Essentials of Bloketopia, Dale Williams

High Times in the High Country: The Life of a Musterer
W V Kerr and John Kerr
Penguin, $34.95,
ISBN 0140294422

Easy Riders: Cruising the Long White Cloud
Paul and Val Davis
HarperCollins, $24.95,
ISBN 1869503570

Blokes and Boats: Text Bill McCarthy, photography Brian Moorhead
HarperCollins, $24.95,
ISBN 1869503309

The Kitchen Man Cookbook: Foolproof recipes for men who need to cook
Ken Francis
Reed Books, $27.95,
ISBN 0790007436


If ever Mrs Freud, in a pensive moment, paused while soaping Sigmund’s smalls in order to wonder what men want, she could do no better than consult this quartet of books to identify the essentials of Bloketopia. And the answers they provide would be beer, fried food, things that go vroom, and in New Zealand at least, stunts with sheep.

W V Kerr of High Times in the High Country is the grand old man of sheepdog trialling. What he can’t do with a dog shouldn’t be done. He’s even a bit of a wag himself, and some of his dog stories are decidedly shaggy. High country legend has developed its own distinctive style: laconic, rough round the edges, taking pride in its own lack of refinement, putting the boot into the townies every chance it gets. This is country where, if you must attend a wedding, you go by helicopter and take time out to pot a few deer on the ridges en route.

Jokes with sheep include propping up frozen dead sheep on the highway to discomfort passers-by; propping up a dead ram at the keyboard of an abandoned piano in a roadside ditch; thrusting a freshly extracted sheep’s liver at a nonplussed American tourist (that’ll teach those loopies to hang round the woolshed); and fitting casters to frozen whole sheep for use in training trialling dogs. How he loves a legpull. You can bet he drinks Speights.

This latest addition to high country mythology comes complete with bush ballad snatches/station doggerel, and dog-training tips. Photos of the squalid, grimy insides of musterers’ huts are either the very essence of high country man or a wakeup call to OSH.

Easy Riders and Blokes and Boats are shelfmates, sharing some DNA with their forerunner Blokes in Sheds. Slender paperbacks with a photo every odd-numbered page and text every even. The photos are duotones with those irritating black borders that advertise the fact that this is no mere snappery, this is Art and you’d better Appreciate it, sharpish.

If you are out on the open road and pass a pair of cyclists, certain constants are apparent. The front rider will be a bloke, his expression a heady blend of triumph and grim satisfaction. Well to the rear, little legs toiling furiously, will be the female of the pair, her expression a blend of despair, exhaustion and murderous intent.

We’re talking pushbikes here. When it comes to motorised bikes, however, the disparity in muscle power is insignificant, and women start to creep into the user picture. There’s a few in this book, astride their Yamahas, BMW K1200s, and Hondas. One of them called her grunty bike “Grandma’s revenge” – “ I decided after years of worrying about what the kids were up to it was time they started worrying about me.” The blokes run the gamut from glittery-eyed restorers who can list every bike they have ever laid a spanner on, to the hopeful septuagenarian who’s ordered an orange Bluell for his 80th birthday.

Then there are the nostalgics still wedded to sidecars, the sort that they say handle like a pig on roller-skates. And the ones who like to customise their vehicle according to their own bizarre fantasies, and those who prefer the quite stylish new brand of three-wheelers capable of towing trailers. Like the 1989 Honda Gold Wing pictured, whose owner boasts of its “four-speaker stereo tape deck, cruise control, intercoms, and reverse gear” and whose trailer carries “a twelve by nine foot tent with awning and airbeds, a gas cooker, table and chairs – … and a chilly bin full of ice for the whiskies!”   Surely a Pajero driver manqué.

Bill McCarthy was onto a good lurk with Blokes and Boats. Not only did he get to drive from the far north of New Zealand to the far south looking for the raw material, but he even persuaded a car manufacturer to lend him a car. His wife Rae “spent so many hours on the phone and at the fax machine during her own busy schedule”, and his daughters Rachel and Julia “spent hours trying to decipher my nearly unintelligible handwriting”. Ten macho points, Bill, for providing such a diamond example of how a true bloke would put a book together.

But Bill delivers. What you get is a variety of competent, breezy interviews with 50 chaps alongside photos of their diverse small craft. Undemanding, amiable bedside reading for the watery hobbyist.

And for the inner man? Kitchen Man, homo dialapizzaensis, aims to show the novice cook how to feed the savage beast with least-effort, quick-return family tucker.  Kitchen Man’s grudging subtitle gives a clue to his approach. Is this the diffidence of the truly reluctant cook? Or is it closer to the unwilling party performer who must be dragged to his feet, only to take up residence on the karaoke mike and sing his way through the Best of the Beatles?

I’m sorry to say, it is the former. This appears to be a man who believes time spent on food preparation is time wasted. Former pilot, former schoolteacher Francis claims to have discovered how to make toast only after becoming an adult student, when his working spouse unsportingly asked him to take over the cooking. Forced to take seriously what he had previously only taken for granted, he now believes he has conquered the subject and is generously sharing his expertise.

His cooking is inexpensive, unsophisticated, and family-oriented. It put me in mind of camp cooking – mince stew, rissoles, corn and bacon fritters, chilli con carne – and makes unembarrassed use of packet sauces. He also recommends buying some of the more challenging items – only a man who truly hates food would recommend frozen pizza bases.  His dessert section is surely satirical – it contains real apple crumble, cornflake apple crumble, bread and butter pudding, crˆepes, and homemade yoghurt.  And that’s all. No wonder he mentions his secret stash of Moro bars in the garage.

If asked to take a plate, Kitchen Man reaches deep into his gracious living memory bank and comes up with rice bubble biscuits, pikelets, and bread cases. Each recipe is, however, followed by a very sensible panel detailing things to watch out for (sample: Don’t boil the frankfurters too hard or they will split their skins).

The ideal reader of this book will be a father with weekend custody.


Dale Williams is a Wellington editor and reviewer.


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