Due to a slight case of being out of comms for the immediate future I’m doing a cut n’ paste. Deal with it.
Your birthday greetings may be sent to the gout ridden, medicated four eyed old bastard C/O Shire Network News here. Your walking frame is under construction now.
Bruce Hill, Mild Mannered International Reporter or Prepubescent Pyromaniac The Truth Revealed!
Yes he’s had you all fooled for years, this mild mannered reporter from down under. He’s lulled you into thinking he’s just some Joe going about his every day life but now by popular public demand – and to take the heat of me for ten minutes – the truth is out! Bruce Hill is none other than the Boy Bush Burner of Bayswater, AKA “The Torchy Kid”.
You are shocked gentle reader but the truth is a harsh mistress, with a whip and pointy heels! Let me take you back to a time many years ago to a land far far away… well far away from you, not me, I still live here. Err… moving along.
We have a species of native flora by the name of “toi toi” (pronounced toy toy). If you are familiar with pampas grass its like that only on steroids or a nuke blast from in a 1950’s sci fi movie. Huge? This stuff is not only as big as Mike Moores ego but it spreads out like human shield in an air raid.
Now toi toi is an integral part of growing up in New Zealand and has been for around a thousand years now. Known to kids as “cutty grass” for its ablity to lay the fingers open on anyone silly enough to grasp it, it has a multitude of applications for entertainment of the young inventive and dare we say, mischievous. The leaves themselves can be woven to fashion functional if hazardous shelters. The bushes, being spread accross vast swaths of land make mysterious and alien landscapes remote from parents, home school and older siblings fit for untold adventures. But the crowning glory of the toi toi is it’s stems rising from the heart of the bush like so many feathered spears. As indeed many of them become, both spears and flags. Also arrows for crude bows, decoration for helmets (WWII steel along side a plastic roman one not uncommon), the framework for the aforementioned shelters. And if you have the knowledge, you can even make kites from them. Truly a vegetational gift from the gods.
Many is the school field and playground strewn with the white tattered remnants of the toi toi bearing mute witness to the epic battles that were waged by heroes of great standing (4’6”) till their mothers called them in for dinner.
Actually I’m sure its was part of some great plan to make toi toi so attractive to kids so that they would spread the seed heads, which we did and the current generation still do when their batteries go flat. So much for the innocent victim in our tale, let us turn to… the villain.
Subject: Bruce Hill, age 7.5, occupation: Full time brainiac and know-all (life advisor to younger sibling “Murray”.
The day in question was in 1969 a Saturday, mid summer, about lunchtime as I recall. We were not too much of a handful as navy brats go, about a 5.9 on the Bart Simpson scale. Although I had been known to wander off at get lost, this wasn’t a problem since my mother always gave me a little packed lunch to put in my little pack before sending me off on these expeditions… err hey!
Also there was the opening up Bruce’s foot with a chisel (he fainted on the way to hospital too… twice in fact, pussy! The time I got stuck in the mud flats when the tide was coming in and had to be pulled out by father. Just the usual stuff for any out-doorsy pre six year old. Bruce on the other hand had been known to attend dinner, sit in front of the TV for an evening, wash and then go to bed without ever raising his eyes from the book he was reading. Our mother therefore trusted us (well him anyway) to burn the paper rubbish (most mothers have a nurturing protective instinct, not sure what happened there.)
The only possible preventative power to divert the coming horror, our father – a god like man in a uniform who dropped by for a few months when the navy wasn’t using him – was, as history shall record sadly a little too far away to intercede. Japan in fact. Curse cruel fate. Another bitch mistress in leather attire.
Trusted with the beast fire in the form of a box of beehive matches we made our way to the place sacrifice, our own little volcano, a concrete incinerator. Located handily as it turned out, right next our rather large toi toi expanse (it’s since been sub divided into three suburbs to give you an idea of the size. At the time we were both Cubs (an elite pre-pubescent para-military organisation for you newbies) as well and Bruce always felt the need to share his wisdom of advanced years and four extra merit badges with me. So he took this opportunity to explain to me why green leaves do not burn.
This was graphically demonstrated to me as the burning paper in the incinerator was consumed a number of items were sacrificed in the pursuit of science and higher knowledge. A dry leaf (all moisture has gone you will observe), quickly devoured by the red monster. Another leaf, green and plump, fresh from the tree, hisses and curls yet fights off the flame. Education can be fun! Then, oh unhappy chance! The toi toi, a fast growing and quickly spreading plant, normally kept in check by the absent father has grown close to the incinerator!
Searching for more experimental material, one of the long leaves from the heart of the plant is grasped, pulled forward then touched to the flame. The leaf, although green, is nevertheless, very very dry. The beast flame breaks forth from the surly confinement of its concrete prison, leaps cat like up the leaf and dives victoriously into the heart of the long summer dried bush.
I was shocked. Disillusioned even.
I assumed nature was in error and my brother would identify and correct the error directly. I looked at him… I was not encouraged. At that moment the toi toi bush took on a canine like quality and went “WOOF”.
To his credit Bruce did take charge. “Stay here” he commanded and bolted for the house. I was stuck with a sensation I was to feel again in the army during a succession of indifferent platoon commanders. At the time I assumed he knew what he was doing so I stayed, enjoying the now 12 to 15 foot flames shooting from the bush. He returned – unlike some of the previously mentioned indifferent platoon commanders – with a jar of water – about as useful as some of the previously mentioned indifferent platoon commanders. He hurled the jar of water vigorously at the flames, I swear I heard a burp. “Err,” he uttered in consternation.
“I think you better tell mum” I squawked happily. (I ain’t taking the rap for this one baby).
From then on my afternoon was a happy blur, I’d always wanted to be a fireman and there were sooooo many of them. Three fire engines (on our side of the blaze anyway). A clear blue sky scored with a massive plume of white smoke – the kind you get from really dry stuff burning, green or otherwise – attracted all our school friends. I was a celebrity to the under sevens for residing at the place that provided so much entertainment.
Hoses, water, radios, big men (when you’re five they’re huge) saying “gidday sport”, axes, more water, more hoses. Imagine the squeaking of a dozen tiny voices imitating the Tim Taylor grunt. It was so cool… and it wasn’t my fault.
About 12 acres went up that day, thousands of rats died as it turned out. The place still smelled like a bad barbeque when my father got home some weeks later.
Ah yes, father, a man with a great skill to adapt to rapidly changing situations. You see by this time Bruce had been located en route as it were to “somewhere else”. Having witnessed father’s wrath for things like taking a hammer to the house foundations (because it was THERE ok! It was good enough for Ed Hillary on Everest). Bruce was overcome with reluctance to find out what the penalty for wholesale arson was and was making the most of his three-week head start. This was back in 1969 remember, ship to shore calls were by radio, not good quality, not easy to get organised and expensive. My mother had approximately 29 seconds to explain what had happened and that he had to say to Bruce that he knew about it and that Bruce would not be terminated with extreme prejudice from half way down the gangplank on return home. Quick as flash he came back with “err righto”. Bruce was convinced he would get an eighth birthday, there were tears and no doubt some smirks on the bridge of HMNZS Royalist when father hung up since it was all on the speaker.
I learned a valuable lesson that day myself. Its FUN watching someone else fuck up.
Of course a month later I tried to flash up a light bulb by jamming two wires into an open three pin plug blacking the house out so we were back to normal, such as it was.
Wood smoke always takes me back to that day and I smile.