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Chicken and Cat

February 3, 2022

When I moved to Europe (France and Britain), I was surprised to learn that many of the people I met had been set up financially by their parents, with big lumps sums or houses. This was virtually unknown when I was growing up. In the New Zealand of my youth, you were expected to paddle your own canoe. I started paddling at 15 when I got a weekend job cleaning at a retirement home. I absolutely loved the independence of earning money, and by the following year I had two jobs and had bought a car. I had wanted to buy a motorcycle but two of my father’s brothers had been killed on motorbikes and one of my brothers had fractured his spine in a motorcycle accident (he recovered but had to spend two months on a rotating bed like a rotisserie chicken).

My father wanted me to buy a car, which turned out to be an old van, and gave me a loan, which I had to repay. This was completely normal within my group of friends. Most of us had part-time jobs.

Now, please understand that I’m not criticising people who received money from their parents. If you are one of them, good for you. I may not have been given a house but my mother always gave us great birthday presents.

When I was about six, I was given a brand new blue bicycle with trainer wheels and handgrips that had colourful plastic streamers. It was magic. When I was ten, I got an oil-painting set and painted Henrietta, our family Rhode Island Red chicken. Henrietta used to eat with us. While we were dining at table level, she was busy below picking up crumbs. She would also occasionally sit on my father’s shoulder while he ate. So did our cat. The cat had a habit of drooling when my father fed it tidbits from his fork. Dinner time was a lively affair: Dad at one end and Marion at the other. Five of us in between. Another brilliant gift I got from my parents was a junior microscope. I must have been about 12. It was a very exciting thing. Who knew that insect legs were so hairy?

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