It was W.C. Fields, wasn’t it, who made that enlightened and penetrating remark about the wisdom of avoiding animals and children?
In past ramblings ‘at large’, I have probably established in your mind that I am no great animal lover. Not that I’d do them any harm, mind you, but I always circumnavigate paddocks containing beeves that look the least aggressive and I’ve always thoroughly disliked zoos.
I think I was finally put off animals when, as a small boy on a school outing to a zoo, I bit into a packed lunch at precisely the same moment as an adjacent ostrich decided to relieve itself. They are large birds and quantity seemed no difficulty. Needless to say, my Marmite and lettuce filled roll finished up being torn apart by some gibbons; or were they rhesus monkeys?
I guess I had been set up, by illustrated books received from indulgent aunts at Christmas, to expect animals to be colourful, clean and sweet smelling. They never prepared one for the truth that elephants are covered in grime, hippos have stained teeth and vile breath, and that the back ends of sheep merely prove what terrible things ruminants can do to sweet meadow grasses.
In my household where rule is far too democratic for my liking, I have been forced to live in uneasy propinquity to five cats. But, so far, I have managed rigidly to bar our German shepherd guard dog from crossing the threshhold. It is far too large an animal to share with us our tiny house.
Even outdoors I ignore it completely but despite that it follows me everywhere. The Lovely Mrs Donovan says the dog is devoted to me but I know that it is simply ensuring its presence when I drop dead, whereupon it will eat me in marginal preference to dog roll. At that point, thankfully, I shall not be able to hear it eating.
When I visit friends (and enemies, I guess) their damned cats and dogs make bee-lines for me. I know, with absolute certainty, that when all others at the gathering are cooing over the cats and trying to attract them to their laps, they will, unerringly, make for me.
But I have reached an age where I can handle unpopularity; where, once, I should have smiled a sickly smile and put up with unwelcome attention I now openly reject the advances of precious pets and, if they also smell repulsive, I draw their olfactory offensiveness to the attention of their owners.
Proud owners seem not to have sensitive noses when it comes to their pets. I can smell smelly dogs a mile off and when I tell their owners that their dogs pong it’s interesting to see the tussle that goes on in their minds - is Donovan’s friendship that important to me? Or shall I back the dog? I don’t always win.
Children are the other side of W.C. Fields’s caveat.
I quite like children but I am no great baby lover. I guess I haven’t the patience that Nature demands. I have never been able to understand why it takes so long for the little horrors to gain control of themselves. Every hole seems to leak interminably - the plumbing’s third rate. And babies are ridiculously immobile. In that respect, at least dogs can run away from a well aimed slipper within a few days of birth.
Human kids can’t walk for about a year, yet they poo and wee with reckless abandon. They belch and break wind indiscriminately. They dribble, they wail, they do nothing useful. Newborn babies, to me, look variously like baked apples, microwaved potatoes, partially deflated balloons, saveloys, badly filled salamis, larvae, cream horns and plastic bags. Yet they induce, in women, a desire, almost as uncontrollable as babies’ apertures, to just about swoon with admiration upon peering into the nearest pram.
At this point the sexes are farthest apart. Men have no place in women’s lives when there’s a baby around. Our opinions are worthless. If we try to lighten the atmosphere with a witty observation it is either ignored or taken as an affront.
For example, I was in the supermarket the other day and saw a woman wheeling a chariot of wire towards me upon which was an infant lying in its special compartment. The baby had look of intelligent pre-occupation, as if it was counting the fluorescent tubes in the ceiling, but it was probably only putting one of its little outlets to use. In a friendly sort of way I said to the mother ‘I see you’ve brought your lunch with you’, but she couldn’t seem to see the funny side of my remark at all and I gained the distinct impression that I’d said the wrong thing.
I suppose, if you’ve read this far, you think I’m a bit of a curmudgeon; an irascible old misery. But I’d like to point out that far greater brains than mine have reached similar conclusions to mine when it comes to babies and animals:
Quote: ‘Cats - they smell and they snarl and they scratch; they have a singular aptitude for shredding rugs, drapes and upholstery; they’re sneaky, selfish and not particularly smart; they are disloyal, condescending and totally useless in any rodent-free environment’.
Quote: ‘A soiled baby, with a neglected nose, cannot be conscientiously regarded as a thing of beauty’.
Quote: ‘If I am asked by a doting mother what I think of her baby, I am not obliged to tell the truth’.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
© DON DONOVAN
Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author
- ► 2013 (393)
- ► 2012 (286)
- ► 2011 (171)
- ► 2010 (142)
- The Rat Trap, Takaka
- Thistle Inn, Wellington
- Royal Tavern, Featherston
- The Tin Hut, Tauherenikau
- Wimbledon Tavern
- The Dudley Arms, Mangatainoka
- Broadcasting’s Ego Trippers
- Railway Hotel, Woodville
- Albion Hotel, Shannon
- Marumaru Tavern, Eastland
- Roseland Tavern, Makaraka
- Babies and Animals
- Opotiki Hotel
- Brian Boru Hotel, Thames
- Albany Inn
- Puhoi Tavern
- Kaihu Tavern
- Cock-a-doodle doggerel
- Hukerenui Hotel
- Mangonui Hotel
- Houhora Tavern
- The Good Old Kiwi Pub: Introduction
- Baked Bean Feet
- Kick Out All The Aliens
- Hannibal’s Umbria
- The Lonely Grave of Somebody’s Darling
- Sommocolonia on a Hilltop in Tuscany
- Capo di Tutti Polizia di Castelnuovo di Garfagnana...
- Of Cures, Half Cures and No Cures at All
- Riding New Zealand’s Brand Wagon
- ▼ October (30)
- Don Donovan: Biography
I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.
In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.
We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.
We have two daughters and four grand-children.
Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.
Books & Writings
‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.
‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).
‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.
‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).
‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)
Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.
My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.
Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.