Saturday, March 31, 2012


Charlie Connelly is a travel writer I met in Dublin last year. I was delighted to find his And did those feet Walkng through 2000 years of British and Irish History large print edition in the Oamaru Library. I shall have to go back to Britain some time, because there are places Charlie mentions that I have not yet seen. There are chapters about Queen Boudica, King Harold, Olaf the Dwarf (King of the Isle of Man) Owain Glyndwr, Mary Queen of Scots,Bonnie Prince Charlie and the final chapter is about the Doolough Famine Walk. In 1849, after four years of famine, 600 starving people walked to Louiaburgh to claim relief from the local Poor Law Inspector, only to find he had gone to Delphi, sixteen miles further on, to the Marquis of Sligo's hunting lodge. He left instructions, applicants for relief had to be there between seven and eight next morning or be struck off the relief register. Not all the 600 survived the night over mountains in snow. Those that did were kept waiting through the morning while the Poor Law administrators had their lunch, and then they were dismissed without any food being distributed. Charlie's account of this tragedy makes his book a 'must read'. But that is not why I am writing about it. What jolted me most was this paragraph on page 356: 'Relief efforts were put in place but the man in charge of them the Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, Charles Edward Trevelyan,was a firm believer in market forces . . . that relief efforts would make people too reliant on handouts.' THE SHOCKING FACT IS THAT DURING THE FAMINE IRELAND REMAINED A NET EXPORTER OF FOOD,' Ireland's population decreased by one quarter directly because of the famine. In the early days of the USSR millions of peasants starved while that Workers Paradise exported grain. The same happened in China under Chairman Mao. And do you remember Biafra? So where does that leave us? I can just remember 1929- 35 and the hunger marches. But in 2012 I find it hard to believe people are still listening to idiots bleating about 'market forces' but there was one on National radio last week doing just that to explain the high price of milk here. I rejoice for dairy farmers who are at last earning a reward for their hard work, but why should selling milk powder to China and Russia put the cost of milk beyond the average New Zealand family? We are also exporters of cheese and butter. Ordinary Kiwis cannot afford either, especially those whose jobs have been exported 'off shore'. If you want to learn more Google DDOLOUGH FAMINE WALK/

Monday, March 19, 2012


Last week, for the first time since I retired twenty years ago, I spent four morning sessions in a school, i.e. Glenavy Primary in South Canterbury. Schools are quieter now,floors carpeted, chairs and tables child size and portable, and I did not hear the school bell once. Of course there will be one but the bell no longer rules the school day. At last chalk has disappeared from classrooms. The teachers use whiteboards, new entrants practice writing with A4 size whiteboards and water based markers. Technology was being used sensibly to make learning more meaningful for children. Mrs Prescott supervised water play with five year olds, feeding in an amazing vocabulary of science and maths language as they discussed capacity, differences between solids and liquids. Mrs Prescott photographed children pouring water and these were printed, one for each child, and their writing exercised was to write about their experience under the photograph. Mrs Hamilton in room 2 marked her roll on her computer, the results went to the central computer in the office and absences could be tracked straight away, leaving the teacher free to greet each child in their particular language, English, Maori, Tokelau,Tagalog, Samoan. There are nine different ethnic groups at Glenavy. Auckland is not the only multi racial centre. I am amazed at the maturity and insights displayed by Mrs Hamilton's seven year olds.One group read two Beverley Randal books; one about a truck driver who helped clear a fallen tree from a country road, the other about a girl going out into the dark to retrieve her brother's pet toy for him. They managed the reading well. Mrs Hamilton had set a writing exercise to follow. Pretend you are one of the character in the story, write a letter to another character. One boy still young enough to have all his baby teeth, wrote a page and a half as the cat, apologising for frightening the sister in the dark. One wrote as the policeman directing traffic, another wrote t the grandmother, a minor character, thanking her for looking after them. Those children were not barking at words, they understood the story and empathised with the characters. Another seven year old boy read to me for nearly an hour from a history of dinosaurs. Twenty years ago I would have hesitated to ask a ten year old to read it, the language, construction and vocabulary were so mature. But J. had no difficulty with words like ankylasaurus, jurrassic, mesazoic. It was small words whose initial letters did not agree with their sound, like 'one','this'and such which gave him trouble, but he read the whole book and then told me about a programme on fossils he had watched on Discovery channel. So I do not believe New Zealand Education is going to ruin. The children at Glenavy are well behaved and work oriented and they know a lot more than the five to seven year olds I taught in the seventies, which is exactly as it should be. Their teachers are great too.


Saturday, March 17, 2012


for the past two weeks I have been dining like a gourmet of fresh salmon and fresh vegetables, such as beetroot, lettuce, spring onion and other delicacies, My neighbour, Don is a sprightly lad of barely sixty. When he is not fishing he likes to do things. He earned himself a degree in Philosophy while waiting for a heart by pass. He rebuilt my bathroom while I was in Crete and planted a very productive vegie garden while I was in Ireland last year.A a few years ago when my laundry shed roof sprung a leak he replaced the tin with corrugated plastic making it much lighter and warmer. But his real passion is fishing. He knows where the best fly fishing rivers are, and what time the tide is right to catch salmon like this one. He says he is getting so good at it there is no challenge anymore. Incidentally he also makes the best date scones I have ever tasted. And to top everything, his younger brother is a computer expert and he spent two days getting me back on line (thank you Keith) without exception Don is the best neighbour I have ever been lucky enough to live next to.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Yesterday I wrote a whole lot about these docks, and some horrible gremlin loaded the photo and lost the text. So here goes again. In 1942 Signalman Denis Patrick Davies, barely eighteen years old, boarded HMS Gentian,a flower class corvette, at this dock where Atlantic convoys were assembling, Flotillas of merchant ships, shepherded by corvettes and destroyers, and hunted by wolf packs of submarines would set off on a zig zag voyage from Liverpool to Boston. In later years he scarcely mentioned the awful things he experienced, but regaled our sons with the funnier bits; how when they ran out of food the Captain would drop a depth charge, lower a boat and pick up stunned cod; how they sometimes had to put into the Azores, Portugese therefore neutral, and on entering a bar find a German crew drinking there. and they would spend the evening pretending not to notice each other. I go down to these docks whenever I visit Liverpool. Pleasure barges tie up where once corvettes moored. The dockside warehouses are now museums, art galleries and shopping arcades, There is a huge ferris wheel at one end. Trees and gardens make a pleasant walk. I think Dave would have liked it.

Friday, March 9, 2012


This lovely little monument is on a quiet bank of the Liffey and it commemorates the arrival of Vikings who landed there nearly a thousand years ago. Dublin is not an easy place to live. Accommodation is expensive, water is rationed but Dublin has charms that make it all worth while. I have mentioned the Irish Writers' Centre on Parnell Square. This week end is one of their special events which they were working towards when I was there last year. Twelve writers who have not yet been published have been helped to get their work ready to make a pitch for publication. Each has a desk at the Writer's Centre and publishers and agents are coming to see them. I would love to be there.I think their idea is inspired and have seen the planning and hard work that has gone in to making it happen. To the twelve lucky authors I can only say 'Good Luck, and I hope I can buy some of the books when they are published.' I shall read them during the Waitaki winter time,