01 May 2024

A Tinkers Cuss: May 2024

01 May 2024

In April 1974 I was found guilty of various narcotics offenses and driven out to Her Majesty’s Prison at Paparua.

The “Meat-wagon” as it was known was an old 1948 International truck with an enormous cab on the back which housed approximately twenty prisoners and three guards. One screw was in the back behind a locked door and two were in the front, a driver and a sidekick. Each of them had an alcoholic look with ruddy cheeks and big ears. Funny the things one remembers.

The truck bounced up and down having no suspension to speak of. Everything inside

it that could be destroyed was. It was a truck built for angry men. It swayed from side to side. In the streets of the city people stopped and stared and it was like we were being sent to Devil’s Island.

It was near the end of the working day and the van waited whilst prisoners were rounded up for the trip.

I still thought they’d gotten the wrong man. I was completely at the mercy of my addiction and had very little experience of the criminal justice system. I was moderately withdrawing from opiates and I climbed inside my Swandri wool jacket just as much as I could. I was wearing John Lennon sunglasses, Levi jeans and a pair of workingman’s boots.

After all, I had been working very hard busting open chemists and opening safes.

At “Pap” I was put in an ‘association cell’ with about a dozen sick alcoholics for the night.

Down the wing were some cracked windows behind the bars which gave one a view of the old capital punishment hanging yard. Not pretty and sure to change one’s opinion on life and everything within it. People can be mean.

The alcoholics cried and sweated all night, some of them hallucinating.

My Uncle was an alcoholic and saw service in the 23rd Battalion in WW2. He was the oldest man in the unit (36 years old) and put his age back by a dozen years in order to be able to serve.

He lived with us when I was growing up. My parents, having been farm labourers, could not afford their own house so my uncle bought them one. He was shell shocked and could not hardly string a sentence together, but he still worked, as a boilerman at Kempthorne Prossers.

Every Saturday afternoon, having been to the pub after working in the morning, he’d crawl up Russell Street in Dunedin on his hands and knees.

He was in the merchant navy before the war and my mother said that he’d been in every jail in the world for drunkeness including the infamous “Tombs” in Brooklyn. He was a man who knew how to enjoy himself.

My uncle had been at the battle of El Alamein where 3000 Kiwis were killed.

The only story he ever told us about the war was when the Battalion was in Greece and some soldiers were gathered together brewing up a pot of tea and some Stukas came screaming out of the sky directly above them. On that day they were lucky.

After the war he was sent a letter from some German Paratroopers association inviting him to join and complementing the New Zealanders on the fighting ability.

He was a very, very kind man.

In jail, after the association cell, two months later, I was sent to the minimum security jail at Rolleston. A general all round nightmare. Like Homer’s Odyssey but with more snakes.

It housed the notorious child molester Alf Vincent. He went on to do more than 30 years inside and when they gave a trial of weekend release he played up again. Character.

I remember waiting in the foodline one day and Alf was running up and down imploring, “It was

little girls, not little boys….I’m not queer.”

We are all flawed in one way or another, and Alf just happened to get the short straw. The kids got even shorter straws.

We all clamour around looking for love and in the end it might just kill us.

The oldest and youngest members of the Battalion – Les Wilson and Jim Lydiate

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