Mr John Clarke

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A while ago I received a letter from Susie. When we were very young and she was Susan, we were in the same class at primary school. I rang her at the gallery she was running in Northern New South Wales, to thank her for the letter, to say hello and to ask her a question. 

Susan had been in a memory of mine for sixty years and I’d always wondered whether the memory was accurate or whether, over the years, I’d edited it anecdotally to the point where, like Captain Cook’s axe, it had six new heads and nine new handles and no longer bore any necessary resemblance to Captain Cook’s actual axe.
I told Susan this and asked if she remembered an incident which might conform to these general guidelines. She thought for a minute but sadly she didn’t. I told her that was OK and she asked me if I could give her a clue. I told her I didn’t want to give her a clue because I wanted her memory to exist on its own so I could check mine against it.
‘I’m sorry’, she said. ‘I don’t think I can remember it. We were only in the same class for a year.’
‘It didn’t happen at school’ I said.
‘Really?’ she said, more deeply mystified. ‘We didn’t know each outside school did we?’
‘It’s OK’ I said. ‘It doesn’t matter’.
‘Where did it happen?’ she asked.
‘It happened at a birthday party’ I said.
There was a pause.
‘Oh my God’ she said to her own considerable surprise. ‘It was at David’s birthday party.’ She then described a memory which she didn’t know she had, and which was almost a complete facsimile of my own. We were seven or eight years old and there were a few of us looking at an old shipwreck on Waiterere Beach. Susan and I and a couple of others were on the seaward side of the vessel when a very large wave came in and swept us out to sea. David’s older brother ran into the sea yelling ‘Who can swim? Who can swim?’ Susan and I both yelled out above the roar of the sea that we could swim and he rescued the other kids first, running into the waves again and again, fishing kids out and getting them to shore. In my mind Susan and I were just off the coast of Peru by the time he got to us but in fact we probably weren’t far out. I felt no panic or fear and I remember being comforted to see Susan’s head bobbing in the sea. She had big hair and she was to the north of me and we were both bobbing in the enormous sea.
By the time we came in there were some very concerned adults on the beach and we were put into dry clothes and we ran back along the beach to the house. For some reason the song ‘Hi-Lily Hi-Lo’ ran all the way back to the house, in my head, in time with my feet on the wet sand. I’ve never heard that song without the feeling that I’m running along that sand in the late afternoon in a big man’s jumper. And I’ve never thought of Susan without the idea that she and I are together, bobbing along, and that we’ll be fine.


The sparkling Christine Collins was a gifted actor with a particular understanding of the voice. She became an acting and voice coach in London but for many years before that she worked in Beckett plays, often as second voice with Billie Whitelaw as first voice. Many of these productions were directed by Beckett himself and Christine told good stories of working with him. One of my favourites concerned a meeting at Beckett’s 70th birthday party which was held at Beckett’s apartment in Paris. Christine had met many of the guests before; they were academics, Beckett scholars, publishers or broadcasting and theatre friends. But she got talking to a very interesting man in the kitchen, whose understanding of Beckett’s work was remarkable. He seemed to have seen or read almost everything Beckett had done and seemed to have a been a friend of Sam’s forever.
‘When did you first meet Sam?’ asked Christine.
‘The first time I saw Sam’ said the man, ‘he was sitting in a railway carriage between Foxrock and Dublin. He was trying to read and there was a lot of noise in the carriage, schoolboys and so on; so I went over to him and said ‘Excuse me. If you’re trying to read, you might like to come with me. It’s a bit quieter in the next carriage’ and I took him into the first-class carriage. There was no-one in there and he had the place to himself.’
‘And where do you work?’ asked Christine.
‘Oh, I’m retired now’ said the man.
‘I see’ said Christine. ‘And where were you before you retired?’
‘I was a porter on the Dublin railways’ said the man.
‘So you’ve known Sam for a very long time,’ said Christine.
‘Yes’ said the man. ‘Except for the war I’ve been to every one of Sam’s birthdays since he was nineteen.’

When Beckett was a young man he studied languages, experienced matters of the kind described in his story ‘First Love’, was mentioned in Wisden (Dublin University v Northamptonshire, left handed batsman, left arm medium pace bowler) and went to Paris, where he met James Joyce and other exiles. Joyce was a generation older and his eyesight was problematic, and Beckett became an amanuensis. Much of what Joyce wrote in this period was dictated to Beckett. When asked many years later what the difference was between the two of them, Beckett said Joyce was a synthesiser whereas he was an analyser. In his own writing he said, he tried to reduce things to the essential, whereas Joyce wanted to include everything; every sensation, every sight, every sound, every thought and feeling. As an example, he recalled that Joyce was dictating Finnegans Wake one day when a man arrived to see him and Joyce said ‘Come in’. When Beckett was reading this section back, he got to ‘Come in’ and Joyce stopped him and considered the merits of a completely extraneous phrase. There followed a brief discussion and Joyce decided to leave it in.

Beckett had earlier appeared in a celebrated court case in Dublin in which the surgeon, athlete, senator and pilot Oliver St John Gogarty had been successfully sued for libel. When they were students, Joyce and Gogarty lived together in a Martello Tower and Gogarty appears as Buck Mulligan in ‘Ulysses’. The book begins in the tower with Buck Mulligan gently mocking Joyce while shaving and looking out at ‘the snotgreen scrotumtightening sea’.
Many years later when Gogarty was a senator he was captured by IRA gunmen and only escaped by diving into the River Liffey and swimming across. In one version of the story he was shot in the arm while swimming and when he turned up in the senate the following day with his right arm in a sling, he was questioned by opponents about what had happened. He reported that he had sprained his wrist falling from his bicycle and wanted to keep it immobile. When questioned further he removed the sling and rolled up his sleeve. There was no bullet wound and the matter was dropped. Gogarty had in fact been shot in the other arm.
While he was swimming across the river that night, Gogarty promised the Liffey that if he survived he would bring it a gift, and years later he and Yeats and President Cosgrove were photographed on the riverbank where Gogarty released two white swans, from whom the white swans on the Liffey today are descended.


When I was even younger than I am now, there was a book in our house called ‘Plutarch’s Lives of the Greeks.’ I was a bit busy being a child at the time and didn’t read the book but a few years ago I bought a spoken word version of it and I listened to it in the car. As I drove, a world opened in my head.
Plutarch was a Roman and was writing about what we can learn from ancient Greece about how to run a society. Each chapter describes a particular individual contribution to the rise of ancient Greece. Themistocles for example. Themistocles’ response to the impending attack of the enormous Persian army was to order the construction of 200 ships. He sailed the ships across the Aegean to Persia and made loud and offensive threats before turning and sailing back toward Greece in full sight of the Persians who changed their plans and put their very large army on ships and set out after the Greeks. The Greek ships led the Persians into the narrow straits of Salamis where the smaller Greek vessels were more manoeuvrable and where the much smaller Greek army was positioned on the hills to welcome any Persians who managed to get ashore. The Persians were comprehensively defeated and Themistocles remains an example of how superior tactics can triumph over superior numbers.
This lesson was not lost on Alexander the Great, who was waiting in the wings of history. Before he was great, Alexander was nevertheless thought to be heading in that direction. One day his father Phillip of Macedon was presented with a magnificent, huge, strong and beautiful horse. Unfortunately, at the presentation the horse was wild and unmanageable. Alexander was twelve or thirteen but he demurred and said it hadn’t been established that the horse was unmanageable. Phillip snapped at his son and the conversation went something like this:
‘Alexander, since you’re such an expert, would you like to have a crack at riding the horse?’
‘Happy to, yes, by all means’ said Alexander.
‘It’s an easy boast Alexander’ said Phillip. ‘Talk is cheap. What will you give us if you can’t ride the horse?’
‘How about I give you the value of the horse?’ said the boy, who didn’t have the money.
The horse was then brought out again and Alexander walked out to the horse, talked to the horse, stroked the horse, got on the horse and rode the horse, to amazement on all sides.
Asked later how he did this, he said that when first presented, the horse had been petrified. There were people yelling all around his head, robes flapping and men pulling him this way and that. Even more terrifying to the horse was an enormous monster moving about on the ground. Realising that this was the horse’s own shadow, Alexander dropped his robe and turned the horse to face the sun. The enormous monster disappeared. Alexander was given the horse, which he named Bucephalus, and together they conquered the known world.


I watched a movie called ‘Clueless’ the other night. I’ve seen it before and it’s twenty years old but it still holds up as an amusing cautionary tale about a pampered young woman with nothing better to do but manipulate the lives and feelings of her friends in the belief that she is assisting them to find love, about which she knows nothing. In order to enjoy the movie you don’t need to know that it is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma,’ (and a very good one too). I also recently watched a movie called ‘The Queen’, a drama starring Helen Mirren, about the behaviour of the Queen at the time of the death of Princess Diana. I struggled not to see this as ‘Toad of Toad Hall’. The Queen, who is Toad, lives in an enormous house and is tolerated only because in the English social structure it is a sustaining pleasure for the poor to look upon the wealthy with love and admiration, as is also the case in Australia and in many other egalitarian nations. When the Queen/Toad behaves badly however, Blair/Badger needs to go and say ‘Excuse me. What the hell do you think you’re doing? You’re in a fabulous position and everyone wants you to stay there but if you’re not interested, the media/stoatsandweasels will completely take over and tear the place apart. Do exactly as I say or you’ll have this whole thing in the ditch’. The Queen then does as she’s told and Badger goes out and deals brilliantly with the stoats and weasels. Nothing changes. Reform has been averted. Big win for Badger, who wins the next election going away. Diana is nationalised as ‘The People’s Princess’ and Ratty and Moley go back to buggering about on the river.

When Paul Cox was moved from hospital into palliative care, we prepared ourselves for tough news. Paul was getting smaller and weaker, his voice was in retreat and family and friends had attended his bedside to say their goodbyes. His siblings flew out from Europe. I didn’t expect to see him again.

A week or so later, Paul decided he was going home and explained to the palliative care people that although he loved them dearly, he would not be dying just yet. He travelled home in a Popemobile-shaped taxi and began blessing people as he passed them in the street. This cheered him up enormously and when we saw him a few days later he rose to meet us, offered us coffee and sat rather grandly in a chair, chatting for hours with a keen emphasis on the future. His voice was stronger, his memory was wonderful, his manners were elegant, his talk was clever and in some cases what he said was astonishing. At 7 o'clock each evening, for example, he went out on to his little balcony in Melbourne and raised both arms high in the air in order to receive healing waves being beamed to him by a woman in Uzbekistan. Paul was very amusing about all this but as he said, ‘at this stage I believe in nothing and everything.’

A few years earlier, the first time he was going to die, he received a liver transplant and, in a state of profound gratitude, he continued writing and making films. Last year he made a movie in which David Wenham played a man who has a liver transplant and falls in love. Paul met his partner Rosie when they were both receiving liver transplants. He was in his late sixties at the time and she is a beautiful Balinese woman of somewhat more tender years. ‘I know what you’re thinking Johnny’ Cox said to me when he introduced us. ‘Rosie is much younger than I am. But I want you to know Johnny, my liver is younger than Rosie’s’.

Half a lifetime ago Paul and I wrote some films together and we’ve always stayed in touch. I’d never written a movie before and I quickly learnt it was no use suggesting to Paul a thematically consistent sequence involving sport, for example. That wouldn’t fit in a Cox film. Too healthy. And there wasn’t much interest in men who fixed cars and called each other ‘mate’. Paul’s films looked like Dutch interiors with dappled light playing through the window and they were full of urban characters who were ill at ease, often slightly wounded or suffering from incongruity of some kind. As with many collaborations, we wrote by talking a lot together and then writing separately. Paul’s house was always full of good conversation. At one stage Werner Herzog was living in a shed in the backyard with a dingo. Peter Watkins also lived there at some point, while he and Paul were discussing a film project. Peter had made the brilliant 1964 docudrama ‘Culloden’ in which 1960s British journalists report live from a battle which occurred in 1745. This strategy of anachronism was new in 1964 and the effect in ‘Culloden’ was terrifying.

Paul’s public presentation was that of a serious artist but he was nevertheless given to fits of amusement which produced a snuffling and rumbling sound such as might occur if a badger were attempting not to explode. When he regrouped, he expressed matters once more in his formal mode, which was not unlike an antiques catalogue. A suggestion which would solve a problem was ‘good,’ a great idea for a scene was ‘fine,’ and if he completely approved of a whole section of plot and dialogue he would pronounce it ‘very fine’; as in ‘I read that section again last night Johnny. That really is very fine’. When ‘Lonely Hearts,’ the first film we wrote together, was about to be released thirty-five years ago, Paul wrote me a letter which I have always kept. In the last line of the letter he said he hoped that having worked on this film together and seeing it come to fruition, would ‘strengthen our shy human friendship’. It did.

Having received blessings from Uzbekistan, Paul announced he was going to America. The only people who thought this wouldn’t happen were those unfamiliar with Paul’s willpower. The doctors wouldn’t allow him to fly across the Pacific for fourteen hours so he’d negotiated overnight stays in Bangkok, Dubai and Frankfurt and then a trip across the Atlantic to Chicago. His film ‘Force of Destiny’ was to play at the Ebert Film Festival and Paul had been invited to speak. Rosie would go with him and make sure he rested, ate the right food and took his tablets. The couple left on April Fool’s Day and that night Rosie, whose canonisation is imminent, sent a message reporting that Paul had gone out to dinner in Bangkok. This was probably a PB for the palliative care unit at the Austin but Cox was just limbering up. After Dubai and Frankfurt the official party arrived in Chicago and Paul made a gracious, honest and very engaging speech to an audience who couldn’t believe quite what they were watching. Following the festival, Paul and Rosie made their way home and Paul was planning another movie. The fact that he died on Saturday will probably slow him down a bit although I expect he’ll call sometime during the next week or so with a revised schedule. ‘I’m still going to do it’ he’ll say. ‘Why not? I have some good ideas. I want to talk about it. Come to dinner.’

Paulus Henrique Benedictus Cox 1940 – 2016

This is our father. He and I had a few problems, but we’ll let that pass.
The photo was taken somewhere in North Africa or Italy during the Second World War.

Ted was born in Wellington in December 1914. His mother had just arrived from Ulster. Ted used to say he was designed in Northern Ireland and assembled in New Zealand. Like many children of migrant parents, Ted was keen to fit into the culture of the new place. His father’s instinct was to hang on to the old place. He thought nothing in New Zealand was good enough; the culture was no good, the politics were no good, the rugby wasn’t a patch on British football. But as a boy, Ted wanted to be like the other kids. Ted played rugby. Ted was a New Zealander.
Quite early in his life, Ted developed a self which he presented to the world, partly as a way of fitting in and partly to put some distance between who he was and who he aspired to be. One characteristic of this developed self was a carefully edited history. Even people who met Ted in his eighties and nineties thought he was the product of an educated and rather comfortable English family.
The real story is considerably better.

In 1914, in the far north of Ulster, around Coleraine and Portrush, his mother Margot Hamilton, 26, unmarried and working as a nurse, discovered she was pregnant and with the First World War approaching she left Northern Ireland and travelled alone on the long sea voyage to New Zealand. There is no evidence that any member of her family ever communicated with her again. When she arrived in Wellington she had little money, no work and she knew no-one. When the time came she was admitted to the Alexandra Hospital for unmarried mothers, where she had an emergency C-section and was delivered of twin boys. The first boy was named after the father, whose name was Edward Clarke. The second boy was named Stewart, after the matron of the hospital, Miss Stewart. The births were not registered, a procedural slip which may have been finessed by Miss Stewart, and while the babies got a decent start and Margot recovered, Miss Stewart took the the little family in. She had boarders at her house and she installed Margot as a housekeeper.

In 1919 there was a flu epidemic that killed more people than had just died in the First World War, and Margot caught it. The doctors told her to leave Wellington and move north, where she could get some sea air. So she moved slightly up the west coast of the North Island, the world capital of sea air, and Eddie and Stewart were brought up in and around Karehana Bay and Plimmerton.
After the First World War, when Ted was six, he was sitting on the verandah one day when a man came in the gate and Ted looked up as he approached the house. Ted always remembered seeing his father for the first time, from the shoes up. Edward and Margot were married at Miss Stewart’s brother’s house in Hawker Street, the births were registered, Edward got work as a carpenter and the semblance of respectability began to be constructed. The boys went to the local school, the beach was only a few yards away and the family had a succession of dogs and cats. They didn’t have any money but life was good. Ted’s father was a fine fiddle player and people would often stop outside the house on their way home to listen to him. Ted had only a small repertoire of stories of his birth and childhood and they created only very general impressions. He spoke of his mother’s family in England as if they were all close, despite the fact that they were neither close, nor in England. The facts were not the point. The point with Ted was always fitting in. Having the right effect. Creating the right impression.
Ted felt less in common with his father and he certainly looked like his mother and although he argued with her about politics (she was a socialist and he was pretending to be a free market capitalist) he never stopped admiring her determination, her stoicism and her dignity. No-one knows where the boys' father was between 1914 and 1920. Ted always said he was fighting in the war but he couldn’t remember where and there’s no record of him in any of the services. Stewart thought he was jailed for his involvement with the Ulster Volunteers in the sectarian violence of 1913-19 but there’s no record of him either in prison records or in those of the Ulster Volunteers. Margot and her boys and their friend Mary Stewart remained close and there are photographs of the boys with Miss Stewart until she died. When they were young they would sometimes go into town by train and stay with her for a few days and she would make a fuss of them and take them to see things around the city. For forty years Margot worked for the Red Cross and for other charities which helped people in trouble. It had been tough but she knew she’d done well to bring herself and her boys to a new life in New Zealand.

The boys were bright, keen and talented, Ted was a good schoolboy sprinter and a very handy tennis and badminton player. Stewart, who had inherited his father’s gift for music, wanted to be a concert pianist. But when they were 14, the world was hit by The Great Depression and unless their families had money, teenagers had to leave school and get a job. Ted got a job at McKenzies, a retail company with branches all over the country. Stewart got work with Ballantynes, a large retail outlet in Christchurch where he worked for some years until after the war Ballantynes burnt down, at which point he also got a job at McKenzies.

Ted was good at his job and during the 1930s he became a manager and began to climb from branch to bigger branch; Nelson, Timaru, Napier, New Plymouth, Gisborne and Auckland before he was called up for military service in the Second World War and after training in Trentham and drafting into the 7th anti-tank unit, 66394 Clarke left New Zealand and arrived in the middle east during one the great crises in the war. The North African campaign was beginning and The New Zealand Division was sent up through Palestine, Syria and Lebanon to defend the oilfields against a possible attack through Turkey, and then they were pulled back to defend Cairo from the German advance from the west which was occurring at speed under Rommel, and there followed throughout late 1941 and 1942, some of the most significant battles of the war. Ted was in all of them: Sidi Rezegh, Mersa Matruh, Minqar Qaim, Ruweisat Ridge, El Alamein, the Libyan and Tunisian campaigns and then up through Italy, the Sangro River and Monte Cassino. In the lives of anyone in the New Zealand Division in the Second World War, these years remained vivid. In his nineties, Ted could still describe in detail these events, his own actions, his feelings and his love and high regard for those who shared those experiences with him, Tony Ballard, Keith Garland, Maurice Spence.

Except when he was at home, where he often looked like a pantomime lunatic, Ted was always well turned out. He wore good suits, brogues and a shirt and tie. He knew the prestige brands and he understood the value of a gesture which signified class and breeding. Eric Townley, another of his army friends, told me that all through the war, Ted was always clean-shaven, even in battle. ‘Your father’ said Eric, ‘was the cleanest man in the Western Desert’. One of the things Ted had with him during the desert campaign, was a small book of poetry he’d bought in Cairo, and like a lot of the men, he read and committed to memory large tracts of English verse. His standard greeting in the morning for the rest of his life was from the Rubaiyat:
‘Awake for morning in the bowl of night
Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight
And lo, the hunter of the east has caught
The Sultan’s turret in a noose of light.’

He also loved Shelley’s ‘To a Skylark'
'Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert-
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art’. (He loved that last line).

He also learnt, either from his father’s repertoire or from troop entertainers, great slabs of British Music Hall and he could recite all that too. He had a good singing voice, kept perfect time and he loved entertaining people. He knew bits of Sid Field, Flanagan and Allen, Arthur Askey and the Western Brothers. He sang ‘Beautiful as a Butterfly’ very well. He also recited a silly sales pitch he’d got from somewhere: ‘All wool and a yard wide, this product is wiff-waffed on both sides and bevelled all around, has hot and cold folding doors, two kinds of water, clean and dirty, it’s guaranteed not to rip, tear or bust. Recommended not by me; recommended by a better man that me. Recommended by the maker’.

On the way back to New Zealand after the war, the troop ship Ted was on stopped at Melbourne for supplies and anyone who wanted to go the theatre was invited to attend a performance free of charge. Ted put his hand up and that night he went to one of the big nineteenth century theatres in the city. He couldn’t remember what the entertainment was, but before it began, a man in a suit came out in front of the curtain and said ‘Ladies and gentlemen. We’re fortunate to have in the audience tonight, a party of New Zealand soldiers, returning from the war in Europe and the middle east. You men are very welcome here, we hope you enjoy the evening with us and we wish you a safe trip home’. The audience then spontaneously stood and applauded. Ted said this was the first sense he had of being home again and he never forgot it. Whenever he came to Melbourne he always went to the Shrine of Remembrance. He didn’t go inside. He just wandered around the huge courtyard and stood by the eternal flame for a while and then he said, every time, ‘They do this very well, don’t they? They’re very good the Aussies. If you’re ever in a war, try to make sure you’ve got the Aussies on at least one flank. They’re very tough and very smart. I saw a lot of them in the desert and they’re terrific in battle. They never give up. They never know when they’re beaten.’

In 1944 in Senigallia, in Italy, when he’d been wounded and was working at Headquarters for a while, Ted met Neva Morrison, who was from Gisborne and was with the New Zealand army secretarial corps, the WAACs. Anna and I are the children of Ted Clarke and Neva Morrison. When we were growing up they were living in Palmerston North, where Ted was the manager of the McKenzies store. He used to tell the story of employing people on staff and if they were honest and responsible people he’d hire them but he always asked them one question. ‘Who wrote Grey’s Elegy?'
Once a bloke seemed confused and Ted said 'It’s not a trick question. An elegy is just a poem. It’s like being asked 'Who wrote Grey’s poem?’‘
'I don’t know anything about poetry’, said the bloke.
‘No, you don’t have to know anything about poetry’ said Ted. ‘Who wrote Grey’s poem? Look out the door there. You see that shop across the Square. What is it?'
'Hopwood’s Hardware.'
'Right. Hopwood’s Hardware. Do you know who owns it?'
'Mr Hopwood.'
'Right. Mr Hopwood owns Hopwood’s Hardware. Who wrote Grey’s Elegy?'
'Oh’, said the bloke. ‘Mr Hopwood’.

He once got sent some kerosene heaters from Head Office. He’d asked for one. They sent him ten. They were terrible and they smelt and no other branch could sell any. Ted sold all of them. He put one out the front of the shop, turned it on so it glowed and felt warm, and he put up a sign: ‘Limit One Per Customer.’ He was a particularly good retailer.

Ted’s brother Stewart went away to the Pacific War and had also come back into McKenzies and during the 1950s he was the manager in Rotorua. They were both pretty smart boys and in 1960 they were both promoted to Head Office, Ted as the Buying Controller and Stewart as The Sales Controller. Ted was on the board of Manakau Knitting Mills and other companies in the McKenzies group, and he travelled overseas in 1962, 1964, 1965 and 1970, when hardly anybody did, including going very early into China, buying merchandise in Europe and Asia (I think his favourite country was Austria). Business was good, the company grew and eventually the parent company, Rangitira, sold the McKenzies stores, and the McKenzie Trust, which is an investment company, became the biggest philanthropic organisation in New Zealand history. The Clarke twins helped build this great enterprise.

Ted and Neva’s marriage was not a runaway success and Ted buried himself in his work and for some years refused to acknowledge that he and Neva were effectively living separate lives. After their divorce they both remarried and Ted retired and took on some consultancy work.

When he had grandchildren, Ted gradually began to drop his guard. He managed this rather well and he was wise enough to recognise the benefits.
‘These feminists’ he would say. ‘Good grief’.
‘I’m a feminist Ted’ one his granddaughters would say.
‘No, no, no,’ he would clarify. ‘You’re a very beautiful young woman.'
'Do you know what feminist is Ted?’ she would say.
‘You tell me’ he would reply, and he would then sit back and enjoy a small tutorial from which he would emerge wiser and smiling with pride. ‘I just had the most interesting conversation. God those girls are intelligent. Absolutely wonderful.’

As he drifted through his eighties and into his nineties, Ted was sustained by his great love of the family, by which he meant a slightly fantastical skein of connectedness and common interests and ethics running from his mother, whom he adored, through his children and grandchildren. He also loved his sport and music, which he took up in a big way in retirement and from which he got a great deal of pleasure. He was also a perceptive student of the human race. He had an excellent memory, a great gift for words and talk, an interest in world affairs and ideas and a very dry sense of humour. When he had an operation a few years ago to remove a cancer from his temple I rang him and said ‘How are you?'
'I’m good thanks’.
‘Was the operation a success?'
'Yes. They seem very pleased'
'Are you any better looking?'
'I don’t know about better looking but I caught sight of myself in the mirror this morning and I can certainly see what the fuss is all about’.

Ted was a dignified, gifted and remarkable man. He started with nothing and succeeded in almost everything he did. He was interested in history, language and the society he lived in. A generation later and he’d have been at university and may have had some other choices.
But Ted made the best he could of the situation he was in, as he saw it. He was unhorsed from time to time and there were difficulties. And he was troubled by these difficulties. He looked at these difficulties and in later years he tried to address them. If he didn’t deal with them or didn’t deal with them effectively, he would want to acknowledge his own failure. It was not because he did not want to. He was a loving, attentive and frequently hilarious grandfather and he said repeatedly in the last week of his life, ‘When I go into orbit, I’ll go into orbit with a smile on my face’.

Edward Alexander Clarke 1914 – 2008


This is a picture of our mother. It was taken in 1944 in San Spirito, in Italy, when she was working at New Zealand army headquarters. During the Second World War, the role of women was changing. They began to do work previously done by men, in education, in health, in factories, in transport and on the land. These women often became more independent as their experiences took them beyond the lives of their own mothers. As the Irish poet Seamus Heaney said, ‘in a life the nucleus stays the same but with any luck the circumference moves out’.

Not long before this photograph was taken, Neva was working as a secretary in Whakatane, her boyfriend was a champion swimmer and they spent their weekends at dances and up the east coast. When the war broke out her boyfriend joined the airforce and in 1942 he was shot down and killed over Benghazi, in Libya. The 24 year old woman in the photograph was partly recovering from the trauma of losing her best friend and partly taking charge of her life.

Neva Yvonne Morrison was born in Gisborne on April 20th 1920. She had a happy, confident childhood and was bright and keen to do well. But times were tough and like many others she had to leave school during The Depression and find work. She learnt shorthand, became a virtuoso touch typist and could organise anything from a standing start. After the death of her friend, and partly as a response, she joined up for overseas service herself and after training in Wellington she arrived in Italy with the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. In September 1944 the administrative headquarters of the New Zealand division was moved to Senigallia on the Adriatic coast and Neva was promoted to a position working directly for Major-General W G Stevens, the commanding officer.

The New Zealand division, which was sometimes called the 2NZEF or ‘The Div’ had built its reputation through tough campaigns in Greece, Crete and across North Africa and was now part of the arduous and apparently endless fighting up through Italy. Thousands had been killed. Many of the men around headquarters were on leave or were convalescing after being wounded. From them she heard of the battles and the terrible losses. She heard stories of men she’d known in New Zealand. Her sister’s fiancee had been captured in North Africa and was in a German prison camp. Her cousin had come through the desert campaign in the infantry and was now part of the fighting in Italy. Another cousin was a decorated pilot with 70th Squadron, where life expectancy was somewhat limited. She herself was the victim of a sexual assault and was mentioned in dispatches for her actions in defending herself. On the other hand, there were good friends among the WAACs, beautiful beaches, historic towns, and there were dances. An Australian pilot told me ‘Your mother was the best dancer in the New Zealand army.’ She also learnt enough Italian to make her way around and meet the local people, some of whom she stayed in touch with long after the war. As an allied victory became more inevitable the WAACs took some leave and hitched rides in army vehicles going to Florence, Sienna, Milan, Venice or Rome. Neva also went hiking in The Alps and climbed Mont Blanc. Throughout this period she kept a diary in which she recorded her experiences and which was later published as a book, ‘An Angel in God’s Office’.

It was at Headquarters in Senigallia that Neva met our father, Ted Clarke, who was working there for a while after being wounded. Ted was from Wellington and was in the 7th Anti-tank regiment. He’d been at Sidi Rezegh, Ruweisat Ridge, Minqar Qaim, El Alamein, Tebaga Gap, the Sangro and Monte Cassino. Neva was keen not to become deeply involved with anyone but she and Ted got on well and had a good deal in common. Both had parents with strong roots in Ulster, both were interested in the arts, both had a gift for language and they shared a sense of humour.

When the war finished Neva returned home via Britain and visited the place in County Down where her father had grown up. When she arrived at the railway station in Crossgar she approached a man with a horse drawn taxi. ‘Hello’ she said. ‘I’m from New Zealand and I’m trying to find the place where my father grew up.’ ‘Is that right?’ asked the man. ‘What was his name?’ ‘William Gibson Morrison’ replied Neva. ‘Right’, said the man ‘I’ll take you up to the house. I was at school with him. How is he?’ ‘He’s fine’ said Neva. And that night she slept in the bed her father was born in.

A few months later she arrived back in New Zealand and was re-united with her family and friends. She quickly realised that she wouldn’t be slipping back into Gisborne and continuing her old life. She applied to go to Japan as part of New Zealand’s post-war presence in the region but was told they were only taking people who hadn’t had the opportunity to go to Europe. She took a job in the Prime Minister’s office in Wellington while she considered what to do. She and Ted had begun to spend some time together and he was thinking about the future. He had gone back to the job he’d had before the war with a national retail chain and had been appointed manager of the Palmerston North branch. After a while Ted was invited to go to Gisborne and meet Neva’s family and on a fine summer’s day in early 1947, in the garden of Neva’s parents' house in Sievwright Lane, where we later spent many Christmases, Neva and Ted were married.
Here they are in Wellington as a young married couple, in step.

Neva was a modern woman. She was intelligent, capable, talented, ambitious and very employable. She had travelled extensively in Europe at a time when travel was generally available to few. Ted was a very good retailer and retail was booming, so he was quickly marked out for bigger things in the company. I was born in 1948 and Anna in 1951 and Neva was a very good mother. As for many women, however, being confined at home and deprived of independent income or social contacts was a gender-specific restriction. Despite her love for her children, the role of housewife in Palmerston North during the 1950s was not going to hold Neva’s interest on its own.
She got involved with the local theatre group and began to appear in plays. The local repertory attracted actors from other towns and for years afterwards I saw people in film and television productions, who had been in plays at the Manawatu Rep. Sometimes they babysat us while Neva was at rehearsals or during the run of a play; Ngaire Porter for example, who was from Napier and later played Irene in the BBC’s production of The Forsyte Saga' and Dennis Moore, who also went to London and became an agent and among whose clients were the members of Monty Python. They wrote a song about him in the manner of Robin Hood. It begins ‘Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore, Galloping through the sward.
Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore, And his horse Concorde.
He steals from the rich. And gives to the poor.
Mr. Moore, Mr. Moore, Mr. Moore.'
Dennis and I are still in regular contact and despite the fact that he lives on the south coast of Devon, he still knows exactly what’s happening in Palmerston North. Sometimes I was roped into actual involvement in one of Neva’s plays. When I was about eight years old a boy called Bill Woollett broke his nose in a rugby match and I was blackmailed into replacing him at very short notice as Bob Cratchit’s son in 'A Christmas Carol.’ Another time I was prevailed upon to stand just offstage in some production Neva was in and hand various props to an actor called Colin Watson, who later became a successful sculptor in New York. Colin was rather a physical performer and would dash into the wings, grab the prop and then bound back onstage, slamming the door so that the set heaved and rattled and the notion that we were in Moscow, which was already in some trouble, was briefly abandoned altogether. Brooms would fall over backstage and we’d fumble about in the dark catching cups and bits of lighting equipment in case the whole of Russia went up. I also remember an actress called Bunty Norman singing a song called ‘Making Whoopee.’ She was pretending to be drunk and I was aware that I was learning about something by seeing it exaggerated.

Neva was an encouraging and very amusing mother. She could talk about anything and if there was nothing much happening, she would help us to remember or imagine. ‘Who is this man?’ she would ask about a bloke walking up the street as we sat in the car ‘And what is he carrying in that bag? Onions? Fish? Has he murdered his wife and cut her up into very small pieces? And is that a limp or has he just got new shoes, and if so, should he take them back and get some the right size?’ She also took us to the A&P Show, to musical events, to visit her friends, to other towns and to shows by visiting artists. We went to the Opera House where we saw Joyce Grenfell, who was very funny and John Geilgud, who was very serious.

Neva also bought a typewriter and she began to write short stories. There were other writers doing this in the Manawatu and they met regularly. They were often women and they sent their stories away to magazine publishers. Before the arrival of television, magazines were king and some of the best writing anywhere in the world made its first appearance in periodicals. I remember Alice Glenday who became a novelist and Joy Cowley, who lived on a farm on the way to Ashurst and had a husband who could do somersaults on the lawn. I was deeply impressed.

Neva was sometimes ill in Palmerston North in the 1950s with various conditions we might these days see as at least partly psychological. The house was always clean and there was good food on the table but in emotional terms she was running on empty. She and Ted were drifting apart. Ted’s business was expanding and he was at work a great deal of the time. There are photographs from this period in which we look like a dust bowl family who have just lost everything in a tornado.

In 1960 Ted was promoted to Head Office and the family moved to Wellington. He had a senior position with the company and was going well. Neva loved Wellington and her illnesses disappeared immediately. There was quite an active arts community and she joined the Wellington theatre groups. She also joined the radio drama cohort and appeared in plays for broadcast. She took singing lessons from George Scott Morrison. But mostly she continued with her writing. She sold a great many stories to magazines and for the next 50 years she published stories, memoirs, wrote book reviews, appeared in theatre productions and on radio. She published a novel, she wrote histories and she still had a weekly newspaper column in her eighties.

During the 1960s the sound we heard when we came in from school, was the clackety clack of the typewriter. Neva would be perched somewhere in the house, often near a window where the light was good, and her fingers would be flying across the keys. She could type while looking at notes sitting on another chair or while saying ‘Hello boy who needs a haircut. How was school and why don’t you put the kettle on?’ There would sometimes be a small gathering of writers in the house. I came home one afternoon and had quite an interesting chat with a man in the kitchen. He’d been working as a teacher in Malaya when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was given a year to live and he’d always wanted to write a novel, so he set about it without delay. He finished it, got it published and when he didn’t die, he wrote another one. He’d done this several times and had recently published a novel called ‘A Clockwork Orange’. His name was Anthony Burgess and he would live for another thirty years. Another man called John A Lee had published a memoir called ‘Simple on a Soapbox’. John had won a DCM in the First World War and had lost an arm. He’d been thrown out of the Labour Party for his socialist views and I gathered this had been a great scandal. He was a big genial fellow in a suit and he spoke in ringing tones in our small hallway as if he were addressing a large crowd in rather blustery conditions in open parkland. For a while our postman was James Baxter, who had a beautiful voice and would often come in for a cup of tea and a chat with Neva about what was going on in the writing world. I also remember going to Barry Crump’s house one day with Neva. I must have been about twelve and Barry was a hero of mine. I had first encountered him on radio, reading his early novels ‘A Good Keen Man’ and ‘Hang on a Minute Mate.’ It was the first time I’d heard fiction which caught the rhythm and tone of the New Zealand voice. Barry had overslept and was dressing as we arrived. He put a shirt on and pulled it down very firmly all around, which he referred to as doing the ironing. ‘Come in Neva’ he said. ‘I don’t think you’ve met my new dragon’. And we peered into the gloom where a slightly horrified young woman named Helen Smith was gathered among the bedclothes. My admiration for Barry was tempered by my recognition that Helen would possibly rather be in Philadelphia.
In 1965 Neva became the New Zealand President of PEN, the international organisation of writers, and which over the next few years was instrumental in introducing public lending rights into New Zealand.

In 1971 Neva and Ted were divorced and Neva got a job running an employment agency, bought a small house and got on with her life. Within a couple of years both she and Ted remarried. Neva moved to the far north and settled at Coopers Beach with her second husband Len McKenna, an American ex-Lockheed executive who adored the bays and beaches of the far north of New Zealand as much as she did. They drove all the roads, walked all the beaches and swam all the waters of the place they called ‘paradise’. Neva became the unofficial historian of the entire region and published books which are still among the best research ever complied about the early days and places and people of the far north. Neva was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for this work and if you go to Mangonui, you’ll see the boardwalk named after her along the beautiful foreshore.

Neva achieved a great deal in her life. She was creative, convivial, active and well-organised. She had a strong personality and wherever she lived she was surrounded by friends and admirers. She travelled extensively overseas and established strong contacts with her father’s family in Northern Ireland. She was interested in everything and she gave everything a go. She took up painting in her sixties. She was involved in a film in her seventies. She and the other participants went to Hollywood, met all sorts of people, had lunch with Phyllis Diller and enjoyed every minute of it.

Neva insisted she wasn’t a feminist. Perhaps she thought feminism was inconsistent with motherhood and good housekeeping. Perhaps there were other reasons she didn’t like the label. It sometimes seemed to us that if she could see her personal history in terms of ideas rather than as narrative drama, she might have recognised the inequities she wanted addressed as those at the core of the feminist project. She fought some of them very early and some of them were very tough. Her grandmother had been a suffragist, had lobbied for women to get the vote and had served on local bodies in the 1890s. Neva’s determination to exist and succeed as an individual while providing life and support to others, is a powerful legacy. Perhaps she inherited this determination. She has certainly passed it on.

In the last few years of her life, Neva lived in Hamilton, where Anna paid close attention to her needs as her capacities and her driving energy began to wane. In that time she loved receiving visits from her grand-children, her great grandchildren and from friends.

Until that time Neva had an excellent memory and she always wrote things down. There were notes all over the house. Among some diary notes she made when she was in Wellington, she records a visit from Tom Seddon who lived up the road and was the son of Richard Seddon, who is still New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Minister. The Seddons had been great friends of the Beauchamps and as a young man Tom had travelled from Wellington to Rotorua one day and had bumped into Katherine Beauchamp, who is better known by her middle name, Katherine Mansfield. When Tom saw her in Rotorua, she was sitting in a park in the rain, under a weeping willow. She had come up to Rotorua with a man and it hadn’t worked out very well, which is why she was in a park. ‘But….’ she said to Tom. ‘I’ve written a marvellous story’. The story was called ‘The Woman at the Store’ and Katherine said it was about a woman she had encountered on the way up to Rotorua.
‘The Woman at the Store’ is a well known story and was published some years later in London. Katherine Mansfield scholar Lydia Wevers is interested in Katherine’s conversation with Tom because it was not previously known. It suggests that the work was formed in Katherine’s mind and was possibly written in some form, years before it was published. It is typical of Neva to have written down what Tom had told her, and to have caught even in a diary entry, the drama and value of a good story.

Neva Morrison Clarke McKenna 1920-2015

New Zealand is the most beautiful country in the world, as is clearly stated in the UN Charter. (I think it’s in Article 17). The land is nourished by warm sunshine each morning and receives the benediction of good rainfall around lunchtime. It is an egalitarian nation made up of well over four million rugged individualists and naturally gifted sportspeople and is run on alternate days by the government and whoever bought the national infrastructure.

Like Australia, New Zealand was established as a colonial economy by the British. This meant they bought our wool and our meat, although not for our benefit. It was purchased from the farmers by British companies, shipped on British ships and processed in British factories before being sold in British shops in British currency. The money then went into British banks. I think we can probably all see the problem here. The British made more out of New Zealand than the New Zealanders did. This changed slightly in the early 1970s when Britain went into the Common Market. Kids had been doing school projects about this throughout the 1960s but it came as an enormous surprise to the New Zealand government and it has taken them some time to adjust. The principal business in New Zealand used to be sheep but the country has now moved into milk in a big way and if you’d like to enjoy the beautifully clean swift-flowing New Zealand river system, you should make every effort to get out there before the dairy industry gets any more successful. New Zealand also produces a large quantity of fruit, wine, fish, coal, wood pulp, flightless birds, cups of tea, middle-distance runners and other people’s film industries.

Before the British, the Maori people arrived from Hawaii in the year 1273, at about quarter past 4 in the afternoon. There were allegedly people here before that, called the Moriori, and there may have been people even before that. Harry Armitage has been a stock agent up around Raetihi for at least that long and he tells me his father had the pub at Te Karaka.

Like most of the world’s major democracies, New Zealand is run by international capital and a few local big-shots who tickle the till and produce a set of annual accounts in a full range of colours. There is a national parliament in Wellington, which looks like the hats in the Devo clip ‘Whip It’, although very little of any importance has ever occurred there. The country works a lot better during the weekends than it does during the week, there are no states and the senate voted itself out of existence after the Second World War. When the Lower House eventually follows their excellent example, constitutional experts agree the next step will be beers all round.

In 1893, women in New Zealand were the first in the world to get the vote and in more recent times women have had a run as Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, Chief Justice and Governor General. Even the Queen is a woman. The country’s most famous pop singer, best known opera star, most famous short story writer, greatest novelist and most consistent world champion athlete are all women. They’re not allowed in the All Blacks as yet, but don’t be fooled. It’s just a matter of time. New Zealand women are stroppy, imaginative and a major strength in both the Maori and Pakeha cultures. In some New Zealand families, women are practically running things.

During the 1970s, New Zealand was confronted by very serious economic and political crises, although according to police records, there’s some suspicion these were both inside jobs. During that period New Zealand rugby administrators were ex-forwards who looked like spuds in their jackets and when they announced that they were sending an All Black team on a tour to South Africa, there were suggestions it might be time to go and get some new spuds, and maybe some who’d played in the backs. At this stage Nelson Mandela had served about ten of his twenty-seven years in prison and the rest of the world took the radical left-wing position that democracy might be worth a try in the region. New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk went to see the Rugby Union.
‘I’m the Prime Minister’ he explained.
‘Is that right?’ said the spuds. ‘Take a number’.
‘We’d rather you didn’t go to South Africa’ said Norman. ‘It will look like an endorsement of the white supremacist policies of the South African government, to which we are opposed’.
‘So what?’ said the spuds. (I’m summarising a bit here, obviously).
‘So it’s not going to happen’, explained Norman.
The spuds were furious. They saw this action by the government as a direct threat to the way the country was run, and after a smaller Prime Minister had been elected in 1975, the tour went ahead. As a result of New Zealand’s endorsement of the white supremacist South African regime, the Montreal Olympics in 1976 were boycotted by twenty-six African nations.
‘So what?’ said the spuds and the smaller Prime Minister.
And so it was that the return Springbok tour of New Zealand in 1981 was a famous disaster, for the spuds and the government did not have the support of the people and the nation was divided and brother spoke not to brother, nor sister to sister, nor yet generation to generation, each of its kind. And there was a gnashing of teeth and the scribes were thrown into a great confusion and there came a heavy sadness upon the people and upon the land, and upon the face of the deep.

The economic crisis of the 1970s occurred over the issue of debt. Was the New Zealand economy borrowing too much overseas? While this question was being considered by economists, a Debt for Equity Swap was organised by a group called ‘I Just Drove the Getaway Vehicle’. At the time government policy had not yet been out-sourced; we still owned the infrastructure, the power, the gas, the water, the phones, the post office and the national airline. The Bank of New Zealand was still a New Zealand bank and one or two of the newspapers were still owned in the country. During the early 1980s however, the New Zealand economy was put in the hands of finance ministers due to a filing error, and authorities are still looking for the black box. A social democracy with only one previous owner was asset-stripped and replaced by a series of franchises. Even rugby sides stopped being called Canterbury, Wellington, Otago and Auckland and were instead given the names of animals, colours and weather conditions. The next thing anyone knew they’d appointed a currency dealer as Prime Minister and the equities market became a place of worship.

New Zealanders don’t have much trouble working out what they think. It’s the next bit that might need some work. In 1969 I was standing in a pub in a country town in Otago. They’d run out of Speights and we were drinking a beverage produced in the north. The man next to me was deeply unimpressed and made a number of uncharitable statements about the quality of what was on offer.
‘You don’t like it? I said.
'I don’t’ confirmed the man. ‘It’s bloody terrible’ he said. He then thought for a moment and resolved the matter in his mind. ‘This the worst beer I’ve ever tasted’ he said. ‘I’ll be glad when I’ve had enough’.
This probably wasn’t the answer. Complaining about what’s wrong but not taking action, has the same effect as not noticing what’s wrong.

Incidentally, New Zealand remains the most beautiful country in the world. There’s no question about this. You can go to any part of it with confidence, at any time of year, with the possible exception of Hawera at Christmas, Otautau in August and Taihape in a stiff westerly.

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