For a boy growing up on Woodbourne airbase in the 1950s, the station dump offered rich pickings: cockpit levers, gauges and switches, miles of copper wire, .303 cartridge cases (great whistles) – and my find of the month, a battered Thermette.
I rode home with it balanced on my handlebars, and was greeted by the family as though I had found a pearl of great price.
But clouds were gathering. My father came home days later to say that the dump caretaker had complained to the station admin office of a thief at large.
His faithful old Thermette had disappeared, which meant he couldn’t boil water for his cuppa.
A storm in a teacup perhaps, but questions were being asked high in the chain of command.
I should have done what my parents suggested and returned the Thermette under cover of darkness, but weeks wore on and we grew more attached to our smoky old kettle.
I was amazed at how quickly it boiled water from the coldest of streams. (No fears about rural water quality in the fifties.) And I thrilled to the hiss and smoke, reminiscent of a Kb locomotive leaning into the Hundalees.
But most of all I was struck by the quality of tea we brewed from our little puffing billy. Rich and dark, with twirling twigs to enhance the flavour. And hot – scalding hot!
It was the perfect end to a perfect lunch of cold-lamb sandwiches, hard-boiled egg, and a slice... no, two slices of homemade chocolate fudge. To the trill of a skylark climbing on the Wairau Valley westerly.
I’m sorry to admit that the dump caretaker never did regain his old Thermette. It took to the road, so to speak, in the boot of our red Ford 10 on picnic jaunts all over Marlborough and as far south as Kaikoura.
Anyway, the airbase probably bought him a brand-new one. Lucky man, I say.
Many moons later, long after leaving home, I searched the family garage for the Thermette – in vain.
My parents disavowed all knowledge, but I have my suspicions. I reckon my mother had one of her periodic cleanouts, and sent the kettle to the dump.
Everything comes round, as they say. And justice is served.