Listening Through Closed Doors


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I’m sure many of your parents, like mine, told you that no good comes of listening to conversations not meant for your ears. But when you’re a bored teenager sometimes listening to an adult conversation can be quite revealing. How else were we to learn about life?

On one occasion my parents’ saying proved to be wrong and what I heard became a turning point in my life. The conversation unfolded between my father and a woman who often visited us, the very woman written about yesterday with the silver grey hair and the pink volkswagen car.

Said woman disapproved of the freedom I was given since I had started competitive swimming. She’d apparently seen me biking home from training with some boys.

‘You give that girl too much freedom,’ she said. ‘She’ll end up getting herself into trouble.’

Now I was at an age where girls getting into trouble meant only one thing, they found themselves pregnant. I was about to burst through the door in protest, but my father’s reply stopped me. His answer was simple.

‘We trust her,’ he said.

They were such powerful words and even though he never said as much to me personally he didn’t need to. His trust always came to mind when I found myself getting involved in teenage shenanigans.

So, conversations listened on through closed doors are not always a bad thing.

Painting My Writing With Colour


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Falling into familiar patterns is easy. They creep up on us without our noticing and we find the excitement in our writing slowly goes into hiding. That’s what it’s like for me anyway.

I’ve done more factual than creative writing over the past three years, but now I’m trying to kick start my creativity. I have a few go-to books I enjoy when this happens and I pulled out one this morning. I randomly opened at a chapter about including the detail of colour in writing.

This was exactly what I needed. I’m currently writing a piece about ‘That Woman’ for my memoir group. My writing was drab, even though I was describing a woman vibrant in both the colours she chose and in her personality. Just being reminded of colour enabled me to revitalise my writing, bring more life to it.

The woman’s grey hair became silver grey hair, so silver the light bounced off it like sparks. Her pink volkswagen car became a car so pink it shocked the drab neighbourhood around it.

Sometimes it is easy to fall into lazy habits, but they are not impossible to turn around. Today I’m looking forward to painting the piece I’m writing with colour.

Imagining the Past at the Manawatu Estuary


On a recent trip to our nearest beach we spent time enjoying the estuary at the river mouth, where my local river eventually flows into the ocean. These days the estuary, not shown here in the photo, is a protected heritage area, where many of New Zealand’s native water birds can be found at various times of the year.

It wasn’t the birds that captured my attention on this trip though, but the river and how it served in the opening up of my region in the 1870s when New Zealand was being settled. The river has changed its course over the years since then and definitely doesn’t seem as wide nor deep as it once must have been.

In the beginning, before the region was cleared of forest and before roads were established the river was the major means of travelling inland to where I live. Settlers arriving to the newly established town had to travel up river in large sailing boats for some distance to a nearby thriving port town, then onward in smaller river transport.

I tried imaging the big sailing ships carrying arrivals, people who had been on board for months, eager to reach their new homeland. The river shown here at low tide just didn’t seem to be capable of being navigated by a large sailing ship. However, I enjoyed imaging the presence of so many ships arriving at was back then a thriving port, that I was on board one of them arriving at a strange destination.

This river mouth of the Manawatu River played an important role in the development of my region.

Leather Straps and Flying Chalk, School Memories from the 1950s

The thought of holding out your hand to be whacked by a teacher held piece of leather provided a powerful reason to behave at school in the 1950s. In New Zealand, where I live, getting the strap was an acceptable form of punishment during my school days. This violent practice has been illegal in New Zealand since 1990, though I do think students had more respect for their teachers when they understood what the physical consequences of misbehaviour would be.

I loved school and I loved my teachers, but nobody is perfect. As hard as I tried to avoid this fearful form of punishment, I managed to find myself in trouble from time to time.  Whenever the teacher called one of us to the front of the room we all sank further down in our seats, hoping we too wouldn’t become his next victim.

Playground misbehaviour and classroom disobedience rated high on the list of offences for which the teacher produced the strap. The victims held out their hands, some trembling with fear. Temptation to pull your hand away as the strap came down resulted in extra whacks.

I usually received the strap for more minor offences, such as talking too much and spelling mistakes. That’s right, for getting my spelling words wrong in the weekly test. I was a good speller, but if I made  careless spelling mistake I received the same punishment as the others.  I didn’t think this fair at all. Tears filled my eyes, even before I felt the impact of the piece of leather.

Another form of punishment that wouldn’t be tolerated in classrooms today involved a piece of flying chalk. If the teacher held a piece of chalk when someone started talking, look out. The chalk flew through the air with such accuracy it landed on the desk beside you. I think we all in admired his skill of landing the chalk just where he wanted it.

A more preferred punishment involved writing lines while others were outside playing, especially during the colder winter months. My teacher liked variety in his choice of punishment though, so it wasn’t worth misbehaving, hoping to be given lines to write, when he could quite easily choose to strap you instead.

My recently published school memoir, ‘West End the Best End – School Memories from the 1950s’ includes discipline and punishment as some of the anecdotal stories of my memories of my school life. Times have changed and former practices are no longer acceptable. At the time, however, none of us questioned the right of our teacher to inflict physical punishment on us. Getting strapped was a part of school life in 1950s New Zealand.

What memories do you have of school punishment in other parts of the world?