Every year has a Snozz = big nose, a Bones = skinny, BO = smelly, and a Cheebie Whopper. A cheebie is a chin. To be a true Cheebie Whopper you need a massive jaw, like Clutch Cargo, which would be another of your nicknames. To give you a hard time, to give you rings = holes = arseholes, other boys will grab their jaw and go
real fast. Or they’ll grab your jaw and do the same, if they think you won’t fight back. Although that may be what they want. It depends on the circumstances.
Fathead, you pinch their cheeks. Unless they’re also a Pusnut, for obvious reasons. Names can mutate. Like Pusnut turned into Poxy, to Poxo Cubes to Cuban Refugee to The Castro Kid. And for Acne Attack/Clearasil Kids you always sing “Yellow Submarine”, ’cause the pus could surface anywhere, any sec. With this also goes submarine “donk donk” noises, and “Up” and “Down” periscope moves.
Some nicknames and moves you have to know the history of to understand. Others make no sense. They just sound good. Like no one, including Wowie, knows why he’s called Wowie Zowie. Apart from he’s shy and it’s a good thing to yell and scare him.
There are friendly names used all the time, as mates, and those designed to cut the other guy. Although a friendly name said the right way can cut a guy. Or if the wrong guy says a friendly name, then it can be seen as a cut.
Names wear out. You’re always looking for a new way to give a guy holes. To see if they can hack it. You want them to crack, or blub, or sulk, or whack you – then you know it’s worked. Otherwise, you move on to something else. One guy we had to find 47 nicknames for, ’cause we reckoned he had 47 chromosomes. There’s a lot of names for Derrrrrbrain Mongo Thickos, but none of them are very clever. It wasn’t that hard to find the 47 for 47, as he inherited all his bros’ names. Like if your older brother is called Blowfly, then you’ll get Maggot.
Obviously, I got all the Brownie/Blackie/Darkie/Nugget/Jungle Bunny ones, even though, up the river, I was the whitest Maori there. And was even called Maggot for that very reason. In the school photo, however, I’m the rotten tooth in the middle of a big set of pearly poached egg whites. You can spot me, and the super-smart Brain Box Chinese Japanese Dirty Knees Chinks, real easy. They’re Dayboys so they wouldn’t get called any of that though. Not much, anyway. Except maybe by Boarders. Nicknames aren’t such a big deal with Dayboys. They can go home at night.
Hemi King is the only other Maori you can spot in the school photo. He didn’t start here though. They got him in to prop for the first XV. He’s a big hua. People think ’cause we’re both Maoris we might have something to say to each other. I guess I thought that, too. He’s darker than me, so I said
– So what fraction are you, Hemi?
– I don’t like fractions.
– But are you half-caste or quarter-caste or what?
– I’m all Maori.
– That’s impossible. There’s none left.
– Says who?
And I backed off real quick. You can tell he’s a prop. He’s got that extra aggro.
Sometimes I get called Hori – that just means George. That’s Dad’s name in Maori. Even Howard Morrison says Hori in the “My Old Man’s an All Black” song.
– Hey Howie?
– Hey what?
– How come there’s no Horis in that scrum?
From the time when Maoris weren’t allowed to go to South Africa to play the Springboks. They went later as “Honorary Whites”, just to show them that brown fellas were just as good, and better, than honkies. Especially, the super-fast Maori, Bryan Williams, who was actually only an “Honorary Maori”, ’cause he’s a bloody Samoan.
I had to move from the backs into the forwards this year, ’cause I grew four inches and starting dropping the ball. I got a bit unco. That’s unco-ordinated. I’d have been called Unco if it wasn’t for my colour. That’s the second way you get nicknames, from dumb things that you do. Or didn’t do, but people said you did. Like Katzebummer was from a cat yeowing and running out in front of him on the way back from church. Someone said he #%$!ed it, but, if a Master heard you say that you might get a black mark, so we changed it to Katzebummer, which is Cat #%$!er in German. It can happen that easy. You’ve got to be real careful.
Sambo, as in Little Black Sambo, I can deal with, ’cause I reckon he was smart – running around in circles to turn tigers into butter. A Gollywog is just a doll. And Nigger is just from that “Eenie, Meenie … catch a nigger … if he squeals let him go!” rhyme, which is just a game to pick someone out. So what? And Niggerheads are just weeds that grow where the bush was burnt off. You see, you got to work out ways to deflect things like that, like Bruce Lee kung fu-ing off shurikens and other evil things that enemies throw at him. You can’t let them know that they’ve got to you, or you’re #%$!ed! (= Phantom swearing for Presbyterians).
Unless it’s some dick who shouldn’t be giving you a hard time anyway. Like when I heart-punched Skids for calling me Mary, which is just a play on Maire, my second name. There’s a bit of play on names stuff, but not much, unless you’ve got an unusual or funny one. Like on Anzac Day, when everyone gets the giggles, ’cause all those Ramsbottoms died. And some boys faint from standing in the sun so long, ’cause they forget to wiggle their toes.
Skids must have crapped himself, as some Seniors found dirty gruts in his locker, when they were busting them open with cricket wickets, doing a Red Cross Parcel Hunt = search for food that mothers send boys and you hide real quick. Skids is the lowest of the low, like an Untouchable from “Samu’s India”. I had to sort him out, or it’d be like I was on the same level as him.
The Poofs get all the “Are You Being Served?” Dick Emery limp wrist “Oh, you are awful!” stuff. But mostly they’re called Orchestra Boys, ’cause if you’re in the orchestra, or band, you get to wear long pants. It can be really freezing in Wanganui, but you only wear
your dress pants for church, or if you’re a Senior = 6th and 7th Former. With my trumpet playing, I always change straight back into shorts afterwards. Before I leave the Music Block even. ‘Cause the Boarders have to come to our concerts as part of Compulsory Enjoyment, ‘cause no one else would turn up otherwise. And you don’t want to give the boys a target when they’re already p.ed off.
From playing in the band, I was called Hawaii Five-0, which was fine. Then there was Afro, and Mod Squad, after the Negro guy in that TV show, which was cool, too. But once I got a Mention I was called Halo. I was a star then. A Mention is when a teacher mentions in the staff room that you did something good in school. The House Master picks up on this and mentions it at dinner, in front of everyone, before grace even. As an example of how Boarders can achieve just as much, and more, than Dayboys. Even though the Dayboys way outnumber us, it’s always us against them.
With Halo, boys polish a circle above my head. And blow out air, as though it’s the wind in heaven. And then they suck in real fast, like you’re a total suction cup. They’re just jealous they didn’t get a Mention really. You see, it’s good protection to get one, ‘cause then everyone knows that the Master will be looking out for you in the future. And it’s less likely you’ll get done over, ‘cause then questions might get asked. Like, with my crinkley cardboard red hair, they used to touch my head and pull their fingers away quick, making sizzling noises. And some would try to set fire to my head, ‘cause they reckoned I looked like a match. I got singed a few times, but nothing too bad. You move pretty fast when you feel it. But all that stopped once I got a Mention. Well … most of it.
It’s nothing compared to what some other guys get, anyway. If they really don’t like you, they jump on your bed at night with their rugby boots. That’s called a Canterbury Ruck. It’s really no worse than what you might get on the field. And you do have the blankets for protection. Cowan is the Archbishop of Canterbury Rucks. He doesn’t have a nickname. You just learn to avoid guys like him = Psychos.
That would be Rule No.1: Don’t give true psychos a hard time, even if you’re bigger than them. You must never under-estimate how psycho a true psycho can get. Most often they’ll get kicked out at some stage. The dumb psychos go quick, but smart psychos can last for years and even become Prefects. But are unlikely to make Head Boy, as deep down everyone knows they’re smart psychos, who just know how not to get caught. They don’t leave bruises. You sure don’t want to be the reason they might get kicked out in the end.
Rule No. 2: Don’t say anything about anyone’s parents, even if you know they’re money-grubbing lawyers or accountants. You never know whose parents are divorced, or getting divorced, and that’s why the poor guy is there. It’s an unwritten rule. That said, I’ve seen other guys give each other rings about their parents, but only ‘cause they knew each other really well, and knew it would be okay. Giving a guy holes about their olds can make even an ordinary guy go psycho. Like if someone said something bad about Mum and Dad I’d probably go psycho, too. You have to, or you get no respect.
No. 3: Don’t ever say that old primary school Mum advice thing
– Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
‘Cause someone might just say back
– Okay, sticks and stones, it is.
Last, if on your first day someone asks
– What’s your handle?
– I don’t know.
– Haven’t you got a handle?
Don’t get all embarrassed, ‘cause you think they’re talking about your dick, or what you call your dick, or something like that, like I did. They’ll just be asking what your name is. Tell them your real name, but don’t expect to ever hear it again. Don’t worry, they’ll find lots of new names for you. Yeah, you can’t choose a nickname for yourself, either.
Like, if I could choose a name, it’d be Henry, the VIII th. ’Cause I’m an eighth-caste. Dad is a quarter. Grampa was a half. He was the product of the union of a full-blooded Maori riverboat captain and a French missionary nun from Jerusalem. Although, there’s nothing in the history books about this, ‘cause it was such a scandal and hushed up. Mum is English and Scots, which is where I get the carrot top from. So I’m a real mongrel really. And proud of it, because I’m more New Zealand than most. I figure that out because I’ve got lots of different blood; and about 10% of New Zealand is Maori, and I’m 12.5%, that’s an eighth, which is pretty close. My best subject is maths. That’s what I got a Mention for.
Oh, yeah, and don’t sweat it if some boys disappear over night. They couldn’t hack it. You won’t have to remember their names. They’re just Ghosts.
Extract from a novel-in-progress, Henare, the VIII th – a gory story for boys.
David Geary’s short story collection A man of the people is reviewed on p9.