How does that annoying song go for that long-running Aussie soap go? Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours? But do we? And how each of us defines ‘good’, is sure to differ. Most people will have a well-meaning Mrs Buchanan character in their lives, neighbour or not. And most will have devised a way to deal with such characters, with varying degrees of success.
Mum Hid In the Pantry
Mrs Buchanan stood on the doorstep, her hand raised preparing to pound on the door once more. Mum peeped through the thin lace curtain, unseen. Oh no, not Mrs Buchanan. I cannot face a visit from her today, Mum’s internal thoughts raced. Hide, pretend to not be home. She sunk to the floor and wiggled her body along the lounge carpet, along the wooden hallway and across the kitchen lino. The impatient knocking of her neighbour continued, growing ever louder, ever faster. Mum edged open the flimsy swing door of the pantry and slithered in. She’d forgotten the crate of beer Joseph had shoved into the pantry and bashed her elbow on the sharp corner. Suppressing a scream, she drew her body into a crouch and duck-waddled into the furthermost corner. Her head knocked the lowest shelf, upturning the open bag of flour. The flour cascaded through her hair and over her body. There came rapping at the kitchen window followed by shouting. ‘Janey, are you home?’
‘No, I am not at home’, Mum spluttered through the flour. ‘Go away.’ With a creak, the knob of the back door turned, followed by the door squeaking as it opened.
‘Janey?’ Footsteps on the lino floor.
Mum pinched her nose, fighting a sneeze.
The swing door flung open, smashing into the crate.
‘Janey! What on earth?’
Janey raised a finger to her lips. ‘Ssssh, hide and seek. I’m hiding from the children,’ she croaked through her mask of flour.
‘The children? It’s a school day, Janey. The children are at school.’
The bulk of Mrs Buchanan lent forward and hauled mum to her feet, leading her to the kitchen.
‘Really? You mean the children aren’t here?’ Mum dusted the flour from her face, from her body.
‘Sit down, my dear. I’ll put the kettle on.’
Mum slumped into a chair.
‘You know I had an aunt who had similar episodes.’
‘Yes, episodes similar to what you’ve just experienced, imagining scenarios. Her behaviour became increasingly alarming, poor dear. Eventually, we had to admit her for her own safety.’ Mrs Buchanan filled the kettle and plugged it in. She dropped tea bags into the teapot and took two cups from the side cabinet.
‘But that won’t happen with you.’ She turned from the bench and patted Mum’s hand. ‘No, we won’t allow it. A suppressed trauma has triggered this.’ Mrs Buchanan waved her arm airily. ‘We’ve caught it in time and with counselling sessions, we can beat this.’
Puffs of flour floated to the table as Mum nodded her head.
Mrs Buchanan poured the boiled water into the teapot.
‘And I’ll come by every day.’
‘Oh Mrs Buchanan, that’s very kind but I wouldn’t want to impose.’
‘Nonsense. It’s the least I can do.’ Mrs Buchanan chuckled. You are quite a sight, Janey. Imagine if your children had found you crouched, hiding in the pantry covered in flour.’
She poured the tea into the cups.
‘It’s fortuitous that I came by today and found you. I’ll visit every day and together, we’ll get through this.’
Who knew that seagulls are native birds. Not I. And apparently they are in decline. Considered by most of us beachgoers are annoying scavengers, they play an important role in the food chain. That said, do they have to behave so aggressively?
Bossy Bird, Sally Red-beak.
She’s at it again, dive bombing, her favourite sport. Bossy bird Sally Red-Beak swirls from up high, dips her wing and swoops into a dive directly above her prey. At the sound of her menacing squawk, the two-legged creatures glance up, alarm and fear etching their faces. Ducking, one of the Two-Leg’s waves her hat wildly as Sally skims above their heads. Unrepentant, flying in a large arc, she prepares for a second dive. In she comes, lower, lower she skims above them. With her out-stretched claws, she snatches the hat and dumps it in the surf. With a final loud Aarck she farewells the Two-Legs, her shrieking victims huddle together and scramble for the bush line.
Sally glides sedately to the water’s edge. With her head held high and her breast pumped out, she struts triumphantly amongst us other red-beaks gathered in a circle. None of us acknowledges her.
“Did you see that? Did you see me give those Two-Legs a right fright they’ll not forget in a hurry? Ah, the thrill to see them scurry away. They’ll learn who owns this beach,” she trumpeted.
Our backs turned, dabbing the sand with our beaks, we continue to ignore her.
“Oh, come on. You’ve got to agree, that second dive was mighty impressive. Did you see their faces?”
“But why? Why do you do it?” Bertie stutters, breaking our code of silence. He turns to face Sally. Reluctantly, so do the rest of us.
“Why? The fact that you even ask that question Bertie, shows you’ve lost it, old man. You’ve lost the thrill of the chase. Same as the rest of you.” She eye-balls us with her beady eyes. “You’ve gone soft, the lot of you. Gone all liberal, all that live-in-harmony rubbish. This is our beach, not theirs and we’ve got to fight for it. Besides, they’ve got their own places.” She flapped her wings impatiently.
“But the Two-Legs do have their uses,” Cynthia chipped in.
“Uses? Please enlighten me, oh learned one.” Sally sneers out of the corner of her beak, puffing her chest some more.
“The morsels of nourishment they drop as they meander along.”
“Hah, morsels, you’ve got that right. Mere morsels. What does that make us? Scavengers, thankful for tit-bits left behind by the mighty Two-Legs?”
“Well, yes actually. We are scavengers, that is in our nature, like our parents before us and their parents before them, we are scavengers. It’s in our DNA. There’s no shame in that.”
Sally’s feathers ruffled. “No, I refuse to accept that label.”
“The best pickings to be had,” Granddad Harold squawked dreamily, “is when they gather in groups on the grass verges and they bring out baskets loaded with offerings.”
“Or better still, they fire-up that contraption and cook them elongated meaty things and encase them in a moist, white cover doused in that thick red liquid and the littler two-legs drop chunks as they wander around,” Casey interrupted.
I was fair dribbling at the beak listening to the pair of them, envisioning such delights. If Sally persists in her dive bombing antic’s, she’ll spoil it for us all and eliminate our source of a-la-carte dining.
There comes at a time when one must stand up to bully’s like Sally Red-Beak. I gaze sternly at Sally, holding my gaze for all of five seconds before relenting under her hypnotic return-glare and look down at my feet. I open my beak then immediately close it without emitting a sound.
“You wish to comment, Timid Timothy? Do share your views with us.” Sally theatrically flings a wing-wide in my direction. The other red beaks gather around.
Solemnly, I cross my wings across my chest and nod my head a few times allowing the words to form in my head. “I suggest we not use the word scavenge. The word scavenge has connotation’s of us seagulls being garbage disposers, of salvaging anything and everything one can find in order to survive. It is a demeaning and out-dated term. We, my friends, are environmental activists.” I stride around the circle, nodding at each fellow red-beak. “All of us, each and every one of us is an environmental activist, cleaning up after the Two-Legs, ensuring this pristine beach of ours – and it is ours as Sally quite rightly stated – is preserved for our children and our children’s children.’
Some fellow red-beaks nod and squawk in agreement. Sally stays mute.
“The sea, once our main source of nourishment is depleted and can no longer sustain our needs. We need to move with the changing tides, embrace our important role in the environmental spectrum whilst providing for our loved ones.”
My companions flap their wings, nod their heads and Aarck-aarck in a show of support.
Clyde joins the conversation. “You make a fine point, Timothy, and if I may, I’d like to expand on your sentiments.”
“Ah, here we go, another pseudo-intellectual with pretty words.” Sally bustles into the centre of the circle.
Undaunted, Clyde continues. “For too long our reputation has been tarnished by this scavenger label and anti-social antics such as dive-bombing the Two-Legs reinforces this image. However, if we tamed our aggressive behaviour,” Clyde looks pointedly at Sally, “and simply waddled alongside the Two-Legs, they’re likely to view us as curious and cute birds. It would be advantageous to both our reputations and our pickings to portray a more amicable attitude.”
“Hear, hear!” My companions hold their heads high, shrieking their applause.
Not Sally. “Huh! What a load of codswallop! Environmental activists, amicable, cute and curious birds? That’s not us! We ain’t starring in some sickly-sweet Disney movie, are we?” Her loud protestations fall on deaf ears.
As a large group of Two-Legs approach, our circle disbands and we waddle towards the group. We nod and waggle our heads as we fall in beside them. We croon harmonious melodies from deep within our throats. The Two-Legs notice us and chuckle. Then one of them pauses, crouches and holds out a hand to pet little Sara. Another reaches into his back-pack and proceeds to drop generous chunks of tasty offerings upon the sand. With decorum, us red-beaks step towards these offerings, and forgoing our usual style of snatch, grab and gobble, we elegantly consume this welcome nourishment, all the while nodding in unison.
To guests who stay in my holiday stay, Quail’s Nest, I often suggest the Cliff-top walk, approached via the Surf Beach.
“Spell-bounding views from the top,” I say. “You can see the Hen and Chicken Islands and as far as the Coromandel Peninsula and if the tide is right, you can return along the beach.”
In truth, much to my chagrin, I myself have never walked the Cliff-top walk. Until today. Today I walked the cliff-top and I’m pleased to report that it lived up to my boastful praise.
Not only are the views stupendous, but the ambience is sublime. Loud, chirruping insects, (I’m guessing crickets), accompanied by gentle bird-song and the rhythmic swish of the waves below. Glade tunnels of vegetation allowing speckles of sunlight to filter through and dapple the path. Silky spider threads tickling moist skin, and the welcome occasional puffs of a wafting breeze.
Today, I was unable to return via the beach. Next time, I’ll check tide–times before leaving home!
This iconic grade three to four walk is listed as one of New Zealand’s Fourteen Great Short Walks and is a high-lite of the 20th Mangawhai Walking Weekend, March 28th – 31st. This annual walkers event features Northland’s best coastal and bushwalking experiences and with thirty walks on offer, there is something for everyone from easy strolls and doggy walks to more challenging walks.
The Long Tramp, an eight-hour serious tramp covers tracks on the southern slopes of the Brynderwyns. Less arduous is the new Art and Gardens walk encompassing five venues featuring art and sculpture and led by knowledgeable guides. Perhaps you’d like to find out what happens in those mysterious places known as Blokes Sheds. Sheila’s are welcome on this Blokes Shed walk, though no talk of babies, cooking or dressmaking is tolerated!
There are farmland walks, walks through caves (Waipu caves), a beach and ice cream walk and for the conservationists, a bush tramp in Murunui Conservation (Brynderwyn’s) where forty-three brown kiwis have been released since 2013, led by an experienced botanist and there is a foodie’s walk, boasting the finest Mangawhai has to offer; creamy avocado’s, divine honey, gold medal extra virgin olive oil and wine!
Music and magic come to Mangawhai in the form of The Troubadour Trail, a walk along the estuary loop, with entertainment provided along the way by professional performers.
And on Saturday, The Mangawhai Food and Wine Festival will be held in the village with entertainment provided by the Mermaids Dance Band.
Tempted to attend? Looking for a place to stay?
A Place to Stay.
Visiting Mangawhai – choose Quail’s Nest
For memorable moments of fun and rest
Bring your whanau and all your mates
Get packing now, don’t hesitate
For cosy comfort, Quail’s Nest is best!
(Quail’s Nest, listed on Airbnb and booking.com)
Sometimes people, children and adults alike, need the right encouragement to overcome their fears to achieve their goal. It’s just a matter of finding the right encouragement or in the case of Lucy in this story, the right incentive for the person to achieve their goal.
The Bike Lesson.
“Frank, I don’t have the car this week because your Dad’s on day shift. You’ll have to double your sister to school all week and bring her home,” said Mum.
“Why me? It’s always me,” Frank complained.
“Because your bike has a carrier,” Mum replied.
“It’s not fair. I hate giving her a ride. She wiggles around too much and worst of all, all my friends tease me,” Frank wailed.
“Until your sister learns to ride the little bike, you will have to double her to school now get going or you’ll be late,” said Mum.
We lived on a small farm near the town and had a two-mile ride to school.
All week, Frank doubled Lucy to school and all week, his friends teased him.
By the end of the week, Frank made a decision; his six-year-old sister would learn to ride that little yellow bike and he was the one who would teach her.
We had all tried to teach her. Mum tried to teach her to pedal. Holding the bike, she instructed Lucy to pedal. Her little legs, barely able to reach the pedals flailed around in every direction until Mum fell about laughing. That was the end of that lesson.
Dad hammered blocks of wood to the pedals to make it easier for her legs to reach them. “Don’t look at your feet; look straight ahead,” he said as he pushed her along. But when Dad let go, Lucy did look at her feet. The bike wobbled and she crashed into the apple tree. That was the end of that lesson.
My brother and I tried together. He steadied the handlebars and I clutched the back of the seat. Then we ran along beside, yelling ‘Pedal, pedal you just have to pedal.’ Letting go, the bike wobbled, Lucy whimpered, the bike wobbled some more and Lucy ended up in a howling heap on the concrete path. That was the end of that lesson.
Saturday morning, Dad was at work and Mum was busy collecting eggs in one of the hen-houses. Now was Franks chance to carry out his plan.
“I’ll give you five of my best marbles, Lucy,” Frank showed her a fist-full of his best marbles.
Lucy considered the deal. “Will you give me your king marble?” Frank hesitated. His king marble had been won in a hard-fought battle with Lewey Strachen the week before.
“O.K. But only if you are riding the bike by the time you get to the paddock.”
Lucy was still unsure.
“Come on, just have a go and if you fall it won’t hurt because you’ll just land on the grass.” Finally, she agreed.
“You coming, Sis?” Frank asked me.
“Nah, I’ll watch from here,” I replied, not willing to be part of yet another disastrous bike lesson.
Frank and Lucy trundled across the home paddock and up the grassy hill.
Returning to the house, Mum asked, “Where are the other two?”
“Up there,” I pointed to the top of the hill.
Looking up, we saw Lucy on the bike with Frank holding the handle bars, giving instructions.
“How did Frank convince Lucy to go with him?” Mum asked.
“He has his ways,” I smiled.
Frank gave the little bike a hefty push and Lucy and the bike began to barrel down the hill. Mum let out a cry of anguish. Lucy screamed. Her legs splayed out to the side, the bike wobbled. Lucy screamed some more, Mum stood frozen, her mouth open in a large ‘O’. Frank was running after Lucy, shouting, “Pedal, just pedal and steer.” Lucy began to pedal furiously. She straightened the handlebars and sailed down the hill. By the time she reached the flat ground, she was riding that bike like a pro. Mum and I ran to the paddock. Lucy rode a victory lap around the paddock, a large grin plastered on her face. As she came to a stop, Frank again held out his fistful of marbles. With glistening eyes, Lucy chose her reward.
“I’ll have these four and this beauty,” she said holding up the shiny king marble.
Mum smiled and hugged Frank.
After that, there was no stopping Lucy. She was on that bike every chance she got.
The following Christmas, she was given a pair of roller skates, but that’s another story.
You never know what the day may bring. A story inspired by a tale my dad once told me when he and my mum were keen motorhome enthusiasts, today’s post, ‘Get Your Motor Running’ illustrates the expression ‘you never know what the day will bring.’ Truly, you don’t!
Get Your Motor Running!
A year ago, early one spring morning, I reluctantly began my lone journey north out of Auckland. Even at this hour, traffic on the northern highway was thick. I rubbed my sleep-encrusted eyes irritably and prepared myself for a tedious trip. A last-minute trip to Whangarei was not what I needed. With a smattering of frost on the lawn, the day held the promise of sunny skies, ideal for the planned gardening chores. But a family crisis – yet another ‘family crisis’ – precedes gardening intentions.
Finally, a break in the traffic. I indicated to change lanes. I glimpsed in the rear vision mirror. Far back in the line of traffic, a silvery speck swerved in and out of the line of traffic.
‘Idiot’ I mumbled, staying in my lane. I detest the way motorbikes squizzle their way through traffic, always fearful that they’ll cut in too sharp and clip a vehicle, causing an accident, inconveniencing everyone. With an explosive hungry roar, the bike, a Harley Davidson rapidly approached.
I glanced to my right as the flash of shining black and glistening chrome streaked past. Behind the leather-clad rider, a pillion passenger dressed in a pink candle-wick dressing gown and pink fluffy slippers hung on tightly. Grey curls poked out from beneath the helmet.
“Did I really see that?” My inner voice asked. “Now that is weird, more than weird. It’s sinister,” my thought dialogue continued.
Acknowledging something was amiss, I again prepared to change lanes. I needed to confirm what I’d seen, or not seen. As I checked the rear vision mirror and indicated to merge into the outside lane, another motorbike rapidly approached and whizzed past. This time, the pillion passenger wore a blue dressing gown with matching slippers!
This riddle bounced around in my head. Why would two elderly women be riding pillion on large powerful motorbikes, dressed only in night attire? Had they been dragged from their beds by those leather-clad rogues?
I twiddled with the radio knob in search for a news broadcast. The six o’clock news mentioned nothing about two missing elderly women. Had their disappearance not yet been detected?
What should I do? Pull to the side of the road and call someone? The police? And, had anyone else seen what I’d seen or was my weary mind playing tricks?
Traffic slowed to a near stop going through Warkworth. The gleaming bikes were nowhere in sight. I drove on. I entered Dome Valley, or is it Doom Valley? Think of something else, think about your day ahead, the family crisis, ignore the voices in your head.
I crawled around the corners and up windy hills at a speed dictated both by the traffic and the speed limit, knowing there was no chance of ever catching up with those two slick machines with their unlikely passengers.
Should I have stopped in Warkworth, gone to the police? No, I admonished myself. There is certain to be a logical explanation, besides I have my own issues to deal with. Goodness knows how the day will unravel.
But the motorbike riddle continued to niggle. Ever since my cousin’s horrific motorbike accident several years ago, leaving him paralysed, I’ve maintained a strong dislike for all motorbikes – scooters, mopeds, dirt-bikes included.
During my recent travels through Asia, my opinion softened. In Phnom Penh, sitting at an outdoor cafe, my friend and I observed whole families being transported by the humble scooter. The highest count was nine. Mum, dad, granny and six kids, including a tiny baby, giving an entirely different meaning for a people carrier.
On other occasions, the passengers were life-stock. Crates of chickens stacked one on top of the other, strapped onto the seat of scooters. With the wobbling crates over-hanging the sides, the scooters zapped in and out of busy traffic with ease. Or, pigs and goats, their legs front and back bound together and lashed onto the seat were the being transported.
At a congested intersection in Ho Chi Min City, I witnessed a guy with a full sized fridge on the back of his bike. His body twisted around, he clung to the fridge with one arm while steering the bike with his other hand as he wove through the traffic, precariously.
As I approached the final stretch of Dome Valley, I spotted a camper-van parked at a picnic spot. A group of four men sat around the wooden table having a cuppa. I could ask them if they’d seen the two bikes with the unusual passengers. I slowed and pulled into the spot, coming to a halt alongside the table. Cautiously, I exited my car. What if I’m wrong? What if my scrambled, jumbled, sleep deprived mind had imagined the bikes? I had to ask, I had to know.
I stepped towards the table. The men looked at me quizzically. As I opened my mouth about to speak, something glistened in the sunlight. Something silvery. I blinked, rubbed my eyes. At the rear of the camper-van, two Harley Davidson bikes. My eyes darted back to the men at the table. The two younger men were dressed in leathers. I mumbled incoherently and quickly stepped backwards, preparing to jump in my car and drive off at speed. From the inside of the camper-van, came laughter. No longer dressed in bed attire, the women emerged and bounced down the steps of the van, singing.
Get your motor running, sang the first.
Head out for the highway, the second one continued.
Searching for adventure and whatever comes our way, they sang in unison.
Then men chuckled. I stood statue still, my mouth agape.
“You want to join us for a cuppa?” one of the men asked. “You look as if you need it.”
The mystery surrounding two Harley Davidson bike riders and their cheerful passengers unravelled, as I sipped a mug of lukewarm tea at a picnic spot, that morning last spring.
The two elderly couples from the camper-van had departed from their previous campsite in the early morning. The men travelled up front while the two ladies continued to snooze in the back. The men stopped to refuel at Silverdale. The women, now awake and still in their nightwear, made a quick dash to the toilet. Unaware that the women had got out of the vehicle, the men drove away. Stranded at the petrol station, the women resigned themselves to wait until their husbands eventually noticed them missing and came back for them.
“And this is where the fun begins,” chortled one of the women.
“Yes, our two knights in shining armour drove up and rescued us,” the other added.
“Well,” I said. “That explains everything. A perfectly logical explanation.”
One of the older men leant across the table, winked and asked, “Surely, you didn’t think something more sinister was afoot, did you?”
“No, yes, maybe,” I stammered. “It’s just not every day you see pillion passengers on large motor-bikes dressed in pyjama’s.”
“No, I guess not,” the man chuckled.
“While travelling through Asia, I observed numerous numbers of people and life-stock and other items transported on the humble scooter, but what I’ve witnessed today, takes the prize for implausibility. I mean, two mature, sprightly ladies in the early morning, straddling the back of shiny Harley Davidson bikes, gleefully hooning along state highway one, New Zealand. IN THEIR NIGHTWEAR!” The table shook with laughter. “Seriously, who would believe this story?”
I stood to leave, thanked them for the cup of tea, and wished them luck in their future travels.
“The camper-van crowd are staying in Paihia tonight,” one of the ladies grinned.
“And there’s to be karaoke,” the other added. “Guess what Mavis and I’ll be singing?”
Get your motor running.
Head out for the highway.