The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 12 (April 1, 1929)
Pickings — Some Ramblings in Retrospect
A Sob for Summer.
It is sad to reflect that we have planted a farewell kiss on Summer's freckled nose and have bidden her God-speed on her journey by Time's express to the top of the earth. As the train disappears round the first bend of winter, we stand forlorn and forsaken on Time's railway platform and drop a tear for the departed hoyden.
“Ah, Summer, Summer; you have in many ways proved a faithless jade. You played us false when we trusted to your constancy, you frowned when we looked for a smile, you swept into a fury of unpropitiousness when all we asked for was sunny calm, you let us down when we trusted to your graciousness, you jumped the rails, developed hot-boxes, ignored the signals, swept past without collecting the tablet, and generally broke the time-table, but, despite your vagaries, we cannot but forgive you. Ah, fickle wench!
“But we will be watching and waiting for you next December or January or February— —whenever you choose to return. Time will have soothed the sting of your capriciousness. We will deceive ourselves, as we have done so often before, into the belief that next year you will be a good Summer.
“Meanwhile, on the roof of the world April awaits you. The March hare (as hare-brained in April as in March) the mad hatter, the April fool with straw in his hair and a careless look in his eye, the spring poet, the tailor and cutter, and Time's traffic superintendent will present you with the freedom of the northern hemisphere. But we whom you have jilted are moved to lamentatious poesy.”
T'is hard to believe it, but April is here,
The mouldiest month of a ficklesome year.
We'll tip the potatoes out of our gamps,
And purchase goloshes to keep out the cramps,
While the moths take up quarters—lodgings to boot—
In the awkwardest parts of our late bathing suit.
And the coalman (nonchalantly) pulls up his socks,
And tips us a cart-load of rubble and rocks,
And the hens lay off laying with cacklesome din,
While we pull on new “woollies” that tickle like sin.
“Yo-ho,” cries the chemist, compounding his pills.
“I'm ready for glanders and chills in the gills.”
And we sense a suggestion of ice in the air,
Though the mercury lies that the forecast is “fair,”
And dream of hot summers we spent by the sea,
And long for the cash for a trip to Fiji,
Where we'd drift on the ocean in catamarans,
And sing merry rondels with sweet “black and tans.”
We'd wear solar topees, and doze in the sand,
With gallons of cocoanut cocktail at hand.
Such visions, however, are fated to crash,
For summer's departed and so has our cash.
It is vain to bemoan that we're left in the soup,
For the seasonal railroad is built on a loop.
Though Summer has left us, on Father Time's train,
She's bound to connect with our station again.
For rigours of winter we care not a rap,
We are waiting for Summer to finish the lap.
But it's sad to remember that April is here—
The mouldiest month of a ficklesome year.
But in spite of Summer's fickleness we have followed the sun by rail, followed our noses by foot, followed our inclinations by instinct, and pursued the elusive joy bacteria on land and sea. We have gladly suffered mal - de - mer, mal-de-mosquito, miserere - de - bunion, hors-de-combat (meaning of course, coming a crash on the “favourite”) and solar-proboscis (which as you know is Esperanto or Costa Rica for a sun-burnt boko), and now all that remains for us is to stoke up our meerschaums, place our feet on the mantel-piece—one on each side of the eight-day clock—toast ourselves in the regions of the far-south, and reconstruct the happy past in the glowing embers of the fire.
The Old Lad.
A picture forms itself in my mind: I am floating up the pellucid reaches of Queen Charlotte Sounds. By a process of mental calesthenics I am immediately reminded of the Old Lad. The denuded hills are miraculously clothed in billowing forest—towering rimus and totaras thrust their dark heads above the tangled verdure, clots of rata bloom punctuate the mass with vivid splashes of vermillion, like blood flecks on a dead pigeon's breast. I see a white sail scudding before a fresh breeze, I see a monstrous raft of logs drifting with the tide, and dark figures straining at long sweeps to to keep it in the fairway. I pass a solitary shack on a flax-studded promontory and my jaded nerves are lulled by the detached peace of these lonely stretches, undisturbed by pulsing propellers, palpitating pistons, and the multitudinous yelps, squalls, and shrieks which accompany the devastating charge of hectic progress.
I see the Old Lad in the pride of his virile youth—narrow of girth, thick of chest and neck, slim of thigh and calf, with a pair of “moleskins” covering (but not concealing) the slim symmetry of his lower limbs. I admire the calm confidence in his blue eyes, the uncomscious strength in his physical poise. I am back in the “seventies.” I compare him with the Old Lad of to-day—a man four-score, legs slightly bowed, feet planted firmly on the ground, knotted hands, twisted fingers, bristling white whiskers, and fierce blue eyes which are a poor subterfuge to conceal a sympathetic nature. I detect the ghost of his youth in his voice—a hint of waning strength, and it fills me with something like sadness, for the Old Lad is eighty as years count. Nevertheless he still lives in the days of his youth, his eye still twinkles when he recounts the deviltries of his page 14 boyhood, as he loves to do. Comedy, tragedy, cold, hunger, and the daily hazards of a hard life were his portion.
The Flying Scotsman.
One story the Old Lad likes to tell is that of Bushfire and the Flying Scotsman.
The Old Lad had a brother named Dougald, until a badly felled tree severed their relationship and converted Dougald from an entity to for about half a mile unless they were prepared to swim out for them when the tide rose.
Dougald owned a horse which he called Bushfire, because once he was induced to break into motion he was difficult to stop. Dougald objected on principle to pulling boats through mud. “A man's not a blanky ‘orse,” he was wont to remark. Out of these few words sprang his great idea—to utilise Bushfire in the interests of the conservation of human energy.
He constructed rope harness and hitched the snorting Bushfire to the boat. He mounted and gave the horse a smack on the rump. Bushfire a memory. Dougald was a man who believed that the human mind was created first and that the body grew on it afterwards, like a fungus. One department of his fancy factory was labelled, Development Of Devices for Conserving Physical Energy—Private. His sole objection to going to sleep was the energy entailed in waking up again, and if he could have devised a means of being married without expending the energy necessary to effect a wedding he would not have died a bachelor.
In the absence of roads most of the travelling in the Sounds was done by boat. The tide ran out so far that boatmen landing at low water were obliged to pull their crafts over the mud moved a few paces, snorted and looked back at the boat with a hint of indignation in his eye. Dougald kicked him in the ribs and roared “Gerrup!” Bushfire's earls lay back, he lashed out with both hind feet and made for the distant bush. The boat followed in a series of rabbit-like leaps. With the hollow thuds of the bounding boat pursuing him, Bushfire broke from a trot to a canter and from a canter into a wild gallop. Midway up the mud-flat the ship struck a rock and, with a splintering crash, the bottom dissolved partnership with the gunwales. Dougald shot a horrified glance to the rear, sawed at the reins and roared “Whoa!” but Bushfire was as easily stopped as a Garratt page 15 engine wearing wings. His heart was set on reaching the distant hills as soon as possible and a spot marked X on his mental map, about five miles inland, was his objective. The spectacle would have caused the Flying Dutchman to bury his head in the Zuyder Zee out of pure envy, had it been possible for him to witness this demonstration of boat flying. The remains of the boat frequently threatened to clamber up on Bushfire's rump, but he managed to keep one jump ahead of it.
When the outfit disappeared among the trees all that remained of the boat was the gunwale, which encouraged the illusion of a huge wooden horse-collar. The Old Lad had followed as closely as his sprinting powers permitted and finally assisted in extricating the pioneer of the flying-boat from the wreckage of his great conception, and in hunting the maddened Bushfire through seven miles of dense bush.
“An' that,” remarks the Old Lad, every time he completes the story, “is how my brother Dougald became known as the “Flying Scotsman.”
The Old Lad is a cornucopia of rambling retrospect. His sense of humour has never become muscle-bound through over-exertion in the exercise of earnestness. His opinion of life might be expressed in the following lines:—
Life is a layer of pie-crust,
A sticky confection of dough,
Compounded of stodgy components,
Concealing what few of us know.
Some are content to admire it,
To take it for granted in fact,
To these it's a grave sort of matter,
Impressive and dully compact,
But others with puckish perverseness,
Consider it stodgy and dull,
They crave to investigate further—
A vessel is more than a hull—
They puncture the pie-crust with vigour,
And excavate deeply and wide,
The surface is large and impressive,
But what of the sweet-meats inside,
The morsels and tit-bits of humour,
Without which no pie is worth while?
They prise up the crust and—hi presto!
Discover beneath it A Smile.
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.