Relevance in History

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
The enjoyment of history might have been spoiled by the school experience, but for some it is fascinating!

Submitted: October 13, 2016

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Submitted: October 13, 2016



We used to call him ‘Johnny’ but Sir John Graham, ex All Black and good guy, was my history teacher for a couple of years and he was my rugby coach, but I had limited skill in that department. Still, it is fair to say that he was one of the influences that stimulated my interest in history. We all grow up with family history and I remember the anecdotal stories, which are interesting to research and to write down, for no other reason than my own pleasure. Things like: my mother, then four years was washed overboard on her way to New Zealand and a sailor caught her in mid-air and became a lifelong friend of my grandfather – but who was he? Lillie Langtry, happened to be a cousin of my great grandmother, the le Bretons of Jersey have ancestral links with the guy who did in Thomas Becket! Our Welsh side were active in the Chartist movement, which contributed to universal suffrage. They reckon my maternal great grandfather was probably Irish, but apparently he claimed to be Scottish for reasons that aren’t clear. Family often spoke of these things but I’m not sure the stories were totally consistent. All families have history, and after all, don’t we all have the same distant relatives?

I now that in Johnny’s class, my mates dozed off and thought the subject was akin to munching on dry water biscuits, I know and I found it difficult to remember those dates and names. I’m no history scholar, my forte is to grow trees, so it’s hard for me to pin down why I like history, it just fascinates me. I know scholars say that history is inescapable, or you don’t know who you are until you know your past, or it helps you understand the past, or if you know how your ancestors lived, you might be thankful today.

Johnny of course had to follow the national curriculum, which was British history, written by the British, and the New Zealand history didn’t present the Maori point of view at all. I didn’t understand that at the time. We were part of the red on the map, the goodies of the world! So if we were the goodies, what about the countries that weren’t red? How did they see themselves? And what did they think of us? So you have to think about history. Writers of history make judgments, mostly based on what they have researched, but sometimes educated guesses that could be flawed. Often without balance, maybe even biased!

History Channel’s Time Team glues me to screen! Old Baldrick does an excellent job of fronting the programme and that is the part of history most interesting to me, archaeology. I was outraged when a local logging crew obliterated umu, Maori ovens, in the forest! We, the old hands, had recorded them and mapped them for the museum and marked them, but they were smashed without thought. Umu are simply pits dug into the ground where cabbage trees, ti kouka, were cooked for their starch. Still it was our local history. Mindless vandals wrecked a stone wall that goldminers had built one hundred and fifty-odd years ago, just for fun – our history doesn’t go back very far. Recorded history that is.

How much history and knowledge has been lost to war? Plunder, genocide, the desire to wipe an entire people and their history off the face of the Earth! History’s lessons have not been learned! Cultural vandalism for personal gain, such as during the reign of Henry VIII when the monasteries were looted and destroyed, castles too! Different reasons maybe but same results, eyes-glazed-over-numbnuts blew up the two 1700 year old Buddhas in Afghanistan, similar numbnut-militants in Mosul destroyed artefacts that date back to the 7th century BC! To achieve what exactly?

Just admire the paintings in the Chauvet Cave! 30 000 years old, and the thing is, there is real drawing talent there, some person was very adept, but did he or she paint for pleasure? What about Otiz, The Iceman, , where was he going, who made his clothes? The big things in history are mostly well recorded, but the smaller things are what fascinates me. Where did Sir Richard le Breton or de Brito go when the Pope bunged him off to the Holy land? He was there for fourteen years, what did he do there?  How come my ancestor, an iron puddler lived to the ripe old age of eighty three when most doing the same job died in their thirties!

Back in the day, a man came to our house with a thin metal plate with burred-over edges. He scraped down the piano with it then lacquered it with a cloth pad. What’s that called and is it ever done these days? I have these questions! When I was a lad, a man came to do repairs, electrical of plumbing, I can’t remember, but I watched him. He had a small scar under his chin and a curios lad, I asked him how he got it. A bullet went in there and exited through his eye socket! It popped his eyeball out and it still worked dangling there! A medic popped it back in and it was ‘good as gold’. How do you clean an eyeball in a war zone? How strong is the string that kept it attached? During a work-related visit, I found a man painting artificial woodgrain onto doorframes in the house! What do you call people who do that?

I suppose historians can’t possibly tell the whole story about everything, but they miss out stuff. I would have thought Morell and his doping of Hitler with all sorts of chemicals would have been way up on the list of things to know, but we were never told, you have to wonder. Makes you wonder too how people like Putin, Bashar el-Assad and the others sleep at night, in fact anyone who does unnatural things!

Directly past history does not necessarily impact on our everyday lives, but for better or worse we all are a product of history in some way or other. That may well include world history, national history and especially family history. In its way, it has personal significance and that is why I enjoy putting little things together that remind me what I and others I know have done or not done. There may be nothing earthshattering or important to tell, just some things that someone might read one day. It might help to understand what has gone on before, and where they come from. And you never know, it might just inspire someone!




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