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Authors: Jack Lasenby

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BOOK: When Mum Went Funny
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M
um's having one of her ideas,” Kate told the rest of us.

“What idea?”

“She hasn't said what it is yet, but I can tell. She's got that look on her face, and she's gone all quiet. I'll bet she tells us something at tea.”

We watched Mum but couldn't see anything
different
. We were so worried, I milked Rosie, Jimmy and Betty ran around the lambs, and Kate shifted the steers – all without having to be told.

I put the bucket of milk on the back porch, and went to help Jimmy and Betty. We cut through the orchard when we'd finished, to keep clear of the house, and trotted down the race to meet Kate. She rode Old Pomp beside a post, and we climbed up behind her.

“Can we be the Lancaster?” asked Betty, but Kate said Old Pomp didn't want to, and we'd better talk about what to do when Mum came up with her idea.

“But we don't know what it is yet,” said Betty. “I want to be the tail gunner.”

“You were supposed to be the tail gunner all the way to school this morning, and all the way home,” Kate told her. “You got us shot down three times because you weren't keeping a lookout. By the time we got home we were riddled with bullet holes, and we flew the last hundred miles with only one engine working properly. Sometimes I wonder if you realise how hard it is for me to fly the Lancaster.”

She talked quickly, but I knew she was just covering up, keeping Jimmy and Betty quiet while she thought about what Mum was up to. In the house paddock, we picked handfuls of dry grass and rubbed Old Pomp all over, because he liked that. Then when Kate took off the bridle, he had a roll in the sandy patch and snorted himself up on to his feet again.

“We just rubbed you nice and clean,” Betty told him.

“He likes to finish off with a roll in the sand,” I said. “It's good for his coat.” But Betty and Jimmy were rolling in the sandy patch, and snorting and heaving themselves up.

“It's good for our coats,” they told me.

“It's something to do with the lambs,” said Kate. She'd been standing there, the bridle in her hand, thinking.

“What do you mean?”

“They're just about big enough to go to the works, and she was talking about buying a new lot.”

“What's that got to do with it?”

“Well, she's been on her own at home all day, thinking about them. Come on, we'll go and tell her we've done the milking and been round the sheep, and moved the steers. And we'll see what she has to say. She can't complain we're not doing our share.”

“Mum!” said Betty, running in ahead of us. “You're not going to send the lambs to the works, are you?”

“That's what they're for,” Mum told her. “We can't afford to just keep them, eating their heads off. They're what you call fat lambs now, so they should fetch a good price, and we'll rest those paddocks, and let the grass come away. Then we'll bring the steers up and run them there for a change, then sell them off, and it'll be time to be thinking of buying a new lot of lambs and fattening them.”

“Little wee lambs?” asked Betty.

“We'll try to get them a bit bigger than the last lot,” Mum said. “That way we can fatten them faster. It's how we make our money now for all the food my hungry children eat, and all the clothes they wear out and grow out of, and all the cost of taking them to see the doctor, and going to the pictures, and –”

“We haven't been to the pictures for ages,” said Betty.

“All the other kids go to the pictures.”

“The pictures,” said Mum, “cost a lot. All right, there's no need to look like that. Next time there's a film suitable for children, you can go to it.

“And I'll tell you what: you give me a hand to drive the lambs into the railway station and load them into
the sheep wagons, and I might buy you an ice-cream and a bottle of soft drink.”

“But, I thought the drover would take them into the station. He did last time.”

“We can drive them in ourselves and save the expense of paying him. A couple of you can be huntaways and make a lot of noise and keep them moving. And somebody will have to be the leading dog and trot in front so they know where to go. Once they've got the idea, they'll follow you all right. Blue knows what to do.”

Jimmy and Betty liked the idea of being noisy dogs. They went to bed practising their barking, and they barked most of the way into school the next morning, which is why our Lancaster got shot down several times and had to crash-land in the horse paddock.

It was early when we started off for the station, and the light came up grey and cloudy. Mum said that was good because the lambs wouldn't get too hot. I looked at them and thought they were getting to look more like sheep now, rather than lambs. They had that chubby look, what Mum called good condition.

Kate and I went ahead to be leading dogs, and the lambs followed, just as Mum had said. The huntaways barked behind the mob, but they must have got hoarse pretty quickly, because we stopped hearing them not far down the road into Waharoa. We took it very quietly, not wanting to hurry the fat off the lambs, as Mum said.

Even though it was early, a car came along; I led it through, opening the mob, and the driver sang out, “Thanks, son!” We found a couple of gates open, and closed them, but there wasn't much else; we just walked ahead, and the lambs followed. At the Wardville corner, I blocked the Walton road while Kate led the sheep on toward Waharoa. When the last of them had gone past, I galloped through to where Kate blocked the main road while I led them across the railway lines and on to the stock route along Cemetery Road. A few of them tried to head into the pig farm, and a couple got themselves caught inside the swinging gate into the cemetery, but the huntaways climbed through the fence, barked amongst the graves, and chased them back again.

We had a bit more trouble going round the back of the factory, farmers driving their carts out of the yard after tipping their milk. A couple of dogs came over to sniff at Blue, but Mum told them off and shook her stick at them. Kate turned the mob into the railway yards while I ran ahead and opened the gate into the stockyards.

Blue was clever at running over their backs, chasing them up the race and into the double-decker sheep wagons. Jimmy tried to copy Blue, but slipped between their backs and came up spitting and red-faced.

Mr Flag, the stationmaster came across with a big crowbar and we all shoved while he levered and moved the full wagon along, then we all pushed and helped
him bring up the next. By the time we'd finished, we all stunk of sheep, Mum said. We gave Trixie and Old Pomp a drink out of the trough, and the huntaways wanted to get in and splash around and drink, too.

We tied the horses in the shade of the plantation, and went across to Mrs Doleman's where Mum bought us each an ice-cream and a bottle of soft drink. I had Orangeade, Kate had Creaming Soda, and Jimmy and Betty wanted Green River, but Mum said it made them sick last time, so they had Raspberryade and Lemonade and took turns swigging from each other's bottles. Then Betty said Jimmy was taking too big a swallow, and they both cried, and Mum said, “That's right, go ahead and embarrass me in front of everyone in Waharoa.”

“But there's nobody around,” said Kate, and it was true, only Mrs Doleman, and she didn't seem to mind. When Jimmy dropped his ice-cream in the dirt and Blue scoffed it, Mrs Doleman gave him another free. She was a kind woman, Mum always said.

Old Pomp and Trixie seemed pleased to be
heading
home and, since we'd walked in, they were quite fresh.

“That went better than I expected,” Mum said, “and it's saved us the cost of the drover. Maybe it's worth hanging on to the farm after all.”

“Don't forget you said we could go to the pictures.”

“Thank you, but I don't need reminding, Kate,” Mum said.

“And do you mean you're not going to sell the farm as a going concern?”

Mum shook her head. “I can't anyway, not now we've sold the lambs. A couple of weeks, the drover will come for the steers, and the farm'll be bare. We'll be starting all over again. Only this time we'll have to run them on different parts of the farm.”

“Why, Mum? Why run them on different parts of the farm?”

“It's better for them. So the new lambs don't pick up worms from the old ones, and the young steers start off on clean pasture.”

“When do we start off on clean pasture?” asked Jimmy. “We live in the same old house all the time.”

“You don't eat off the floor,” Mum told him, but he wasn't listening. He and Betty were talking about selling the farm and making a new start.

“We could have a farm with some decent hills,” said Jimmy, “for sliding down.”

“And a big creek for swimming,” said Betty.

“Why don't we sell the farm and get a new one?” they asked Mum.

“Because you can never satisfy some people,” she told them. She rode quietly for a while and said, “Some people don't know when they're well off.”

“I don't expect gratitude –” Kate started to say in Mum's voice. Kate's pretty good at taking Mum off. But Mum pulled up Trixie's head, gave the reins a shake, and galloped round us, pointing her arm and going,
“Ka-ka-ka-ka-ka!” and she went, “Waaarowww!” and banked so she could come down out of the sun. “Ka-ka-ka-ka-ka!”

We fired back; Blue got excited and joined in barking, and our Lancaster snorted and broke into a shambling trot. We hung on, swinging our guns after Mum's Messerschmitt, but one of our engines began to smoke because she'd been firing tracer, so we all had to lean to one side to keep the Lancaster flying, and the tail gunner blew the tip of the tail off the Messerschmitt – and just then the Kemps drove past, going into Matamata, staring amazed at Mum galloping around and around Old Pomp, still firing her machine guns. Then they'd gone past, and I looked after them and saw Billy Kemp gazing out their back window, pointing his finger and going, “Ka-ka-ka-ka-ka!” with his mouth.

T
he day of the School Picnic, we didn’t ride Old Pomp into Waharoa. We stuffed our towels and swimming togs into our schoolbags and waited out at the gate till a milk lorry from the factory which came along to take us to the Opal Springs out at Okauia. We climbed up on the back and sat on wooden forms borrowed from the hall.

“Now youse kids listen to me,” said the driver, Joe Belting, and he nodded at the deck. “Youse all better watch your feet on them metal runners.” We curled our toes away from the sharp-edged steel strips for sliding the milk cans. “Won’t be any use youse coming to me and complaining youse’ve cut off all your toes.”

We curled our toes even higher, and stared at Joe Belting. He swung down, climbed into the cab and drove off, and we looked at each other and murmured, “Youse kids!” and grinned. Then we laughed, and then we shrieked. We were going to the School Picnic!

Mrs Murdoch picked up Mum in their car, and Mrs Kemp, and Billy and his sister came with them, too, but that meant we beat them to the Springs. We jumped off
Joe Belting’s lorry and tore up and down the camping ground above the pools till the others arrived.

When I told them they’d missed the lolly scramble, Billy said, “Huh! Who cares?” and Lily, his little sister, cried.

Then Mr White, the chairman of the school
committee
, told us we weren’t to run on the wet concrete around the pools or we’d slip over and hurt ourselves. We all tore down, ran on the wet concrete, had a swim in each pool till we were weak and floppy from the hot water, and came back up to the camping ground and ran races.

Mum and Mrs Kemp won the Ladies’ Three-Legged Race easily, but Mr Farley, the judge, had a word with Mr White who laughed and said they were so good they must have been practising at home and disqualified them. “You’ve been seen running round your front paddock,” said Mr Farley.

“Oh, Mum!” said Kate.

“But the kids practise at school,” Mum said. “
Everyone
knows.”

“They’re different,” Mr Farley said and blew his whistle.

“It’s not fair!” Mum said, and she tried to cheat in the Grownups’ Sack Race by using a rotten old sack. She stuck her feet through the bottom and ran, but everybody could see, and they pointed at her and laughed and yelled at the judge to blow his whistle and make her start all over again, only this time he
gave Mum a handicap. Kate said, “Oh, Mum!”

Then Mum tucked her dress into her bloomers and won the Hop, Step, and Jump, and she would have won the Ladies’ Egg and Spoon Race, but young Mrs
Johnson
from down Turangaomoana Road tripped over, and Mum was so busy looking at her egg, she didn’t see her and tripped over, too. So many of the others fell over them, they had to run the race all over again, and Mum streaked out in front and would have won this time, but she turned round to see where Mrs Johnson was, and dropped her egg right on the line and broke it. Everyone gave her a clap and reckoned she deserved a prize, and the chairman of the school committee gave her a bag of lollies and said she was having more fun than the kids. Kate said, “Oh, Mum!” again.

We had lunch. Our mothers cut sandwiches and cakes and, in the shade under the trees, there were a couple of milk cans full of orange cordial and big lumps of ice from the butter factory. When we’d drunk the cans empty, the men filled them up again, and they put in more ice. It was so cold, our teeth stung, and when we poked out our tongues they were bright orange. Jimmy and Betty drank too much, and Jimmy was sick – bright orange sick.

Then there was the lolly scramble, and Billy Kemp stuck out his tongue at me for telling him it was over before he got there, and somebody gave him a shove so he bit it. Later, we were having a dogfight, circling and shooting each other down, “Ka-ka-ka-ka-ka!”
but Billy’s tongue was so thick he went, “Tha-
tha-tha
-tha-tha!”

Mum tried to cadge our lollies off us, but we asked her where was the bagful she’d got in the egg and spoon race, and Betty said she didn’t give us any of them. Then we all went down for another swim.

After that, it was time to go home, and we had trouble climbing the hill to the camping ground because we were so full of food and cordial, and our legs were all wonky from the hot water. But the lorries had to get back to pick up the milk for the factory, so we climbed aboard, and Joe Belting said, “Youse watch your toes on them runners,” and we all shrieked and said, “Youse watch your toes.”

Halfway home there was a toot, and Harry Ryan shot past in his two-seater Model A, and there was Miss Real in the dickey seat with Pete James, so we yelled, and they waved back. Harry Ryan put his foot down and left us standing, and everybody cheered and said Miss Real must be Pete James’s girlfriend, and some of the older girls said, “Everyone knows that.” And they looked at each other and smirked. “So there!” they said and tossed their heads. “So there!”

We got home just as Mrs Murdoch dropped Mum off. “At least I won’t have to cook anything for your tea tonight,” she told us. “You’ve done nothing but eat your heads off all day.”

“But we’re starving, Mum!” We were tired and our skin was all tight with sunburn, but Mum wanted
to practise on the back lawn for next year’s egg and spoon race. She reckoned she was going to win that one easy.

“I’ve never been so embarrassed in all my life,” Kate said, but Betty and Jimmy reckoned they’d help Mum train for the three-legged race.

Rosie started bawling at the back gate, so I had to go and milk her, while the others went to have a look at the steers in the creek paddock. Old Pomp was fresh, from not taking us to school that day, and it must have been a pretty quick look, because I was still stripping Rosie when they straggled up to the house, Jimmy and Betty grizzling, “Wait for us!” and wanting Kate to give them a piggy-back.

Then Mum found a leg of mutton she’d cooked the night before, after we’d gone to bed. It was in the safe all the time, and she said, “Goodness gracious me, I’d forgotten all about it.” “Oh, Mum!” said Kate, and we had slices of cold mutton with lettuce and tomatoes, and Mum shared around her bag of boiled lollies after all.

Jimmy and Betty told Mum she was the best runner that day, and Kate said, “I thought the School Picnic was for the kids,” but Mum asked in a big voice, “Who said?” and we were too tired to argue and went to bed. Mum tucked us all in and said, “I had fun, anyway!” Then we heard her going out to the kitchen and saying to herself, “Next year, I’m going to tell the school committee that there should be a lolly scramble for the grownups.”

BOOK: When Mum Went Funny
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