The Spike or Victoria College Review 1938
I met many fine fellows while at V.U.C. None I liked and respected so much as gentle, unassuming, clever Dave Donald. My association with him was intermittent, for we both had broken periods at the College, and the occasions which provided our opportunities for co-operation were all hurried. But I got to know Dave well, and there were no breaks in our friendship. His passing was a sharp, irremediable blow.
Our contact was in playtime affairs— mainly Capping extravaganzas: things of not much consequence, except as they helped the social life of the College or released the student imagination from the grip of the pedantocratic. But we blew our bubbles very seriously indeed, for what they were worth, and Dave s songs, unexcelled in post-War times, gave them iridescence. Dave's flair for light verse was a godsend to the Extrav.; he wrote easily and quickly, with freshness and skill, in any required form, and always with point. About politics (the staple of the Extrav.), he was well-informed and level-headed; his sympathies in literature were wide, his observation of everyday life keen; yet, while he put these things into his work, there was a spontaneity and simplicity about it that hid the serious mind at the back.
Dave had a strong sense of proportion. Perhaps this was because he was sad— how essentially sad we could not know until the end. There was much of tragedy in his life. The wonder was that he could sustain his gift of humour so well. It was not a boisterous humour, an uprush of animal impulses, the bubbling over of a light heart. Sometimes it was vigorous, mostly it was whimsical—a humour of the intellect. Dave's mind was a tidy one. To him a song, however hastily constructed, should round out an idea. His favourite method was contrast—of, say, pretension and practice. His pirates blustered before "helpless merchantmen," but when battleships appeared, "great discretion did display." His conspirators and policemen were vainglorious by day, fearful by night. His "Red Army" boasted of forebears who "marched around the walls of Jericho and blew themselves quite purple in the face," but—
"In modern days we quell the Sons of Night
By sounding cornets just a trifle flat;
And one small gesture puts the World to flight—
They vanish when we pass around the hat."
His sailors sang:
"But when howitzers and things begin to thunder
And the chances are we'll climb the Golden Stairs—
In the circumstances is it any wonder
That we think of all our sins and say our prayers?
But when the dreadful cannonade is over
And we've washed the scuppers clean of human gore,
The delightful sense of wallowing in clover
Sets us cursing twice as loudly as before."
There is political awareness in his "Cockies Chorus," to the air of "Fifty Million Frenchmen can't be wrong."
"We're students of the bucket,
We cultivate the Cow.
Our brows are wet with honest sweat,
We don't know why or how.
We're men of fixed opinions,
We hold 'em hot and strong,
Though frequently in error,
We never know we're wrong.
Though you may feed us fat or starve us thin,
Draw us out or take us in,
Fifty thousand farmers can't be wrong!
We put our heads together when ignored:
Heads together—Dairy Board—
Fifty thousand farmers can't be wrong!
One rule we obey:
Keep grumbling away,
For it's the only staple product sure to pay.
And if New Zealand hears we're grumbling still,
God's Own Country foots the bill—
Fifty thousand farmers can't be wrong!"
The final verse is a gem of anti-climax:
"In far poetic ages
We used to rise at dawn,
With hodden-greys and roundelays,
And tread the dewy lawn.
But now we rise in darkness,
With language that's a crime;
And all since Mr. Sidey
Invented Summer Time."
Dave was expert in a variety of styles, all neatly executed. The patter song of Zane Grapejuice and Party, in "G.G." (from which the others are taken), has the deftness of Gilbert:
"We are unassuming guys on a little enterprise,
From the land that flows with gasolene and money;
In the mileage we record, every one of us a Ford,
In appearance every inch of us a Tunney.
Like our mighty prototypes who invented Stars and Stripes,
We are reasonably proud about our nation;
For though modest to a fault, we're un-doubtedly the salt
And the ultimate perfection of Creation."
The dolorous sentiment of his Hula Hula song was the hit of "G.G.":
"A weeping maiden wandered by the sighing sea.
The evening shadows round her gathered silently.
Above her head the palms were murm'ring plaintively.
To the stars she sang this mournful melody :
The fighting men one day
Returned from far away.
They brought a captive home—
Over sea—over foam—
The chief commanded me,
'Pray cook him thoroughly.'
And I, distracted maid,
I cooked him thoroughly!
Alas, he's gone from me!
I loved him tenderly.
Never more will he roam,
Far from friends—far from home—
Over sea—o'er foam."
What could now be claimed as a distinction, but was then the traditional note of the V.U.C. extravaganza, is that Dave's burlesque was totally devoid of eroticism. Only two songs done by him treated of the popular affection: one the Hula Hula song, the other a chorus in "Kyd," set to the air of the "Bridal March," in "Lohengrin":
Triumph of love! Soon they'll be wed!
Sensible mortal! He's taking a wife!
Sorrowful day! Count him as dead!
Blindly submitting to bondage for life!
Now with her conquest leave her alone!
Useless to tell him he ought to have known!
Men we subdue, we rout them in battle!
Fleece us like sheep, and drive us like cattle!
Ours is the vict'ry! Ours is the will!
Heaven be thanked! We're bachelors still!
Dave's passing holds a double sadness —because of the manner of man he was and for the manner in which he went. He was a humble fellow; he deserved better of death. What urged his passing we cannot know; but it was not Dave. It was most unlike Dave, of the sunny humour, the delicate scrutiny of ideas, the sturdy interest in life, to choose so sensationally and crudely. Something gave way; the organism failed him. An inward blow overmastered judgment, paralysed will, destroyed choice. There was probably uncontrollable pain. Knowing Dave, I am certain that his clean, honest soul went without blame. He once told me he did not believe that death was the end. May he, who never made a foe, rest in peace!