The Dominion, Friday, July 24, 1925. p. 10
Peeps at Parliament: On a Lee Shore — The Flowers That Bloom Tra La
"One sal volatile225—long, please," I said languidly to my favourite chemist, "and you might throw in a couple of aspirin tablets, and—ah—a dash of peppermint oil. I'm going to need 'em."
"Why, what's the matter?" he inquired, surveying me with a commiserating eye.
"The matter is," I told him, "that while not once nor twice in our rough Island story226 the path of duty was and is the road to glory,227 it's an exceedingly stony road. On leaving you I shall forthwith proceed to the House of Representatives, there to sit in state and on a highly uncomfortable bench."
"Lor, what for?" he queried.
"Reasons of State," I answered. "But the worst of it is that I have an uneasy foreboding that Mr. Lee, hon. member for—for goodness only knows where, or why, is going to make another speech. I dreamed all last night that I was being forcibly ejected from the Ladies' Gallery by the Sergeant-at-Arms, and that, being interpreted, seems to presage just one thing—another speech by Mr. Lee. There's a limit to any woman's endurance, you know."
"Lee? Who's 'e? Never 'eard of 'im," profanely asserted the chemist. "There's Lye, now—"
"Sssh, ssh," I said soothingly. "We don't talk about lies in the House of Representatives. "'Tisn't polite: we call them pardonable exaggerations. They're a political specialty, you know."
"I don't know, and, what's more, I don't want to know," he said stolidly.
"Well, well, perhaps you're right," I agreed. "Best preserve some few of your little illusions. And you couldn't do that if you heard Mr. Lee. However, I must be going."
Just here a timely warning for the benefit of all gentle and ungentle readers: That foreboding was justified. I knew it would be: a maiden aunt on my mother's side knew somebody who had the second sight.
However, let's think of the lighter side of Parliamentary life. Most of you have, from time to time, walked unsuspectingly into the middle of one of those Street Collection Days which, every now and again, descend upon the sober and God-fearing city of Wellington like wolves upon the fold.228 Collection boxes have been shaken under your disgustedly elevated noses; importunate females have clutched at your conscience, imploring you to "Buy a buttonhole." You have emerged in tatters and gone home to your wives to tell them just exactly why reasons of economy won't permit you to finance their usual raids upon the Spring Bargain Counters? Haven't you, now? Well, to-day in Parliament was the equivalent of a Street Collection Day, the only difference being that all the importunities, maledictions, and prayers were directed at the head of one poor, lone, long-suffering male—the Minister for Education.229 If I'd been Sir James Parr I would have walked solemnly round the House, and, with becoming dignity of manner, have deposited a bone button in every one of the collection boxes which were, metaphorically speaking, rattled under my nose. But Sir James Parr didn't; as I've told you before, he is a gentleman of infinite tact and sympathy, and he carefully explained his unfinancial position to his various solicitants in a not altogether unkindly fashion.
The last shall be first.230 Though Mr. Sullivan's speech came towards the end of the afternoon, when most of the Ministers were either disappeared or dozing.231 We'll give it a seat in the second-to-front row; besides—like the small boy who digests his raspb'ry jam before his castor oil, I'm saving up Mr. Lee's peroration until the very last moment. Leaning gracefully over the edge of his desk, and ever and anon levelling an accusing finger at the waistcoat of the Minister for Education, Mr. Sullivan drew a pathetic little picture of schools where children gather in swarms "as thick as flies"—and even more troublesome.232 As time went on, it became hard, not to say impossible, to discover whether he referred to some school in this benighted country of ours or to the Black Hole of Calcutta. "Despite what has been done," he resolutely informed Sir James Parr, "larger sums must be made available."233
However, there was one little bright spot in Mr. Sullivan's landscape. It appears that while in the wilds of Christchurch he visited a cooking school at which the less frivolous of our deplorably undomestic sex are instructed in the mysteries of apple dumplings and steak an' kidney pudden. Mr. Sullivan came away satisfied that here, at least, the Government was doing its duty, and, for amateurs, doing it rather well.234 Men are always thinking about their stom—no, that's indelicate. Let's change the subject.
Mr. Wilford's National Party, who are standing on their dignity so hard that they must have pins and needles all over, had their little say in the afternoon's proceedings. By the way, the Nationalists are obviously affected by a touch, not of the sun, but of that springtime feeling. Nearly all of them were tastefully decorated with boutonnieres235 of daphne, coy violets, and modest primroses. So appropriate, don't you think?
A member from Taranaki (I regret that I'm unable to give you his name or number) began by requesting the Minister to lend "a little sympathetic ear."236 I leaned over at an angle of 45 degrees in an endeavour to see whether the Minister's ear really was—well, like that, you know—but couldn't. From the point of view of my part of the Ladies' Gallery, Ministers might just as well sit in state behind curtains. However ….
The member from Taranaki (I'm scared to say "the member for Taranaki," in case there should be half a dozen representatives from that province, each of whom would immediately feel insulted at being left out.)237 Anyhow, this particular—very particular—member is a staunch advocate of modern education. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is his summing-up.
"Children who imagine they are having a jolly good time playing are really being educated to a far greater extent than under the old system."238 There is the little innocent, thinking, in his sweet childish simplicity, that he is wasting his time making mud-pies, when all the time he is being taught the first principles of architecture—or cookery. It's come to this pass: a child can never be quite sure that some seemingly well-intentioned person isn't going to accost it and, by sheer duplicity, teach it something that it didn't know before and doesn't want to know, anyhow. One member, of the Reform benches, was pathetically eager that our little ones should be instructed in economics, so that they would be able to see through the thick mist of figures which hovers around the heads of the Labour-Socialist Party.239 That's really practical: With the Labour-Socialist Party, it seems that economics is the science of putting two and two together, and making five.
Well, it's really no use halting in our gait. Mr. Lee's speech was, on the whole, funny without being vulgar; to tell you the truth, so is his political attitude. He sternly characterised the member for Egmont, who had spoken a few rash words in praise of Sir James Parr's educational endeavours, as "the Apostle of Stodge."240 Would it be too, too much to suggest that Mr. Lee is the Apostle of Dodge? However, we mustn't follow the example of the Labour Party, with whom levity is the soul of wit.241 But, in the language of "Patience," "Oh, brothers, do you not think that they are quite too all-but?"242
Coming out of the House this afternoon243 I encountered—what do you think?—A crocodile. No, no. Keep calm. You mistake me. I don't mean the kind with the toothy smile, but the sort in which good little boarding-school girls are duly marched abroad for their daily recreation. The crocodile, as one woman, put its heads on one side, and marked time with its neatly shod little feet, and gazed reverentially at Parliament House. Well, well; we were like that in our own young days, weren't we?
225 Ammonium carbonate, used to treat fainting fits (Oxford English Dictionary).
"…this new and active mind of his that he did not realise, accompanied him-straight up the path of duty which, poetry tells us, is so often the road to glory."
The Collected Works of Rudyard Kipling, vol. 14 (New York: Ams Press, 1970), p. 452.
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold.
The Complete Poetical Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann, vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986). See also the columns for 9 July 1925, 31 July 1925 and 1 October 1928.
229 Parr, the Minister of Education, had tabled his annual report on 23 July; see Hansard 206: 755-76.
230 Matthew 20 v. 16.
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
231 Dominion: dosing.
232 According to Hansard Sullivan did not use this phrase, although he did say that in overcrowded schools the children were "as plentiful as the letters on the printed page of a newspaper" (Hansard 206: 770).
233 Sullivan argued that "despite all that has been done, there still remains any amount of scope for improving the existing conditions" (Hansard 206: 770).
234 Sullivan commented that after visiting the cookery school he "felt that very good work was being done indeed" (Hansard 206: 771).
235 A spray of flowers worn in a buttonhole (Oxford English Dictionary).
237 Smith was indeed the member for the Taranaki electorate.
238 Smith noted that a visitor to a modern infant school "observes children of five years of age who imagine that they are having a jolly good time playing, whereas they are really being educated to a greater extent and to a more efficient degree under the new methods than they were under the old" (Hansard 206: 757).
239 Hawken argued that Government funding "would be far better spent in giving a thorough grounding in economics to the older boys and girls in our schools…It is surprising the lack of knowledge that exists in regard to interest and the proper method of investing money, and of those practical things which make for the well-being of the people. I am sure, for instance, that the Labour party would not receive the hearing they are getting to-day for their propaganda if people were better educated in economics" (Hansard 206: 759-60).
240 This was Lee's exact phrase; see Hansard 206: 762.
241 Cf. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act II, scene ii, lines 91-93.
Polonius: Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief.
The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor and Stanley Wells, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 2005).
242 Gilbert and Sullivan, "Patience; or Bunthorne's Bride," act II, lines 339-40.
Saphir, are they not quite too all-but?
The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, intro. and ed. Ian Bradley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).
243 Dominion: after-.