Let’s Play ‘Pretend’

d “Let’s play ‘pretend’,” she’d say. And on a dairy farm, miles from the nearest town, and a long way to walk to play at your friends’ farm…what else could you do when you’re bored with dolls, toys, colouring in, and all the other indoor activities. On a sunny day, playing ‘pretend’ was the best way to fill our day.

“Let’s pretend we’re Robin Hood?”

“No, there’s only two of us here, and I’m fed up of being the Sherriff of Nottingham!”

“Let’s pretend we’re Sir Edmund Hillary!”

“No. That only means we walk up the hills to the ridge at the top. That’s not real climbing.”

“Well, let’s pretend we’re Biggles and Ginger.”

“Yes, let’s. Can I be Biggles this time?”

“No, you’re too small to fit in the cockpit. I’ll be Biggles.”

So that means I’m Ginger. Like I was the last times we’ve pretended.

“You don’t mind, do you.” It’s not a question. She’s already heading off down towards the cream stand near the gate.

I don’t mind, not really. At least Ginger gets to do more than Biggles, who just tells me what to do. I follow, as always, as we move across to the windbreak of old macrocarpa trees. No breeze today, so no riding the lower branches.

Beside – actually through some of the trees’ trunks – is the old almost-still-a fence, with its posts slanting every which way, probably supported more by the macrocarpa trunks than the posts. Lying across the sagging top wires is the old tree trunk, blown down years ago, stripped by the weather and the seasons of its bark and side branches.

We scramble over the fence into the old orchard, with its rows of neglected apple trees whose windfall fruit feeds the pigs when they’re allowed out from their sties. I’ve never seen the pigs myself. She has. She’s told me why Dad doesn’t want us to come into the orchard – the pigs are wild, she told me, and dangerous. That’s why we mustn’t tell Dad and Mum this is where we sometimes play.

Biggles checks the plane, making sure it’s not damp, it’s got no bugs in it. As she climbs into the cockpit, she gives Ginger orders.

“There’s parts missing, Ginger. See what you can get from the hangar.” So I get some likely-looking twigs, and pass them up to her. I start to climb up into the seat behind Biggles.

“Ginger, I’ll do the safety checks. But we’re short on fuel. Sort it out old chap.” I leave her to stick twigs into borer holes, for switches, climb through the fence again and get the old bucket from under the cream stand. It’s always there. I’ve told Dad about it. I asked him if he wanted me to bring it home, but he said to leave it there.

I carry it up to the house, going in through the front hedge and around to the water tank beside the back of the house. I refuel it, and carry it back to the plane. It’s heavy, and some sloshes out.

“That’s not much fuel,’ says Biggles.

“That’s all the chaps could spare. Besides, you said there was some fuel left from the last flight.”

“Okay, Ginger. Fuel her up.” I pour the ‘fuel’ into an opening in the old trunk. We both know the hole goes right through, and I’ve worked out how to stand and refuel without getting fuel on my feet. I put the bucket down by the fence, and climb aboard.

“Wait till I get the engine running, Ginger. I need you to pull away the chocks.” Biggles starts the engine. “Took, took, tchook, tchook… Took, took, tchook, tchook… Took, tchook, tchooka… Rrrrrrr, Rrrrrr… Chocks away, Ginger!”

I kick away two rocks, and clamber aboard. Biggles has the motor running smoothly, and it starts into a full roar, rising in pitch, as he revs her up and we take off. I run the motor when Biggles runs out of breath, so the engine doesn’t stutter and die.

“I say, Ginger,” calls Biggles. “We’re right over the enemy air field now. Snap those photos now, old boy!” Biggles takes over the engine, while I hold out the camera and take snaps.

Click. Kachick. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik.

“I got four good snaps, Biggles. Will that do the major?”

“Keep snapping Ginger!”

Click. Kachick. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik.

“Right-oh, that’ll have to do. One of their planes is out taxiing – they’re after us. Let’s head for home. Well done, Ginge!”

We fly back to base, land, and taxi to our spot beside the runway. Biggles does the safety checks while I replace the chocks.

“Great flight, Biggles. Are we going to see the major straight away?”

“Oh no, Ginger. Let’s stop off at the canteen for a cuppa on the way.”

We clamber through the fence, I replace the fuel bucket, and we walk up the gentle slope to the house – going through the back gate to the kitchen.

“Welcome back chaps. Good flight?” Mum asks. The teapot’s full, and there’s scones on the counter. Help yourselves, won’t you.” She smiles, and leave us to it, going out to the clothes line to lower the prop and unpeg the washing.

“Runs a good canteen, does Mum, eh.”

“Yes, she does.”


Dairy farm, c. 1955-56, in Whangarata, Waikato, New Zealand
This memory brought to you by
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