Tuesday, 25 March 2014

INCHWORM

By Michael Bott


John Fenton was a geeky kid, with sticky out ears, rubbery lips, and blond hair that projected from his misshapen head like the bristles of a toothbrush. He was tall and lanky and made my life hell when I was 9 at school. What I didn't know was that he was an orphan and lived down the road at a foster house run by Mrs Black.

John found out that I was adopted, "Hey Bott ya bastard!" This taunt rang across the playground. Stung by this label - "what the hell was a bastard?" I responded with a feigned disinterest, "Aw shut up Fenton." The bell rang, back to class.

I was sitting in my class, when there was a knock at the door. A student who was acting as a runner had spoken to the teacher. Mr Milne looked at me. "Michael, Mr Scott wants to see you." I got up and didn't know why.

Mr Scott was the deputy principal, he lived at home with his mother, who was in her 80s. He drove the same car an old immaculately maintained Singer Vogue, and always wore a suit with a hand knitted vest. Once a week we held school assembly outdoors. All of us children would form lines, boys on one side, girls on the other and we would march into the asphalted central ground and line up in rows for inspection, in the middle of the baking heat of summer or the frosts of winter. Mr Scott would then address the school. "School attention!" We crack to alert, arms at our sides, backs straight and eyes ahead. "At ease!" That meant we stood with our arms behind our backs, legs apart, facing straight ahead. Teachers looked down the rows. I remember one occasion on a baking summer morning, when my mate Kevin couldn't cope with the heat, he fainted after half an hour in the sun. We broke rank to pick him up. "Leave him be! Attention!" Barked Mr Scott. So we left Kevin to bleed on the padder tennis court as Mr Scott continued to address the school. Messages over, national anthem sung, we were ordered to attention and turned as one, as we marched  back to our class rooms to an old recording of Colonel Bogey as it blared out over the school's loudspeakers.

I was sent by the school secretary to Mr Scott's classroom Room 5, packed full of standard 4 students - the biggest kids in the school. I knocked on the door and walked in. Mr Scott looked up from his desk and said, "Yes, what?" "I'm Michael, you wanted to see me?"

Mr Scott said "Yes, step out into the corridor." As he said this, he pulled open his desk drawer and grabbed a strip of thick brown leather. "Oh no, the strap!" As I turned to walk outside I saw the entire class look at me and smile "Dead man walking. What had I done?"

Mr Scott followed me out to the corridor, he glared down at me, "Well why did, you do it?" "Do what Sir? What do you mean?" I asked. I looked at Mr Scott, he glared down at me, as I looked into his face, I discovered that one of his blue eyes, was lifeless - he had a glass eye! 

Years later he told me, that in the Second World War, he and his best friend were resting in a shallow dugout. A Japanese grenade was thrown, his friend rolled onto the grenade taking the blast and losing his life. A piece of shrapnel took Mr Scott's eye. Damaged he came home, carrying the scars of a shattered youth he became a teacher and visited in turn his scars upon us.

This one eyed giant was now glaring down at me, demanding to know what I said and why? I had no idea what he was talking about and was scared, humiliated and began to cry. I asked for my mother,"Don't give me that mummy treatment!"  I wanted to talk to someone, to get some advice. What had I done? "Hold your hand out." I held my hand out. "Whack, whack, whack!" "Hold your other hand out, "whack, whack, whack". Mr Scott lifted the leather strap to his shoulder and bought it down on my open nine year old hands, for a crime, the facts of which I had no idea. 

After punishment I was told that I was getting the strap for swearing in the playground. "But I only said shut up, after I was called a bastard." "Well you should have told me that when I asked", was Mr Scott's reply. What could I say? I was scared and had no idea, what he was even talking about. The pain was nothing, what stung was the injustice of it and the reality that I was powerless to do a thing about it.

A couple of months's later I had forgotten about the shame of being strapped and our standard 3 class were having a choir lesson with Mrs Treecher in the school hall. We were singing Inchworm. "Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds.... " Two students away from me was John, he was mouthing the words, but no sound was coming out. "Silence!" Mrs Treecher demanded. "You, Snow" she pointed a finger at John, "come here!" "You weren't singing, were you?" "No miss" he grinned an embarrassed grin.

"Right, you think it's funny? Get on the stage and lie on your stomach!" For the rest of the choir lesson we were made to sing Inchworm again and again and again as John Fenton, orphan was made to grovel worm like from one side of the stage to the other as we stood and watched the spectacle of a child belittled because he annoyed a teacher. At first I delighted in the payback, but after two minutes I had had enough.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Te Pataka Ohanga the Tip of The Ice Berg - Just Wait For Partnership Schools

The public and numerous commentators have been rightly concerned about the lack of controls and insights into the use of public money granted to the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust, once they then paid part of that money to a privately owned subsidiary company Te Pataka Ohanga. Reports contained allegations about credit card spending on personal items and a $50,000 koha paid to Te Pataka Ohanga.
The Minister Hekia Parata undertook an inquiry and paid more public funds to Ernst and Young to undertake a review of the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust. That review found no fault and she was delighted. However Ernst and Young were not tasked with looking at Te Pataka because it was a private company. As Ms Parata says:
"I have no power over them. They are a private company that works for an organisation that has a contract with my department that reports to me."
"Only they can tell us what's going on in their commercial arm and they do need to front the public on that," 
"I have no power over them. They are a private company that works for an organisation that has a contract with my department that reports to me."
[Hekia Parata Minister of Education responding to calls as to why she had no control over allegations of misspending by the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust's wholly owned subsidiary company Te Pataka Ohanga (http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/trust-s-subsidiary-needs-front-up-parata-5871352 23 March 2014).]
The trouble with this is, is that the lack of open and transparent insight into private organisations tasked with handling public money has become the norm under this Government's charter schools policy. As the New Zealand Herald reported on 14 February 2013
"Associate Education Minister John Banks has defended a proposed law change that would exempt charter schools from scrutiny under the Official Information Act, saying they will be more accountable than other schools.
Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem told a select committee yesterday the provision in the Education Amendment Act 2012 was unconstitutional and could be "catastrophic".
Today Mr Banks said there were 5000 early childhood facilities that were not subject to the Official Information Act and he didn't believe the public-private partnership charter schools should be subject to the acts.
"The Government respects the views of the Office of the Ombudsman. However, it would be inappropriate to extend the jurisdiction of one of the Ombudsman to partnership schools.
"They are not crown entities, they will be private organisations - they are similar to the 5000 licensed early childhood education care centres, independent schools, private training establishments and industry training organisation who are not subject to the Official Information and Ombudsman Act.
Mr Banks said the ultimate safeguard for ensuring charter schools were accountable was that the Secretary for Education could request any information from any charter school and that information would be subject to the Official Information Act."
The trouble with this is that how will the Secretary for Education know what to ask for, without open and transparent accounting and auditing? Further, how will the Secretary know that he or she has been provided with the complete answer, rather than some carefully manufactured and scripted response? The public reach in terms of  the Official Information Act will therefore be limited those items of information asked for from partnership schools by the Secretary of Education and provided to him or her by the partnership school. That is a weak protection, and amounts to mere lip service.
So there you have it. The Minister is currently cringing because of the alleged private spending of Te Pataka Ohanga. Yet she has presided over establishing a regime where the same thing can happen again and again with charter or "partnership schools" 100% taxpayer funded but with des minimus accountability to taxpayers via Parliament or the Official Information Act. There's an old saying, "when the cat's away, the mice will play." Without full transparency and proper accountability the public can have no confidence that public money is being spent wisely or properly. I find myself increasingly agreeing with my friend and Auckland barrister Jeremy Bioletti who succinctly put his finger on the problem when he recently remarked, "[p]enny finally dropped. We are letting ourselves be ruled by a bunch of bozos!" Watch this space.

Friday, 14 March 2014

"Sid-i-ney, I'm Stuck"

Michael Bott

My great aunt and uncle Beryl and Sid were a couple of Ohiro Road identities. Beryl met her Sidney at the end of the Second World War and they remained in love until the day they died.

In some ways they really were opposites. Sid was short in stature and was so skinny that he could divest himself of his jacket with a shrug of his shoulders, while Beryl towered above him and had an impressive girth that was held in with mysterious stays, fixed so tight that her mid drift felt like a 44 -gallon drum. Sid always wore the same thing, winter or summer, wool trousers, a white shirt and an old brown cardigan. Beryl, always wore one of a number of floral dresses, with her feet encased in comfortable soft slippers.

Beryl alongside her enormous girth, was also possessed of “nana arms” or “bingo wings”, those lovely large arms, with floppy folds of skin that loosely hung from her upper arms. Yet those arms were capable of beating a sponge, cream, or egg whites with a speed and strength, seemingly without effort in a way that would rival the most high spec electrical appliance.

Beryl stood a shade under 6 feet and Sid lovingly described her as being “a couple of axe-handles wide across the beam.” As a child I had no idea, what that meant, but I remember the loving glint in his eye, when he said it. They were both quietly spoken, smoked Rothmans cigarettes and lived in the same small weatherboard house built by Beryl’s father and Sid in the 1950s.

Both Beryl and Sid had faces lined with age but these furrows and crags were exacerbated by a lifetime of smoking. Gradually over time the smoking had rendered their skin the same colour as the wallpaper. Indeed in some light, were it not for the floral colours of Beryl’s dress or the grey of her shoulder length hair, she would have blended chameleon-like into the background!

I recall the walls of the entire house were papered with Anaglypta wallpaper, painted cream, but several decades of continuous smoking had rendered them brown with the surface slightly sticky to the touch.

There was a hallway that ran the length of the house and if the front and back doors were open you could see from the footpath to the garden that meandered upwards at the back. In summer there were plastic strips that hung from the back, where the small kitchen was located. In the summer if the back door were left open the breeze would catch the strips creating a soft, hypnotic swishing sound.

The kitchen. like most kitchens of its vintage was designed by a man who did not cook, for the woman who predominately did.  Because of that it was completely impractical. The kitchen was tiny in proportions, there was a stainless steel sink, a few handmade wooden cupboards and a formica benchtop.  In the corner was a small four-seater formica topped dining table with chrome legs, where they ate their meals. I can remember the smell of the house even now. In summer if you approached the house from the back you would be first greeted by the delicate smell of sweat peas, then as you got to the back door the heavy thick spicy scent of the old roses that grew in the grey soil adjacent to the back door. When inside the scent changed again, the air contained a curious comforting amalgam of old apples and stale smoke.

One time when I called over I saw Beryl and Sid laughing. They didn’t just laugh like normal people, Beryl’s whole body convulsed and as she shook, her face went a brilliant red, when Sid laughed, he wheezed and his lungs rattled almost like a pair of maracas. What was the joke? “Oh Michael, you should have been here last night” Beryl heaved. “What happened?”

Sid explained that Beryl was having her evening bath. She always had an evening bath after dinner, and would fill the bath with steaming hot water to have a soak. Anyway she had filled the bath, disgorged her body from its stays and slowly eased herself into the steaming water, when somehow Beryl dislodged the plug with her toe. The water had drained before she could get out of the bath. As the water drained, Beryl’s skin had suctioned to the sides of the bath, creating a vacuum. She was trapped!

“Sid-i-ney, Sid-i-ney, I'm stuck!” Beryl called for the aid of her husband. In vain Sid tried to pull his wife from the cast iron shell in which she was now trapped. Sid had as much chance of releasing his wife as an ant did of pulling a Christmas cracker. In their panic, Sid felt he had no option and called the fire brigade. A fire engine and crew were dispatched, with sirens blaring, to their house. Neighbours from down the street, went to their front doors, looking for the smoke, of which there was none.

What to do? Several fire-fighters squeezed into the bathroom, to examine the scene and to plan a rescue. After several minutes a plan was hatched.

Beryl was covered with several towels to protect what little dignity remained and one of the officers got a grease gun and carefully shot squirts of grease between Beryl’s body and the walls of her prison. Once this was done the bath was carefully refilled with water. Slowly a long pole was wedged beneath Beryl and the bath to create a lever. After several minutes of effort, Beryl said, “she popped free like a cork from a bottle.”


Sid, recounted that after the incident when he made a pot of tea for the rescuers, one of the officers was mulling over the events of the night as he looked down into his mug and quietly exclaimed to no-one, “Geez, I’ve been called out several times to free bloody cats from trees, but this is the first time I’ve had to free a woman from a bath.”

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

“Daaaad!”

“Daaaad!”

Michael Bott

“Daaaad, are we there yet?” That old chorus, familiar to all parents on trips with their children, now came from the back of my car as my three children, all under ten, complained in unison about the time it was taking to travel from Taupo to Wellington in the old Peugeot 504, as it glided along the State Highway.

Desperate to buy silence, what could I do for a diversion?  Outside the rain has morphed from drizzle to solid driving rain, snow will be falling soon. The mountains in their snow-capped glory are now obscured in a thick cloak of cloud. Taihape is still some time away. Mmmm, I know! Yes a story.

“Hey kids, do you know anything about your great, great, grandfather Edward Fraser and how he used to be a shoemaker or cobbler in Glasgow?” “No,” came the reply. “Great, and very convenient I thought.” As I looked in the rear view mirror, I saw smiles forming on their faces.

“Well a long time ago, way back last century, people in Scotland, like a lot of places came to New Zealand by sailing ship.” “Why dad?” “Well a lot of people were desperately poor, and so would sell all they had, for the chance of a better life in this new country, New Zealand.”

To try and encourage settlement, scrub and bush covered land was balloted to settlers who could purchase land cheaply, break it in, plant pasture and farm stock.

Well Edward was like that, he owned a small run down stone building in Glasgow, from where he used to earn a living making shoes. Glasgow in winter was extremely cold, money was tight, and he realised he could barely make enough money to himself and his new wife, Esmé, your great, great grandmother, let alone provide for the children when they came along. So after discussing it with his wife, they decided to sell all they had to buy a passage to New Zealand and hopefully have enough to buy some land!  So they did just that.

After bidding farewell to their parents and family, realising with heavy hearts that they would probably never see their faces again, they boarded the sailing ship, and went beneath the deck for the long voyage to New Zealand.

They had so little money, that they had to sell almost everything they had. After paying for their passage, and putting aside money for the land ballot, all they had left, apart from the clothes on their backs were a small knapsack and a pair of largish tweezers.

Anyway, after arriving in Wellington, they won a ballot and wound up with a modest block of land in the middle of the bush in place that would later be known as Dannevirke. They couldn’t afford transport, and so Edward and Esmé had to walk to their property along crude tracks and muddy dirt roads all the way up the Hutt Valley, over the Rimutaka Hill and through the length of the Wairarapa to their section. Along the way they would talk with other settlers, swap stories and Edward, would make repairs to peoples shoes. In return they were given food and a roof over their heads.

Eventually they made it to their block, for a second they gulped as they looked around them, and all they saw were huge trees and dense dark green impenetrable bush. But being nuggety and not easily put off they began breaking small branches, and making a rough bivouac to provide slight shelter from the rain that began to fall.

The next day they awoke at daybreak and your great, great grandparents began to clear the land, using only their own strength and the only tool they had, that pair of tweezers.

This was their life in this new country of promise – back breaking hard toil. For food they ate fern roots. Using the tweezers, bound onto a tree branch with flax fibre, Edward found he could fashion a crude spear that he could use to bring down the odd pigeon, skewer bush rats and spear slippery eels from the nearby streams. At night they would sleep on fern branches, with their shared body heat for warmth.

After three years, your great, great grandfather despite his efforts had just cut half way through a totara tree with his tweezers, but Edward didn’t give up, he kept going. He wanted to provide a better future, made with his own hands and sweat for his family.

At night Esmé would call him in to the bivouac for dinner, usually for a meal cooked on an open fire of sooty fern roots and rat or whatever meat was to hand. Edward was slow in coming in, he would be out chipping away, determined to at least bring down one tree within five years. Despite being desperately poor, Esmé did not mind, as she told her children in later years, “we might have been poor, but I had the best shaped eyebrows in the district!”

One day a party of marauding Maori were going through the bush. They crept stealthily through the undergrowth, taiaha and mere firmly in their grasp. They were on the run from troubles up country and did not take kindly to settlers, especially the ones they saw before them now.

Edward looked up and saw these strong half naked men before him. The only weapon he had were those tweezers he had bought all the way from Glasgow. He was going to fight, not just for himself, he had added incentive, he had to protect his Esmé.

The warriors advanced on him determined to attack. Bravely Edward fought them off with the tweezers, savagely pinching their skin. A taiaha would swing, Edward would duck and swerve then deftly move to deliver a savage savage pinch to the cheeks, thighs, anywhere he could target on the bodies of his attackers. After half and hour of intense and desperate fighting, the marauders gave up exhausted and badly bruised. As they beat a dejected and bruised retreat into the safety of the bush they cursed as they went, “that plucking fakeha!”

Friday, 14 February 2014

AUTUMN MEMORIES

AUTUMN MEMORIES

By Michael Bott

Many years ago when I was a teenager I used to cycle home from school and would often call in on some friends of mine, the Turnbull’s. Jim and his wife Marjorie were English, their family had grown up and moved on, and they lived in an old house that Jim, who was an architect, had extended and painstakingly restored.

When I used to call by they were in their youthful 70’s. Their offspring, like most children eventually do, had flown the coop, established families of their own and would only return for Christmas and the odd occasion.

Jim and Marjorie had a huge garden, full of old rhododendrons, bay trees, fruit trees – groaning with fruit in season and a large kitchen garden with raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries and rows of neatly ordered vegetables.

Anyway after school probably once or twice a week I would call in, park my bike in the car port and go into the kitchen for a glass of milk or a cup of tea and a piece of slice or a biscuit from the tins and would either help in the garden or just talk with Mrs Turnbull about how to take the laterals out of young tomato plants, or about a piece of poetry or anything.

As we talked I would marvel at the old furniture, paintings and books that festooned the walls and tables. Jim and his wife came from very old stock and over the years had inherited and or bought pieces of furniture from “the old country.”

One day, an old welsh dresser turned up in their living room, I marvelled at it. It was intricately carved with lion head handles, scrollwork and rope edging. The wood was heavy and dark with the grease of hands, long since passed.  This was a novelty to me. When I was a child, anything that was old was “got rid of”, and old carved kauri or oak pieces from family that had passed on, were taken to the tip, to be replaced by the latest mass produced chipboard and plastic veneer offerings. “Where did that come from?” I asked. “That’s an old dresser that comes from my mother’s house. We’ve had it for over three hundred years” Mrs Turnbull replied. “She’s brought some of the larger items with her and come to live with us. I was then introduced to a small shrunken Welsh woman who looked almost as old as the dresser.

Mrs Evans was small and wizened with dark eyes that sparkled with mischief and life. She was the first person I had met who was 100 years old. Seasons came and went and my visits also included time with Mrs Evans. We would read to each other, play backgammon and I would listen enthralled and Mrs Evans would tell me about living through the War, “making do” on rations and of hearing Churchill on the radio.

Over the next two years we became good friends. As I visited I became aware that the passage of time was moving quickly for Mrs Evans. I watched her shrink even more than I first thought possible and by degrees she stopped venturing out and in the end began to spend her days resting in her bed.

When I was small time used to travel, I thought, very slowly.  Christmas, the event by which I marked time, took an aeon to come around again. As I have grown older it seems to come around in the twinkling of an eye. So I guess for someone as old as Mrs Evans was, though she moved at glacial speed, time must have felt like a roller coaster.

I have a clear memory of Mrs Evans resting in her old carved double bed. It was autumn and the leaves were turning a thin parchment brown and gradually falling to the earth. I was reading her "The Hand of Glory” from the Ingoldsby Legends:

ON the lone bleak moor,
At the midnight hour,
Beneath the Gallows Tree,
Hand in hand
The Murderers stand
By one, by two, by three!
And the Moon that night
With a grey, cold light
Each baleful object tips;
One half of her form
Is seen through the storm,
The other half 's hid in Eclipse
! ….


As Mrs Evans rested, her eyes shut in meditation a thin stream of spittle formed on the corner of her mouth and travelled to her chin. She laughed as I read. Suddenly she stirred and produced a small cellophane bag containing nuts from under her pillow. “Here have one,” she said. “They’re really rather good.” I gratefully took the bag, grabbed a couple of nuts and placed them in my mouth and began to chew. “You know”, she said, “Some friends sent me these lovely toffees from home, I suck the toffee off, but my teeth can’t handle the nut centres, so I save them.”

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Speed Limits and Motorised Snails


Police are thinking about cementing in the zero tolerance policy re the speed limit. Aside from there being no proven link between the 10 km an hour normal extra tolerance previously allowed (110km pr hr) compared with the present 104km limit what irritates me is that Police won't institute zero tolerance  for those preternaturally slow drivers who hold up hundreds of motorists by their desire to behave as snails. Having been on holiday and trapped in queues of up to thirty cars behind a front vehicle doing on one occasion 30km under the posted limit, it seems these drivers do more to pose a risk to traffic than a motorist doing 110 km per hour on the open road. How can it be that when the road toll goes down, Police give themselves credit, yet when it goes up they blame motorists? According to motoring expert and editor of the Dog and Lemon Guide Mr Matthew-Wilson an analysis of the statistics shows that 80% of road fatalities occur at speeds less than the speed limit. Of the 20% that occur at above the limit factors such as age, fatigue and alcohol consumption play a large part (3 News 3/1/14). If speed and road safety are intimately connected, why is it that the UK has higher speeds and better safety figures? It seems to me that the subjecting of  hundreds of mums and dads on holidays to speeding infringements is more about revenue generation than reason. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

SCHOOL – EARLY DAYS

By Michael Bott

In many ways I had no idea that the bliss of my pre school years would ever end. I just always thought that I would be little, that big people would always be big and caring, that death was somewhere else, it was not in my world. The sun shone in summer and there would always be warm food on the table. That mum and dad knew everything.  My grandparents were lovely cuddly people. I didn’t know how they fitted into my world, they just were.

Unlike mum and dad, they had special powers, they could remove their teeth, which I thought was pretty cool. Nanas were better cooks than mum and could make such things as golden syrup puddings, jams and scones. Unlike mum and dad, they would also buy you ice creams whenever you went to go for Sunday drives in ancient round cars that drove sedately like galleons on a tar seal sea.

I remember that every now and then there would be big celebrations like Christmas, where an old fat man dressed in red would somehow slide down our central heating ducts and deposit presents around our plastic tree. Then sometime in around March or April chocolates and spiced buns would suddenly appear.

Sometime in about March 1971 my mum got out her Singer sewing machine and told me, “Right Michael, let’s make you a book pouch.” I was excited, “A book pouch!” I loved books and it was for me. I chose the fabric – green cotton. I remember mum stitching the pouch, her fingers guiding the fabric under the needle, and her then stitching two domes to secure the pouch. Then in her careful hand, she wrote my name in ink at the top of the pouch. But still I had no idea, why I would need a pouch?

I remember my first day when my mother, my near constant companion from beyond my first memories put me in my fairisle jumper, woollen shorts and handed my brown leather satchel, containing egg sandwiches and some chocolate and a piece of fruit and declared, “Well you’re off to school today.” “School why?  What is that?”

Off in the car to Mayfair Primary School, I had often seen it but had no idea what it was all about. As I entered the school building I recall what for me were long cavernous corridors lined with rimu that smelled of wax polish, toilet deodourisers, oilskin raincoats and school bags all reeking of peanut butter and egg sandwiches.

Mum marched me past all these strange sights and smells and up to a wooden and glass door, a portal to my first encounter with the New Zealand school system - to Room 1 and my first teacher, the grandmotherly Mrs Bonguarde.

There for a few hours I was made to feel special, “This is Michael” “Who will be Michael’s friend for the day?” “Thank you Mark, can you take Michael and show him around during playtime.”

I was marched to a mat, and Mrs Bonguarde recommenced reading “Little Black Sambo.” Mum had somehow vanished, I was on my own.

One thing I do remember about my first day is the end of it. Books were being given out to my class-mates to take home for reading. I went to the end of the queue and waited to be given a book. “No Michael, you can’t have a book?” “Why?” “It is too early, you haven’t learnt to read yet. You can get a book in two weeks time, you will have to wait.” “ But Miss I can read.”
“Sorry? What?”

The tears welled up and I remember being bitterly upset and not being given a book, because the system said I was unable to read, even though I could. Evidently I must have created a scene, and I was eventually given a book.

But the damage was done. I was marked – I had cried and had shown weakness. Little did I know that I had marked myself as a target for attention. I suppose being a runt as a child, with sticky out ears, knock-knees, and cursed with a stutter to boot I had marked myself out as a target from my first days at primary school.

When I ran, my legs used to splay out in an ungainly fashion. I supposed I stood out as different. A couple of days later, while running in some game, I remember suddenly hitting the asphalt, my knee stung, blood flowed. I looked up and saw John grinning at me. “Why?” “You’re a cry baby and you run like a girl!” As with a brand applied to the hide of a cattle beast that burns into the flesh, I was now branded by the school bully.  I was stuck with that label throughout primary school.


As I hit the ground that day it struck me that what was for me the golden optimism of childhood had begun to be stripped away as painfully as the skin off my knees.