“O Vobis Praeteritos Referam Si Ego Annos” – after Vergil

(Guest post by Tama Boyle.)

You know what’s wrong with young people today? Too much not being in war. In my day we were always in war: Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, the Balkans. Not enough being in war nowadays. That’s the problem with the young ones, not being in war. And films these days are just plain rubbish. When I was young we saw all the greats: Die Hard, Crocodile Dundee, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Ghostbusters. And we didn’t have to pay through the nose for it either. And we even got an intermission. Don’t see much of that nowadays, intermissions. Probably got something to do with not being in war, I reckon.

Oh, and the hidings we used to get back then! Not just from mum, but from the headmaster and basically anybody who was taller than you, unless of course you were in war, in which case you got respect. Not like nowadays. Nobody gives anybody a decent hiding nowadays. You can bloody well bet Lange used to give his kids a good hiding. Now there was a politician, David Lange, handing out hidings left, right and centre. Andropov: hidings. Reagan: hidings. And if he’d ever got the chance, Khomeini: likely hidings. But of course you could get away with that sort of thing back then, because you had to be in war, you see. Not like today. Some days you couldn’t move for all the hidings.

And in them days you were tripping over hidings and two cent pieces. And there was the fantail and rifleman on the one and two dollar notes, because they used to have notes for them back then. Then you had the tui on the a five dollars, the kea on the ten, the kereru on the twenty, the morepork on the fifty (which was yellow back then and didn’t even exist when I was born) and the takahe on the hundred. Now there was real money, made of paper like money ought to be, not this indestructibly plastic stuff you get nowadays, because it actually made you appreciate money and what it stood for, which was the supremacy of capitalism and being in war.

And why don’t we have the Warsaw Pact anymore?

You used to know where you stood back then: You were either with the Commies or the Yanks, and that was that. Either way, you’d get a good hiding, but then that was par for the course, getting hidings. Thea Muldoon came to my school and gave all of us a hiding and, because David Beattie was there too, we got the rest of the day off. Back then you used to get days off school if the Governor-General visited; it gave us plenty of time to spend at home getting hidings and whatnot. We never went home of course; we just hung round the jungle gym because dad didn’t get home till newstime when the news was still read by Dougal Stevenson and Phillip Sherry and Bill Toft. We’d all probably get hidings when we got home, but we didn’t care. We were more interested in breaking our limbs on the kinds of jungle gyms we used to have back then, i.e. dangerous-by-nature jungle gyms. Back then they were made out of concrete and wood, not plastic and rubber. Sure, we could have saved ourselves the trouble by falling off bikes (riding helmetless) or jumping off the garage roof on to the trampoline (also helmetless), but it was always a mark of pride and being in war to have broken one or more limbs on the old concrete jungle gym.

Why don’t more teachers wear walk shorts these days? When we weren’t preoccupied with being in war, all the teachers used to wear walk shorts and socks that went all the way up to their knees, just like in the movies. And they all used to have sideburns too, even the women, because women were real men back in them days. Oh, and the hidings they used to give us! I remember I got whacked by both Mr Wakefield and Miss Wilson in the same day. And of course you used to get the strap from the headmaster.

Mr Eggleton used to call his strap “George”. He always used to end assemblies by saying, “And remember: If you’ve been naughty, you’ll be in for an appointment with George.” Now some people might think that’s unnecessarily sadistic and macabre, but we would think it strange if we weren’t getting upwards of several hidings a day or more.

As well as tripping over hidings and two cent pieces, you couldn’t move for all the pies they used to shove down our throats. It was every child’s solemn duty to eat pies and get hidings on a daily basis back then. Not like today. Today it’s all panini and encouragement. Encouragement, for Pete’s sake! I say “for Pete’s sake” because we never used the Lord’s name in vain back then. We used to have to attend Bible class and religious education. Not that we didn’t swear back then, mind. It was a point of understandable pride to rattle off as many swear words as you knew. We used to reckon time itself by just how extensive a catalogue of swear words each of us had built up and how severe a hiding we would get for uttering each one. If you said “bloody”, for instance, you were in Primer 1 and got a slap. If you said “fuck”, on the other hand, you were at least in Standard 2 and could look forward to the full foot-on-arse treatment. That’s just the way it used to work when we were in war.

You know, we never had homosexualists in those days, not till I was at least five. Even the sibilant young kids weren’t homosexualists, though you never stood too close to them in the changing sheds. Speaking of which, in the holidays we were subjected to a strict regimen of pies and hidings and tuis on a five dollars, but in the afternoons we were free to go down to the school and jump the fence to use the pool. If you had the nerve to do it, you could even try jumping off the changing shed roof. And of course it didn’t matter much that the pool was only 3’6″ at the deep end. (Even though we’d been using The Metrics for at least ten years at the time, pools were still imperial back then, even public baths, most of which used to be named after Norman Kirk.)

And every one of us had a crazy aunt, usually called Joan or, in my case, Joyce (either way, she was only ever called “Auntie”) who thought it was still 1969 and would talk fondly of just how close Big Norm came to winning the election, without ever realizing that he actually won in ’72 or indeed that he had died two years later, which just happens to be when we started using The Metrics. Either way, Joyce was a nutter as all crazy aunts worth their salt tended to be in them days. But of course we were a lot fonder of Big Norm’s Finance Minister later to be Prime Minister in his own right Bill Rowling’s Deputy Prime Minister after Hugh Watt Bob Tizard back then. You see, Bob used to be the member for Panmure and this has a lot to do with pools, because Swim-o-rama was in Panmure and that was about as good as you could hope for when it came to waterslides unless you went all the way up to Parakai or Waiwera and, lah-di-dah, if you weren’t so special for doing that.

Like Lei, who did just that and was envied for a good half a term, of which there were only three when I was a boy growing up getting hidings and being in war. But she got her comeuppance, after a fashion. Our Standard 2 teacher, Mr Symonds, decided she needed a whack for some reason, so picked up the nearest object to him. This happened to be my friend Herman’s old-style wooden foot-long ruler. He rapped her over the knuckles so hard he managed to snap the ruler clean in two with only a few stray splinters, one of which I dutifully placed in my mouth, but that’s another, far stranger, story to tell. Anyway, the only person who ended up crying was Herman. Lei laughed; we all laughed. We had “softies” and “quitters” even back then. They tended to be people like Herman. I could have told you even back then that he needed to be in more war, as we were wont to be in back when I was a far more hiding- and pie-appreciative boy. But there’s really no way the young ones could understand all that…

Next Time: The physical violence and pastries of a lost age

5 Comments “O Vobis Praeteritos Referam Si Ego Annos” – after Vergil

  1. Tama_Boyle

    By the way, the original Vergil goes, "O mihi praeteritos referat si Iuppiter annos". I could have attempted to preserve the metre, but I think few would have appreciated the effort.


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