This bit is about birds. You see, I collected birds' eggs. I also collected sea shells - which, come to think of it, is a strange hobby for someone who lived sixty miles from the sea.
One day while I was helping Dad dip the sheep, the grader driver came over with a hawk's egg for me. He'd disturbed the nest while grading the road. It was very kind of him. I didn't have a hawk's egg. You'd then make a hole each end of the egg with a spike on the barbed wire fence and blow the yoke out.
Our Springhill Farm
I also never had a magpie's egg. Magpies attack from behind, and even while going to feed the chooks in the magpie nesting season I would wave a stick around and around my head to stop the magpies from killing me.
There was this magpie's nest right at the top of a huge kanuka tree, and my sister Francie and I worked out a plan to capture an egg. We would get every sun hat in the house and climb the tree. I remember we wore seven hats each.
It's very hard to climb a tree wearing seven hats, but eventually we managed to reach the nest only to discover it was empty.
I liked birds and chooks and stuff. Dad had bought me an incubator for four pounds from Takapau. It held 144 eggs and ran on kerosene. Dad was as keen on it as myself. He hatched out some turkey eggs first. Later when we had about 144 proper chickens, we put them under the infra-red lamp and reared them that way.
There was only one thing I didn't like about chooks and that was the way the roosters were always hurting the hens. They would jump on top of them and pull the hens' combs. Judging by the way the hens ran away from the roosters, they didn't like it much either. So I would spend half the day chasing the roosters off the hens. It was jolly annoying.
"Why do we need roosters anyway?" I asked Dad. We were standing by the gate.
"Because," said Dad, "if you don't have roosters you don't get chickens."
He then explained to me, using words like "fertilize" and "inject". It was all very important.
Now, at the same time, our district had a wasp plague. There were wasps everywhere. No one could find the wasps' nest. So our teacher devised a plan. You put honey at the bottom of a beer bottle and loosely tied a small loop of cotton around the top of the bottle mouth. The wasp would go in and eat the honey. As it came out - first its feelers, then its head - you would gently pull the cotton noose round its waist. Distressed, it would fly straight off to the nest. Because of the weight of the piece of cotton, it couldn't fly very fast, and you'd have plenty of time to climb over a fence as you followed it.
So I found the nest. It was huge! It was at the top of a tall poplar.
Everyone was very pleased with me. I didn't have to be a nobody at school and hide around corners.
Later at school we had to look up the encyclopedia and read an article. I read an article about "Salmon". It said that the female laid her eggs and the male fertilized them. Now I knew what the word "fertilize" meant because Dad had told me. No one else would know because they hadn't been told, and they probably didn't have chooks.
So I strode up to the teacher, and with a finger on the word, said to the teacher in a voice loud enough to be heard by everybody: "Excuse me. What does the word fertilize mean?"
The whole room went deathly quiet. The teacher lent back on his chair.
"What does the word fertilize mean?" I repeated. Stupid teacher. He probably didn't have chooks either.
"Um," he said. "Um".
"I know what it means!" I cried. "It means to inject!"
Never had such a hubbub occurred in class. The dumb spoke and the tone-deaf sang. I had to creep around school for several days after that. They were probably all talking about me. "That's the one! That's the one who used the word fertilize in class!"
Our Springhill Farm
In the long run however, it didn't lessen my interest - in chooks at least. At the school gala, six bantams in a crate were on the back of the raffle truck. I waited all day for them to be raffled. I would spend all my money on the bantam raffle tickets. I wouldn't leave the truck, because I didn't want to miss it. Dad was in charge of the raffles. Mum was running the white elephant stall.
When it came time for the bantams to be raffled, Dad picked them up and began to auction them. There was no raffle at all! Dad was auctioning them!
"Ten shillings to this lady over here!" he said. "Twelve and sixpence to that man there!"
I ran up the steps to tell mum. "Dad's auctioning the bantams! Dad's auctioning the bloody bantams!"
"One pound to the boy running up the steps!" cried Dad.
I stopped in my tracks. That was me!
That night I took the bantams home.
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