Chapter 12: Songs, Poems and Magic

Aunty Phyllis Connolly wasn't our real aunty. She was a friend of Mum's from Wellington, and would sometimes come to stay. Aunty Phyllis was a brilliant pianist. She could play anything. It was like magic that anyone could play the piano like that. When she came to stay she would accompany Mum's singing. Mum was a very good singer. She sang Schubert and stuff. In fact she could've become famous at Covent Garden.

Mum gave Francie and me piano lessons. Sue was boarding at Sacred Heart College in Napier, and as preparation for her home-coming we had to learn some special pieces on the piano. We could both play Where Oh Where Has my Little Dog Gone and The Highland Lad. When Sue arrived we both wanted to play The Highland Lad. Since Francie was older she went first and played MY piece, so I had to settle for the other.

Francie always won. When we were doing the dishes Francie ALWAYS started the argument, and Dad would call out from the dining room, "Francie come in here and leave Bruce to finish the dishes on his own". Dad had a way with words. His other threat was, "If you don't stop arguing I'll do the dishes myself".

Little-Bo-Peep and Elf
Francie as Little-Bo-Peep
Me as an Elf!


Dad couldn't sing for nuts. He'd sing in the car.

Oh my Lord! Henry Ford!
How he rattled and he roared
Along the road to Gundy-Guy.
With the radiator hissing
And half the engine missing
And water in the petrol
And sand in the gears
And it hasn't seen a garage
For over fifty years.


And at other times it would be

If it ain't gonna rain no more no more
If it ain't gonna rain no more
How in the heck can I wash my neck
If it ain't gonna rain no more.


France could sing and I didn't. She'd go to her friends' houses and they'd stand around the piano - Christine Rumbal, Stephanie Martin, Pamela Leach and France - and sing:

Ta-a-ammy Ta-a-ammy Tammy's in love.

Mum didn't like it much.

Noddy and Fairy
Me as Noddy
France as Fairy!


I had enough problem singing at school without joining a group. We learnt songs off the music programme on the wireless in preparation for the Central Hawkes Bay Music Festival. We learnt:

I like them all, the pretty girls,
I like them all whether dark or fair,
But yet above the rest I like
The best the girl with the golden hair.

Fa la la la-a
Fa la la la-a
Fa la la la la-la la la la.
Ah yes! Above the rest I like
The best the girl with the golden hair.

You foolish boy, don't say so,
Your mother will punish you.
Oh no indeed she will not
For telling what is so true.


Then off we'd go again on another string of Fa-la-las all the way to Waipukurau where every school under the sun joined to sing about the girl with the golden hair.

Bumblebee and Noddy
Leo as Bumblebee
Me as Noddy!


I became very good at mouthing the words. Not only that, but on the high notes I learnt to raise my eye brows to make it look like I was a skylark. So convincing was my lip-sync performance in those pre-lip-sync days, that the crabby old bag waving her hand in front of us wearing a red ribbon selected me for the special group to sing The Skye Boat Song.

Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Over the sea to Skye
Carry the lad that's born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.


It became my favourite tune of all time, but not a sound did I utter. But I'd sing on my own as a child, far far across the paddocks.

Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Over the sea to Skye
Carry the lad that's born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.


And I'd recite poems to myself that we'd been made to learn at school. We learnt the entire Ballad of Dick Turpin by Alfred Noyes.

The daylight moon looked quietly down
On the gathering dusk of London town...


We learnt The Kingfisher by W.H. Davies.

It was the rainbow gave thee birth.



And in the end, whether down in the willows at the river, or bird-nesting in the totaras, or checking the lambing ewes for my father, or feeding the chooks, I'd say the poems over and over, listening to each word as if it was from a magic spell.

It was the rainbow gave thee birth
And left thee all her mother's hues.
And as thy mother's name was Tears
So runs it in thy blood
To choose for haunts the lonely pools,
And keep in company with trees that weep.


Other contributions to the Arts at Springhill School was to hit two bars of a glockenspiel when all performed together on percussion, and to play the part of a grandfather clock in the end of year school play. This tall cardboard grandfather clock twice rocked back and forth on a pencil, and twice I had to say "Tick-tock, tick-tock". Everyone else had decent parts.

One day I wrote a play. It had two hundred and forty-seven characters and eighty-seven scene changes on half a page. When we came to read it, everything went wrong. The dialogue went something like this:

Annette: Let us go to town.
Everyone: Yes!
Michael: We will walk there.
Everyone: Yes!
They walk along the road and arrive in town.
Everyone:
Hurrah!

But when it came to shout "Hurrah!" everyone shouted "Hurry!"

"But!" I said. "It's Hurrah!"

"You've got Hurry here," said Annette Cheer.

"But it's meant to be Hurrah," I said.

"Well you've got Hurry written down," said Decima Alder.

"But it's meant to be Hurrah," I said almost in tears. The "Hurrah!" was the climax of the play and it was ruined - forever. That was the end of the performance. I'd never write a play again. I would be a biologist because I liked Nature Study best.


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