OPINION: A maundery Saturday morning, writes Joe Bennett.
I maundered up the hill with the dog, maundered through breakfast then maundered to the market where I bought bread, fish and free-farmed pork sausages. (Oh, the importance of hyphens. I intend to visit this farm one day to watch the pork sausages gambolling in the paddock.)
Sadly, I didn't buy organic chickens' feet because the organic- chicken lady didn't have any, though she had plenty of footless chooks. (Witness once more the hyphen's power. Take the hyphen out of organic-chicken lady and she, rather than the chook, becomes organic. And if you were recklessly to reposition the hyphen between the chook and the lady she'd become an improbable, though uncontaminated, hybrid. But does anyone care about hyphens these days? No, I thought not. )
My dog is fond of organic chickens' feet. I'm sure he'd be equally fond of inorganic ones, but though millions must be produced every year you never see them in the shops. I wonder where they go. Perhaps they send them to China, where they're considered a delicacy, or maybe they feed them to the free-farmed sausages.
Anyway, my shopping done, I maundered a bit more and was heading reluctantly to my study when the phone rang.
"Help me," said Helen.
Immediately my inner Sir Galahad leapt to his feet, puffed out his chest, swept off his hat and bowed low.
"To help you would be an honour," said Sir Galahad, (because anything's better than work). "To do what?"
"To rescue some penguins," said Helen. "They're stuck down a hole."
Sir Galahad vacillated between the chivalrous response and the honest one. He plumped for the honest one. "I believe penguins live in holes," he said.
"Not holes like this, they don't," said Helen.
Apparently the hole had been dug by a digger and was a metre wide by two metres deep. The sides were too steep for penguins to climb and Helen was worried that they'd prove too steep for her too. "They're little blue penguins," she added helpfully.
"How do you know?"
"Well," she said, "for one thing they're little and for another . . . "
"I'm on my way," I said.
Pausing only to snatch a pair of penguin-rescuing gloves, I was out the door and into the car before you could say "this is just what I needed on a maundery Saturday morning".
The dog was keen to come but experience has taught me that there are some activities in this life where his enthusiasm hinders rather more than it helps.
"There they are," said Helen, pointing down the hole.
And there they were, the first penguins I'd seen from less than a hundred metres. They'd hidden their heads under a fat stormwater pipe, presumably on the ostrich principle. Their plump little bodies looked like a pair of muddy roast chooks.
"How did they get there?"
"Does it matter?" said Helen and I had to concede the point. Nevertheless I was intrigued. Were the penguins a couple who'd been toddling through the winter night flipper in flipper when suddenly the ground disappeared beneath them? Or had one fallen in first and called out in alarm to its mate who'd then peered over the edge and slipped?
Or were they perhaps two unacquainted penguins who fell in independently? It was hard to know. But one thing was clear: They'd die down there unless some good Samaritan turned up. And here I was.
Penguins are barely birds. Their feathers are like fur and their wings are flippers. They swim like seals, they walk like drunks and they fly like bricks, all of which may explain why we find them comic. So comic indeed that they now star in animated movies and advertisements for potato chips. In Britain they've lent their name to a chocolate biscuit. The promotional slogan is "Pick up a Penguin".
Which I did. Placing my gloved hands around the heft of its chest I lifted it from the mud. Understandably, it writhed and pecked me. My finger experienced what many a herring does. Then the penguin became passive. When I placed it on the mud it lay still for a moment, then realised it was free and half-scrambled, half- rowed its way under an adjacent shipping container.
The second penguin reacted identically to being rescued. Beneath the container the two of them had a brief noisy squabble, then fell silent.
"Well done," said Helen, as she helped me out of the hole.
"My pleasure," I said, "it's good to do good." And Sir Galahad the Samaritan drove home with all thoughts of maundering gone.
- © Fairfax NZ News