Friday, August 10, 2012


This is another 'Editor Regrets' that never made it to publication, I had fun writing it. I hope you have fun reading it, SOMETHING ON THE AIR It was one of those weeks when winter outstays its welcome, and the only sign of approaching summer is a lengthening of cold and cheerless days. Inevitably the regular announcers succumbed to a succession of viruses. Herself in the manager’s office juggled work schedules, calling on any old friend with the remotest connection to radio who could stagger into the studio, to come and keep the air waves humming. Peter Squelche, former Children's show celebrity, had left radio when his dentures began to click. He enjoyed returning for the midnight to 6a.m. shift. He played his own collection of Neil Sedaka records and reminisced in the informal, colloquial manner he had used when fronting Children's Sessions. Perhaps that lulled him, made him inattentive and not all the buttons on the new control panel were familiar to him. "Coming up to the hour. Six o'clock news is next. My old friend Brittle Gossip has just come into the studio. He’ll be taking you through to News at Nine. How are ya' Britt?" Brittle, retired television commentator, had given up when his on camera face had become reminiscent of an old fashioned washboard and his hair had receded entirely out of camera range. He did not regard Peter Squelche as a friend, but, obeying the conventions of Broadcasting, he responded with artificial bonhomie. "Morning, Pete. Long time. Now what's on the news this morning?" he looked through the newssheets. "Fiji offers Mugabe asylum. Only to be expected. Bill Shirley blames Helen Clark for loss of World Cup venues.Typical. Michiko Tanyaki, famous Japanese film star to film in N.Z." "Waw!” broke in Squelche. "Seventh Dan black belt! She makes Bruce Lee look like a beginner. And she’s gorgeous too!" Gossip continued, "Noted British author, Godfrey Fletcher, to read at Festival. No he won’t. Not at the Festival or anywhere else. The horrible little twerp's dead." The clock on the studio wall said 5.:58.10. Pete decided there was time for one more Sedaka song. "Whadda ya mean, dead?" he asked. "Dead as in defunct, no longer with us. Passed to that great literary community in the sky. The taxi driver told me on the way in. Seems there's been a huge cover up. Fletcher passed out while he was visiting Sweetie's in Vivienne Street. Too much incense or something.” “Too much physical exertion,” Squelche sniggered, “Happens quite often.” “Well, naturally Sweetie was anxious not to attract scandal to her very discreet establishment and she appealed to an extremely senior detective who just happened to be on the premises.” “On surveillance I suppose.” “Of course. Realising the potential for unwelcome publicity and the probability of a blown cover, the extremely senior detective summoned two members of the vice squad, who also just happened to be nearby. And between them they worked out an ingenious way to get the dead man out of Sweetie's and back to his hotel.” “A cunning plan.” “Precisely. Sweetie herself got the defunct author back into his trousers, zipped his fly, set his gold rim glasses on his nose and combed his hair over his bald spot. The vice squad made a chair with their hands. The very senior detective led the way. Sweetie brought up the rear, to ensure her late client stayed on his makeshift seat between the two detectives. They manoeuvred themselves out the back door and into the extremely senior detective's car. So far so good. My taxi driver saw them driving through Courtenay Place and he followed them to the Oriental Bay Plaza. People kept recognising Godfrey Fletcher and waving. Of course he didn't wave back," "Horrible little man. Kim Hill hates him." "Precisely. Nobody expected the arrogant little prick to wave so that was all right. At the hotel they parked in the delivery bay, manoeuvred themselves and the deceased out of the car into the service lift. The taxi driver heard the rest from the Security guard when he dropped another passenger later. It appears the very senior detective went ahead to make sure the sixteenth floor was clear. Then he summoned the service lift. Unfortunately he did not think to search the defunct author’s pockets for his room key. He used his grandson's Swiss army knife to jemmy the lock and open the door to Suite 1622. Our courageous detectives carried the late and unlamented Godfrey Fletcher along the hall into the open suite. They rushed across the carpet, through the sitting room and bedroom towards the en suite. They did not notice the step down from the bedroom so when they all burst into the bathroom, the cops tripped and the late Godfrey Fletcher sailed on across the marble tiles, coming to rest on the electronic bidet. His weight on the control panel set off a series of fountains, followed by blasts of warm air, accompanied by excerpts from Handel's water music. Or that's what the security guard told the taxi driver. Now, suite 1622 was actually occupied by Miss Michiko Tanyaki, the celebrated Japanese film star." ` "Waw!" said Pete. "Exactly! Michiko is not one of your traditional, submissive Japanese women. She was having a shower when three large men with a body burst in. Uttering her world famous battle cry she leaped to confront them. Hiyyahh! They, being naturally reluctant to stop and explain, bolted through the suite and down the corridor, rather in the style of of a Keystone Cops movie. Michiko would have caught them but she also tripped on the bathroom step. Undeterred, and forgetting she was naked, Michiko picked herself up and maintained pursuit. The cops were out of sight, pelting down the emergency stairs. Michiko turned to an arriving lift. Now this lift was carrying another guest to the sixteenth floor, Sheikh Mohammed el J'bra rules a tiny and extremely fundamental Islamic Republic in the Persian Gulf. Michiko was about to enter the lift when she encountered the sheikh's startled gaze. Remembering her state of undress, she sprinted back to suite 1622, only to find the door had locked itself. The sheikh, being a pious Muslim, averted his eyes. The lift attendant, being a man of resource and sagacity, whipped off his jacket and wrapped it around Michiko, at the same time pressing the alarm bell in the lift. A squad of hotel security guards surrounded the sixteenth floor. Now, Security guards are not noted for their powers of deduction and reasoning. When they found the lift attendant trying to soothe a naked Japanese film star in the vicinity of a bewildered Arab, they put two and two together to make fourteen and promptly arrested the sheikh. By this time Michiko's English had deserted her. Relying on that time honoured traveller's precept, "if you can't speak the language, shout!" she kept pointing to her door uttering urgent Japanese imprecations like, 'Bugger the Arab. What about the body on my bidet!' The noise disturbed guests on several floors." Pete Squelche suddenly realised that Neil Sedaka's song had finished some time since, the control desk was alight with flashing spots of green light. The red light on the emergency telephone was winking imperiously. Worse, the ON AIR sign glowed above the studio door and a newly arrived technician was trying frantically to attract his attention. “Bugger!” exclaimed Squelche and Gossip together. Later the two broadcasters shared a taxi away from their erstwhile employment. Their interview with the station manager had been acrimonious. Worse, although she forbade the pair to ever darken her airwaves again, her shoulders had been shaking and she had not been able to suppress a giggle. "No gratitude," said Squelche. "Typical," said Gossip. "She begged me to go in. Last time I help her out." He sneezed. "I heard Radio Jamaica is looking for broadcasters. We might get a job with them." The taxi driver had listened to the saga on his car radio. "You two missed the best part," he told his passengers. "The doorman at the hotel told me. Just as Michiko was screaming her loudest, the Sheikh was threatening a jihad on everyone he could think of, and the sixteenth floor was filling up with curious hotel guests who thought it was a piece of street theatre staged for their amusement, the door to 1622 opened and Godfrey Fletcher himself appeared, blinking like an owl because he'd lost his glasses. And his suit was all wet from the bidet. He ignored Michiko, the sheikh, the security guards and everybody else, and walked down the corridor into his own suite, 1624. Turns out that all the shaking and moving about dislodged whatever had caused him to stop breathing and he came to. End of story." Gossip and Squelche eyed the passing streetscape. "Typical," they said. Something on the Air W.D.Davies 5

Friday, July 20, 2012


THE WRUITER'S TALE yet another editor regrets story Talk Back was especially scathing. “I ask you. How could a man become an icon of New Zealand literature, yet nobody, not family, not friends, not even the postman, realised he needed help. How could this happen?” Listeners blamed the education system, parents, television, lack of dietary fibre. Readers of popular magazines diagnosed schizophrenia, paranoia, chronic constipation. Publishers rushed out books titled, “The Dark Side of an Icon,” but there was little to tell. The writer had been a dutiful son, nursed his mother through her final months, kept her clean and her house spotless. His sister said he had always been a selfish little boy. She had severed all contact years before, after claiming half their mother’s estate. With his half the writer bought a villa on the corner of Poplar Avenue and Kowhai Road, opposite Singh’s Superette. He was no man for chatting over fences. High palings and sycamore trees suited him. He built a study in the attic, set the formica table from his mother’s kitchen in front of the new dormer window. From there he watched the comings and goings of the town. Glossy BMWs and Hondas whizzed down Poplar Avenue while old Cortinas and Toyotas, turning out of Kowhai Road, waited for the lights to change. In one story, never published, an insurance broker was stranded with a flat tyre. He stood in the rain, bewildered, wondering how to keep the rain off his new gabardine coat. Cars rushed by. Finally a solo mother in a bush shirt with a rusted Toyota full of children took her own tyre-jack to the car and changed the wheel. Twice every day, regular as the tide, the writer sat in front of his window. He watched trees in Poplar Avenue turn from bronze to green to yellow and back to bronze, observed the daily dramas of small town life. Children crowded into the Superette, spending their lunch money on Dinosaur cards. Later, children were replaced by mothers, pushing babies in strollers. The writer invented biographies for them. Like the little girl at number 6. He called her Lizzie. Her father, Sam, drove a front-end loader at the tyre factory. Her mother, Sheilah, worked in an accountant's office in the city. Sam and Sheilah married because Lizzie was on the way. Sheilah had aspirations. Number six was a stepping stone to something better - a villa in Poplar Drive. Perhaps Sam was also a stepping stone. Sheilah never walked to school with Lizzie. On wet days the writer watched the little girl, in yellow oilskins and sou'wester under a miniature umbrella, head to the traffic lights, trailing one yellow gumboot in the gutter, rearranging leaves as water piled against culverts. One Christmas day the writer watched as Sam taught his daughter to wobble along the footpath on a tiny bike with trainer wheels. Sheilah lounged beside a new, wrought iron lawn table, under a green and white sun umbrella, smoothing lotion over her legs, lighting each new cigarette from the stub of the last. When school started Lizzie carefully rode her bicycle to the corner, stopped at the traffic lights, dismounted, pressed the button, looked both ways twice before walking across. By this time the green man signal had turned red again but the driver in the waiting van smiled and waved her across. On the other side of the street Lizzie mounted and pedalled off to school. When the writer wrote about Lizzie learning to ride. Sam and Sheilah held her, one on each side of the little bike, as Lizzie wobbled along. When she finally stopped wobbling and rode the length of the block, squealing and shouting Sam and Sheilah hugged each other. In the Writer’s story Sheilah walked beside Lizzie all the way to school. The writer watched Lizzie graduate to large wheels. She swapped track pants and Turtle shirts for a kilted skirt and bright red jersey. The writer wrote stories about opportunities, about winning the hundred metres, about being chosen for the first X1 in spite of being a girl. His first novel told of marriage seen through Lizzie's eyes. The writer closed the tyre factory because of cheap imports. The more Sheilah nagged the more Sam drank, stayed out with the boys. Shouts and slammed doors at number six became frequent. Sheilah took Lizzie to a woman’s refuge for a while but came back when Sam found another job mowing lawns for the Council. The reviews were kind while maintaining a ‘here's another first novel by an unknown New Zealander’, tone. It made enough money to pay the rates while he wrote for another year. By that time Lizzie was wearing a grey skirt, red blazer, and doc Martens. Each morning she caught the bus outside the writer's gate. A weedy boy in grey longs and a blue blazer waited there. Each afternoon Lizzie and the boy stood at the traffic lights talking. Some nights they walked home late, from the pictures or a disco. The writer watched them clinched together at Lizzie's letterbox. He wondered how they managed to breathe while they kissed for such extraordinary lengths of time. At last the porch light at number 6 would flick on. Lizzie would run up her front path while the boy drifted back to the corner, kicking leaves and stones, almost dancing as he kept looking back at Lizzie's house. The writer's second novel was about adolescents' first sexual encounters. The Listener critic called it, "A waste of good trees," but Channel Nine bought it. There was enough money to pay off the mortgage and paint the house. One night the writer woke to a flash of light across his bedroom ceiling, a cacophony of running feet and loud hailers. From his attic he watched five police cars close off Kowhai Road. Shadows slipped silently through back yards. A searchlight played over the front of a house half way down Kowhai Road, Number 6. There was shouting and breaking glass. Finally the sound of three shots just before police raced across Lizzie's lawn. Later police carried three bodies, their faces covered, towards a dark enclosed van. The writer wept. Over the next month houses in Kowhai Crescent developed a rash of 'FOR SALE' signs. The writer rang a real estate agent. "Carole will call this afternoon," the girl on the phone told him. The writer vacuumed and dusted, washed a week's accumulation of dishes and wondered about Carole. She would be thirty, long limbed, not too thin. She would have hair the colour of butterscotch tied in a plait down her back. She would have small beautiful teeth and her tongue would be pink and pointed as a kitten’s. She would wear a severe black linen suit but with a silk blouse beneath it. When the writer got to know Carole well he would enjoy untying the thin black ribbon that held her hair, loosening it until her face looked suddenly younger, vulnerable, tender. She would inspect the house and the garden, making notes on her clipboard with a black and gold ballpoint. He would follow her up the steps while she looked in the attic; her high heels level with his eyes. She would have dimples behind her anklebones. In his attic study Carole would tap windowsills with her pen. They would compare computers. Carole would be impressed with his confident use of Microsoft. In the kitchen she would crouch to look at the plumbing under the sink, skirt riding up tanned thighs. He would offer her coffee. Carole would sink on to his sofa, patting the rose patterned cushion beside her, invitation in her eyes. “My God!" she would exclaim, "How could you ever think of selling? All my life I’ve dreamed of a house like this." They would undress each other, slowly, Carole and he. They would make love there, on the axminster rug in front of the gas fire, twice. His third novel would be about meeting the one and only person and finding old fashioned love. It would not win critical acclaim but he and Carole would be able to travel, perhaps to Mentone. The real Carole was touching fifty, weighed twelve stone, wore a terylene dress and elastic stockings. Carole kicked at the skirting board in the hall, looking for borer. She sniffed for dry rot in the laundry, inspected the rooms as though someone had left a dead mouse somewhere. She told him the house was too old, people wanted double garages and nobody would buy in this area, especially after what happened at number 6. He could consider a back fill but access would be a problem. She stayed less than an hour. He wrote a story about a beautiful young woman whose mother ruined all her relationships. It won the Mansfield later that year. There have been other characters. Each morning and afternoon the writer sits at the study window and writes about people who pass by his house or walk through Kowhai Road. The real Carole became Irma Gedge, widowed editor of the Rimuville Chronicle, insatiably curious about Court reports and District Council debates. She uncovered corruption, solved crimes, struggled against Bureaucracy and her own increasing weight. The twelve Rimuville novels developed a following. The writer uses a pseudonym, amused when reviewers accuse him of being both Fiona Kidman and Maurice Gee and readers identify Rimuville as Naenae, Ponsonby, Flaxmere, Mosgiel. On the writer’s desk in the study is the latest letter from his publisher, “Your outline is fine. Great idea to kill off Irma Gedge. Readers want nastier protagonists. They seem to enjoy getting into the mind of serial killers. Suggest you let Horatio Banner’s obsession with roses show him to be brilliantly clever and totally mad, rather than deliberately evil. Stay away from cannibalism, it’s passé. Looking forward to the draft.” At this moment Kowhai Crescent is empty after the tidal rush of children hurrying home from school. Spring sun called out the first blooms on the Kowhai trees and a scatter of daisies on the writer’s lawn. But now houses huddle under corrugated iron and concrete tile. Chimneys stand, incongruous, forbidden to smoke. Even letter boxes look cowed. Televisions flicker behind front windows. Mothers are scraping potatoes, defrosting mince. Both Kowhai Road and Poplar Avenue are empty. Not quite. Twice the writer has watched a woman, in striped tights under a green smock, come out of number 6. Each time she has stared at both ends of the street, standing with the wide footed stance of the heavily pregnant, before shrugging and heading back to the house. This time she comes out of her gate, slamming it before heading for the corner. She has a red shower coat around her shoulders but has not changed her slippers. The woman could be Darnel, the writer decides. She lives with Jason, a sculptor of sheet metal who is waiting for his talent to be recognised. They hope the Housing Corporation won’t raise the rent again. There is one child, Darnel’s. Darnel met Jason at a Karaoke evening in the Rimuville Tavern. He gave her a ride home and has been with her ever since. Darnel is not certain about the father of her expected baby. It is probably Jason’s but could be Terry’s, Jason’s footy friend who called round a couple of times when Jason was exhibiting his sculptures at the North Shore alternative festival. Darnel stares across Kowhai street towards the school before disappearing into the Superette. Moments later she emerges followed by Mrs Singh. Darnel hugs her arms across her belly. Mrs Singh holds her elbow, trying to assure her. The writer has not given Darnel’s daughter a name yet. It might Petal, Boronia, Emily. This morning he watched her head for school, a brisk little girl in her yellow coat, orange pack on her shoulders. Later, after the children had rushed home, he cleared his mailbox, read the publisher’s letter while he stood in the last patch of sunlight on his porch. There he had seen the child, sitting under his lilac bush, coat and backpack discarded as she concentrated on slitting daisy stems with her right thumb nail. She wore a circlet of daisies in her brown hair and was fashioning a neckelace, which she held up to the writer, trusting and innocent. Now the writer watches a police car pull up at number 6. Darnel, with Mrs Singh in tow talks to the constable. The writer notes the cleanliness of the car, how it shines in the dusk, the immaculate uniform of the policewoman. She settles Darnel into the passenger seat and they drive slowly towards the school, looking into front yards, down drives. Soon there will be detectives at doors asking questions, wanting to search. How long before they investigate the boots of cars, any out of season digging? What would Horatio Banner do? Thank you if you have read this far. I would appreciate feed back; positive or negative, to

Monday, July 16, 2012


Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

  not forgetting museum curators and antique dealers who have gathered here on this brilliant spring day at the stately home of Lady Sylvia Floxburgh (deceased), only known daughter of Sir Victor Steadfast Pilgrim KGB, not to be confused with his younger brother Tobias Faithful Pilgrim, the eminent novelist and collector of erotic art from the Edwardian era, particular African fetishes and Micronesian death masks,

indeed not, ladies and gentlemen, for Sir Victor Pilgrim was an explorer, geographer and photographer of extraordinary eminence in the nineteen twenties and thirties before that unfortunate cataclysm, now a mere ripple on the tide of history, known as World War 11, put an end to his peregrinations but not before he amassed a formidable library of books, photographs and film which shed new light on primitive communities surviving in remote areas such as New Guinea where Sir Victor lived with head hunters of the Seepik River for five years, in fact rumour has it that he formed a liaison with a native woman there, fathering several children, one of whom occupied a cabinet post in the first New Guinea Parliament,

but I digress, ladies and gentlemen, because Sir Victor did not confine his activities to New Guinea, indeed no, for if you consult your catalogues, available from the usher at the entrance, you will discover that lots 150 to 378 comprise memorabilia collected from the upper reaches of the Amazon where he disappeared for eight years, during which time Sir Victor discovered at least four primitive tribes, previously unknown to explorers, archaeologists or geographers from the civilised world,

  no mean feat, ladies and gentlemen when we remember that Sir Victor was completely untrained in those disciplines, having grown up on a remote sheep farm in the Mackenzie country of New Zealand and never having attended any school, but was taught by his mother to read and write so he could avail himself of his father’s extensive collection of travel books, some of which are on sale here to-day, lots 398 to 421,

but again I digress, so let us return to Sir Victor’s explorations in the upper reaches of the Amazon river, incidentally his biographer, Lady Sylvia Floxburgh categorically denied that her father fled there to escape the vengeance of a Brazilian tobacco planter who had not guarded his daughters as carefully as he should, a vicious calumny, Lady Sylvia says, and we believe her of course because her reputation for veracity and fair dealing is unimpeachable, endorsed by those who worked with her in the Political Ethics department of Otago University,

but time is passing ladies and gentlemen and we must return to the Amazon and those lost tribes, the first of which was the Axtex, a high Andes group who communicate solely by tongue clicks and whistles,

 second the Arboyans who live in the treetops of one remote Amazon valley, sometimes mistaken for spider monkeys, but the Arboyans lacked tails,

 and lastly the Incxpox who claim descent from a pre Columbian nation which lived high on the mountain tops of the Andes and had an astounding knowledge of astronomy, far in advance of any other nation before the invention of the Hubble telescope, indeed one of their star maps, incised on clay, is on sale to-day (lot 279) and has already attracted bids of more than two million dollars from museums in the United States,

  but fascinating as this is, ladies and gentlemen, the most interesting tribe contacted by Sir Victor was undoubtedly the Naxatilla because, although there had been contact between them and the civilised world,(they worshipped Bing Crosby as a god), the Naxatilla tribe eschewed further intercourse with civilisation and returned en bloc to the upper reaches of the Amazon where their reputation for unspeakably savage rituals, human sacrifice and we suspect cannibalism, became legendary

 and furthermore Lot 342 is a shrunken head which Pilgrim believed to be that of Colonel James Coster who disappeared in 1869 while seeking the source of the Amazon and there is no doubt that the 1935 expedition was the most perilous of all Sir Victor’s explorations and we are fortunate indeed that he survived to write his most renowned book, ‘Pilgrim Up the Amazon’ which was awarded the medal of the Royal Society of Great Britain as well as the American Explorers Foundation prize for the best exploration book of 1938,a prize never before or since awarded outside the United States,

and I would like to remind you, ladies and gentlemen that a signed copy of this book is on sale here to-day, Lot 498,hold it up, Fred, let everybody see that it is in pristine condition even though considerable controversy still surrounds ‘Pilgrim Up the Amazon’ because of later so called evidence gathered by academics who resented Pilgrim’s lack of qualifications, Sir Victor having refused all honorary degrees offered him over his lifetime showed astonishing humility, ha! ha! but I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen none of Sir Victor’s denigrators even tried to replicate his explorations, none of them even tried to lug a sixty pound pack as well as an old glass plate camera, with tripod (lot 348 ladies and gentlemen) through the jungles of the upper Amazon, of course they did not, they sat in their overstuffed armchairs in their London clubs and said it could not be done, not very scientific ladies and gentlemen, not scientific at all, merely spiteful jealousy.

 but let us return to Sir Victor – a worthier protagonist if I may say so and I am sure you will agree for otherwise you would not be gathered here to view, to touch and perhaps to eventually own these relics of a great adventurer’s life which have been treasured and cared for by his daughter, the late Lady Cynthia Floxburgh, who, as well as helping her husband run their high country sheep station, cared for her father in his declining years, recorded his memoirs and turned the south wing of Floxburgh homestead into a museum dedicated to Sir Victor’s explorations and furthermore, I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, Lady Cynthia did not buy these blow pipes (lot 240) or these poison darts (lot 241) and she certainly did not purchase Colonel Coster’s shrunken head from a curio shop in Parnell, as that hack reporter from the Daily Blast maintained,

indeed not, Sir Victor himself brought them down from the impenetrable jungles of the Amazon headwaters as his day book for 1933 (lot 12 in the catalogue) shows, so not to put too fine a point on it, ladies and gentlemen, Sir Victor Pilgrim was a man ahead of his time, if he had been born later he could have scaled Everest with Hillary and Tensing. recording their adventures as they climbed, he could have driven a tractor to the South Pole, he could have accompanied Neil Armstrong to the moon

 but alas, after spending World War 11 behind enemy lines gathering intelligence throughout the Pacific theatre, Sir Victor returned to the bosom of his family broken in health but not in spirit for he survived the war and lived quietly on the family estate until after the death of his beloved wife, Nancy, then our hero spent his final years at Floxburgh station with his daughter, Lady Cynthia until his death in 1982 and his final wish was to be buried at Floxburgh looking out towards the Southern Alps where he had lived as a boy,

and now, ladies and gentlemen we come to the most important item of the sale because before his demise, Sir Victor wrote a letter to his daughter, Lady Cynthia, it is here in this sealed envelope, ladies and gentlemen, addressed in his unmistakable handwriting, Palmer McLean, light upstrokes, heavy down strokes, a lost art indeedis it not, ladies and gentlemen, written with his Osmiroid gold nibbed fountain pen (lot 21 on the catalogue), sealed with red wax bearing the imprint of Lord Floxburg’s crest, and across the envelope, here at the back, is written the words ‘NOT TO BE OPENED UNTIL THIRTY YEARS AFTER MY FUNERAL’

 that thirty years expires to-day. ladies and gentlemen although neither Lord nor Lady Floxburgh have survived to this date and the letter, from the most eminent explorer in our history I remind you, was given into my hand this morning by the Floxburgh family solicitor to become part of this historic auction, one of you ladies and gentleman will open and read the last words of Sir Victor Pilgrim because we have decided that lot one will be this letter and the fortunate bidder will be expected to open and read Sir Victor’s last words to us all assembled here, bidding will open at $20,000, bids will be at $5000, now what am I bid opening at $20,000 to you sir and five - - - - -

Much later:   I told them it was a stupid idea, the letter went for eight hundred thousand eventually but the media had a field day when that bloody American collector started reading it aloud and after the first gasps everyone began laughing,

Sir Victor Pilgrim KGB, hero of exploration, author of books that are required reading in every school in the country, never got nearer to the upper reaches of the Amazon than the ports and brothels around the coast. he was cook on a cargo steamer and got his travellers’ tales from drinking companions in the bars of Rio de Janeiro, and his brother, Tobias wrote the books for him and the two of them fudged the photographs, easy in those days before colour, it’s all there in the letter therefore we couldn’t get a bid above $5.00 for any of the other stuff, in fact we had to call off the auction everybody was too busy laughing and it’s all going to be on the six o’clock news, so I can kiss my chief auctioneer’s job goodbye

 and to think I worshipped that old fake as a boy, ruined my eyes reading his damn books under the bedclothes;

just goes to show doesn’t it!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


1730 words

Apart from the smell Spindrift Bay is as pleasant a village as one could find anywhere; Population one thousand two hundred and fifty eight, McGarrity’s Hotel with Karaoke every second Friday and plenty of work if you’re not fussy. Most of us go to the freezing works at Tangora. Baldy Kirton and his boys run two trawlers, long line and crayfish pots. His fish plant stinks a bit, especially in summer, but we just hold our breath when we walk past and the houses up on the hill plant roses and lavender in their gardens.
Being so small we soon get to know what’s going on. Gossip goes around here at about twice the speed of light. When someone new comes to the Bay the first to spot them are Kevin and Stan at Speedy Service Panel Beating, next to the bus stop. If they’re having a quiet day Kev and Stan can watch them all the way down the main street, past Tanya’s Hair Salon, McFarlane’s Farm Supplies and Patel’s Superette. By the time a newcomer passes Harwell’s Real Estate Kev’s worked out what they do for a crust and Stan’s made some pretty educated guesses at why they’re in town and where they’ll stay. They’re not always right, of course, but they never let facts get in the way of a good story
When it comes to jumping to conclusions Young Kevin could be the high, long and wide champion of just about everywhere. He has this unparalleled talent for taking off from a flimsy premise, building an hypothesis in space before he leaps to an incredibly complicated conclusion, usually landing flat on his face. Like the time that young bloke in a T shirt and jeans got off the bus with his sports bag. Kev and Stan watched him stride past Harwell’s Real Estate, MacFarlane’s Farm Supplies and Patel’s Superette. By that time Kev had decided the newcomer had come to sign on Baldy’s trawler. Turned out he was the new Pastor for the Baptist church. Kev maintained he was half right, because JC was a fisherman wasn’t he? Once Kev reaches a conclusion the combined power of all McFarlane’s tractors won’t shift him.
The trouble with young Kev is he’s never been anywhere. Other youngsters finish school and head off to Polytech, or overseas on their great adventure. Not Kev, all he ever wanted to do was fix cars and drive hot rods. So he stayed here in Spindrift Bay, population one thousand two hundred and fifty eight last census, helping Stan fix things at Speedy Service & Panel Beaters and joining the boy racers in Waimari on Friday and Saturday nights.
You’d think Kev would learn, especially after what happened with Dulcie. She arrived one hot Friday in November. The smell of Mrs Barraclough’s roses almost smothered the perfume from Baldy’s fish plant. The bus pulled in at 2:15, as usual and a few bored faces looked down to the main street where Bert Arthur’s fox terrier was sniffing around the lamp posts. The door hissed. The driver strutted down to open the luggage compartment But Kev and Stan’s attention was riveted on the blond getting off the bus. She looked about sixteen going on thirty two and she wore pretty much what Kev and Stan did under their overalls, black singlet that didn’t quite meet the jeans which were at least two sizes too tight and bulged in interesting places.
The bus driver unloaded a backpack, nearly as big as its owner, and probably heavier. He helped the girl settle the straps over her shoulders. She fastened the waist belt and shrugged it into place before setting off through the town. Kev was so mesmerised he dropped his spanner. The back pack on legs turned towards the noise and smiled. That smile would have made Julia Roberts look tight lipped.
“Hi Stan!” she called, but kept on walking.
“Whaawrrh!” breathed Kevin, “Who’s that?” And Stan could tell he was already constructing a hypothesis about an international film star coming to make a movie that would feature Kev as the home town boy who conquered her with his charm and sophistication.
“Buggered if I know,” said Stan, staring at the green pack tramped past the Superette. “Wait a minute! Yes, I do know! It’s young Dulcie.”
“Dulcie?” the only Dulcie Kevin could remember had been fat and spotty, two years ahead of him at Spindrift Bay Primary.
“You know, George Baylis’s daughter. Lived in the yellow house up on Devon Street. “
“Dulcie Baylis?” She was the fat, spotty one. “Scrubbed up O.K hasn’t she. What’s she doing back here?”
“Same as all the young ones, I suppose. Come home when they can’t get a job.” Tom Ferris from the organic farm rang to ask when his ute would be ready so Kev and Stan went back to work.
Meanwhile the back pack and its owner strode up Hill Street and that was the last Spindrift Bay saw of them for the best part of a week.
“See young Dulcie’s back.” Stan remarked to the regulars in McGarrity’s on Friday night.
“Yeah. Don’t reckon she’ll stay long,” said McFarlane’s Farm Supplies, draining Speights through his moustache.
“Nothing here for young ones,” said Baldy’s eldest, pouring himself DB dark Brown, “‘specially girls.”
“There’s a couple of sheilahs on the line at Tangora,” said the Tasman Brown. He drives the works bus over the killing season and helps Baldy in the fish plant the rest of the year. “They do pretty well with the knife too, considering.”
The consensus was that Dulcie, who hadn’t bothered to come home for her Dad’s funeral, would sell the yellow house on Devon Street and take off again.
When Dulcie walked in with Nancy from Harwell’s seven heads continued studying wet rings on the bar, while seven pairs of eyes swivelled through ninety degrees following the two women to the hens’ table. Stan’s ex and the two sheilahs from the meat chain were already there. They kissed the air around Dulcie’s cheek and chirruped enthusiastic greetings.
The karaoke sheilah came in to set up. She keeps her gear in a trailer that she tows behind her old Ford Falcon and she dresses like Elvis in his final days. Stan helped her carry everything in, mainly because his ex was at the hens’ table and he never missed a chance to show her what she’d lost, like a nice helpful gent that other sheilahs appreciated. But his ex was busy talking to Dulcie and took no notice. Then the Karaoke sheilah talked him into singing a duet with her about endless love. His ex kept on talking to the sheilahs from the meat chain.
Stan went back to the bar. Kev almost had his neck in a knot trying to keep Dulcie in his sights.
“Go over and chat her up,” Stan suggested. “Take a jug for the table.”
But Kev just kept staring, building his dream about why such a cracker had come back to Spindrift Bay. Baldy’s youngest took a jug over while Nancy was singing Scarborough Fair and he spent the rest of the night perched between Dulcie and Stan’s ex, wrapped in engrossing conversation that required his chair to move ever closer to Dulcie’s while he emphasised each point with a touch on her arm. Often he thought of something so confidential he needed to whisper close to her ear, at the same time lifting a tress of blonde hair to improve audibility.
About ten o’clock Dulcie and the other women took off. Baldy’s youngest came back to the bar, but by that time we were discussing the perennially dismal state of Kiwi cricket and he didn’t enlighten anyone about why Dulcie had returned to Spindrift Bay.
Time went by. Nancy never nailed a ‘FOR SALE’ sign to the Baylis fence, and no photograph featuring the yellow house as a ‘des res’ appeared in Harwell’s window. .
Of course Kev and Stan, being blokes, didn’t pry in to what had brought young Dulcie back. They just happened to mention it in passing to Mrs Patel at the Superette, Steve Hodges at the Fire Brigade, Barney McGarrity at the pub and a few other cronies, just to make conversation, like.
“See young Dulcie’s back in town,” Kev remarked to Nancy when she came in for a warrant of fitness.
“Yeah,” said Nancy, communicative as a clam.
“She planning to sell her Dad’s house?”
“Don’t think so. I could do with a few extra properties but Dulcie hasn’t mentioned it.”
“She should have come back for her old man’s funeral then.” said Kev.
“Couldn’t, she was in Chile on a study tour.” Nancy drove away down the main street.
When Stan’s ex dropped the children off for his weekend she told the men to mind their own business and whatever Dulcie Baylis decided to do was entirely her own affair. After his ex had sashayed down the front path in high heels and higher dudgeon, Stan’s daughter, full of nine year old hubris, announced,
“I know what Dulcie’s doing.’”
“Yeah?” said her Dad, “What’s Dulcie doing then?”
“She’s a hooker.”
Kev’s beautiful fantasies came crashing down in a cloud of disillusion. September 11th was nothing compared to the crash of his dreams.
“How’d ya know that?” asked Stan.
“Dulcie told Mum. She said she needed money over the holidays and so she was going to be a hooker, down at the wharf. Mum said she wished she’d thought of it first,” Stan’s cherub sent her father a roguish glance under her eyelids.
“That’s enough of that, young lady. Ya don’t know what ya talking about.”
“Do too,” But the men had heard enough. They sent the girls to play outside.
Stan, seeing the desolation on Kev’s face, tried to comfort him.
“Heard quite a few ‘Varsity girls do it when their loans get too high. They stop when they graduate.”
“She should be run out of town,” snarled Kev. He avoided Karaoke evenings after that. He ignored Dulcie when she spoke to him in the Superette. Stan told him Dulcie seemed to be spending most of her time with Baldy’s youngest. Kev grunted, and broke the end off a nut he was tightening in the vet’s station wagon.
On the last day of February Kev and Stan watched from their workshop doorway as Dulcie boarded the 12:38 bus north. Baldy and his youngest were there. Dulcie hugged them both and Baldy’s youngest planted first a peck on her cheek and then a real lip smacker which lasted until the bus driver beeped his horn. Nancy and Stan’s ex came along to wave goodbye.
“See young Dulcie’s gone then,” Stan remarked as Baldy came in for a spare fuse for his boat engine.
“Only temporary,” Baldy told him. “Best little hooker I’ve ever had. She can bait a string faster than I can. Got one more semester to go then she’s coming back to Spindrift Bay permanently.” Baldy hitched his belt and rested one foot on a box of wing nuts. “She’ll be Dr. Baylis, Marine Biology! She wants to work on the trawler, something about conserving pelagic fish populations. What she doesn’t know about fish isn’t worth knowing. Taught me a bit I’m telling you.”
“Bet she did!” Kevin slammed down the bonnet of Nancy’s 4 wheel drive so loud Bert Arthur’s fox terrier stopped piddling on the plane trees and took off down the main street.
But Kev’ll never learn. He’s got his eye on the new receptionist at Mon Desir Motel, all short skirts and long legs. She’ll eat him for breakfast.

Monday, October 17, 2011



Waiata Dawn Davies


All that morning I had been up at Tom Beresford’s farm, walking back and forth across his paddocks, holding two bits of bent wire. Eventually they had kicked almost out of my hands and that was where I drilled through dry clay, through stones and rocks until eventually there was a grunt, a gurgle and water had spurted our of the pipe; muddy at first but finally clear and fresh.

By the time the cattle trough was full Tom’s missus was on her third load of washing and she was singing like a thrush on a fence post. I stayed for a cuppa and we sat on their verandah watching white thunderheads creep above the hilltops. After months of drought rain clouds were finally spreading across the sky, so I got in my ute and headed south

switched on the radio.

“Wairarapa’s last surviving Gallipoli veteran, Archibald McKinley died today at his home near Pirinoa, aged one hundred and four..”

Arch McKinley had been at Passchendale, not Gallipoli; told me himself.

I stopped for petrol at Greyrown. Young Mark washed the windscreen while the tank filled. He kept talking about the show the College kids were putting on. ‘Songs From WW1.’

The missus buzzed, reminding me to buy eggs. Big drops of cold rain set my wipers clicking. It was only four o’clock but I had to put the headlights on. At College corner I slowed as a bus pulled round, heading south past the old pines. Moments later a girl ran out the College gate, waving and hallooing. Joe McKinley’s youngest, Nettle.

Did she know her great grandfather had died?

I would have offered Nettle a ride, but nowadays they think every bloke’s a rapist, even if he went to school with their grandmother. I decided to offer her a lift if she was still there when I came back from the egg farm. As I slowed to turn into Dave Naylor’s gate a car came hooting out, Pete Rodman’s red Capri, its horn playing Dixie.

At the packing shed Dave hosed smashed eggs from the walls.

“Bastard” he muttered, “Took the cash box. Second time this month!”

“That was Pete Rodman’s car,” I said. “He wouldn’t scramble your eggs.”

“Pete wouldn’t but his boy would.”

I couldn’t imagine any emergency dire enough for Pete to let young Stan drive his precious Capri.

We found enough unbroken eggs to fill a tray and I left. At the corner I waited for the afternoon rush to pass, a petrol tanker, a stock truck, three four wheel drives all rushing. I let them go. Young Nettle was not sheltering under the pines or striding backwards with her thumb out.

At Tauheranikau the Tin Hutt’s red roof stood above river fog, thick as whipped cream. Trees and fence posts were grey shadows. Beyond the river some trick of the light made the road look narrow, with more trees, macrocarpa, manuka. At Camp Road the ute died; lights, indicators, engine, everything. I drifted to the verge, tried the usual things, nothing worked so I raised the bonnet to check the linkages.

Just then Pete Rodman’s Capri came belting out of Camp Road and took off south in a shower of gravel. A bugle sounded and a soldier, all-brass buttons and braid, cheese cutter cap, polished riding boots, rode out from Camp Road on a big chestnut. He turned towards Featherston before backing his horse up until its hindquarters were against my bumper. Even the horse’s ears stood at attention.

I coughed, said, “Excuse Me!”

I stepped away from the ute and nearly fell into the ditch where water was braiding and purling over gravel in the bottom.. The officer and his horse stared south after the Capri’s tail light.

The bugle sounded again. Soldiers ran from long huts. They were a scruffy lot, wrinkled khaki shirts, braces holding up baggy trousers; none of the action man outfits the real army wears. No berets but slouch hats. Someone making a film, I thought. Sergeants shouted, corporals shoved and soldiers shuffled. When the bugle sounded again they marched off in fours. As they passed out the gate they turned eyes right to the officer on the horse.

Young Nettle stood by the fence. As the soldiers passed she stepped towards one whose hat was pushed to the back of his head. She walked beside him for a few paces. He smiled at her, but didn’t stop. He marched out the gate, turned eyes right.

Then it all vanished. Headlights rushed up and down Highway 2, not a soldier, or horse in sight. Just young Nettle looking like a drowned rabbit as rain dripped through her hair, off her jacket, into her shoes. I handed her my mobile, told her to ring her Mum, pretended to roll a cigarette while Nettle’s blue fingers pressed the numbers.



“I told you we had a rehearsal. I missed the bus.”

More squawks.

“I’m at Camp Road. Jack Driller lent me his mobile.” She passed the phone to me.

“ “Mum wants to talk to you.”

Myrtle McKinley’s voice was almost incoherent with all the static on the mobile. I offered to drive young Nettle home.

“Can’t understand . . . got enough on my . . . . Thanks Jack.”

“What went on back there?” I asked Nettle, but she stared out the side window pretending not to hear.

When we drove up the hill to McKinley’s farm Nettle slammed out of the ute and scuttled inside. The house was lit up enough to keep the wind generators turning all year. Myrtle’s sister’s blue Mitsubishi was in the yard. I waited a couple of minutes, wondering if anyone would acknowledge my presence, and finally pulled around to leave. Joe McKinley came out the back door and across the yard. He tried to be casual but just looked as though his piles were hurting.

“Er. Thanks for bringing her home, Jack.” he started.

“No trouble. Couldn’t leave the kid stranded. Sorry about your Grandfather. ”

“We’re in a bit of a flap here. Myrtle went to take him his cuppa and there he was, dead. Bit of a shock for her. But she says you’d better come in.” As we crossed the yard I told Joe about finding Nettle on Camp Road.

“I would have offered her a lift back at the College,” I told him, “but these days you have to be careful.” He nodded.

The kitchen was full of red headed women; Myrtle’s mother was beating something in the Kenwood. her sister, Daphne Rodman had a headlock on a big yellow bowl and was whipping for dear life. Myrtle was slapping trays against the bench until the muffins surrendered and fell out. Judging by the heat in the kitchen and the scones, muffins, and lamingtons cooling on the kitchen table, they’d been at it for some time.

Nettle was drying her hair, looking as though she found the entire bustle entirely tasteless. The three witches stopped beating and whipping when we came in. They looked as though they would like to transfer activities to me. I was not going to be offered a cuppa, or a lamington, not even a scone.

“Why is my daughter so late?” asked Myrtle, no ‘Gidday Jack. Thanks for bringing her home ten miles out of your way.’

“As though Myrtle hasn’t got enough on her plate,” chimed Daphne Rodman.

“I told you. I missed the bus. Jack gave me a lift, ” said Nettle as though she was doing everybody a favour by speaking.

“Mr. Driller to you, my girl,” said Nettle’s grandmother. Joe opened his mouth but he didn’t have a chance. Myrtle kept asking where had I taken Nettle between four and six o’clock. Daphne told us Myrtle had enough on her plate. Jenny Andrews said young people had too much freedom, and at my age I should know better, as if Myrtle didn’t have enough on her plate. Finally Nettle screamed, a real cow cocky’s bellow.

“You’re not listening! I told you. He,” pointing at me, “gave me a ride home.”

“Don’t you speak to your mother like that.” Joe managed at last. “Now, tell your mother where you were when Jack picked you up.”

“As if she hasn’t got enough on her plate,”

“Shut it, Daphne. Now, Nettle.”

Nettle stared out the window and mumbled, “I missed the bus.”


“He gave me a ride.”

“We should ring the police,” Daphne did Women’s Studies at Massey ten years ago. Makes her an expert she thinks, “It’s always someone they know. That’s a fact .”

Finally, after a lot of shrugging and squirming young Nettle mumbled that she had hitched a ride.

“Who with?”




“But why didn’t he bring you home? It’s on his way. You must have said something to annoy him. As though we haven’t got enough . . .” Stan’s mother gloomed at her niece.


“Stan put the hard word on you, Nettle?” I asked. Nobody else was going to.


Turned out Stan had offered Nettle a ride home but he had stopped on the way, expecting a bit of passion in payment. Nettle said he’d pinned her against the car door. When she managed to land a knee in his tender parts he’d taken off.

“I saw the Capri turn out of Camp Road. ” I said.

“I was going to walk to Featherston but he,” shrugging at me, “offered me a lift.”

Joe came out to the ute with me, looking embarrassed. Myrtle had a lot on her plate with the old man dying and everyone would be coming for the funeral. Myrtle didn’t apologise and Daphne was still muttering about no smoke without fire.

The district gave old McKinley a good send off. I went to the funeral, but not the bun fight afterwards. The paper wrote a decent obituary. Born 1901, enlisted at fifteen, fought at Passchendale , took up a soldier’s farm, served on the County Council twice. There were two photographs, one of Arch, in his wheel chair last Anzac Day. The other been taken on his final leave. Good looking youngster, slouch hat pushed back, happy smile.

Stan Rodman’s in hospital. The Fire Brigade pulled his father’s Capri out of the lake. The boy kept babbling about having to swerve because of ‘a bloke on a horse.’

I took the Ute to the garage. It was running rough and I didn’t want it stalling at the funeral. Mark climbed on to the bumper to look under the bonnet.

“Where’ve you been, Jack?” he asked, “Look at this.”

Now I drive a lot of back roads, but there’s no way I can explain the horse droppings Mark hosed off the engine before he fixed the ute.

Friday, April 8, 2011




Tena koto,
tena koto,
tena koto katoa.

My name is Jennifer Tohoro.

You did see me in Shortland Street a couple of times,
unless you blinked.

My tribe is Ngati Pahone.
My mountain is Puketama,
my lake, Wairima.

There is an Italian war bride, an Irish whaler plus various traders and sealers in my whakapapa, but only the Maori bit counts, so Matiu Waireti says.
He ignores those traders and sealers, although I suspect there are more of them than genetically unmodified Maori in his whakapapa which he can recite all the way back to Tama.
He does that frequently whenever he wants to stall something on the marae. He has been our Komatua all my life.
My mother and sister still live in Wairima.
Bella has a state house in the Rikihana Block with her husband Jason, and their six boys. Five years ago David and I spent Christmas with them.

Bella put her boys to sleep in the garage to make room for us. When some prowling hohas from down the road tried to pinch Bella’s Toyota out of the drive the boys rushed out at them with garden forks and grubbers.

Some nosey parker rang the cops. They called Family Protection because of the boys sleeping in the garage. Bella’s husband went spare.
“In Ruatahuna us kids slept on the veranda all year. What the fuck’s wrong with sleeping in a garage?”

The social worker kept talking in her tight ass voice about ‘finding appropriate shelter for the boys until she could arrange a group family conference,’ so David and I solved her problems by leaving town.

Unfortunately the media picked up the police report and next day there were headlines,


And they printed a picture of me and not him, so we parted and now David is running a phone in programme in Invercargill.

I started using my qualifications instead of my looks and for the last three years I have been an auditor for Sheldon Developments in Sydney.Yesterday morning my boss called me into his office, sixteen floors above Sydney’s traffic jams.

He told me Ngati Pahone wanted to borrow more money to make a film like “Whale Rider.” What did I think?

Eight years ago Ngati Pahone signed a joint venture with Sheldon Investments which should have turned Wairima into a resort like Queenstown with a luxury hotel, a golf course, a fifty berth marina.

The vision had been magnificent, income from tourists and jobs for young Pahone.

Reality was complaints about poor service, sloppy maintenance, overpricing and very little money paid back.
“What’s going on, Jen?” demanded my boss.

Probably Matiu wanted to buy a new race horse, or something, but I couldn’t say that out loud. Finally my boss told me to get myself (he actually said ‘get your butt.’) over to Wairima and have a sniff around before the Sheldon financial advisers arrived on Monday.

On the plane I read through the file. What should have been a wonderful vision was a mess, full of excuses, and evasions.

Why had Sheldon lent so much to Ngati Pahone?

At the bottom of the file I found the reason. Matiu had mortgaged our tribal land. If Sheldon called in their loans the tribe would lose everything. I could have wept.

Also in my file was a fax from Te Ariki Sheldon. I was booked into the
Waitama suite for three nights and would be met by the hotel’s Ford Ghia courtesy car at Wairima Airport.

When I arrived there was only Uncle Koro and his battered shuttle bus. He made a lot of cracks about ‘Ngati Kangaru’ before grabbing my suitcase.

“You sit up front here, with me,” he ordered. “I’ll just drop this lady and gentleman in town. You stopping at Bella’s?”
“No, I’m not,” I told Koro. “I’m booked into the Sheldon.” He wasn’t pleased. He had to drive back around the lake, but he should have asked first, eh.

Te Ariki Sheldon, gave a nod towards Maori in the carved fascia boards at the entrance, but it was more Hong Kong Tudor, plaster board and lathe strips. There was a fibreglass copy of our whare runanga ridgepole, in the lobby. Our ancestors are there all right, standing on each other’s shoulders from floor to roof, but their genitals have been removed.

How they begat each other in that condition I can’t imagine.

The receptionist, not Sheldon trained, not even Kiwi Host, said her computer had no record of my reservation. She told me the hotel was fully booked.

Five years ago she would have been all over me because I was on TV five nights a week. Immortality surely is ephemeral. I waved the fax under her nose. She consigned me to a small room near the kitchens,
no phone,
no bath,
only a shower.

AND she demanded payment in advance and five dollars for the key.

“This’ll do in the meantime,” I told her, “But I am booked in to the Waitama suite.
I expect to sleep in the room reserved for me.”

The receptionist shrugged.

Dinner was unmemorable. I had to ask twice for a carafe of water. The house wine was drinkable, but only just; the coffee lukewarm; the receptionist had still not found my booking.

“I’m going for a walk,” I told her. “Please have the Waitama suite ready when I get back.”

I saw her reflection in the glass doors as I walked across the lobby.
“Careful,” I called from the door, “If the wind changes you’ll stay like that.”

The hotel site had been a camping ground years ago. Poppa took us there for fishing holidays. Up the hill stood the last patch of virgin forest in the district, rimu, smelling dark and cool, full of quiet noises from pigeons and fantails.
I decided to explore the old tracks, see if glow worms still set tiny points of light along the path from hilltop to lake.

The parking bay and the gate at the entrance to the grove were new. So was the green board advertising
‘Rimu Grove, Glow Worm Trail, Admission $5. '

People were climbing on to a tourist bus as the thug who called himself a warden tried to stop me going in to the grove. Eventually I paid, demanded a receipt.

He couldn’t give me one, kept staring at my cleavage, so I looked at his fly until he turned away and I walked into the grove, furious about being charged to walk on my own tribal land.

And now I couldn’t remember the path.

I wandered along, literally lost in thought about Ngati Pahone, trying to work out why the Trust was not keeping its agreements. The hotel said it was booked out yet there was an air of slackness.

The bed in my room felt damp, as though it had been made up weeks before. Dead leaves had blown into the corners of the hotel entrance, the garden was unkempt with dead roses.

At any other Sheldon Hotel the chef would have been fired.

I found a bench along the path and sat down to take my bearings. It was getting dark beneath the trees.

Tena koe, Jennifer Tohoro.”

At first I thought it was the ‘warden’ but this man was shorter, hair tied in a knot. I caught a glimpse of full moko and white teeth. He spoke in a surprisingly quiet voice.

“Welcome home. You lost your way?”

“Not exactly. I came to see the glow worms, but I missed the track.”

“Ah, follow me. I will show you.”

We walked from the trees on to a rough path. Although it was now dark my guide set his feet surely. He stopped where the path fell away between two shingle banks.


To the west Wairima’s street lights shone like gold sequins on black velvet. Above me familiar constellations wheeled across the sky. Around my feet more stars glowed in the darkness. I felt as though I was far out in space. I forgot to keep silent,

“Oh!” I breathed and the glow worms blinked off.

“Sorry,” I said. The man laughed.

“Ngati Pahone settled here because if anything bigger than a weka moved the glow worms stopped shining. It was a good warning system. Now tell me, what has brought you winging home like a godwit?”

I hesitated. I didn’t want to tell this man too much. He might be one of Matiu’s grandsons, finding out why someone from Sheldon Developments was nosing about.

The man’s voice was so quiet it did not affect the glow worms.

“Let me put it this way, Jennifer Tohoro, Matiu Wareti is chairman of Ngati Pahone Trust Board. He signed a joint agreement with Sheldon to build a world class leisure complex but now the money has run out.”

“Sheldon put twelve million into that venture,” I protested. “It was such a great deal, tourism for the area and employment for the young people.”

“True, but old Matiu likes cards and horses. He has also signed a joint venture with Mioro Japan to build the golf course and another corporation in America for the Marina. Five different consortiums have a claim to Ngati Pahone land, and now Matiu’s fish are beginning to stink. Whenever the auditors get too curious he holds a hui on the marae and throws pumice in their eyes. But eventually he will run out of excuses and the land will be forfeit.”

“The auditors from Sheldon Development are coming here next week and they will insist on seeing the books AND the meeting is scheduled for the conference room at the hotel. He won’t be able to pull his marae tricks there. They are very tough people these Aussies.”

“And over the week end something will happen to the conference room. The roof might leak or there will be a fire and everyone will have to go to the Marae. You know how things are run there.”

I certainly did.

I remembered Bella and me helping Mum and Aunty Matty in the antiquated kitchens of the Dining Hall. Out on the Marae Matiu and his mates strutted about, waving their staffs, talking on and on.

Mum would straighten up, sweat running from her face,

“Why doesn’t the old bugger shut up!” she would say, “We’re supposed to be planning a kohanga reo and they’re going on and on about the bloody Maori battalion.”

She and Aunty Matty would stump out singing a waiata about bringing the language to children. Sometimes the women among te Manuhire would join in but once the song finished another old warrior would get up and start ranting again.

“That old fox is robbing us,” I told the man beside me.

The glow worms winked out again.

Whatever money Matiu Wareti creamed off certainly did not reach the tribe. Bella has been waiting years for a piece of land to build a proper house. There had been no dividend for the Tribe since 2008.

Matiu said it was because profits had to pay off the loan from Sheldon Development; all lies.

And if this man beside me was telling the truth, when Sheldon Developments blew the whistle on Matiu’s shenanigans Mioro Japan and American Marinas would come demanding their money back.

Then Ngati Pahone land would be forfeit to the corporations.

“That’s it, Jennifer Tohoro. We must hold the land.”

Funny how this stranger knew what I was thinking.

“That’s why you have been called back here. To help Ngati Pahone hold its land.”

“Me?” I almost squeaked. “What can I do?”

“Matiu must stand down.”

“He won’t. He’s the komatua. He’ll brazen it out.”

In the starlight my companion’s teeth flashed as he laughed.

“Remember Tama’s battle with Te Ngongo?”

“Of course. Tama was outnumbered three to one so he tied cloaks around flax bushes and pretended they were warriors. Te Ngongo got such a shock he retreated.”

“You have been well taught, Jennifer Tohoro.

Now, suppose on Monday morning, before the hui, you show Matiu that you have the numbers to make him stand down. Not just a couple of Ngati Kangaru with goldrims and briefcases, but all the local people and some Asians.
At least one hundred people on the lawn in front of the hotel on Monday morning, Jennifer Tohoro. Can you do it?”

I counted in my head. Bella and her six,
her neighbours and their kids,
Aunty Matty and her friends from the church,
the kids I’d gone to school with.

If I rang David he could put out a call to all Ngati Pahone

“So he’d think he was outnumbered. And I could tell him that every time he started talking anything except balance sheets and tribal funds I’d start a waiata about the tribe’s treasures being squandered.”

“More than that, Jennifer Tohoro. Call his bluff. Challenge him.”
“I couldn’t. You know that.”

A woman, challenging the komatua? Unthinkable.

“It’s time you did. Matiu’s got away with too much for too long.
It’s time for a real accounting. And there’s no one else brave enough.”

Brave? I felt as though he was telling me to step out into that black space between starlight and glow worms.

We walked back to the gate of the rimu grove. The hotel gleamed down on the lake shore. Mists crept across the garden, wrapping around koromiko and flax.

They looked like cloaked figures, implacable, waiting.

“Come back and see me on Monday evening. I will be interested to hear who will chair the new Tribal Trust.”

“Why not come down then, see for yourself?”

“I might. But I doubt if you would notice me. No, Jennifer Tohoro. I am like the glow worms, my place is here, looking after the land.”

He took my hand. He was so short I had to bend over as we hongied, but his eyes were bright as a kereru’s.

I strode down the road, towards the hotel and suddenly, for no reason, I felt incredibly brave.