The hippopotamus was asleep at the bottom of the garden. Well I'm not sure it was a hippo but it was big and round and it smelt like one. Though I've never smelt one and so it must have been the big boulders my mother directed my father to set in the fern garden. He grumbled the whole time for he hated gardening, not because he didn't like growing things, but because my mother never left him alone and was always telling him the roses wouldn't do well there or it's no use putting in broad beans this late.
No doubt she was right but I remember in the corner where the grass clippings were tipped, all kinds of odd vegetables and flowers grew in utter profusion. A carrot picked from there was always the sweetest and a potato root the most prolific. My mother never knew because that was our secret and I think it kept my father sane to know that Good can come from Chaos.
I was too young then to understand the wildness in him. He was a big man but stooped as if apologetic to smaller people. He loved walking and as soon as he left the ordered streets, his shoulders would straighten as if to encompass the breadth of the countryside and he would stride along pointing to birds or trees with little stories to go with each. It became ingrained in me to look beyond an object to find it's place in relation to its surroundings.
But part of me was also my mothers. I resented his scruffiness. Whenever we went visiting, no matter how my mother told him to dress, he would always look down at heel, like an old sheep dog, his clothes never sitting well on him because he had no time for them except to keep him warm and a place to keep his hands.
I've digressed from hippos to sheep dogs but I think animals have a lot to answer for in my young life. Whenever the dark conjured up frightful things it was never ogres or giants, but prowling black panthers with drooling jowls and wicked yellow teeth or a baboon from the zoo whose eyes told me he was going to get out of there and get me as soon as he got a chance. On bright sunny days too, you could always find a great elephant or charging steed to mow you down if you ever got your feet off the ground. It was no wonder I always made sure there was a fence between me and the quietest doe-eyed cow.
There was one lion, however, that made up a lot of the ground the other animals had lost. He sat high above the bush on the way to the Coromandel as if on a woolly throne, his great rocky impassive head never moving an inch and seeming so aloof and disinterested that he would think it beneath him to come down and chase a humble little boy like me. He really was an inspiration to all those lower order animals.
Another lord of the forest I remember on the way to Coromandel over the narrow winding hill road was a big kauri tree, so big it took twenty minutes to walk around. OK it was perched on the side of a twelve metre cliff and by the time you fell down that and climbed up the other side your twenty minutes were up. At least that's what my father said, my mother would never let us get anywhere near the edge except when she was busy with my car sick sister and I managed a peek over the edge to make sure my father wasn't pulling my leg. He was when he told me about the rock off Whitianga where you could catch smoked snapper. I believed that for a long time.
You may well ask what I'm getting at. But does it matter? Like you I had a few minutes to spare and what better way to use them than to dangle a line into the past hoping to bring to the surface a nice, fat reason for my behavioural patterns of today. Not that I have any real problems with myself, but that's reason enough to worry in a world where everybody seems to have a problem from some distortion of their childhood. I mean, 'behavioural patterns', I must have picked that up from some expert trying to justify his job by adding to the already long list of worries to worry about.
There were hardly any experts in those days. If you smacked your kids it was reckoned they deserved it and no hands were held up in protest. The strap was pretty much in evidence in primary school too and I never dared tell my father how many I received for fear I would get more from him for being a nuisance to the teachers. They were held in very high respect then. But where did they hide all the young ones you see today? Perhaps the training was longer and they were all fifty before they were allowed to plough the fields of our young minds. It was all very traditional and not very uplifting. It's no wonder we are so sports conscious in New Zealand. It's all we went to school for . That and to taunt the girls. I would like to say at this point to Elizabeth that I really was only tickling you, nothing else, I was too naive, although I would have liked to think otherwise at the time.. I remember when you were obviously growing faster than me you said that you felt like doing something daring and all I could think of was doing a death defying dive off the rocks into the sea.
It seems my life is made up of quite a few lost opportunities. Not that I'm complaining, I'm a firm believer of the 'lying in your own bed' proverb except other people have the habit of apple-pieing it or putting a hedgehog between the sheets.
My childhood was certainly built on solid foundatins. Sure most bricks had a flaw but collectively they ushered me into the sixties as a stable and happy teenager ready to please and reasonably sure of myself. But treachery was afoot. A subtle change had taken root, 'times were achanging', the nasal voice of protest was wafting in under the bouganvillia, bouncing against the gold brocade wallpaper and striking a receptive chord in our young minds. But what had we to complain about? Our parents, after the defeat of Hitler, had looked towards a golden age of peace, prosperity and above all security and who could blame them after looking over the edge of insanity. But by the sixties this had soured as they came to realise that war was an inevitable fact and they had no control over their sons being sent to steamy jungles to fight in a struggle everyone would lose. I don't think this was necessarily a conscious thought because above all else the sense of security and the belief governments were for the people had to be maintained or be seen to be maintained, but the underlying futility was passed on to us and we responded like a plant to water, believing the opposition to authority was all our idea.
So we grew our hair and marched up and down with youths confidence that the world was at our feet, ready for change but not realising the real vehicle for change was in the hands of a select few whose main interest was to maintain the status quo. We won a few victories but as time wore on a division appeared between us. Some carrying on the fight wore a look of sullen resignation and the others, by far the majority, had a bright dollar look in their eyes, neither of whom were going to do anybody any good.
And me? I've realisd long since that hippopotamii don't wander into gardens and the only thing we have to worry about concerning animals is their common sense, but being an optimist I feel there are some people left who came of age in the sixties who are now building powerful positions. Not for their own sake but to further the aims we pledged in our youth of honesty, fairness and peace. But isn't that what our parents and their parents before them wanted also?