The Ups And Downs Of Jeremy James

Whanganui High School: Form 4 & 5 (1973-1974)

 

 

 

In 1973 this was spelt Wanganui but a lot of the local Maori had been saying for years that this was not correct and that it really should be spelt Whanganui, which phonetically, was closer to the correct pronunciation.  Quite a few years later, the spelling was officially changed with the inclusion of the h, so I am now using the modern spelling.

With the requirement to find a new house, my mother decided to buy rather than rent.  At this time, she had also had some discussion with my father James, and they had decided to sell the farm at Tuna.  This had not been possible in the past, while he had been certified, but he was now relatively settled, living in Hamilton and working in a sheet metal workshop.  He was deemed to be competent and so this meant that he could legally take the decision to sell the farm which was in his name.  They also talked about the possibility of James moving to Whanganui and reuniting our family but they both quickly came to the conclusion that this would be unlikely to work.  Living in Hamilton had brought relative stability for James, so they both felt it was probably best not to risk making a major change.

Money from the farm would not be forthcoming for at least a year, so Mum borrowed $1,000 from her mother and together with a mortgage, she had $5,000 to spend.  This was not a lot, but it was enough to buy a very old house up on Bastia Hill overlooking Whanganui.  The house itself was in very poor condition and the previous owners had left filthy pet cages and a lot of rubbish all over the place.  The one really good thing about this property, was that it sat on a 4 acre plot.  Most of this was steep sloping land but it was enough for Hilary’s horses.

The move took place in the summer holidays but Michael and I were not there, as we had been attending the scout jamboree up in the Waikato.  When we got back to Stratford, we stayed with Pat Steven, and after a couple of days rest, she took us down to our new home in Whanganui.  Jill and Peter Walker had helped with the move, and a lot of the clean-up work had already been started.  There was still lots to do, so we all mucked in, pulling down the filthy pet cages and collecting up lots of rubbish and burning it or taking it to the tip.  We all got bitten by fleas and other horrid insects, but we survived.

The house itself was built from native New Zealand hardwoods and was probably getting on to being 100 years old.  The wood was in good condition, as it was just too hard for wood eating insects to make a meal out of it.  However, the house had subsided somewhat, and it had quite a significant slope across the floors.  Various alterations had been made over the years and so it looked very much a wreck, hence the fact that it had been relatively cheap to buy.  Nevertheless, it was ours and we all felt great living in our own home.

Whanganui, like Stratford, also has a river flowing right through the middle and this is the great Whanganui River which starts up near Taumarunui, in the centre of the North Island, and then meanders down collecting water as it goes and eventually spews its load out into the sea, just below the city at Castlecliff.  As it passes through Whanganui, it is a massive expanse of moving brown muddy water and is probably a good 100m in width.  In the early 1900s, there had been an active harbour at Castlecliff.  This was now a large meat works but the actual wharfs still existed and when you looked out, you could see the rusty iron work remains of a very old ship that had been used to make a breakwater.

Whereas in the town of Stratford there had only been one secondary school, here in the city of Whanganui there were actually six.  Mum’s new job was teaching at Sacred Heart College, which was a girls’ school.  There was also St Augustine’s College which was a Catholic boys’ school.  There was a state secondary school that just catered for boys (Boys’ College) and one that just catered for girls (Girls’ College).  Whanganui Collegiate, which was a very posh private boys’ school, was the oldest (founded in 1852).  The school that we all went to was Whanganui High School (founded 1958) which, unlike all the others, was co-educational and so was the only school which took both boys and girls.  It was quite a large school having well over 1,000 pupils and as a result it had very good resources.

Mum bought us new school uniforms and in February we turned up to start the new academic year.  I still had very little confidence, and except for Prudence Walker, I did not know anyone, so it really was a big step into the unknown.  In some ways, it was like starting a blank sheet of paper.  No one knew anything about me, and I didn’t know anything about them.  One definite change was that from this point onward people started to call me JJ instead of Jeremy.

My form class was 4F with Mr Walker, who was also to be our French teacher (no relation to the other two Mr Walkers).  I had continued to be very small for my age and if anything, I felt even smaller.  The two tallest boys in my class, Paul Kitson and Timothy Moore, were a good 12 inches taller and absolutely towered above me.  I really was tiny.

 

1973: Whanganui High School, Form Class 4F.

Richard Scott, Paul Bakker, Leonard Gould, Brent Payne, Paul Kitson, Timothy Moore, Tyronne Mulligan, Richard Terrey, Inia Ashford.

Paul Amer, Andrew Basset, Dianne Prop, Angela Biggs, Heather Young, Shereen Snowdon, Dale Cameron, Murray Frank, JJ Heath-Caldwell, Mr Walker.

Pauline Garrett, Elizabeth Lamont, Angela Bott, Carolyn Goodman, Julie Clark, Sharon Nolan, Karyn Parkin, Jean Kirkby.

Whereas the classes at Stratford had all been academically streamed from top to bottom, here the classes weren’t streamed, except for one class which had all the top students.  The rest were mixed, so our class had a diverse range of ability with some being good at schoolwork and some being completely detached from what was going on around them.

Our form teacher Mr Walker was a very strange person.  He had a cane on his desk and cotton wool in his ears.  On our first day he started by laying down the law, telling us that he did not like noise and that if any of the boys caused any trouble, he would take them outside and use his cane to give them “two of the best”.  In other words, he would beat the shit out of us.

Like my previous schools, some of the teachers were very good and some of them were hopeless.  French I found to be impossible, as did most of the other students.  We just could not even understand why we had to learn French.  At this point in time, the French government was letting off atomic bomb tests at Mururoa Atoll, which was a French island territory just to the north of New Zealand.  This was reported quite a lot in the news, as the New Zealand and Australian governments were very opposed to the French tests, because they were releasing harmful radioactive material into the atmosphere.  If the French government thought it was safe, then why didn’t they do their testing in Paris?  This animosity was to carry on for years and peaked with the sinking of the ship ‘Rainbow Warrior’ in Auckland Harbour in 1985, a very underhand operation carried out by French government agents. 

Even in 1973, we knew the French were a load of irresponsible idiots, so why learn their language?  None of us had any intention of ever visiting France.  If we had to learn another language, why not learn Maori.  Although it was by then, an almost dead language, at least it had a part in the history of New Zealand (I am happy to report that the Maori language has since, undertaken quite a revival, and is popularly taught as an option in most schools).

Being tiny, I got pushed around quite a lot.  I wouldn’t say that I was bullied, because there wasn’t anyone with really nasty intentions towards me.  It was just that all the other boys were a lot bigger than me and if it came to any sort of push and shove, I was generally the person who got shoved.

On one particular occasion, I was sitting on a handrail (as was often done by everyone else).  However, not being tall enough, my feet did not quite reach to the ground, so rather than sitting on the bar, I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I was perched on the bar.  I had my hands tucked in close holding onto the bar, being careful not to lose my balance.  Some of my friends thought this was quite funny and Murray Frank, as a bit of joke, came up behind me and grabbed me by the ankles.  He pulled my legs backwards slightly, laughing as he did so.  Unfortunately I immediately lost balance and tipped forward.  So fast in fact that I did not even get time to put my hands out to break my fall.  I landed headfirst with a loud crunching sound as my skull impacted with the concrete.

I wasn’t knocked out totally unconscious.  I was sort of aware of things going on around me.  The pain in my head was excruciating and I felt very strange.  I could not speak and I could not move.  I was carried off to the sick bay.  My mother was called, and I was admitted to the hospital with concussion and stayed overnight for observation.  By the next day I was recovered, and I was back at school shortly afterwards.  Although what Murray Frank had done was pretty stupid, I actually felt quite sorry for him.  He was probably more shook up than I was.  He was exceedingly apologetic and even phoned my mother in the evening to say sorry.

It was a short while after this that we had a real tragedy in our class.  Karyn Parkin, who was a lovely girl, did not turn up for school one morning.  A terrible rumour started to spread that she had had an accident.  Mr Fountain, the Principal, came into our class and gave us the very sad news, that Karyn had been run over by a bus, while she was cycling to school.  She had been rushed to hospital but sadly had been declared dead on arrival.  We were all stunned.  Even today, when anyone talks of the unlikely event of being “run over by a bus” I always think of Karyn Parkin and I see her smiling face.  It was very sad.

In those days everyone cycled to school and it was an excellent way to get fit.  Most of the time it was fairly safe, but I do remember one day having an accident that gave me a bit of a shock.  I was cycling along Wilson Street on the way to school when I noticed a massive new crane vehicle parked in the Bullocks yard.  Bullocks was a large contracting firm that specialised in earthmoving and road building projects, so there was always a lot of interesting looking vehicles and machinery parked in there.  On this particular morning, my eyes were drawn to this massive crane that I had not seen before.  It was truly ginormous, and it had an incredibly large number of huge wheels all along the side of it.  I couldn’t tell you how many wheels, because as I was cycling along looking at this monstrous crane my bike came to a very sudden halt as I crashed into the back of a parked car.  Instantly I flew over my handlebars and landed face first on the top of the car.   I was quite dazed, but I soon figured out my error.  When riding a bike, it is very important to look to your front rather than cycling along looking sideways.

Unfortunately the force of the collision had bent my front forks back and I couldn’t turn the wheel.  A very kind man from Bullocks walked over and gave me a hand.  We quickly realised that if we took the front mud guard off, there would be just enough clearance to be able to turn the wheel again.  He managed to get a couple of spanners, so a few minutes later I continued my journey to school with my front mudguard dangling around my neck.  Later that afternoon when I got home from school, I was able to bend the forks back into their correct position and then refit the mudguard.  No great damage and definitely another lesson learnt.

Whanganui High School had an active drama group and part way through the year they put on an excellent performance of Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.  This was held in the school hall and although I found the old language difficult to follow, I got the gist of the story and I very much enjoyed it.  The main plot is about the courtship and marriage of Petruchio and Katherina.  Katherina is a very headstrong lady who gives all the men a hard time but Petruchio gradually tames her until he is able to completely manipulate her and make her into an obedient and devoted wife.  There is lots of comedy and the play finishes with everyone living happily ever after.

It is interesting to note that this play is not performed very much these days as some people feel that it is no longer politically correct (non-PC).  It is not acceptable in our modern world for females to be treated the way that Petruchio treats Katherina, even if they do live happily ever after.  ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is of course a good example of the comedy that was popular in the late 1500s (I wonder what Queen Elizabeth I thought of it?).  It is a good thing that we now have more gender equality in our modern society but I hope some people will still put this play on as it really was great entertainment.

We had a school dance this year which was my first experience of going to a ‘disco’.  The people from the local radio station (2ZW) were up on the stage playing records all evening.  I have two memories.  One was dancing with a beautiful girl called Susan Watson and the other memory was of the music blaring out all evening, especially the song ‘Listen to the Music’, by the ‘Doobie Brothers’.  Whenever I hear that tune, I always remember back to that evening.

 

‘Toulouse Street’ by the Doobie Brothers (1972)

 

In 1973 there was lots happening in the news.  We had fairly constant coverage about the French and their dreadful atomic bomb tests at Mururoa Atoll.  Over in Rome a 16 year old boy called John Paul Getty III got kidnapped by Italian gangsters but his grandfather the American oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, who was known as the world’s richest man, refused to pay the ransom.  This was a regular item on the news for about 5 months, during which time the gangster’s cut John’s ear off (ouch!) and posted it to his grandfather.  Eventually he handed over the money and John was released (minus his ear).

In the Middle East, Egypt and Israel went to war again and this was called many names including the Yom Kippur War, the Ramadan War, or the October War.  I wasn’t aware of it at the time but the Egyptian navy did have a bit of success with one of their small fast patrol boats and a few years later they placed orders for some really sophisticated navy boats to be built by the British company Vosper Thornycroft.

The other two things that year, were the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) putting the oil prices up and the United Kingdom joining the European Economic Community (EEC).  This was a double whammy for New Zealand, and it was to tip the country into a recession for quite some time.

We had the Kapuni gas field in Taranaki and the offshore Maui gas field but no oil production, except for that tiny beam pump in New Plymouth that I used to enjoy watching.  When OPEC cut back oil production to force the price up, there was immediately a world shortage of oil and all sorts of measures had to be put in place to reduce our consumption.  One measure taken around the world was to reduce the top speed of vehicles on roads, as cars being driven fast were using up more petrol.  In New Zealand, the speed limit was reduced from 55mph to 50mph (80km/h).  I suppose the traffic police dished out a lot more speeding fines that year.

 

1973: British first day cover to mark the occasion of the United Kingdom joining the European Economic Community (EEC).

 

At the same time, New Zealand had to start earning more money to pay for the increased cost of imported oil, but the main market for our produce was the United Kingdom and with them now joining the EEC, this market was about to be reduced.  New Zealand was not geared up to sell stuff to other countries, and as a result, much of the next decade was to be spent ramping up marketing activities to find new customers.  Many New Zealanders felt strong links to the UK, after all, a lot of NZ soldiers had lost their lives fighting with the UK against the Germans.  Now the UK was leaving us and taking up with the Germans and the French, what a terrible combination!  It was tough, but everyone did understand the logic behind the UK’s decision to join the EEC, so that was pretty much that.

During the latter part of this year, I took up a job as a paper round delivery boy.  I can’t remember if it was the ‘Dominion Post’ or the ‘Herald’.  Whichever newspaper it was, it was brought up from Wellington by car in the afternoon and arrived around 5pm at the paper office on the corner of Watt St and Cameron Terrace.  There were about a dozen paperboys and we would all be waiting, ready to effect a fast onward delivery.  My round consisted of about 20 addresses on Bastia Hill so I would collect my papers and then immediately set off back across the river and then up Mount View Road and then all around Bastia Hill delivering the papers to all the subscribers.  I can’t remember how much I got paid, probably not a lot, but it was great and I really enjoyed it.

It was also around this time that I started to buy a few records (LPs) from the Record Shop on Victoria Avenue.  My first two records were actually free, as I won a competition on the local Radio Station (2ZW) and the prize was a $10 gift voucher.  With this I bought ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ by Helen Reddy (1971) and ‘Ringo’ by Ringo Starr (1973).  I then saved up my pocket money and I bought the double album ‘Yellow Brick Road’ by Elton John (1973).  Not sure how much it cost, probably something like $10 which to me was a lot of money.  It was wonderful playing these LPs on my Mum’s hi-fi and it made me feel almost grown up.  I would have also liked to have bought ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd (1973) but I had to wait another year until I could afford it.

 

‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ by Helen Reddy (1971).

 

 

‘Ringo’ by Ringo Starr (1973).

 

 

‘Yellow Brick Road’ by Elton John (1973).

 

 

‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd (1973).

 

Another thing I remember around this time was walking up Victoria Avenue one afternoon and seeing a black man (a man of presumably African origin).  You may think this is an odd thing for me to write about but during the first 14 years of my life, growing up in New Zealand, I had never seen anyone who had originated from the African continent.  These days (2020) everywhere you go you see a wide variety of people from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds, and you don’t give it a second thought.  We had of course seen American Africans on our black & white television but these people all lived in America which was a long way away from Whanganui.

For Christmas this year my mother bought me a ‘1 transistor radio kit’.  This was really neat.  In the plastic bag there was a diode, capacitor, transistor, earpiece, battery, length of copper wire and a few other bits and pieces.  I had to wrap the wire around a cylinder to make a coil (inductor) and once this component was completed, I connected everything up to make a tuned radio circuit.  Then it was a case of making an aerial (antenna) to catch some radio waves.  My aerial was made by getting a very long length of wire and taking it from my bedroom window out to the top of the pear tree.

Back in those days, radio station signals were transmitted as AM (amplitude modulation) on carriers in the frequency band 535 to 1605 kHz.  FM (frequency modulation), which gave better audio quality, was just in the process of being rolled out on carriers higher up in the frequency band at 88 to 108 MHz.  FM was a bit complicated, but AM was very simple, and a radio could be made fairly easily using some basic components.

It was a fantastic feeling, when I had all the components connected up, and I inserted the earpiece into my ear.  I had to do a bit of tuning and then in amongst a few crackles I could hear a radio station.  I have no memory of what I heard being broadcast from the actual radio station, but it was definitely a radio station.  What a great feeling!

These days children do not learn much about building things like this.  Everything is bought readymade.  It is rather sad that young kids today are not able to have the thrills that I experienced but I suppose they just do other stuff.

In my second year at Whanganui, we all had to take English and Maths, but we could choose our other 4 subjects.  I chose Chemistry, Biology, Physics and History.  Life was still tough but there were no more French lessons, and this was a great year.  All the teachers were excellent, and I was now in the top classes for the science subjects and this gave me a warm feeling of pride.

I was very keen to get to university, but I was surprised that most of the other students did not share my enthusiasm.  I remember talking to one of my friends who told me this was just not going to happen.  His words were something along the lines of:
 “Look JJ, this is the way it is. Dumb people like us don’t go to university.  The toffs from the other school over the road are the ones who go to university.  It’s a waste of time and they are all wankers anyway.  Much better to complete School Certificate and then leave school and get a proper job”.

By now some of the boys were leaving and weren’t even bothering with the School Certificate exams.  One left to be a plumber and another left to work for a second-hand car dealer.  One boy, not in our class, left at age 14 to work on his father’s farm.  In those days, most people started to leave at age 15 but you could leave at age 14 if you had agreement from the school and from your parents.

We did have a teacher who gave career advice (one to one) and so I booked an appointment and went to see him (Don Kilpatrick).  I assumed he would tell me all about how to take up plumbing or carpentry or selling cars etc.  Mr Kilpatrick was a very nice person and he started by asking me what I would really like to be when I grew up.  I thought for a brief moment and replied that I would like to be a rich businessman and that I would like to fly around in planes and have lots of secretaries, with good spelling, to do all the writing.  He immediately laughed and then we talked about the subjects I was doing.  His advice was to stick with academic subjects, work hard, progress onto university and then just do whatever subjects I found easiest.  He told me not to worry about what job I would end up with, as he was sure I would find that everything would just fall into place.  Looking back, that really was excellent advice.

 

1974: New Zealand first day cover with stamps to celebrate the advance of air transport.

 

Our Chemistry teacher was Mr Lupton (Roy Lupton) and he really was an incredibly good teacher and a brilliant person.  Every time we did an experiment, he would tell us a story about how someone had discovered it and had then gone on to make lots of money out of it.  He always had a captivating yarn and we were often spell bound.  One story I remember, was of his early days when he was working in a very old school in England and he had seen a ghost!  He had not really seen a ghost, but it was an excellent story. 

Our Biology teacher Miss Parker (Eva Parker) was a Canadian lady who was very young and ever so sweet.  The Physics teacher was an English guy Mr Lang (David Lang) who had only recently arrived in New Zealand.  He drove a green MGB sports car and I think the girls found him to be very handsome and rather dashing.  I also remember he once told us that he liked repairing old clocks.  Maths was very easy, so there is not much I can say about that, except that I had two teachers Mrs Gavin (Sandra Gavin) and Mr Rankin (Nigel Rankin) both excellent.  English continued to be impossible, so the less I say about that the better except that my teacher was Mr Milne (Colin Milne) and he was a great guy.   History was difficult because in order to do all the homework and tests, I needed to write, and of course I was not good at that.  But history as a subject, I found fascinating.  The teacher was a Mr Smellie (Doug Smellie), which was an unfortunate name to have but he was very good at getting us interested in early New Zealand history and of course British History (which was an integral part of New Zealand’s history).  He also told us stories about his time in WWII when he had been a pilot in the Royal Air Force and he had flown bombers over Germany.  I later found out that he had been awarded the DFC.  Wow! Another really amazing person.

While at Whanganui High School I joined the school tramping club which was run by Mr Lupton, my Chemistry teacher.  He took us on some amazing weekend trips.  The club had its own hut up on the south side of Mt Ruapehu, so we did a number of trips up there.

Staying the night in the hut was a great experience.  As it was up on the mountain, it was very cold and the only heating was from a fire that we would light as soon as we arrived.  The hut itself was quite small and inside there was a sort of small mezzanine floor which in effect was a giant bunkbed.  I suppose the top half would take about 10 people and the bottom would take another 10 people, all sleeping in their sleeping bags.  Everyone just piled in with the girls and boys being all mixed up.  I remember on one trip sleeping next to Heather Young who was from my form class.  She was a lovely girl and I wish I had got to know her a lot better.

We got up the next morning, had breakfast and then climbed to the summit of Mt Ruapeahu (9,176ft or 2,797m) but it was a cloudy day, so we didn’t actually see anything.  On the way back Mr Lupton showed us how you could run down the mountain side, dodging all the rocks.  This was absolutely exhilarating, as long as you didn’t fall over and mush your head into a rock (in these days of health and safety you would not be allowed to do this).  None of us damaged ourselves and in fact I have carried on doing it whenever I have had the chance and I am still in one piece.

The other thing I remember about Mr Lupton was that he would stop every now and then to point out some of the plants.  He would tell us their Latin names and their common names, and he would explain the special attributes of each plant that allowed it to flourish in its natural environment.  On another trip, when we climbed Phantoms Peak (6,450ft or 1,966m), on the side of Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont), I think he was quite impressed, as I was able to tell him the names of some of the plants that he was not familiar with.  On that trip he also took a select group of us fit ones right down to Lake Dive.  We then climbed back up to Dawson Falls, where we re-joined the rest of the group, ready to set off back to Whanganui.

Other trips included a trek down a river which was in a steep gorge but I cannot remember the name of it (Otaki Gorge?).  In places the river was very deep and had sheer rock walls both sides and so the only way through was to swim.  We all got soaked, but of course we had prepared for this, with dry clothes packed away in sealed plastic bags.  We camped for the night and then in the morning put our wet clothes back on, so we could continue the journey.  This really was great character-building stuff.  We also did a canoe trip on the Whanganui River, starting at Pipiriki and paddling down to Atene, with an overnight camp in between.

I really enjoyed Chemistry and I became a lab technician, which meant I could spend some of my lunchtime in the laboratory.  My great interest was any chemical reaction that would lead to an explosion.  I got very good at this and was able to work out the formulas and make sure I got the relative quantities just right for the optimum result.  One day I worked on a new one, with red phosphorus and potassium nitrate, which was quite an unstable mixture.  As it was, I got the quantities absolutely perfect, but the resulting explosion was a lot larger than I had anticipated.  The bang was absolutely deafening, so much so that I was rather stunned.  The room was instantly filled with smoke and a short while later some teachers burst in to find me sitting on the floor looking a bit shell shocked.  Mr Lupton was very apologetic when he told me that he was very sorry but my career as a lab technician would now have to come to an end.  He said he just could not take the risk that I might have another accident, as he would then be in really big trouble.

On a separate occasion, one of the girls in our class got into a very bad situation and it was to have a very sad outcome.  She had missed a few days of school and when she got back she had bandages on both her wrists.  She seemed very washed out and just did not appear to be her normal self.  One of the teachers, with the whole class present, asked her why she had both wrists bandaged.  She replied that she had accidentally walked through a glass door and had held both of her hands up as she did so and hence had sustained quite bad cuts to both her wrists but she had been very lucky in that all the broken glass had not cut her anywhere else.  I can’t remember what the teacher said next, but his body language certainly said that he did not believe her.

It was very unfortunate that the teacher had questioned her in this way, but he was obviously completely unaware of the full situation and so he was having to think on his feet.  The result of his questioning was truly horrible, but I would note here that I don’t think he was in any way at fault.  He was a good teacher and generally had a caring approach to life.

Over the next few days, the story slowly came out.  She had fallen in love with another boy and she had got pregnant.  She was 16 years old.  We will never know the full story of what she wanted and what her parents wanted and what her doctor wanted.  We do know that the law at this time was that an unborn baby could not be aborted unless a doctor felt the mother’s life or mental health was in danger.  In her very distressed state, she had cut both her wrists in an attempted suicide and shortly afterwards she had received medical attention that had saved her life.  The doctor then deemed her to be in danger and so got all the necessary paperwork signed and she had an abortion.  I understand that she never fully recovered mentally and in later life she took to drugs and alcohol.  Such a waste of life.  She was a beautiful girl, very popular with everyone in class and she had everything going for her.

During the 1970s there was a big debate about abortion, driven by two very active political lobby groups.  One group wanted abortion completely banned, saying it was murder, and this was the view which was also taken by the church.  The other group were pro-abortion and they said that the physical and mental wellbeing of the mother was a higher priority and that women should have the right to manage their own bodies.  There was regular TV coverage of protest marches to parliament by both groups and there were various petitions being signed by lots of people.  Everyone seemed to have an opinion.  Views within the medical profession were split but some doctors took it upon themselves to help young women have an abortion but there were risks.  I heard a story about a doctor who had a patient who died and when the full circumstances became known he was struck off the medical register and was banned for life.

The politicians were bombarded from both sides and as a result were fairly ineffective at introducing new legislation but over quite a few years, various changes were slowly made and eventually the rights of the mother became more respected.  Looking back, it was truly terrible for young women who found themselves in this very delicate predicament.

On the news we had also been hearing for a number of years about the bombings and murders happening in Northern Ireland and 1974 was a particularly bad year, as a New Zealand family got blown up by an IRA (Irish Republican Army) bomb that had been planted in the Tower of London.  Their holiday of a lifetime had been instantly turned into a terrible nightmare. 

In America a 19 year old girl, called Patty Hearst, who also had a very rich grandfather, got kidnapped by the left-wing terrorist Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).  We never understood what the SLA was, but they seemed to spend their time robbing banks and murdering people.  Poor Patty got brainwashed and, in the end, joined them.  We saw pictures of her on TV waving her machine gun around during one of the bank robberies.  I think her grandfather must have been very unhappy when he saw the CCTV video.  After 19 months she was eventually rescued but then the police immediately arrested her and put her in jail.  We all felt sorry for Patty.  She had been really unlucky.

Also in America, President Richard Nixon had to resign because of the ‘Watergate Scandal’.  We heard that ‘Tricky Dicky’ had been very naughty recording people’s telephone conversations onto a tape recorder but most of us had very little understanding of what it was all about.

Another shock was the unexpected death of our prime minister Norman Kirk.  On the TV it was announced that he was unwell and had been taken into hospital and then the next day it was announced that he had died.  All the politicians who had spent the preceding 2 years criticising him, changed their tune and said he had been great guy.  I found it difficult to understand why all these people had just suddenly changed their minds but I suppose that is what happens in politics.  Bill Rowling became New Zealand’s new prime minister. 

On the TV around this time was the series ‘War & Peace’ (1972) which consisted of 20 episodes which ran for quite some time.  The other good one was ‘The Onedin Line’ (1971-1980).  If you watch these movies now the sets look very cheaply built and the acting is poor but when we saw them back then, both these programmes were brilliant.

 

1974: Hilary, JJ (Jeremy James) and Michael at Frank’s parent’s house at Totara Street.

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