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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Saturday, September 19, 1925. p. 8. — Peeps at Parliament: The Tale of the Oysters and a Little Algebra

The Dominion, Saturday, September 19, 1925. p. 8.
Peeps at Parliament: The Tale of the Oysters and a Little Algebra

Shut your eyes for one moment, sit perfectly still and try to imagine that you have never seen, heard, or thought of such an unmerciful dispensation of Providence as an M.P. You have the effect? Now open your eyes.

Our scene, good friends and gentles all, is set hundreds of miles away from the refining and ennobling influence of His Majesty's House of Representatives. We are all alone by the sad seashore. It is a particularly dark and moonless night—the sort of night when it seems perfectly right and natural for dark doings to be afoot.

Deep down under the surface of the sea, there is a peculiar, grinding, restless, uneasy kind of a noise. It is the oysters turning over in their beds: they, too, feel in their bones (no, we forgot, they're molluscs and haven't any: well, in their succulent protoplasm), that mischief is brewing. Suddenly there is a glimmer of light—the kind that might quite easily proceed from a burglar's dark lantern—and the crunch of a number nine boot on the shingle. From our point of vantage behind a sheltering rock, we catch a glimpse of a large (but not too large) fur-lined overcoat, and a pair of colossal Wellington boots, with something vaguely resembling a man inside them: in fact, we behold a Prominent Citizen of Auckland. (The expression is Mr. Lee's.) Let us, for the sake of originality, call the afore-mentioned citizen Mr. X. What in the world, we ask each other, rubbing our eyes, can this respectable—this Prominent Citizen of Auckland, Mr. X., be doing out of his bed at this hour of the night? Is he walking in his sleep? Is he—ought we to summon Mrs. X.?

But, lo, while we are still thinking the matter over, our mystery quietly, unobtrusively, without any visible effort, solves itself. Mr. X. panting a little with the intense emotional and physical strain, stoops over and, if you please, proceeds, without further notice to hale forth the oysters—old and young, male and female—from their beds, with a disregard of the common courtesies of civilisation absolutely inexplicable in a prominent citizen of Auckland. We really don't know—we turned our eyes away—whether Mr. X. devoured his unfortunate victims on the spot, or whether he bottled them, stowed them in that conveniently capacious hip pocket and finally consumed them at one of the Saturnalian orgies which go by the name of dinner parties. But this, beyond all doubt, we know. We have it on the authority of Mr. Lee. What more could you want? As Mr. X., his brow wet with dishonest sweat, arose from his labours, his shoulder was seized, with more force than politeness, by the Long Arm of the Law. Chill shudders chased each other up and down his frame as a Voice spoke unto him, saying, "Nah, then, you come along quietly. D'ye 'ear?" But what is this? As the rays of the bull's-eye lantern fall upon the guilt-stricken countenance of Mr. X., a sudden change comes over the voice, manner, and aspect of aforementioned Long Arm and Loud Voice of the Law. "Oh, it's you, Mr. X., sir. I mean to say, of course, it isn't you, sir? Certainly not, sir. Very good, sir. Thank'ee, sir."

And, gathering his dignity, his oysters and his overcoat about him, Mr. X[.] passes into the night and out of our story.

But this, bad as it may be, is by no means the worst. Ask Mr. Lee, honourable member for Auckland East, West, North, or South, we can't just remember which, who, in a voice choked with sobs, related to a stricken House the sad fate of a poor but dishonest female—probably a widow with seventeen starving children—who was caught in the illicit act of oyster-poaching and prosecuted.471 What do you think of that, now? Prosecuted! Mr. Lee, let us explain, evinced a sudden morbid curiosity to know whether there was actually any truth in the statement that that hardened oyster-poacher, Mr. X[.], had been allowed to escape scot free, while one whom he, the honourable member, characterised, with manly simplicity, as "merely a woman," had been prosecuted. Such, dear friends, is the nature of the business over which the House worries its poor old head during the dying hours of a session. Well, well!

"£45,000,000 Mr. Speaker. And not a bit of it for Gisborne. Not a bit of it for Gisborne."472 Dear, dear, what's the matter now? Gazing down from the Ladies' Press Gallery, we are able, with some difficulty to ascertain the novel fact that Mr. Lysnar, member for—we believe Gisborne has that honour—actually has a grievance. As we listen, enthralled, a still more interesting aspect of the situation dawns on our comprehension. Mr. Lysnar's grievance is a matter of high finance. He positively wants money. Well, well, did you ever? Over at the other end of the chamber the honourable member who looks after the Public Works Department, is gazing at him with a contemplative, faintly commiserating eye which seems to say, "Aha, my young friend. Don't you wish you may get it."

Once upon a time, when you were guileless little boys and girls, you used, if we remember our own young days aright, to attend Sunday School picnics.473 You would there, after making some effort at the mere frivolity of races and ring-a-ring-a-rosy, settle down to the really serious business of the day—eating. You ate your way doggedly through mountains of buttered buns, ham "sangwidges," and tea-cakes—you remember those tea-cakes? They were washed down, so to speak, by rivers of water very faintly coloured with a beautiful shade of pink, reverently known as rasp'-bryade. Then, at long last, came the star act of the entertainment—the lolly scramble. You were solemnly set in rows, little ladies first, little gentlemen after, and no pushing please, and somebody—a Sunday School superintendent with a beaming smile and a conspicuous white waistcoat—took his stand before you. Then, for the space of five minutes, the heavens rained down manna—bull's-eyes, peppermint drops, jujubes, stickjawettes—you remember? Heigho! Where are the digestions of yesteryear?474 But if ever you really feel in need of rejuvenation, make a visit to the House of Representatives while the Public Works Statement is under discussion, and you will see the Lolly Scramble enacted, with all due ceremony, before your wondering eyes. Imagine our worthy M.P. behaving (or, rather, misbehaving) like Peter Pan, the little boy who refused to grow up.475

So, after all this preamble, it will be no surprise to you to learn that the motorists in Mr. Forbes's district are feeling sore; they feel that they have been neglected, insulted, almost, and that nothing but "damages, Your Washup—Heavy damages—thousands of damages" can heal their wounds and bind up their broken hearts.476 By the way, it was Mr. Forbes who, when accused by some callously cynical Cabinet Minister of electioneering, naively pointed out that members did not ask for roads, bridges, reduced railway fares, free tickets in art unions, old-age pensions, and all that sort for themselves. When, in effect, they put pistols to the head of some tight-fisted Cabinet Minister and request that he stand and deliver his money or his life—preferably his money—they do so from entirely unselfish and disinterested motives.477 Yes, yes. Quite so, Mr. Forbes.

But let us, out of the kindness of our hearts, try to make clear a little matter about which the hon. leader of the Opposition seems to be in a condition of innocence almost too sweet to be natural. Supposing a member—we won't say Mr. Forbes in particular, but just any member—succeeds, either by a masterly application of tact or just by making himself such a nuisance around the place that Ministers are willing to do anything—homicide, almost—to get rid of him, in obtaining large financial concessions for his particular district. Supposing all this, it seems likely that the men, maids, and matrons of his electorate should smile more or less tolerantly upon him, and that motorists, when passing over the fine new road completed through his endeavours, should refer to him as "good old George." It might even be possible that his unselfish—we thank thee, Sir, for teaching us that word—devotion to his needy parishioners should induce them, just by accident as it were, to vote for him at election time.

Reminds us of our college algebra:

A eq. the Minister.

A squared eq. votes.

A squared + votes eq. safe seat.

Safe seat eq. £500 a year.

Therefore A squared + votes + safe seat eq. The Milk in the Coconut.


471 There is no record of these remarks in Hansard.

472 Cf. Lysnar: "…some £45,000,000 have been spent on railway-construction, and the Gisborne district has been contributing towards that for all time without having itself any railway connection with the outside world" (Hansard 208: 465).

473 Dominion: nicnics.

474 Cf. François Villon, ["Ballade of the Ladies of Bygone Times"], from "The Testament," line 336.
Mai sou sont les neiges d'antan?
[But where are the snows of bygone years?]
The Complete Works of François Villon, trans. Anthony Bonner (New York: Bantam, 1964). See also the column for 27 June 1925.

475 For other references to Peter Pan, see the column for 2 July 1925.

476 See Hansard 208: 455-58.

477 Forbes noted that "[a]ccording to the Minister of Lands, it would appear as if members wanted money for themselves—for the benefit of their own pockets. The position is just the other way. The calls upon members in regard to their districts are very great indeed" (Hansard 208: 455).