If you remember the 1980s, you’ll remember how the threat of nuclear war was as scary as hell.

There was an educational segment in the local newspaper on what would happen if Invercargill was nuked (its risk was as a food production area) and I did a bunch of computer calculations on the half life of various radioactive materials for school.

I read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Was fascinated by radiation. Watched The Day After, the American blockbuster (I remember seeing a horse’s skeleton lit up at the moment of the blast). I read The Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age. Don’t forget the plutonium fuelled Edge of Darkness with Bob Peck.

When the wind blows by Raymond Briggs broke my heart as an old couple endured nuclear war.

Threads came out in 1984. It was a BBC programme that showed nuclear war, and the leadup to and its effect on Sheffield, England.

1980s – I remember the sheer horror of it.
1990s – at Otago University they had an AV room, and I rewatched I Claudius. And Threads.
2000s – after meeting my bloke, we went on a dystopian movie bender. Day of the Triffids. The Stand. Survivors. And Threads – Alice in Videoland has it.
2010s – S. was watching it a couple of nights ago. I sat and watched. Had forgotten how skilfully it blended the banal everyday, with the menace of imminent war in the background – on the news on tv, on the radio, in the newspapers. Then the speed at which everything unravels, and war comes, B52s fly off, and the government and authorities go to the bunkers. I watched the bomb go off, the dad is on the loo with his pants around his ankles. Nana is being escorted down the stairs into the cellar. A woman on the street turns this way and that, puts her hand to her head. Another woman in the street stands there and the camera pans down to her feet and a pool of urine floods out across the concrete.

I stop there.



Donna and Grandad

With Grandad, shortly before hospital visit number one.

I’ve been a patient at a hospital five times.


I was four. Broke my leg running down a hill and coming a cropper. I was pretty lucky it didn’t hurt.

What did pain me was not getting crutches. I was too little, and instead was given a leather lace up boot to wear over my cast. There is a fetching photo of me then, wearing a skivvy, a crochet dress and my broken leg in that huckery boot, so less glamorous than swinging around on crutches.


I slid down a wooden seesaw and got an arse full of splinters. The doctor at A&E methodically tweezed them out. I toddled home, slightly sore but glad to have wood free buttocks.

If it happened a couple of years later, it would have been worse – the 13 year old pubescent me would have been ultra humiliated to bare her bum at a doctor. She would have probably keep the splintery bottom rather than expose herself.


Number three visit was when I slammed my thumb in the door of the Kingswood. The doctor did some weird thing to make the nail come right off. I remember the smell of burning nail.

That Kingswood was a beast of a thing. It fit all six of us in quite comfortably. My sister was embarrassed by its big green gormlessness but a few years later when she got her licence she was keen to drive it. The Southland boys all thought it was cool.


After a scan. They told me our baby wasn’t the size they expected. A couple of weeks too small. They said “Look, you are probably going to lose the baby. Just go home and be prepared, there’s nothing we can do”.

The next day I bled, and didn’t know what to do, or how bad it was supposed to be. It didn’t stop so my man took me to hospital entowelled and weak. They padded me up, put me in a gown and clean sheets. I woke up and went to the loo and fainted.

Had never been unconscious before. Lying on the floor I felt blackness. It was an oddly comforting, enveloping darkness – like falling asleep in the arms of warm God.


The fifth time at hospital I had a baby. I was in labour groaning like a nutter, with a guttural choir of other mother-labourers joining in. Was pretty useless at getting baby out, much pain for mere millimetre progress. My waters had broken hours before, so they wanted baby out. I got the epidural and it took away the pain except for a vestigial trace that told me when it was pushing time. Baby turned around, so they tried forceps than switched to caesarean.

The doctors are pulling and cutting at the business end. My man can see my purple innards, and then a squealing baby. They ask him to cut the cord and he wonders if the umbilical cord is an extension cord; because it is so long.

My baby girl is thrust into my arms. I smile, and am surprised to see she is wearing a knitted beanie. She goes straight for my boob, and I know instantly she is a toughie. This baby is not fazed that my tit is five times bigger than her darling little beanied head.

Gold Guitars and Big Bad John

Sometime in the 80s my sister and I entered the Gold Guitar Awards in Gore. We had been having guitar lessons from an old chap. We didn’t enjoy them much and tried to distract him by asking him to play his banjo. This ruse proved fairly successful. I blamed my tiny hands for my poor finger picking as I was ok on the ukulele.

My sister and I wore matching outfits – a not particularly Country & Western ensemble of red Levis sweatshirts, denim mini skirts, red tights and white Skellerup sneakers. My sister played the guitar and was good. I have no memory of what we sang, but I think it was something like Call of the Bellbird.

I think the Awards took place in the splendidly named James Cumming Wing.

The Gold Guitars were great – some yodelling, and I do remember a big Maori bloke doing an epic version of Ghost riders in the sky.

I like country music – Charlie Rich, Charlie Pride, Johnny Cash et al.

One of the tracks I remember best was this – Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean … and I associate it with our beloved uncle John who worked in mines in Coober Pedy and on the West Coast and drove trucks with wheels so big that I only came up halfway up them. He died in a trucking accident.

At the bottom of this mine lies a big big man. Big John.