NAME THAT HERB-A memoir from Dhilys Pugh

Beatrice here, Yes, it lives. My contributions to “The Saga” have indeed been skint of late. Worzel and I are back in concord, regarding Alice’s dreadful stories, she was Godfrey’s only sibling, and like her or not, adds a ridiculous verisimilitude to his story. 

Godfrey was my lifelong friend, and one of his favorite adventures was two weeks spent stranded among travelers, in a remote alpine hostel, road and railway cut off by flooding. Worzel has reported many persons writing, claiming they were there, that January, 1983. All recall the Chili Pot, the sheer intensity of the foul weather, and the odd young man who so disliked beets.  

This letter came from Wrexham, not far from here. Dhilys Pugh was there, in Arthur’s Pass so long ago…her daughter writes.” When our mother retired, she went daft, and decided to hitchhike alone about “The Far Antipodes”. Off before we could place her in a home, off with a backpack she went”. 

Mum lived her dream, returning fit and full of stories. “It were serious trampers, turned up in Arthur’s Pass, driven down by the rain from peaks and tracks. A Swiss couple, a Bongo Van full of Aussie girls, two dour Swedes, two Americans, Sally and Jim on bikes. Brian, the Canadian lad, always chopping wood. Barry, the “Whinging Pom”, with his own tea towels..and Godfrey- an odd looking character with a sign- “No Pasaran Beets”, which he propped by the kitchen sink.  

It merely rained the first day we spent stranded in high Arthur’s Pass. By mid morn the third day, safe to say it poured. On the fourth the wind blew 7 bells of crapaud, we began the chili, and played “Name that Herb”, from ancient packets and jars in the kitchen cupboard.

On the 5th day we had a contest- How many time was the “Mike Oldfield ” record played as it rained on the second? Godfrey won, the last banana- 8 and one half times he reckoned.

By day nine stranded in Arthur’s Pass, we completed a damp jigsaw puzzle- “David” missing the naughty bit. The chili was served again that night, a tin a creamed corn thrown in it. The Swedes baked bread, Godfrey loaned me his copy of “Naked Came I”, on the tenth day I curled up, close to the fire and read.

We played “Name that Herb”, from the odd smelling baggy, Sally from Texas found under her bunk. Godfrey’s deft scrounging produced ginger snaps, with cream for the coffee to dunk.

Should you ever be stranded in Arthur’s Pass, waterfalls appear like magic when mist clears over the tussocks and snowgrass. There is perfume of coal smoke and wood fire overall ,peaks loom, faded mural hangs on the hostel common room wall.

With Godfrey I walked to the roadside chapel, to pray that the rain may stop, we had a guffaw over diapers and pet food, all that was left in the only shop. In fun, we played Scrabble in Welsh just to baffle the Scrabble Champ, Brian, very earnest Canadian.

The Australian  girls were good humored, yet kept to them self. Dour Swedes and Swiss longed for to ski, Brian chopped wood, he had read all the moldy books on the dusty shelf. We all tried to add what we had to the chili, vegemite, an apple, half a bag of stale muesli. “No Pasaran Beets” Godfrey’s sign read,  seriously being the elder, guarding the pot and washing up fell to me..

We stumbled over tussock grass, down to the river, every morning for to stretch out and walk. Humbled by walls of stone, thick Rata clad in full crimson flower. We sought the green jade, washed from the flood water. I found a fine, small piece, Godfrey made a wee bag from one of his socks. (Knitting a skill he learned from his own Mother) I wear it round my neck, on a ribbon  he gleaned from another.

Godfrey said- “It will ease arthritic ache and pain”, cement friendship. “A gift from the gorge will carry you a journey, and home to Arthurs’ Pass one day again”.

Naked came I, from the shower stall on the 14th day of rain. There was hullabaloo outside the loo, with word that an east bound train had gotten through. Only Godfrey   remained last of the rain, his socks not quite dry hung by the fire, in silence I sat,  prodding an ember…trying to put thanks into words, that I would write fondly of Arthurs’ Pass, and would always remember..

For he’d trod from mud and knee deep clouds, down from the hut on Mt Ghoul, tramped alone. He was wringing his wet socks into a plant, whistling “Sweet Molly Malone”

In the tiny Hostel office, hear the warden complain, midnight in your bunk, waken to the drumming rain. Plan in your mind, the building of a raft if need be, remember being stranded, playing “Name that Herb ” and that dreadful pot of chili.

“I did not return to Arthurs’ Pass, many years later, back home walking one evening by “The Irish Times” pub, someone was singing “Sweet Molly Malone”. Round my neck, I felt for that green stone, recalled the large salad  I befriended, when back down in the city after two weeks of dubious chili. …

Here, Mum’s story ended. Restless back home, we built her a Donkey Cart, and with “Arthur”, a gentle beast, enjoyed her dotage hosteling, and prodding about in waterfalls. Mum remained adament, that feet must be kept warm and dry.

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DERELICT BOATS- Hauled away!- from Worzel and Godfrey

Worzel here, I grew up in a tiny, landlocked prairie town. Our stepmother, Mrs Gibberflat never threw anything away, our dad, only interested in tractors and T.V. sports. Mrs Gibberflat brought with her an old, Finnish built fishing trawler she had traded for, we celebrated it in song as “The Bumtrinket”. The boat sat in our back field, and my siblings Inkerman, Fillipendula ,Cudberth , and I played unfettered aboard. 

No worry over rusty nails, Mrs Gibberflat soaked us in “Dettol”, fear of little Cudberth being locked in a hold?, her axe hacked him free whenever it happened. Our open sewer created a tall, lush green meadow we considered the prairie sea. Godfrey loved my story of “The Bumtrinket”. He loved old boats- “Honest companions, a boat will always tell you how things are going”.  

My late friend, the Vagabond Godfrey , considered morning time vital, and was always out early gathering bakery treats and newspapers. He would have muttered and “fehed” over a recent front page photo in our local rag- DERELICT BOATS HAULED AWAY- 

Life is change, storm, adventure, patience and joy. As we all must return to the round, so to do old boats.That odd ripple cross the water on a calm day?, gentle breeze that springs up, unexplained?, weather beaten plank sticking out of the mud flat?, the waiting heron understands that these mark the tracks of the Doubty Venture, the pretty Jaqueline T, and many others heading out a seeking. “Feh”, Godfrey would say, behind his paper and pile of tea-buns. 

Godfrey wrote- There was grumbling mongst the well off in the Bay neighborhood, “Blots on the landscape, disgrace to the place where our children paddle and play”. Two old, rotten boats by storm washed ashore, we demand them promptly be hauled away and gone”. “They are rubbish, to no one they belong”.

There was a spark of life left in both the dory, “Venture”, and once fine sloop, “Jaqueline T”. Side by each, cast upon the sand, Venture told her story. I was built by hand, for a family. Part of a childhood memory, with a good inboard motor and breezes kind, the following seas they tickled my behind, I laughed at danger,  fish lines heaving, and brought them safe home with salmon many a summers evening.

Twas the middle girl, always caught a fat Grilse to roast over the fire. Strings sewn to her sweatshirt lest she pitch overboard could be grabbed, and patient I bobbed adrift while my folks fished the shallow bits and crabbed.  Too soon sped the years, my girl left life by the sea for big city, but I know that deep in this old heart of oak, she will never forget me…

The Jaqueline T spoke to, but softer and more genteel. “Twas strength in mind when the builders laid my keel, perfection in every rib and strake, my bottom copper, sails and rigging brand new,  excitement for  round the globe voyage we would take.”

South to “The Happy Isles”, bold crossings of Bass and of Cook Strait!, no yacht more gallant than me, happy years until my sailor fell for one she loved beyond storm and sea. Anchored down Pelorus Sound, eager for quiet, Sunday cruise, proud of baggy-wrinkle visiting ocean wanderers shared stories and vagabonding news.

I was sold, then swapped, sold and sold again, sailed back to cold, northern climes, my name was changed, in shame to “LURCH”, when my last owner fell upon hard times. Posh boats called out as they sailed past me, can that be you?, the once noble Jaqueline T?.

Now known only as “LURCH”, stripped of my finery, children are  bellowed at if they wish to climb upon me  play, Pirates or Popeye, any time now, dear Venture, we shall be hauled away..

Cried Venture- I to, my people outgrew, never sold or renamed, I sat on blocks in the yard when my fishing days were through. Now a “Blot On The Landscape”, but I did have second chance to roam, taken from the driveway, decked over, I plied familiar waters, of Georgia Strait as a beachcombers home. From Deep Bay to Bowser, only an October gale could stop The Bold Venture.

Was a rogue wave swamped me…high aground that autumn, over a week, I sheltered a poet in my battered lee, by firelight, this young chap sat back against me to write.

Yes, I suppose sighed Jaqueline T, we are traded for sheep farm up many a valley, photos fade, hearts mend, travels pass into memory”.

Early afternoon the tractors came. “They laughed one last time at the name” LURCH” in faded paint, as I was torn from the comfort of sand, hauled off to a dump inland. Venture, ever stubborn resisted, tougher by far than me, when force of louts broke her apart, tide snatched a stout timber- with a rumble of victory, part of Venture headed back, forever back to sea.

WHITE PEACHES And GREAT GIANT SQUASH- From Worzel and Godfrey

Walking home tonight, maundering in the autumn drizzle that was oddly tepid,  My favorite tree, gifted me with a twenty dollar bill, floating neath it in a puddle, of the tree Godfrey, in a naughty mood once wrote- “She is robed in tatty harvest gold, like stained shag carpeting torn from a 70’s trailer”. “Demurely, she sheds three leaves at a time, daring and teasing old, cold winter’s groping, trembling hands”… 

The harbor water tonight is the same shale blue as Godfrey’s eyes were, Autumn, season for letting go. We used to lean here and play “What smells Is This?”. Waft of carriage horse “Tallsocks” passing by, wet winter coat, fish fat, Godfrey’s stock answer if he sensed I was winning- “Some kind of soup”.  

White peaches, oft in the grocery store he sought the fruit out, never bought any, just buried his face in the piles, dreaming of them, sun warmed. Sadly, we have few photos of Godfrey, who claimed not to photograph, but once told a grocery clerk, he had his picture taken with the worlds largest squash. This ballad from his early years on the road pays homage to white peaches, squash, and autumns letting go…

Oh mudslide, lightning, pestiferous rain, on my pink bicycle from the coast road I came, back then still a rough track, I meandered round potholes, and slippery bits, walked when the going was slow, each view point a pleasure as my bike rattled down, out of cool forest for the dry heat of Central Otago.

I felt I had yet to find voice as a poet, but the sunset past dark lit pink Mt Aspiring, a sight that I found awesome and inspiring. And hoped my track would pass that of “The Shiner’, old rogue, the legends still tell, and I fancied moiling about for gold, in the  diggings  round Old Cromwell.

One day, in wander a note caught my eye, “Pickers Needed”, penciled in scrawl. White Peaches and Apricots, pinned on the launderette wall. I picked white peaches for “Old Pickled Paulsen” , paid by the un- bruised bin, he oft saw double and thought I was two chaps, depending how deep in the sherry “Old Pickled” was in…

Up in a peach tree picked a lass rode a push bike like me. An odd, thin scar marred one side of her face, and her accent was from somewhere Ma warned me of- “A Wild North Place”. She knew prairies and snow, and I met Cedar, picking white peaches, way down south in Otago.

“I wish to tramp high country few boots have trod on said she, want to see it and feel it, let the rain and wind soak me before its all gone”. Cedar told me of her scar, (though I did not Inquire),  she was thrown from a pony into rusty barbed wire, when young. “You have fine strength of character”, said I as we picked white peaches till the knock off time call rung.

At evening we’d gather on “Old Pickled’s verandah, in cane chairs and sagging setee’, if he was not too deep in his flask we enjoyed song and story. How he bush-whacked  from the coast with mate Jim, “The Shiner”, bitter winter of 33′, cleared off the land where we all labored, a dream of growing the lovely white peach tree.

Pickled, yes, a dreamer he was, more than he’d ever show, he bade us join him, secret in his veg patch, end of an overgrown row. No, it was not beets, we beheld a sight, nor was it pumpkin or marrow…or turnip, was a squash the size of a motor car, “Old Pickled” stood grinning beside it, flask forgotten on his lean hip.

“Behold, many years of labor and trial and manure from the finest Merino ewe, me thinks Ive’ the worlds biggest squash, still it’s growing so time will tell. “I grafted the vine to a half “G” of sherry, from the pub on the road to Old Cromwell. We stood speechless before the great squash, feeling then the first autumn’s chill, and oft I wonder what came of the squash, and possibly always will.

Oh tell me, Cedar, if you may, more of your “Wild North Home” far away, for soon I am bound for The Wairau’s wild reaches, away from Central Otago, when we are done with white peaches. We did not work on Sundays- Cedar talked as upward we climbed, seeking distant snow, there were sturdy sheep, and tumble down huts, high above the cannery. White peaches were stacked in wooden bins, waiting for tins, come Monday.

We picked white peaches till seasons end, and last night round the fire with my “Wild North” friend, her land was of midnight sun, and falling star shows, long summer days and cow paths to the creeks deep shadows.

Said Cedar, “Where ere I go, I shall remember you fondly and the hills of Otago, where we picked white peaches till summers end, our golden cliffs on The Clutha River bend, sun warm on my back from the old stone, tumble down hut, and eating warm white peaches, from deep in your bottomless knapsack”

“I never crossed paths with Cedar again, or met “The Shiner” of lore, even the orchard and Old Cromwell town are no more. But if you journey down there, may hear cheeky whistle, not “Pickled or “The Shiner”, just wind in the canyons fooling you…”Pickled and his mate “Jim” passed long ago, in The Old Man’s Home down Oamaru…

 

 

BROWN MUDDY BOOTS- From Godfrey

Worzel here, in old age, happy today looking back. A fond memory to share?. Well, one day at our luggage shop, a cake, sandwich and vegetable tray intended for a funeral  was dropped off by mistake. My husband Garnet, and Godfrey reckoning it was a surprise treat for their brave hunting down of a mouse that morning, ate it.  

When I got home, they were desecrating the carrot cake, oblivious of the purple writing- “Rest In Peace Muriel”…they had saved me the icing roses and soggy walnuts Godfrey had picked out. 

I had long promised never to torment my friend with beets, (he heartily disliked them). . I rang the Funeral Home before sending them off to apologise, explaining that just punishment would be to corner Godfrey on the subject of beets, and not let him leave. Garnet crept home late, without Godfrey, the vagabond reappearing three days later, claiming he had been lured into a corn maze.  

Our apartment building is old, the floors warped and splintery. To this day, one of Godfrey’s old boots wedges the toilet door closed, in lieu of a latch. To say the least, his memory is everywhere. 

Was a very young poet- “Do not hitchhike”warned my Ma- “you will be left with no shoes on the roadside”. Shrill rang her words as a beet grower pulled to the side. A high, shiny ute with a beet painted on the red door, I accepted the lift, despite worry over beets, it was raining and well after four.

As I settled inside the chap spoke of beets, across the ranges divide, beets on filled roll, beets in slibber sauce, beets in fine silver bowls, roasted on fire coals, beets stuffed in beets stuffed inside a fat goose, for dessert double beet, beet chocolate mousse.

With rare pause in telling how his crop covered many a hectare, he’d a house on a hill with gold plumbing in the loos, and every day wore a new pair of shoes. “Everyday because I can”. I do not suit the common, brown muddy boot”. He was a peculiar man.

When asked, I’d say in my pre-poet days, my background was in sales. “I ran a manure stand back home in Wales”. By pail, gunny sack, or shovel it yourself from the heap around back. And I tried to save every penny, dreaming of places my brown muddy boots would take me.

Oft in summer, early mornings when I stayed at Worzel’s home in the city. Young trampers were a plenty trail bound from bus and ferry. This is an island that calls to the bold and the ruggedy. With shiny new boots, flash gear in clean pack, I saw many set out, but none looked the same heading back. Sandy and hungry, sun, wind burned, wet and ruddy, you can bet those boots were now soft, scuffed and muddy.

Stories told round hostel table- tell of bear prints in sand, deep salal and bracken fern, Cape Scott, Mystic Susiat Falls, back home be it Hamburg or Melbourne, tell of the brown muddy boots they would earn.

On such a trek, Godfrey caught from the rocks with lucky cast a fat salmon for us three. We gave thanks, and stuffed it with thimble berries, cracker crumbs, dried onion, an apple, our last precious butter. We roasted the fish over clean alder fire. No royals or rich folk ever feasted finer, than we with murmur of out going tide, and slept deep neath the stars as our brown muddy boots dried.

Found a cow path came I, a vagabond strolling, from over the borders southwest, happy to be free of town living, I sat back neath a pear tree to rest. Kicked off my boots, (A tad muddy and damp), hung month old socks from a branch to air dry. Remember the feel of bare feet in soft grass? If not, I suggest you seek out a fresh patch and try…From Godfrey.

THE PEGGY McKENZIE- From Godfrey

Worzel here..another summer on a wane. Renovations to our aged building “Tara”drag on, the decrepit stonework exterior now getting a spruce up. Godfrey would have enjoyed a guffaw at the sight of a pink “Port-A- John” high on the scaffolding outside our land lady, Mrs Feerce’s window.

I look forward to autumn, backward to Godfrey, tinged as the maples are in somber passage, in fall he liked to sit down by the rocks, where the homeless camp is we call “Steinbeck’s Half Acre”…he enjoyed watching the tugboats heading out at dawn. Oft, they would silently churn up the phosphoresence in their wake,”The Lightning of the Sea’, Godfrey called it. His favorite small tug was The Peggy Mckenzie.  

May the winter sun pierce the sky over the city this morning. Frost chills brown grass down on Steinbeck’s half acre, as we watch the tugs leaving. Oh the Peggy Mckenzie cares only where the work day will take her.

For the good ship went tugging, tugging, tugging, the little jackpot went tugging off down the long harbor.

Stalwart and trim, shining black, white and green, nary a bay or spit she’s not seen, smell of coffee wafts cross the water, with gracking call heron glides low. No fanfare or farewells the tugboat, Peggy Mckenzie is ready to go.

With a soft rumble she sets out a tugging, tugging, under the blue bridge a tugging. With cold hands and chilled feet, we of Steinbeck’s half acre, on cold autumn morning watched the ships head out tugging.

Oh the Peggy Mckenzie’s hauled scrap cars and dredges, nudged high bowed, haughty cruise ships away from posh berth. Roiled in their wake as they thankless steam south, they its off with log booms oer the treacherous Fraser’s mouth.

And snecked tight together, see docked neath the blue bridge are tugs “Venture”, “Storm”, “The Doreen Roskelley”. They seem to be chatting, like old friends round kitchen table, a drink and a toast to the Peggy Mckenzie !

For the good ship went tugging, tugging, tugging, no rogue wave or reef would take her. The old workhorse and I went tugging, tugging, trailing diamonds behind she chugged down the long harbor.

No old mans home please, when I retire, a cabin on Mayne Island, coffee and hot fire. Lace curtains for her wheel house, no scrap heap or cruel cutting torch. Watch the tug boats passing, her deck for my porch, heading in from open sea, recall the shelter of Mutton Cove, and waiting for the tide off Lasqueti.

No need for grand tales of valiant rescue, no feats of bravery written. Through October gales or joyous summer swell, the Peggy Mckenzie went tugging, tugging, where and with what she was bidden.

BROKE YOUNG ADULT- The 57th wisdom of Godfrey

I had misjudged the tidal crossing of the inlet on a long, hot, sandy tramp. Secure in the knowledge I was not to drown, crawled like a sodden sheep safely spewking up the shore, where a kindly chap in a wayward bus, like this happened every day, dropped me off in the next nearest town..

I was a broke, young adult, by societies standards of acceptability, a tad below it. I preferred to consider myself a “Vagabond, Professional Fig Picker and Poet”. Was hitching down Central Otago way, no shade there was, no passing car, hot wind in the canyons, goo of melting tar.

Out of the mirage a hearse appeared, a dour old man in black rolled  down the window, he said, “I will take you on down to Clyde..yet we are not alone you know”. I shivered in the chilly hearse, he drove so very slowly, did not look back at the box behind that rattled all the way to Clyde, I counted cows, although there were none, at the funeral home thanked them both for the good ride.  I was a broke, young adult. The undertaker shook my hand, pressed into it a five, said he rarely got to journey with someone still alive.

I was a broke, young adult. whiskers now growing in, hair long and bleached by sun and sea. Still cut in the style a monk may wear, last parting gift my sister Alice gave me. I had always feared high, wobbly places, could not abide beets, or cramped closed in spaces. In the brown, muddy boot prints of the bold I set out. “You will perish in the cold, or nasty cable swing bridge will pitch you over-side”, I was told.

At the first cable swing bridge, my knees knocked, at the sight of the river roiling brown in flood, so I sat in the mud, thought one step at a time, up the ladder to the bridge, hold the cables, look ahead not down, you will live to see the treats in the bakery case, far down the wild coast in Westport Town.

I was a broke young adult- taking shelter neath a rock ledge when the storm came, not far from that last cable swing bridge. And as it poured, I had chocolate for reward, located notebook and pen, watched lightning over the mountain, did not fear it or the closed in space of my snug den.

A broke young adult was I, far from home down in Sydney on the harbor quay. she wore a pale grey dress, same shade as her long hair, and from where I sat looked as though her head was no longer there…Elegantly she did glide, rather than walk past The Salvation Army, intent I remained on my writing, until the strange looking woman stopped before me.

She had a head- smiling introduced herself as Miss Lucerne Swish, from Manly. Miss Swish  said my kilt stood out, in the sun on the harbor wall, and the way I was bent over writing, looked as though I had no head at all. We  chatted as new aquaintence ships do, of bush-ballads, vegemite, books wise and ridiculous, talked of anything but beets, was a day I recall time paused for us.

As a broke, young adult, Godfrey’s early years on the road meant facing his fears, he never forgot the swing bridges, or the night he spent huddled in a remote ladies concrete loo as lightning struck all about, and flood waters rose. He never learned to abide moths or antique shops. Now with this “Computery Thing”, I have attempted to locate Lucerne Swish, whom must be very elderly now. In my search, I did locate Mrs Hortensis, landlady of the Woolamaloo boarding house where Godfrey resided in Sydney…another story…here is the simple wisdom he learned that day, so-long ago.  

The 57th Wisdom Of Godfrey states  –    By chance you happen be, Down Under on a  summers day, and observe a person who seems to have no head, passing along the quay, do not gawk. For it is entirely possible- that they may see you too, without a head and feel the same way. Take that time to just sit, time out to just sit and talk.

APRICOT CHICKEN- from Godfrey

Worzel here, ever try to duplicate a much loved dish from your travels?,  Godfrey did , when he pined it was for the Australian food he gorged on.” I believe, he wrote, it was redolent of sun and soil and simple life always outdoors”. I oft make apricot chicken now, on Tuesdays of course. 

I have always loved chickens, as a lad all about our home they ranged free, they gobbled the beets I threw out the window each morning, provided fine, fresh eggs perfect for chippy tea.

Landing up in Australia, I was hungry for adventure, the pies, peas and damper, the bully beef I scoffed left the memory of beets and herring, far away back home cross the sea.

I was smitten by her beauty, the bonny, sunburned faces, the brown, rolling hills, the folks welcomed me, I gloried in Vegemite, fresh fish, roast pumpkin, and every corner I roamed there was Apricot Chicken.

Boiled and broiled , sour and sweet, twice just the apricots, once just the chicken feet. I had it with sauces, chunky and smooth,even tough old rooster full of pin feathers barely removed.

I have always loved chickens…running for the food scraps, fighting over tinned spaghetti, enjoying a dust bath, hot itchy afternoons. Try it baked in Russian Dressing, or freeze dried in a packet for to camp. And shared with friends, neath the southern stars, round the fire at the fruit pickers camp..

Of course, I also learned early how deftly beetroot could be hidden in burger and sandwich roll…indeed I learned.