Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 4, Number 4, December 2010

John Irvine
Colville, Coromandel, New Zealand


Horses for courses
and how they relate intimately to the Overseas Experience

It was a big deal back in the early 60s for Kiwi blokes to do the Big OE. NZ back then was a colonial outpost, disregarded by Britain, and yet we embraced all things British with an embarrassing forelock-tugging passion. The Big OE was a young man’s only opportunity to slough off, if even just for a short while, the Empire’s claustrophobic blanket before returning to suburban NZ and ‘settling down’ to begin the stultifying task of saving up for his retirement.

old age imminent:
he’s just turned

In 1961 I boarded a prop-jet Fokker Friendship with a mate for the cross-Tasman hike, heading for Sydney’s Kings Cross and Bondi Junction. Three other Kiwi friends were already ensconced in a squalid flat in the Junction, jobless, but it was a rowdy reunion lubricated with gallons of FourX, and the new thing in take-aways: pizza pie. Following a few days of drunken shoulder-punching and mutual chest beating there was a meeting of the clans, and because I was known to have once cooked something edible for my mother, I was elected chef de cuisine.

My first allotted task was to prepare a stew for the tribe to celebrate one of us securing a job with the Bushells Tea Co. A worthy cause I admit, so the following day I set off on a shopping expedition. I had no idea how you made a stew but with the rampant arrogance of youth I was never for one moment fazed. Onions carrots parsnips—these were things I knew my mother used in some fashion or other. I mean how hard can it be? So I bought some. Now I needed meat.

stalking the city:
urban hunter in sandshoes
wields thin wallet

Not far from the small Superette was a grimy pet shop, and I paused to gaze in the window at the emaciated kittens and shit-smeared puppies. A poorly-written sign in dodgy English was offering pet meat for sale at ‘realistic’ prices. Although we were petless, I entered the shop with optimism and walked out with a 3lb slab of freshly-killed (so they enthusiastically assured me) horse meat. Young horse they said, surplus to requirements they said, straight from the Taronga Park Zoo they said. Your pets will love it they said.

the cloying stench of
newly dead meat:
he’d always hated zoos

I’ve eaten lizards, snakes, insects, sea birds, emu eggs, kangaroo and wild goat and pig since, but nothing ever compared—ever—to the inedible rubbery boot leather of that flavoursome chunk of horse I served up on plastic plates with enthusiasm and thin gravy that night. I was unanimously relegated from all culinary duties forthwith, and my horsemeat stew relocated without ceremony to the garbage bin.

choosing a different hat
he carries out the garbage:
phones out for pizza

We ate out for the rest of that significant year. I never did save up for my old age.


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