce around in a toga all year. A simplification perhaps, but there certainly was a difference in the air.

As I was sitting in the spring sunshine, unbeknown to me Chernobyl was blowing up in Russia and wafting its poison over my head. So far I haven’t died, so that’s good, but it was only when I got to London two weeks later I realized what had been happening.


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This is now my home, and has been for the last 33 years. When I first arrived, in May 1986, my first impression was sadly of rubbish everywhere, and dog poo. However I got an excellent welcome from cousin Jenny, and suddenly I found myself in a different sort of heaven, an artists’ haven in a squatted community in south London.

 Bonnington Square had been empty houses, their tenants turfed out for a development which never happened, so had been squatted by artists in search for somewhere to live and work. Of the approximately 150 houses most had musicians, artists, and performers in residence. Jenny was busy pursuing her writing, and her partner Mathew made musical instruments. I was able to stay with them until my own place became available, which was a small flat in nearby Vauxhall St, with no gas or electricity, and one tap at ground level.

 Every ‘now and then’ I would take myself to the local baths, which were not of the swimming variety, but tubs where an attendant would fill one for you, and leave you to bathe. Very Victorian. It was quite touching, but not very modern! In fact I would go out each evening with an axe and a saw looking for wood to light a fire to cook my meal over, so it wasn’t much different to my spell in the bush in Australia.


Mathew took me over to east London’s  Brick Lane market, and what with blokes sitting around 44 gallon drums with fires going in them, I realized this place was very quirky.  I realized the rubbish was part of it all, and I would not have been surprised to see men collecting the dog poo for the tanners. In Bonnington Square, there would regularly appear a man and horse cart calling out rag and bones, and another chap from an old van selling paraffin. Queen Vic would have felt at home.

My squat at Vauxhall St came to an end, and the building became a parking lot for another block of flats, invoking Joni Mitchell’s song ‘They paved Paradise’.

Interlude - Poem: 'Time'

Originally time was a gift from the stars

Then it became a clock

Then machine

And now a science


The earth revolved on, not taking notice

Like the stubborn child


The time is now 11.30 pm, and my

Planet is rising, so I’m told, with its

Basket of eggs all in one house

Like me.


On the other side it’s morning

 And the people are just getting up

After a hard night.


When time stops will you be there for me?

When time falters, will I miss something important?

When time drags on will you wait patiently?

When time descends the staircase, will you lower your eyes?

 I came back into the square, this time sharing with other kiwis Jan, Linde, Linda, Andre, Jude, and Laurie. There were still some houses empty on the square, and I set up in one a community library with donated books, which ran quite successfully for about 6 months, and there was a feeling that anyone could do whatever. The local café grew out of this. The local fruit and veg market that serviced the whole of London regularly threw out heaps of unwanted produce, so people would bring that ‘waste’ back to the café and cook up nearly free meals for everyone.


Similarly two community gardens grew from waste ground, bomb sites from the war, became established and still thrive to this day. Jenny gave me a Rowan tree sapling to plant in the Harleyford Road Community Garden, and it’s still growing.  Because rent was free, I could afford to work just two days per week, and spend the rest of my time painting, and I soon had my first London show at Boundary Gallery in St John’s Wood.

Unfortunately that was not my breakthrough, as I sold nothing. It was a group show, held in the off season. However it was a start, and quickly led to many other shows around London, but often just in cafes and restaurants, usually selling well enough to give me hope. I was working at the time in Convent Garden at a cheese shop, and one of my duties was to pop off in the van to all parts around Britain to collect cheese from small producer farms. I instantly fell in love with the countryside. One day my old school friend Max walked into the shop looking for cheese, so that was very nice. He was heavily involved in posh hotels, and he set me up with several exhibitions over the years, as well as purchasing some work himself.

Back in the square, I had started up a relationship with Linde, which didn’t last long, and Jan had taken up fatherhood with Linda, and we all had the delight of seeing Jessie being born in the front room, just minutes before the midwife arrived. Jan delivered her, with a book on how to give birth in the other hand. I think it also helped that he’d been a farmer’s son, and done lambing before.

A local artist Javier set me up with a group in Paris called Cloche Arte so I rolled up several canvasses and went over there to show them. I also painted a mural in Convent Garden near where I worked, and as with most painters in the square, had a go on the walls of the community café. I became acquainted with local artists Andy and Lucy, who had established an artists’ studios in an old abandoned maternity hospital in Stockwell, and they invited me down to participate there.


My first room there was tiny, and what with the paint fumes, and the white spirit, and the fumes from my paraffin heater, it was an altogether heady experience. My next room was bigger but had for years before been used by drug addicts, so shit and crap was all about, and it took some time to get it right. My last room was massive, on the top floor, I had moved up!  I was destined to be there for the next 14 years.

Stockwell Studios was a collection of around 20 artists, all living and breathing for their art. This intensity was a boost for me, and I think I more or less lived there, day in, day out. We would have twice yearly studio shows, and personally I would also have 3 or 4 other shows out and about during the year all with new work. 


I moved there in 1988, and it was that year that the Lockerbie bomb plane crash happened. I made a painting of that tragedy, in a box cartoon fashion, which set off a new style for me which helped create my style. It spilled over into a policeman series as these folk were the ones picking up the pieces, and went on to many other topics. I had also been selected for an Oxford city Artists in The Park happening, and when we got there, we found gallons of Dulux house paint, so that also fed into my flat cartoonish style, and also led on to other developments such as painting old discarded furniture. All very exciting.

The house with the kiwis was breaking up, so I moved into Vauxhall Grove, part of Bonnington Sq, with Gabi, Ted, Lynn, and Steve. Gabi and Ted were therapists, Steve a musician, and Lynn was a founding member of feminist Virago press. We were all members of Vine Housing Co Op, which was in the process of getting funding to buy these squatted houses, and this organization has now successfully housed around 70 people in affordable rented properties for well over 38 years.


The process of getting funding also meant the houses had to be renovated, so we all had to move around as that happened. Ted and Gabi and Jane Michelson, a clown and entertainer, were awaiting a renovation at 39 B Bonnington Square, and as they needed one more, invited me to move in in 1990. Jane and I had known each other for a while, and it wasn’t too long before that knowing became a bit more, especially late at night. More on that later…

Interlude - Poem: 'The Heart is Like a Pendulum'

Life on the brink of things

With two feet in a hole, water lapping

Around my large (so I’m told) nose,

Drawing me in incapabilities

Heaped, and clinging to me like

Dead men’s souls. I struggle.


Mist drifts past my eyes

And settles in my hair

Nestling in, mingling with my warm breath,

Bringing to an end our chaste affair.


 The heart is like a pendulum

 That breaks and strains like the bows of a ship

 Yet is tender, delicate, and soft,

 Weak as a baby.

The heart is like a pendulum on a very fine thread,

 Yet it must bear the weight of all our lives

And breaks and cries and weeps.

My heart has stopped, it seems, for you

When we first moved in to this new house, through Ted I got a job as a gardener with English Heritage, out at Chiswick House, near Twickenham. The head man out there was a keen rugby fan, being Welsh, and he was a bit bemused when I passed up on some free tickets he had, as he’d thought I being a kiwi, would’ve jumped at the chance. Sadly, a few years later, yes I would’ve, but at that point of my life I saw rugby as violence dressed up in shorts, which is probably still true, but now I enjoy the spectacle.

 I enjoyed my work there, and did around 12 month’s solid to amass funds for living so I could get back to more painting. I also did a stint at a heritage house in Greenwich, which had some magnificent portraits. However, interesting as it was, I decided to become self-employed for the first time in my life, thanks to a connection I had in Muswell Hill.


The guy I was working  for had a gallery, and I’d exhibited there as part of a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament  rally, and he’d been happy with my gardening and passed me on to Ros and Peter, who lived close by. And so I was further passed on, and before I knew it, I had a burgeoning one man band business, gardening and house painting. I still work for Ros and Peter some 30 years on, and they are wonderful friends of the family.

 Being self-employed was great as I could always make time for my priority, which was my art work. However, it was always a matter of art before financial security, and as always paint came before beans. Reason should have kicked in but the horse had been led to water and was drinking. There was no alternative.

In 1991 my school friend Bill Snelgar arrived in town, and on that very same day Jane found out she was pregnant and we were to be parents. To say I was stunned is an understatement, but time has proven what an absolute blessing it has been. Our son Josh has grown into an impeccable young man well fit for this world, and Jane and I have had a most loving relationship with great adventure and delight.

On the day of his birth, at 8 months gestation, I was just about to head off to my studio when Jane said I should maybe hang around… This was at 9 am. At 9 pm we were the joyful recipients of a bouncing baby boy, although what Jane had to go through made me very happy to be a man. He was born at St Thomas’ Hospital with a lovely view over Westminster Bridge and Parliament buildings. Jane’s mum Beryl was also present, and she and I finally drove back to Bonnington Sq some time after midnight with a full moon illuminating the cherry blossom that was out at the time.


With Josh we also brought home the placenta and put it in the freezer where it languished until the following autumn when we planted it under a new cherry tree in the community garden, where it flowers each year on his birthday. The placenta nearly didn’t last that long as Gabbi was thinking of cooking it and eating it, but it finally made its resting spot.


One of Joshua’s first outings into the public view was at a family Pesach, where he stole the show somewhat. I must also add here that a large part of my life has been shaped by the excellent influence of Jane’s family and while I am in no way religious, I have found their Jewishness a true inspiration.

Having a new baby brought back to mind my bete noir, of quadratic equations and wondering why we should learn these when childcare was never on the curriculum. However some 20 years had passed since those original thoughts had crossed my mind, and here we were in the present, 40 years old, and having to cope not just with shit and piss, but vomit, and a huge lack of sleep for the first 6 months. Someone darkly said that’s why there are cars around even at 2 am; its parents trying to get their progeny to sleep.


There were quite a few new babies in the square at this time, so we were lucky in that, and it became a blessing over the following years, as the square was immensely safe and the community gardens a welcome play place for the youngsters.

Four months after his birth we got married, with a visit to the registry office in Brixton, followed by a big party back at our house that quickly spread out into the community garden. Josh once again stole the show, and we even had some of Jane’s relatives from Israel turn up. Jenny had made a cake with hot air balloon decorations, which was my current painting subject, and she’d made the cake up in a baby bath in keeping with the theme. We all felt young and innocent, and very happy.

On the one hand of course, our respective artistic endeavours had to take a temporary backseat, but it was nice to think back that my own art journey had started as a child drawing pictures of holidays and sunsets in my Aunty Ett’s diaries, through to showing Greg how to draw cars (how he would laugh at that now), through to drawing pictures for Julia and Ashley aged four and two; but I guess all creativity has its roots in our childhoods, or of others childhoods. Trying to sell my work was a means to that goal, and over the years it has been fascinating and indeed surprising to come across paintings I had sold and forgotten about, to resurface. Similarly, with any poems or diary entries, often painful to read, but always indicative of a path being followed.

The urge to say something, to make something, that means something, is also the essence of all of our lives, and art itself is best understood as an interaction with us and others, a passing on of thoughts and hopes and images. Consequently Jane and I continued to be artists, and this small interlude of caring for a new born was just a part of that human creativeness.

On the plus side we did get to do many silly things with our baby, such as dressing him up in tea cosy hats, balancing blocks of wood on his head, and sticking tattoo stickers on his bum cheeks and watching with great amusement Beryl’s reaction. In fact, looking back on our lives together, I don’t think Jane and I have even yet fully grown up, in a good way. It’s certainly been a very beautiful partnership in so many ways, and both of us will admit that having Josh was a true blessing.

Painting time for me was still a valued commodity and luckily as both of us were self-employed, we could be flexible to each other’s needs. Because I was working more I decided to start sharing my studio space with other artists, to help assuage the guilt of having such a large room in what was essentially a free studio space. However the studios were increasingly coming under the gaze of developers, and to steer ourselves off that particular rock we formed ourselves into a co-op and hired an administrator to help, and eventually started paying rents to cover that.

About this time Hugh Locke came to work in the room next to mine, and his attitude was enlightening in that he would work hard, but would devote most of his work to making contacts and networking, something of which I was hopeless at. The end results well justified this approach, and he is now a well esteemed international artist. It may have also helped in that he had an artist father, but never the less, that was the way to go.

There is some parallel in ordinary life. You may get lucky, but generally it’s who you know that determines your station in life. Not to be confused with worth to society. The fact is, most of us are born into, and remain in, a certain strand. Artists often emerge out of the upper classes, as that’s where the availability of time, and not worrying about food and lodging, makes it easier to be able pursue an arts career. In my case it was often the easily available work coupled with being resigned to beans on toast/poorer housing, and just getting by, that allowed me to paint. I would have had it no other way.

Ultimately, I did burn out, at the age of 50. My ultimate excuse was that I decided to move out of the studios, as the person I had currently shared it with more or less took it over; and rather than booting her out, I took the lesser option. Perhaps it was a decision made by my inner self, as I’d pursued art at a somewhat manic pace over the years, but I also realized this was the time for a ‘proper job’ to help support the family. Do I miss painting? Yes!! However I know I can always return to it, and often a return can often bring unexpected results, so that’d be something to look forward to. Ah, the promise of a late sparkle!!

History is littered by late sparkles, and one of my favourite artists is Phillip Guston, who had a so- so art career until the age of 60, then for the last 10 years of his life went completely off tangent and did the most remarkable pictures. On the other hand, Edvard Munch did the exact opposite. At best I can hope to pick up the brushes again, at worst I can live with what I did achieve. Who knows what life has planned for us, but as the bumper sticker says, ‘One life, take it’.

As for Jane, she too has taken her many talents in writing and clowning to now, a fantastic career helping children with their education, in ways that only her past would have been able to shape, and hence makes her uniquely and supremely successful. I am always immensely proud when I come home to hear the happy laughing of children from the front room where Jane teaches. Such pleasure.

Josh has grown beyond being dressed up in tea cosies and having wooden blocks balanced on his head, to being a successful young man with the world at his fingertips. What more could we want. He now is in employment with the civil service, and his first request is ‘where’s the ironing board?’, to which Jane and I pass knowing looks, and make mental notes to check his DNA. Our progress through life has been jointly rewarding, and truly, what more do we need?

  Thank you, Life!!!



                                                                 The End           (for now)

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