Thatcher – Saw Everything But the Utterly Obvious

Thatcherism and Populist Capitalism. Virtually synonyms. The idea is that you turn everyone into a grocer, funding the project out of the sale of all those enterprises put together in over two centuries for the public good – water, power, broadcasting, railways and much more. Create shares for them to own, and trade in, giving everybody a chance to become even wealthier grocers.
It’s a brilliant idea and it works. Unless you’re no good at being a grocer. Then, you’re stuffed.
Well, the grocer economists respond, people must accept that if we are to be a strong and prosperous society people must get up to speed, stop expecting the state to watch out for them. We have provided the means, now get on with it.
Unfortunately Thatcher in England, Reagan in the US, and Roger Douglas in New Zealand who, it can be strongly argued, did it first and gave those other big fish the idea in the first place, were all blind to one toweringly obvious fact, something that any first year psychology student could have told them. Some people are just too thick. Low IQ. Born that way. Hardware, not software, and unfixable.
The old system had a place for those people, and not just paternalistically. It gave them simple, lowly paid but utterly secure jobs in the public service. The man behind the counter at the Department of Railways was dull, unambitious, knew his place and was happy to stay there stamping pieces of paper. Actually, the pieces of paper did need to be stamped, so we had a society that had an honourable use for everyone from the high flyer to the lowly plodder. It was a perfectly good system, and it worked.
Until, let’s be frank, greedy, selfish and corrupt unions wrecked it. Take careful note of the qualifier corrupt; I’m certainly not anti-union, but corruption will ruin anything. In the post-war era we had rotten trade unionism and it needed to be taken out. For that the United Kingdom owes Margaret Thatcher a huge debt, although the pendulum, probably inevitably, swung too far and needs correcting. Strong, honest unions are an essential component of a fair and successful democracy.
But back to the thesis. The neo-capitalists respond that society can take care of the incompetent with welfare support, a specious idea shot full of obvious holes. For one, a supply of money that can be ratcheted freely up and down is no substitute for essential services, because the services tend to be absolute, rather than unitised. You either see a doctor, or you don’t. In NZ if you don’t have any money you, or your child, simply does not get to see a doctor. The visits may be subsidised but they are not free. There’s no such thing as a part of a doctor’s visit, or a tap out of which water partly flows, in the way that a pound or a dollar can be reduced or increased in infinite fractions. So there’s that.
Then, there’s the opprobrium. Sure, we used to look down on and make jokes about the dummy behind the railway counter. But we did not vilify him as a parasite.
Worst, there’s the fear. When there is a real possibility of falling into utter destitution simply because you’re not bright enough to make the right choices at the right time, you feel fear. Fear which further cripples the already compromised ability to comprehend and succeed.
By creating the society we have to day, in which the least talented have no place, the neo-capitalists have worked evil.
Since the brightest and most avaricious will never choose to work for the Inland Revenue, there will always be an echelon of human swine smarter and more motivated than those we hire to collect their share from them. They may always make obscene amounts of money and pay little or no tax, growing inexorably wealthier at the expense of the rest. But in creating a society which venerates the individual acquisition of money as the greatest of all goods, the neo-capitalists have removed the stigma from these people, the true parasites. In this too they have worked evil.
Trust me – they were and are not stupid. They surely foresaw this, and see it now, and choose it. It is a simple, moral truth that these people, the Thatchers and Camerons of this world have been the agents of a great evil, and not unwittingly either.
Actually, there was another aspect to the great and failing neo-capitalist experiment. It was the choice to reject as superstition the old saying that money is the root of all evil, and instead turn to money for a single yardstick by which absolutely anything could be measured. And yes, they added, absolutely everything can in fact be numerically measured. Who is the best doctor? Why, the one who treats the most patients for the least amount of money. Reward that man or woman. Which is the best school? The one that educates the most pupils for the least amount of money. It may be squalid. The teaching might be rubbish. The doctor’s patients may be sick and in pain. No matter. The providers are heroically productive (and wealthy), and there is no greater good than that.
It is surely time to recognise that the experiment is a failure. The patient is miserable, possibly dying. Call it off.
If only we could unbreak that egg. In a better world we might set our minds to rebalancing the operational structure of society so that we intentionally created honourable work for everyone. I refuse to believe that human beings, who have learned to manipulate systems of far greater complexity than a modern economy, can’t do this. The solution is actually as simple as it is apparently unachievable: end the worship of money. Although in fact money is just the measuring stick. The underlying dehumanising principle is that idea of universal measurement, the belief that absolutely everything can be quantified. In business it is a time-honoured principle – if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. In that limited sphere the proposition stands, but you simply cannot measure the kindness of a nurse, the ability of a great teacher to inspire. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applies even on this scale: it is impossible to absolutely measure anything without altering it, so it is theoretically and practically impossible to know everything about anything. Teachers preparing reports into the small hours, teachers who are restricted to dispensing named and quantified units of information according to an iron-clad curriculum cease to be great teachers. Nurses and doctors, a similar lot.
There are societies which seem to have a better grip on this – Sweden is one. And what do you know? They are not only happier places than most, they are also wealthier. Odd, that. I believe – no, observe – that a caring society where no-one has to live in fear of destitution enjoys a collective lightness of spirit which transcends the crude maths of economics and produces genuine prosperity.
A synonym to start, a tautology to finish.
Goodness is good.

Advertisements

The Fencible Girl, Chapter 13: First Encounter

In less than ten minutes Rawiri and Winnie were at the beach called Waikowhai. The tide was racing out – with perhaps two feet of water left in the bay they would soon be cut off by half a mile of mudflat. There was not a moment to lose.

Rawiri plunged into the undergrowth and returned dragging a light dugout canoe some twelve feet long. A single outrigger like a solid, miniature canoe was attached to the hull by two poles lashed across it. The design was simple – double-ended, the craft could travel in either direction to keep the outrigger on the side away from the wind, making it stable in all weathers. He returned from a second trip carrying two paddles.

Wasting not a moment they threw their loads into the hull. Winnie jumped in while Rawiri heaved the craft forward and threw himself aboard, leaping into position and paddling in long, strong strokes. The light craft shot forward and within minutes they were out of the tidal flats, on the edge of the channel.

While Rawiri kept the craft steadily into the wind, in water deep enough to not run aground but still clear of the outgoing tidal flow racing towards the distant harbour mouth, Winnie passed the holstered musket and cartridge case to Rawiri and untied the mat. Taking Rawiri’s largest bone fish hook with its finely woven flax line attached she swiftly, using a long running stitch, fastened the long edge of the mat to the pole.

She loosely tied the four strongest cords to the top of the long pole. One she tied to the stern outrigger arm, another looped around the pointed bow of the waka and a third to the side opposite the outrigger, where the arm at the front crossed the hull.

Then she changed places with Rawiri, loosely tying off the final cord around the pointed stern. Although Winnie had never used a paddle before, it was quite simple to paddle this way and that to maintain a steady position pointing into the wind so the sail, which Rawiri now erected, would not catch.

As Rawiri set to work securing the lines with his deft and powerful fingers they heard cries from the shore, now some two hundred yards distant. Winnie’s heart sank. It was her parents, with three of Edward’s men. She could hear them clearly across the water.

“Winnie!” called her father. “Come back. Please don’t do this! Come back now.” She glanced at them, feeling her heart wrench with the conflict between the desire to obey her parents and her compelling need to help Rawiri. His face hardened as he went on rigging the mast.

Now Winnie’s agonising dilemma threatened to overwhelm her. While her original impulse to join with her friend in bringing back his mother still held the upper hand, almost equally forceful was the inner voice of what she felt to be reason demanding, ‘Have you gone mad? How can you imagine this makes sense? You are defying both your parents.’

“Winnie! Come back this instant, young woman. How dare you!” She could see her father touch Freddie by the arm, shaking his head. She shook his hand away, repeating her demand. Spurred by her mother’s anger Winnie gritted her teeth and looked away. Rawiri, who had only his mother, lost his resolve and looked at Winnie with pleading eyes. He knew very well that if it had been his mother on the shore he would have turned back.

When Winnie had told Rawiri her plan he had made it clear that she would have to manage the sailing. Now she tried to think of some way he could carry on without her, and failed. If she returned, if that is she could persuade him to take her back, it was all over for him and his chance of rescuing his mother.

Then she realised that with or without her, Rawiri would attempt the sailing and carry on. By coming up with the sail she could end up being responsible for his death. Winnie’s conflict was at an end; now she saw there was no choice – she had to stay with him, at least for a while.

She fixed her gaze on the boy as he lashed the mast tightly against the front outrigger arm. He needed no instruction; once he saw what was needed he set to at speed. Lacking hammer and nails the Maori were masters of lashing.

She watched him for a couple of minutes, during which he looked at her twice, seeing her struggle against her father’s calls, saying simply, “Please. Please, Winnie.” She could stand it no longer. Plunging the paddle into the current, she drove the canoe along parallel to the shore, powering the boat forward until her parents were almost out of sight as they followed the boat’s path along the shore. Just before she lost sight of them around a point, she turned and saw her mother with her head in her hands, sobbing, with her father’s arms around her. At that moment she came closer to turning back than at any point in the escape. Digging in for the final push that would take them out of sight, she turned to wave. Her cry “Don’t worry – I will be back. I love you. I love you,” choked in her throat. Shaking her head she turned and dug the paddle in hard. Within seconds they were gone. Seeing the tears pouring down her face Rawiri said, “Thank you. Thank you, Winnie. It is all right. They will forgive.”

Winnie wasn’t so sure. She sat glumly in the stern, letting the sail swing free for the five more minutes he took to complete the task.

Satisfied with his work, Rawiri returned to the paddle and brought the waka around into the wind. As the wind drew the sail across the boat Winnie grabbed the free-hanging cord at the corner. Rawiri turned the waka stern to the wind, the sail swung out and filled with a powerful jerk.

The effect was so dramatic they were taken by surprise – for a second, as the boat leapt forward, the outrigger reared up in the air and only Rawiri’s lightning reaction in throwing his weight onto it prevented their expedition from ending then and there. Once steadied into the wind the little waka took off like a horse under the spur, but they soon discovered that with Rawiri and the paddle in the stern steering was so erratic that they could make little progress. Winnie thought back to her holiday in Devon, messing around in a sailing dinghy with her uncle. A centreboard – that was what was missing, to act as a stabilising pivot. By sitting amidships holding the second paddle vertically beside the hull Winnie solved the steering problem, but Rawiri struggled to manage both the paddle and the sail.

Her friend, as ever, immediately saw the problem and set to work with cord. Within minutes, the spare paddle was lashed firmly in place.

This time, with Winnie controlling the sail and Rawiri steering in the stern, the improvised yacht handled perfectly. Within seconds they were flying along at a speed that unnerved them both, certainly faster than Rawiri had ever travelled on water before. An exultant grin lit up his face and, for the first time since Winnie had met him, he roared with laughter.

At last Winnie’s head cleared. The thrill of speed, the realisation that her plan had worked perfectly, gave her the extra push to squash all her worries and anxiety into an imaginary box somewhere inside her head and shut the lid. This was to become a familiar struggle in the days ahead; for the moment there was only their mission and it would demand all she had.

They sailed for almost half an hour on the heading taken by the raiders, during which time Rawiri fed Kura and the two bagged tui from a large bottle of honey water. The wind, as Rawiri had predicted, held true and steady and even increased in strength on the open water, driving the little craft across the westerly breeze at a strong clip. They constantly scanned the distance, desperately hoping that the big canoe would still be under way and visible. If the raiders had gone to ground behind a headland or in any of the many ways they might conceal their presence, the pair could sail around the broad Manukau harbour all day with no result. Suddenly Rawiri gave a shout and pointed. Sure enough, squinting into the distance Winnie made out the form of the great waka taua, wet paddles flashing in the sunlight as they rose and fell in perfect unison.

Rawiri’s face was a picture of exaltation. He looked at Winnie with an expression of ferocious glee. They had done it. The hunt was on.

As she gazed at the extraordinary sight, awestruck by the majesty of its lines evident even at such a distance and the almost dance-like quality of the flashing paddles, Rawiri turned the little canoe into the wind, causing it to rapidly lose speed. With a flick of his head he gave Winnie to understand that he wanted to pause and take stock. She released the line at the corner of the sail and they glided slowly to a standstill.

“Well?” she asked.

“I do not know. They go away. Maybe go out from Manukau. After…” He shrugged, his face creased in a worried frown. They proceeded to discuss the options, using a mixture of Maori, English and gesture that would become almost their own private language as their journey progressed.

Rawiri had believed they would make for the Hauraki region. Clever as he was he had deduced that there was nowhere else for such a large group to operate. South of Auckland was densely populated by the well-organised Tainui tribe. North was held by a variety of smaller tribes dominated by the Ngapuhi, a federation of independent sub-tribes. Although not as organised as Tainui, with frequent feuds and inter-village raids, their territory was still too thickly populated for so many warriors and slaves to remain hidden.

The final point was the question of why they were taking so many slaves. Not just those of Rawiri’s village, but the others her father had told about. The raiders were up to something needing at least a hundred workers, so they had to be based in some unpopulated region within reach of the waka. Only one place for a long way in any direction met that description – somewhere in or across the Hauraki Gulf, the wide body of water between the east coast of the mainland and the long mountainous peninsula that stretched north, twenty miles away on the other side of the water. The gulf contained numerous islands but the larger ones were inhabited, the smaller too small to conceal any sizeable undertaking. But the peninsula itself had been so emptied of population by the infamous spree of musket slaughters led by the Ngapuhi chief Hongi Hika that large tracts were still uninhabited thirty years later.

If Rawiri’s theory was correct the big canoe should have been making for one of the points on eastern edge of the Manukau where the North Island narrowed to as little as a mile from the east coast.

These isthmuses had long been used by Maori as mainland crossings or portages for their canoes. They would beach their canoes on one side, drag or carry them across land and launch into the other.

The most important portage was at Otahuhu, the site of the shortest crossing. Both Rawiri and Winnie doubted the raiders would use this because of the Fencible fort that commanded a complete end-to-end view of the busy slipway and road.

A more likely destination they thought to be Papakura, although neither was certain that there were no others. Winnie remembered, from studying the map on her father’s wall, that the Papakura portage was at least five miles long but it ran across level ground, indeed the name ‘papa kura’ means ‘flat land’. For canoes making to and from the Hauraki Gulf it had the advantage of emerging at Wairoa, on the gulf. The Otahuhu portage came out on an estuary well inside the Waitemata harbour, leaving further to paddle.

However, as they spoke the big canoe drew ever closer to the southern shore well west of Onehunga; it appeared that Rawiri was mistaken. On its south-westerly course only a slight adjustment would turn the big waka towards the harbour mouth.

There was nothing for it but to stay within sight of the big boat and see what happened. Winnie grabbed the loose line at the corner of the mat sail and nodded to Rawiri, who dug in the steering paddle and brought them swiftly round across the breeze. So fast was their little craft that within minutes they were as close as caution permitted. Rawiri’s spirits soared; they were now in control of the situation and, short of an accident or failing wind, the waka could do nothing to shake them off. He leaned forward at the paddle, grinning intently with the expression of a hunter who knows he has his game cornered. They now began sailing back and forth, for all the world two youngsters playing with their clever little craft. Their intentions were in any case well hidden by the number of other craft on the vast harbour. The two hours before and after low tide were prime fishing time; at least fifteen boats of various design were scattered across the water, some parts mere channels between exposed expanses where groups were gathering shellfish.

Atlhough the big war canoe was avoiding contact in the sparsely populated southern reaches of the harbour, Winnie and Rawiri were under no such restriction and could go where they chose among the fishers, not all of them Maori. Winnie’s thoughts returned constantly to the tremendous trouble she was in with her parents. She hoped that one of the two or three European fishing boats would notice them and report their well-being to her father; she had no doubt Edward would put out the word for everyone to be on the look-out.

As they flew along Winnie noticed a sailing dinghy labouring along in what seemed to be the general direction of the great canoe. Keeping an eye on the boat she became certain that this was indeed the lone sailor’s objective. She could also see that he was facing difficulties. His sail showed an ugly tear about half way up the mast. Although also rowing strongly, he often paused to bail water.

Gradually Winnie started to feel this was the same lone European they had come across in the forest, a feeling heightened by a return of the weird sense that she recognised him. He was still too distant to be sure, but she kept her gaze on him hoping to finally recognise him.

She was roused from her staring by a shout from Rawiri pointing at the waka, now some thousand yards distant. The huge craft had started on a long turn to the east. If they held that course then they were indeed planning to cross the mainland to the gulf.

The long canoe did not turn easily, and the pair watched with bated breath to see whether its present tack was a minor adjustment or a true change of direction. But it continued the long arc of its turn and within minutes was running close in along the southern shore, back towards the east and the portages. It had also slowed considerably; only half the crew were paddling. This was puzzling; what were they up to? She looked to Rawiri, who was grinning in delight.

“What?” she asked.

“Hauraki. Sure. They wait for big water.”

It took her a moment to understand that he meant high tide. Of course! Now their actions made perfect sense. Their first move had been to flee at full speed towards the outer, less busy quarter of the harbour. They had four or five hours in which to make their way quietly along the southern shore, possibly even taking a break on shore at one of the few points clear of mudflats before running in on the high tide.

It was to be Papakura, or some other point unknown. Certainly not Otahuhu, under the guns of the fort.

The man in the dinghy, who had now turned away from the waka and set a course towards the Mangere headland, quit rowing, bailed a few billies-full of water and appeared to be fossicking out of sight in his boat. Soon she could see he was struggling with something under his arm. Suddenly he threw both hands in the air and released a bird, which circled the boat two or three times in an ever higher and wider arc before flying off towards Onehunga. It was a pigeon.

The man now seized the oars again and began rowing hard, almost desperately, straight for a headland about a mile away.

Another a shout from Rawiri, this time a cry of alarm. He pointed again at the waka. Horrified, she saw it coming about to pursue the stranger, all paddles flying. She tried to calculate whether he would reach the safety of the shore. He was a powerful oarsman with seemingly unlimited energy, with the following wind providing some push even to the broken sail, but the waka had picked up speed. She could see a man in a cloak prancing up and down the boat, obviously shouting, gesticulating with his spear and even, once or twice, striking a paddler on the back.

It seemed likely that he would be caught. He was rowing at a tremendous pace, pausing intermittently to frantically bail water. To Winnie’s alarm Rawiri had changed heading to intercept the canoe and was pointing at it and shouting, “Look! Look!”

Winnie’s heart sank as she made out the cause for Rawiri’s alarm. Two warriors were making their way through the captives, kicking them and striking them with what Winnie saw were muskets. They were going to shoot the fleeing stranger.

She looked back at Rawiri. He responded by nodding his head toward the musket holster now lashed to the mast. There was no mistaking his meaning. Winnie had taken the musket with no particular plan, simply to equip themselves as well as possible. The idea that she might use it to shoot a human being had never crossed her mind.

“Too far away,” she called. Rawiri clearly had no experience of musketry. In order for Winnie to intervene by opening fire, a thought which terrified her, they would have to come within range of the gang’s own muskets; one against dozens would be suicide. She was about to explain this when, glancing at the musket, the words died in her mouth, which suddenly ran dry from fear. Until this moment she had given the specific musket no thought. It was just one of the many muskets in her world, different only in that it belonged to her father. Now she saw it was not; this particular musket gave them a deadly edge.

Among Major Meldon’s various interests was a passion for military technology, including the various kinds of musket.

The previous year, not for the first time, he had been asked to field-test a new weapon from the Springfield Arms Company in Massachusets, America, receiving a dozen for the purpose. It was a musketoon, a shorter, lighter version of the standard musket. But these were special: the barrels, normally a steel tube smooth inside and out, came with long, spiralling grooves along the inside and had mounted sights, features normally found only in advanced types of sporting rifles. The grooves, or ‘rifling’ caused the lead ball to leave the barrel spinning rapidly, making the ball travel much further and in a reliably straight line – a huge advantage over the older smooth-barrelled weapons.

With these, instead of a group of soldiers blazing away in a barrage, the individual soldier could pick a target, aim, and expect to hit it. It was one of these state of the art guns that would change the nature of warfare that Winnie now had in her possession. The conditions were far from perfect, but the range was now less than four hundred yards and closing. Winnie, although no marksman, was trained in musketry. If, as her father had said, this new weapon was accurate up to an incredible five hundred yards, she had to admit that at this range she may well be able to hit the relatively large target presented by the two warriors.

Now she was confronted by a hideous choice – sit by and watch this man be shot or take up the musket herself and … She pushed the thought out of her mind. The Maori were shooting from the unstable platform of a moving canoe; they were still quite some distance away; reloading a musket took most people quite a long time and they may get only two or three shots away before he was safe.

Almost as they formed in her mind she saw the arguments fail. As she watched, she could not avoid noticing how the heavy waka cleaved rock-steady through the light chop and that the paddlemaster’s calls had produced another speed increase. The gunmen fired their first shots and, as expected, missed.

But the next shots came quickly – far too quickly. The Maori were doing something ingenious, something unheard of. The standard procedure was to pour gunpowder down the barrel, remove the ramrod from its groove underneath the barrel, use it to ram paper wadding down to hold the powder in place, drop in the lead ball, ram that home, return the rod to its groove, set a percussion cap and finally shoot. The average soldier could do this twice in one minute, a fast one thrice. She had counted on the Maori taking considerably longer, giving the stranger time to get away.

Even from this distance she could see that they were doing away with the ramrod altogether. They were simply pouring in the powder, adding wadding and ball, then compacting the load by slamming the butt of the gun once or twice on the decking before inserting the percussion cap and firing.

“Shoot! Shoot!” shouted Rawiri, not understanding her reluctance and gesticulating at the musket still in its holster. They could both now see that unless she did so, the stranger was a dead man.

Her heart pounded in her chest as she struggled to find some other way. She even tried to tell herself, a thought dismissed almost as soon as it was formed, that this person meant nothing to them, that he was responsible for his own predicament and must face the consequences. It was no good; she knew she could not just let the man be murdered before her eyes while there was any hope that she could safely make a difference. Her mind made up, she took a second to quickly but carefully scan the lashing – a failure at this point would mean death. Rawiri’s knots were rock solid.

Although scarcely able to breathe, she took the musket from its holster and spoke. “I’m going to put the barrel on your shoulder. When I am in place, let go the sail and bring the boat to face straight into the wind and waves. Do you understand?”

He nodded, pale under his brown colouring.

“When I’m ready I’ll nod. You must stay as still as you can. The shot will make a very loud noise. You might not hear properly for a few minutes. Do you understand?”

Another nod.

Winnie desperately fended off the thought that she was going to try to injure or even kill another human being, fixing her resolve by remembering the dead children at Pukekaroro.

She took a cartridge from her father’s case and quickly loaded the musket, going through the step-by-step routine she knew so well. In twenty or thirty seconds the gun was loaded and half-cocked.

Now she knelt on one knee before Rawiri in the front rank shooting position, lowered the barrel to rest on his shoulder and pulled the hammer back to the fully-cocked position. Two more shots rang out – four in less than a minute, Winnie guessed. Unbelievable. A quick look confirmed that they were still shooting standing up and had both missed, which was good, but the range between them and their target was closing fast, which was not. Luckily they were standing on the platform surrounding the majestic carved prow, giving Winnie a shot well clear of the captives.

Rawiri let go the sail and let the boat’s momentum spin it around into the wind, holding it as still there as he could manage. At the last minute, she thought of the possible effects of the recoil. The last thing they needed was for the barrel to kick up and knock her friend unconscious.

Leaning forward she gently pushed Rawiri’s head to one side, gesturing with the palm of her hand that he was to stay in that position. He gave a slight nod to show he understood, bending his neck even further to stay clear of the barrel. She extended her back leg, braced it firmly against the outrigger and prepared to fire.

As she gazed along the barrel she was surprised to see how effective the sights were. A small metal point at the end of the gun had to be lined up with a notch in an iron strip close to her eye. But the barrel moved about constantly with the movement of the canoe, although Rawiri instinctively understood the need to give her a solid rest and was managing to compensate for the worst of the instability.

Again and again she tried to settle on a target long enough to take aim and fire. Again and again she failed. Soon Winnie was in despair. The movement was too much. While she struggled with the seemingly impossible task, two more shots rang out, then two more. The big boat was now terrifyingly close. Time was running out – if she could not at least achieve a near miss, the man in the boat was in the last moments of his life.

It was now or never. In absolute desperation she took a deep breath, breathed all the way out and in the instant of calm at the end, swung the barrel smoothly up and the instant she caught sight of the warrior to the front she fired.

The recoil slammed her backwards but, ready for it, she held her position. Rawiri jumped with the shock but reassured her with a nod.

As the wind quickly blew the smoke clear she saw that she had missed, but must have been close enough for the man to hear the ball zip past. The waka was still closing on its quarry but now the warriors’ attention was divided.

Good. If she could keep doing that, everything would be all right. She now felt no fear, and neither reluctance nor eagerness, only relief. She had found a solution, the stranger was getting away, everything would be fine. These thoughts flashed through her mind as her hands raced through the familiar routine of reloading. They could hear shouts from across the water – a glance showed that many of the crew had spotted them and were pointing their way. One of the shooters had now turned his attention to them and appeared to be about to fire at them in spite of the range.

She nodded to Rawiri. Once more she went through the smooth routine – breath in, out, up, spot and fire. At the instant of the shot she registered that her target was taking aim in reply and a split second later, through the smoke cloud from her shot, she saw the puff of smoke from his gun. As she bent immediately to the task of reloading the sound of his shot reached them, followed by a triumphant roar from Rawiri crying, “Maté! (Dead!) Maté! Ta heke é!”

He was pointing at the waka; her eyes followed his hand and she saw, scarcely believing her eyes, that there was now only one warrior at the prow.

Winnie had no time to register the shock of killing. Pandemonium had broken out on board the big boat. At least half the warriors dropped their paddles and scrambled for their muskets. The waka slowed dramatically. Instantly they saw the big European from the forest leap to his feet, roaring commands. Some warriors responded, others didn’t. He fired one pistol in the air and levelled the other at a nearby warrior who had started loading his musket. The man quickly returned to paddling, as did his fellows, but the delay had given their intended victim the chance to widen the gap between them.

By now, Winnie had reloaded. Checking the stranger she saw that he was rowing more strongly than ever and was now within two or three hundred yards of the shore. She had improved his chances considerably but not enough to be certain.

She knelt again and lowered the barrel to Rawiri’s shoulder. The lone musketeer had recovered his senses and was raising his musket for another shot. Two more were coming forward to join him. As the waka was now closer to their little craft it was an easier shot. Once again she filled her lungs, breathed out, and in a single movement sighted and squeezed the trigger.

The remaining marksman doubled over, dropped his musket and, clutching his side, toppled off the bow into the water.

“Quick Rawiri! Let’s go!”

With the mat sail flapping stiffly in the wind by her side, she had no difficulty grabbing the line while Rawiri spun the little boat round away from the wind. The sail snapped tight and they shot forward. The big waka, now less than three hundred yards away, started a turn to chase them, but a few seconds’ observation reassured Winnie that as long as the wind kept up they would never catch them.

Her friend, so excited that he was rocking back and forward at the paddle as if to urge the small craft on, headed straight for the Otahuhu channel, now less than fifteen hundred yards away.

“No Rawiri. Not Otahuhu. Father may have sent word about us. Follow the wind and take the closest land.”

The landscape ahead consisted of a few farmlets among areas of second-growth forest; they were headed for one of the larger forested areas.

Winnie checked the waka again and was alarmed to see that it had stopped its turn to be broadside on to them. The entire crew dropped their paddles to get their muskets. With thirty or muskets blazing away in the quick-fire Maori style they were far from safe, even at the quickly lengthening range.

As the first shots rang out Winnie experienced a bizarre and terrifying sensation. She became acutely aware of the surface of her head and back, even the back of her arms, every square inch tingling with sensitivity, awaiting the impact of a bullet. At any contact, even the touch of a feather, she would have screamed in fright.

None came. At least half a dozen balls hit the boat and the sail, but not only were neither of them hit, she saw a ball fall into the boat after failing to pierce the sail. The range had grown by fifty yards, they were flying away, but the firing was constant. Suddenly Rawiri yelped and clutched his right arm, although still managing to retain his grip on the paddle.

He let go again and grabbed the paddle with both hands. Winnie saw a nasty bruise starting to spread out from a blackened spot on his arm, but there was no blood. Looking down she saw the ball rolling around at his feet.

She burst into a peal of relieved laughter. Rawiri glared at her, furious that she could laugh at his injury.

“I’m sorry, Rawiri, I’m sorry. But don’t you see – the bullet didn’t hurt you – they are too far away. Look!” She picked up the ball and showed it to him. “We’re safe! We’re safe!”

Now Rawiri joined in the laughter. For a good minute or more they shook with laughter, grinning hugely at each other. Rawiri clapped her on the back once or twice. It was the laughter of release from fear and it felt good. Even the sudden sobering recollection that she, a girl of twelve, had just killed or badly wounded two men could not dampen her happiness at having saved the stranger and escaped with their lives.

Even Kura seemed to share their delight, wheeling and diving around their heads, once giving Winnie a playful nip on the ear. As she watched she saw the crew on the waka take up their paddles and set it on its previous course, which relieved her completely. They were safe.

Then she saw in the distance that the European in the stern had a long spyglass to his eye trained directly upon them. Instinctively she ducked her head to conceal her face under her bonnet but knew that her move was too late.

They may be safe for the moment, but they were now also known. As they closed on the shore, Winnie felt the cold chill of returning fear.

The Strange and Unsatisfying History of the Human Orgasm


This is it! The Big One. My Grand Unifying Theory of Sex. (Not quite Stephen Hawkings, but a whole lot easier to understand.)

Humans, like, I suspect, many mammalian species, have sex lives which are for the most part unfulfilling. From evolution’s point of view, this is a good thing, believe it or not. It improves our chances of successful propagation of our genes.
What?
Yes. What men want, what gets men off, doesn’t do it for women, and vice versa. Our bits are in the wrong place and our instinctive techniques are at odds. Men tend to feel driven to violent thrusting, women tend to prefer strong, gentle rhythm (strong emphasis on tend). Most importantly, though, and the key to my theory is that the physical areas which produce the orgasm through friction and heat, the penis and the clitoris, don’t even normally come into contact because of where they’re placed. Weird. What’s worse, men let it all rip in one great bang and that’s it. A few drags on the post-coital fag and off to sleep with a beaming smile on our faces. But the women can come again, and again, and again, and love it.
How could nature get it so wrong?
My theory, for what it’s worth, is because that old trickster Momma Nature did it deliberately. That’s right. In this all-important part of keeping the species going she made sure that we guys get what we want and our female partners don’t.
Think about it. It all stems from the unchangeable fact that for the hugest part of our time as this species we didn’t have language anything like useful enough to have a discussion about who did what with whom and when. And it wouldn’t have done any good if we had, because we may not have even understood the connection between copulation and fertility anyway. Result: the females were alone in having certainty that the babe in their arms absolutely was theirs. Studies of comparable species show that the odds of a monogamous male wasting his time in feeding, protecting and training offspring who are not biologically his own are very high. Even today, anonymous surveys suggest that as many as 25% of kids are brought up by men who unknowingly are not their fathers.
You callous swine, I hear some people say. Wasting his time? Yes, because evolution is interested exclusively in the individual propagating his or her genes, and raising someone else’s offspring and not having any of your own may be socially worthy in modern terms but evolutionarily this is the ultimate catastrophe.
The male of many species, lions for example, avoid this disaster by killing any existing offspring of a female they hook up with. Humans, being highly communal and co-operative, don’t. So what the male does is take every chance he gets to swing his leg over someone else’s woman. If he spends his efforts raising someone else’s kid, but gets two other mates of two other women to raise his, he’s a winner.
So, since our cultural evolution has far outstripped the rate of the physical, and biologically we’re essentially cavemen and cavewomen in suits and skirts,  we blokes are still wired up to pop our rocks and leave. Get to sleep as soon as possible, because that’s important for the success of the next day’s hunting. Of course, we come back the next day for more of the same with the same partner. Because ‘guarding behaviour’, aka raging jealousy, makes it most likely that the female we coupled with last night and for the preceding period of time really will be carrying our child. So the main strategy is always going to be to hang around and keep the groceries flowing.
But if the male gets a chance to leap the odd back fence while some other guy is off doing …whatever, both he and the neighbour’s missus have a certain investment in laying off their bets with another partner.
That’s right – both of them. Because the female is stuck with an uncertainty neatly corresponding to the male’s: she can’t know if Loverboy No. 1 is actually fertile. When life is brutish, nasty and short, every year of fertility counts more than we can imagine today. Not only does she have to be free of disease or debility, she has to be carrying enough body fat to ovulate, menstruate and produce milk. And have enough healthy years left in her to see the kids through to university at age, say, twelve. Not an everyday guarantee in 150,000 BC. A few months wasted with a husky hunter shooting blanks is another catastrophe.
So, if we observe how The Act, in its default setting, works, we can see exactly why it is the way it is today. The male piles in, has his fun and rolls over for his beauty sleep as soon as she’ll let him go. She is attracted, turned on, stimulated, but during the act the chance that there will be enough of the right sort of clitoral contact to produce that satisfying orgasm is very low. So she clings, holds him in her, wanting more and unknowingly providing those little spermies the optimum environment to complete their long paddle to light up an egg.
And, just as nature designed it, when Big Hunter has rolled off and is stacking up Z’s in the corner – she still wants more! So maybe she’s aware of some youthful eyes glittering in a far corner of the cave, has observed an unattached stud with his mitts in his loincloth while they’ve been at it. Mmmm. Insurance time.
Sadly, of course, it’s no more likely that lover number two is going to hit the G-spot either, or even be interested in doing so. But maybe. You never know.
Don’t believe me? Female chimpanzees will routinely copulate with every male in the family group. The other very large advantage of this is that any male who has gotten biblical with her will leave her kids alone, because they might be his.
Neat, you must admit, even if something of the short straw for the female.
With men, it’s much simpler:
Higamous, Hogamous,
Woman is monagamous.
Hogamous, Higamous,
Man is polygamous.
…as Mrs. Amos Pinchot, William James, Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash, and many others are said to have said.
Which really means, because of the aforementioned ‘guarding behaviour’, men are openly promiscuous whereas women discreetly so.
Of course, although for the interests of readability I describe all this as though the protagonists are doing all this in full knowledge of the whys and wherefores, or as if some notional designer worked it all out that way, that’s not how evolution produces behaviour or physiology. Just as no-one up there, be it God, or Evolution as Architect, has any interest in making us behave in a manner which makes us happy. All that happens is that those men and women who by inclination are sufficiently promiscuous to cover their bets but not so promiscuous that they incite jealous rage and an early death will out-reproduce those at either end of the ideal point on the spectrum. That ideal point is to be faithful, do whatever you can to keep husband on song and providing, or your wife faithful, but when opportunity arrives, cover off the risk with someone else. Especially because in early times we lived and moved in smallish groups, with correspondingly small and interconnected gene pools, and the chance of the odd infidelity being exposed by a child of incongruously variant appearance was small.
And yes, without thought and intervention women who rely on coitus to achieve sexual repletion will remain perpetually unsatisfied. Because that lack of satisfaction produces higher rates of successful reproduction. It’s a good strategy.
Enter, the articulate, uninhibited and informed human beings of the 21st Century. How do we deal with it?
The answer is, for a long time, very badly. When we eventually got around to even mentioning it we tried to brand the female orgasm a myth. In Victorian times male doctors called it ‘hysteria’ (from the Greek word for the uterus), i.e. a kind of madness. The good ones invented a machine to discharge the dangerous ‘hysterical paroxysm’,  the bad ones simply carved off women’s clitori or even performed full hysterectomies to settle them down. I had a second cousin who had her entire uterus removed in the early 1950s as an attempt to treat her schizophrenia; even that late in history the belief persisted in some dark corners of the asylum that there was some connection between a woman’s reproductive instincts and insanity.
In the 70s, the feminists came up with an answer which really sucked, and was drivel into the bargain. Women are unsatisfied because men are pigs who don’t care. A miserable time was had by all, because could there be anything more stupid, more filled with self-hatred, than the belief that Nature got it all wrong, that the universe doesn’t work?
All along, women have combated Nature’s heartless design using two principal methods that I know of. Masturbation, obviously, and in a couple of lovers in my life, aggressive and (to me) painful grinding, probably the origin of the notion of the vagina dentata. Ouch!
We’re almost there, but let me chuck in another consideration. Conservative Christians, Muslims and probably Jews like to say that the only purpose of the sexual act is reproduction. As a Catholic, I find that a damn shame. I am proud that the Catholic Church was the first major religious group to recognise the truth of evolution. Many eminent scientists are Catholic and the Vatican even has a Jesuit-run observatory which works at the forefront of astronomy and astro-physics. But when it comes to biology, sociology and palaeobiology as it informs our knowledge of sexual behaviour, they remain firmly cemented in the Stone Age. The idea that human sexuality is exclusively about reproduction is utterly anti-scientific. It defies a large body of evidence.
Homo sapiens is one of many species that use sex for far more than reproduction. Just look at all those homosexual giraffes. Stops the victorious bull male from constant challenge by the unsuccessful losers, I suppose.
But even by that standard we’re out on a limb as one of the few in which the female will willingly engage in, even seek sex when she is not ovulating, and the male will oblige at any time in the menstrual cycle. We have evolved to use sex as a means of communication. Not only that, but I am convinced that for us this is an important and highly effective compensation for the confusing complexity of our verbal and non-verbal communication. In sex we communicate body-to-body, heart-to-heart at a depth and with a simplicity which transcends the verbal.
Especially when both the man and women have orgasms, and very especially when they occur either together or in close sequence, in blatant defiance of Nature’s plan.
So let’s hear it for the clever, delicious woman who gives herself orgasms during sex. Any male who has been lucky enough to experience this has enjoyed the incomparable pleasure of being brought to stupendous orgasm by the sudden rise in intra-uterine temperature and a flood of natural lubricant.
What can I say? Tell your friends. Put it on Facebook. Tell everyone.
It’s the best.