Saturday, July 01, 2006


Our Trojan hoarse after apologetic rounds.

"It is a good rule in life never to apologise. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take mean advantage of them." - P. G. Wodehouse

I was pleased as Punch that Helen of Troy apologised to the Samoans for the fatal dosages of Spanish flu that was visited upon their people by some of our thoughtless countrymen. It’s been worrying me sick for years. I think I was barely out of my bassinet when my parents told me the awful circumstances perpetrated by people, who by accident of birth, happened to be of New Zealand descent, and had caused the epidemic in the idyllic isles back in 1918.

I recall I made some uncharitable remarks about perhaps the Spanish also being culpable and should at least be taking some share of the blame only to get a cuff over the ear from my pater who told me not to be so insolent. But that’s all in the past; Helen has said sorry and I can sleep more restfully.

Last week, apparently, she also apologised to the gays on my behalf and that has lifted another burden that I had been carrying around for years. I worked out that I was heterosexual I think in about standard six. One of my mates, using the pointed steel end of his compass, managed to drill the tiniest of holes in the aging rusticated weatherboards that separated the boys and girls changing rooms in the old Ladies Bath’s that once graced that section of Queen Elizabeth park that is directly opposite Writeprice. From that tiny aperture we observed the girl’s in our class who were maturing more quickly than we boys and as a direct result we inevitably went on to court, and to marry, and to have children. I can’t swear to this, but I have a sneaking suspicion that those in the queue who missed out because the teacher caught us midstream now live in gay abandon in Parnell. But Helen’s apology has put things straight — and gay - and I am eternally grateful.

Then there was the apology to the Chinese. Again I had blood on my hands. I used to advertise my business as "Long’s, next to Wong’s" and although fruiterer Tommy Wong used to say this was good promotion for his business as well as mine underneath I am sure he was hurting as the memory of the insidious poll tax that his father had to pay for his family to settle in this country, will have lingered.

And there was more to this history. Tommy’s father, old Wong Nam, settled in Masterton and established his fruit and vegetable shop for some years before he could afford to call his wife and two sons to join him from their village in China. On the day of their arrival in, circa 1937, Wong Nam couldn’t leave the shop unattended, so my uncle Frank offered to go down to Wellington and pick them up in my grandfather’s much coveted Plymouth car. Tommy and Charlie have often told me since of the terror they felt when my uncle Frank, who was six-foot-six tall, greeted them on the wharf. The two little kids thought they had arrived in a land of giants. Naturally I was tickled pink when Helen apologised for the disgraceful behaviour of my ancestors.

The Wong’s were lucky their slow boat from China wasn’t diverted to Australia. Over there they don’t apologise for anything. They’re not sorry that they’re not signing the Kyoto protocol like we are, they’ve never felt any remorse that they unjustly hold a couple of rugby trophy’s that we rightfully consider to be ours, and they’re not the least bit penitent that they are going to host the Rugby World cup tournament on their own.

John Howard is the problem. The unrepentant little guy says there is no way he is going to apologise to the aboriginal people for the disgraceful manner in which the settlers treated them when they first arrived on the fatal shores. "The current generation cannot be held responsible for the actions of those who went before" he opines. Now, what sort of logic is that?

Meanwhile Helen ought to prepare for a major state visit. I’d lay odds that the premier of China will arrive on our shore imminently to apologise for the loss of life in this country over many years due to the Hong Kong flu.

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