Jim Wilson’s Blog, 11 April 2016.
My dad never went to WW2. He was a tractor driver on a farm up the Pig Root in Otago and he was either excluded because we in New Zealand needed to keep the farms going or his broken lungs stopped him. My dad was an asthmatic and he gasped for breath his whole life through and more so when he felt lonely or misunderstood.
I remember being vaguely embarrassed about my dad not going to war when I was a kid in Dunedin in the 1950s.
My uncle went. He was with the 23rd Battalion. His records show that he went to Scotland in 1940 and then in early March 1941 he arrived in Egypt. Egypt was quite a curly place at the time and my uncle served 14 days field punishment in late April that year for drunkenness. I am quite proud of this because if there’s one thing you want to do when you are young it’s that you want to flare up with your mates.
My uncle came home in 1943 after being medically discharged and he could never put a sentence together again for his whole life. His discharge address was the Clarendon Hotel in McLaggan Street, Dunedin. I’d say that’s mighty staunch.
My family moved into Dunedin from the country in around 1950, a year or two before I was born. My Uncle Les loaned my parents the money to put a deposit on a house in Russell Street. My uncle’s records show that he was given a gratuity of 144 pounds, 16 shillings and sixpence. I think this is how much El Alamein was worth. That’s a hell of a way to earn money.
My parents moved into town because by the early 1950s there were three kids at high school and this was getting expensive on a farm labourer’s wage. My mum cooked for the single men who worked on Shag Valley Station and that didn’t pay much either.
I was the late-comer to the family. I was born in Dunedin and I will always be born in Dunedin.
My closest sister was twelve years old when I was born and now she is dying.
I was ‘Sweet Baby James’ and my two oldest sisters who were 16 and 17 years old when I was born loved me to bits. My brother who was fourteen when I was born was the best mate I ever had. He showed me how to love people and he once stood up on a table at a pub in South Dunedin and lead the whole bar in ‘We Shall Overcome’. This was in about 1963 or 1964 and during the American ‘Civil Rights’ era.
When I was a kid, my mother would sometimes say that I was a ‘mistake’ and my father would sometimes say that I was ‘nobody’s bastard’. This was because they were unhappy. People are sometimes cruel to other people when they are unhappy. I’ve never seen a happy person be cruel to anyone else in my whole life.
My brother died in a tractor accident in a road gang out near Ravensbourne when I was fourteen. My two eldest sisters died of cancer within a month of each other in 1989. In 1990, I sweated out the methadone working on a farm about seventy miles out of Nashville, Tennessee. I cried every day for my sisters and I gradually got back on my feet.
My old man worked in the store at Fletcher Steel in Dunedin when I was a kid and every single day of his life he got up and went to work. We moved to Christchurch when I was fourteen and my dad was working for Stainless Castings by then and they took him north. There were a lot of flies in Christchurch and it was really hot.
I love my mum and my dad.
My Uncle Bertie owned a milk bar in Palmerston in Otago and my Uncle Jim clicked tickets on the trains for the New Zealand Railway Service. I am dead proud of my family and they could never do a single thing to set me against them, not then and not now.
Even though my parents always voted for the Labour Party I think my dad knew that no political party could ever save him from his own propensity for depression. My mother was a passionate, fiery, tempestuous and very mischievous woman and there are just not enough adjectives in this life to describe her. But she couldn’t be like this in front of my dad and so she learned to hold herself back in almost all her expressions. I know she loved me when I did bad stuff and she loved me more when I eventually got to jail. I enjoyed jail and I made some of the best mates of my life in there. I also created a lot of mischief. One day I saw a homemade Molotov Cocktail (model airplane glue, glass milk bottle, somebody’s shitty underpants stuck in the neck of the bottle, add fire) explode on a wall about three feet away from a screw’s head. Trust me, it’s amazing what you can get to enjoy if you try.
My sister who is dying now is probably the one who I loved the most. She didn’t like me when I came along because she was twelve and I got all the limelight. She gave me ‘War & Peace’ to read when I was six and she used to play piano in our lounge. When Dunedin got its first big mainframe computer sometime in the early 1960s she was working at the Dunedin City Council and she aced an intelligence test and got to work on it doing data input, I guess. She got her photo on the front page of the Otago Daily Times.
My dad never went to high school but he quoted Shakespeare all the time. He’d say, over and over, that the quality of mercy is not strained. I think he basically missed working on the farm by himself and to this day, I still feel like I’m a country boy myself. I love Nashville like you can’t believe. I miss Nashville and specifically the Nashville piano sound every single day of my life but I can never tell what I’m yearning for, whether it is Nashville itself or my mum and my dad or my brother or my sister who is currently dying.
Even though I’ve had a wild and tempestuous life myself I was always really just some kind of hippie. I think the difference was that I never really cut my hair. My mum used to tell me to stick to my guns and so I have. You can hurl a sidewinder missile at me but it’s really my choice as to whether or not I hate you back. Sometimes I think the internet was invented because people had a real need to spit at each other.
I put up posters against the Vietnam war in the 1970s and I am sometimes upset about this now because I have met a lot of American servicemen who were badly hurt in that war, but I’ve also been to Vietnam and I’ve seen the immense damage there as well. I think the damage is called ‘Capitalism’.
I also put up hundreds if not thousands of posters against the Springboks tour of NZ in the early 1980s. I once pasted up posters on the side of a bus in Cathedral Square in Christchurch with my great mate Harry Sparkle.
I am going to miss my sister. She’s a fiery one and I have always been attracted to women like that. You could never depend on my sister to say the right thing in any circumstance. She’d only ever really tell the truth. We are a thousand million miles apart and yet emotionally I can hear her heart beat. This is what has been getting me down lately. You see I want to go home to Russell Street and start the whole goddamn thing over again and have us all sing a Hank Williams song and for my dad to look at me and smile and for my sister to hit them keys Nashville style. I want my sister and my mum to calm down and I want a mother’s love strong and secure. That’s all a little boy needs to get through this man’s life.
But I’ve learned that life is a long hard song and most things are a long way easier than being in the front line at El Alamein.
It’s ANZAC Day on April 25th. Buy a poppy because… Well just because the quality of mercy is not strained. Whatever you are going through in your poor forsaken life someone else is going through worse or the same. The exact worse or the same.
Them Nashville cats, been playin’, since they’s babies.