The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 5 (August 1, 1935)
New Zealand Journey
(All Rights Reserved.)
From Dunedin we went South to visit our friends the Mac-Tavishes, at Kaitangata, that model mining township with its miniature railway running down the main street, its prim houses and not less prim people. Bee Mac-Tavish is a girlish-looking creature whom you would never suspect of having a burly husband and twin sons. I enjoyed the twins as much as I enjoyed Kaitangata about which town I wrote a poem, as follows:—
The houses of Kaitangata
Are dotted up and down,
With bright red roofs and chimneys
'Tis like a dolly town;
And every knob and knocker there,
And every window shines,
And the roadways of Kaitangata
Are narrow straight lines.
The coal-trains of Kaitangata
Go puffing down the street;
(The people watching them pass by
Are all most clean and neat);
They pull the dolly trucks of coal
From three dolly mines,
And they take it from Kaitangata
On narrow straight lines.
The people of Kaitangata
Are very, very good.
They believe in Law and Order,
And do everything they should.
No new idea can enter here,
Unrest shows here no signs
For thought runs in Kaitangata
On narrow straight lines.
When you have twins, the babies are by no means the worst part of it, I learned from Bee. The visitors are much more troublesome. I witnessed some amusing scenes, for nobody seems to be able to keep away from these lovely children. For instance, the deaconess comes to call on Bee.
“I have come to see the twins,” she announces.
Bee leads her across the grass to where the large fat pram stands under the trees. She pulls back the coverlet. The deaconess looks at the twins. The twins look at the deaconess. She makes the peculiar bird-like noises with which single women usually seek to entertain the young. The twins respond suitably.
“What are their names?” she asks.
“Peter and John,” says Bee.
“After relations, I presume?”
“No, after the Apostles.”
This evidently pleases her. I see that she thinks there may be some hope for the MacTavishes yet!
“Peter, of course, is the elder,” she smiles.
“No, John came first,” says Bee.
“But St. Peter was older than St. John,” dogmatises the deaconess.
“Yes,” admits Bee, “but when they both ran to Emmaus, John got there first.”
Bee has done it this time! The deaconess's face clouds. She turns coldly to the pram again. But just as Bee has lost her forever the twins snatch her back again, John with his slow charming smile, and Peter by airily kissing his foot to her.
“They are darlings!” she enthuses, and she goes away with cordial handshakes for us all and her best Band-of-Hope smile. No sooner has she gone when another visitor, a middle-aged bachelor arrives. He too has come to see the twins. He bends over the pram, fascinated.
“What I like about them,” he said, “is the lordly way they lean back in this pram, side by side, like two aldermen in a car.”
Oh, dear! The twins cannot speak a word; but they can recognise a few.
“Car! Car!” says Peter delightedly.
“Car!” says John stretching up his fat little arms to his mother. They are both quite sure that the visitor has invited them to go out in his motor.
“No, darlings,” says poor Bee.
“Car, car, car!” says John determinedly bouncing up and down. Peter's lip droops and his face begins to pucker. His expression is heartrendingly pathetic (and doesn't he know it!). Of course, the visitor (whose name turns out to be Mr. Conybeare) is putty in their hands.
“Mrs. MacTavish,” he says generously,” I shall be delighted if you will all come for a drive with me. As a matter of fact,” he goes on mendaciously, “I was thinking of running down to the Catlins for some timber for a fowlhouse.”
Now it is an odd thing, and one to be noted, that whereas a woman will do a thing if she wants to, a man will never do a thing unless he is justified. The twins were determined to have a ride; we were all entranced at the idea of going to the Catlins district. But Mr. Conybeare will not make this eighty mile journey without an excuse, and his excuse is timber for a fowl-house—which, as all the world knows, you can build perfectly well from a page 33 few kerosene cases and a little stamp edging.
“Yes,” goes on Mr. Conybeare, “I must go and buy a few feet of timber from Tahakopa.” Eighty miles for timber which he can buy perfectly well at half-a-dozen timber yards within a radius of three miles. But if a man wants to go eighty miles he must have an excuse before he can budge.
Behind were Hamish, Mr. MacTavish, the second twin and I.
This sounds like a crush, but as the twins never sit in one place for more than a second they take up almost no room at all.
Going across the first bridge out of Kaitangata, we encountered sheep.
I felt relieved when we had safely crossed the bridge and were threading our way down the narrow lanes of Balloon Island, with the foaming cataract of the Molyneux River at our road's edge. The swiftest river in the world, this, and fascinating to watch with its rapids, whirlpools, eddies, and freshets hurrying and scurrying down to the sea. At Paretai we had to cross this river on a large vehicular punt, and Mr. Conybeare took advantage of the slow transit to make some adjustment to his carburettor.
“It isn't often,” he observed, “that a man can work on his engine and continue his journey at the same time.”
Across the river the road was not good, but the poplars were very beautiful standing like rows of tall sentries in their autumn uniforms of gold.
“Who could call himself poor with so much gold about?” I said romantically, as a cloud of yellow leaves swirled by.
“You are very poetical this morning,” said Hamish.
“I am always poetical,” I said with complacent dignity. “I was born so.”
“Give us a verse about the leaves,” said Bee—“original.”
I sat up, pondered, and began:—
“I asked of the leaves as I paused
in my play:
‘Leaves, why do you race down the
road all the day?’
The little leaves answered, ‘We'd
stay if we could,
But we're running to cover the babes
in the wood’.”
“Haw, haw!” said the younger twin, clearly meaning “Isn't this woman funny?”
At Port Molyneux we stopped at the hotel for lunch. The lunch was very good, but the twins were overawed at the start by being confronted with meat and knives and forks, to which things they had hitherto been strangers. They would not eat anything, but Mr. Conybeare generously covered their deficiency by eating their lunches as well as his own. When a man has eaten three lunches you cannot reasonably expect him to be good for anything, and I was not surprised when he asked me if I would drive for a while.
I took the wheel and turned down onto the sands. I hate driving. When anyone asks me to drive I always take care that they shall soon ask me to stop. I started across the sands, swerving from side to side like an ostrich.
“Drive straight, you little beggar!” yelled Hamish.
“What?” I shouted, wilfully deaf.
“Tell her to drive straight,” bawled Hamish to Mr. Conybeare. Mr. Conybeare leaned over, chuckling, and repeated the message.
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said I. I straightened the wheel and opened the throttle. Away we bounded along the beach twenty-five miles an hour, thirty, forty, fifty…. The wind whistled, the engine roared.
“Stop!” cried Hamish.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” they all yelled together. I stopped. I got down with an air of injured dignity.
“I don't know why I am never allowed to drive,” I said, as I snuggled down happily in the back seat again.
We thought the scenery from Port Molyneux to Owaka beautiful until we saw the scenery from Owaka to Tahakopa. This is the country of big timber, and sawmilling is the principal industry. Bush land stretched for many miles around us, encroaching in a tangled maze upon our path. Wild birds sang fearlessly in the trees and fluttered after us full of curiosity. The road, of course, was bad; bush roads always are. No paving known will stand up to the constant dropping of water from the trees. In some places we skidded and bumped, ploughed and bounced until the twins wept and Mr. Conybeare muttered unspeakable things under his breath. Only Bee kept happy and singing.
At last we reached Tahakopa and the sawmill. Tahakopa, by the way, is not pronounced T'hack'pa, but Tak'Ope, the reason being, no doubt, that hope is well nigh lost by the time you get there. The sawmiller's welcome, however, made up for all our discomforts. He gave us a really sensible tea, with eggs and milk for the twins, who gurgled and gooed their appreciation, and great chunks of bread and beef and cheese for the grown-ups. After tea he showed us his sawmill and his poultry farm, in which we beheld the biggest Wyandotte cockerel we had ever laid eyes on. It had come from England and cost £50—a show bird. Nearly a yard square, it must have been.
From this pleasant place we had to hurry in order to get as much daylight as possible on our road home. Of the return journey I remember very little, as I was very sleepy. I was dimly conscious of Hamish's comforting shoulder under my cheek, of the bumps and bounces of the car, and of Bee's singing, still incorrigibly cheerful.
When we unloaded the paraphernalia at the MacTavishes' house, I made a woeful discovery.
“Why, Mr. Conybeare,” I said, “You have forgotten the wood for your fowlhouse.”
He smiled bashfully. “Well,” he said, “I thought that after all I can make one out of a few cases, so I bought some butter and eggs instead.” Whereupon he proceeded to present Bee with a large hamper of good things from the sawmiller's farm.page 34 page 35
To part with the twins was a wrench, but there was still much of the South Island still unvisited and we had to go. Bee drove us to the train at Balclutha, and with a twin on each arm smiled her good-byes. I was sad to leave her; I was also sad because I had toothache. Hamish did not improve matters. He made such helpful remarks as “I told you so,” “Didn't the dentist warn you about that molar?” etc.
I turned my hat down and my coat collar up and sulked determinedly until we reached Oamaru. Nobody, however, could be sulky after eating the lunch they provide on the railway station at Oamaru; indeed, it is my opinion that the railway lunch at Oamaru is the best meal in all New Zealand. The train after leaving Oamaru is a very different affair. Passengers whose expressions have been cream-of-tartar before the lunch are all milk and honey afterwards. Those who scowled before are now smiling. Those who were smiling are now shrieking with laughter. Dear, splendid Oamaru!
For instance, there are the Moncrieffs with whom I stayed. They are typical. Mrs. Moncrieff is the President of the Ornithological Society of Australasia. Captain Moncrieff, her husband, writes books on the Einstein theory, and the discoveries of Rutherford; and every guest, I assure you, every guest who came to that house whilst I was there was so cramful of science that I was a veritable Babe in the Wood amongst them.
I am still digesting the things I heard and saw. One effect of all this scientific knowledge is that they have got very reliable weather there. Well, it may be that the fine climate attracts wise people, rather than that wise people cause the fine climate—but whichever way it is, this much is certain: one midwinter-day I had my breakfast out in the sun on the loggia, and there are not many places even in sunny New Zealand where you can do that. The average annual tally of sunshine is over 2,500 hours, considerably higher than that of Italy.
Amongst other nice things I did in Nelson was the giving of an address to the girls at the High School. Four hundred of them sat upon the floor of the gymnasium to hear me. I started out rather uncertainly, rather nervously. I felt so responsible. But they were the nicest audience of my life—so receptive and appreciative, so quick in the uptake. I like talking on platforms; I like preaching at people, and I do a lot of it to adults. But that day I felt that if I could only speak to children I'd give up all my writing and radio work in exchange for the privilege. In the heart of the child lies world-peace or world-war; in the hands of the child lies civilization or barbarism; these are the custodians of the future, and to these we must make our appeal, since by them we stand or fall.
One night, at dinner, we met Mr. A. N. Field, who wrote a book called “The Truth About the Slump.” His theory is, briefly, that all our economic ills are caused by the machinations of certain wealthy people.
(To be continued.)
The Inimitable Shaw.
One of Hollywood's magnates asked George Bernard Shaw to write a scenario for the films and obligingly supplied the recipe. “It must contain,” he said, “a religious motif, a dash of high society background, with a touch of sex appeal.”
G.B.S. sent his scenario on a postcard, thus:—“My God,” said the Duchess, “let go my ankle!”