Title: Songs of My Life

Author: Bill Manhire

In: Sport 11: Spring 1993

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, November 1993, Wellington

Part of: Sport

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Sport 11: Spring 1993


Then for a few years or so I was headmaster of a large Dunedin school. That was a good school, coeducational, and I had a personal bagpiper, a girl called Helen. She was mostly reserved for ceremonial occasions, piping me in to the senior prize-giving, and because words were no part of her business, Johnny Pingao remained a happy man. He travelled with Hank Mushroom and played in most parts of the lower South Island. He came home using the word awesome. Awesome skyline, awesome trees, awesome dimensions of the heart.

It was 1961, the year you could turn upside down.

page 38

‘There are three birds in this world,’ I told the assembled adolescent children. My nickname was Lunchbox, I never knew why.

‘One is a hawk,’ I said, ‘another is a duck, and then last of all there is a hedgehog.’

I said: ‘You have to decide. Which one do you want to be? I know what I would hope, but I leave it to each of you in the solitude of your soul.’ I closed the large leather-bound dictionary which I opened on these occasions. It was open at ‘parataxis’, there in the top left corner, a word of interest to me at the time but now I admit its import escapes me.

They applauded me then, all the children, and Helen piped me out on to the Welds of play.