An Educational Day


Life has a funny way of teaching you things. Most of the time, it’s through formalised education and training, and others, it’s through observation, discussion, or interaction. Saturday was an informal day of the latter and one that I won’t forget for a while.

Yesterday, the Te Puke RSA (Returned Services’ Association) closed its doors for trading to amalgamate with the Te Puke Citizen’s Club.

For those of you not familiar with chartered clubs and the Returned Services’ Association, here’s a bit of history:

The NZ RSA was formed after WWI by returning ANZACs to provide comfort and support to service men, women, and their families, and honour the memories of those who did not return.  It’s an advocate for vets and provides its own welfare service.  During the formative years of the RSA, the public supported building club rooms for the returned at the same time as war memorials for the dead.

The local RSAs are independent of each other, and governed by an executive committee, but are dedicated to the objects and resolutions of the National Council.

Chartered clubs started life as workingmen’s clubs, an import from England. A workingman’s club is social club that provided working class men (and later, their families) recreation and education. It’s primarily a place for a drink, snooker, pool, billiards, sports/betting, and socialising, though they hold fundraising activities, have music/bands, and occasionally, entertainers. The education aspect of the club has fallen by the wayside, though there are some clubs out there that have reading rooms.

Similar to the RSA, each club is independent of each other, governed by an executive committee, and dedicated to the objects and resolutions of their National Office.

It’s quite sad to see an RSA close down and as PlusOne drunkenly pointed out to me, it was an important day. The changing social environment meant that fewer and fewer people were heading into the RSA for socialising.  There are usually a core group who socialise there regularly; the rest of the members come in occasionally- mostly for a club draw (a lucky membership number each week is drawn and X-dollars in cash is given out), a worth-listening-to local band, a fundraising event (like Trivial Pursuit), or an entertainer (comedian, strip-show).

NZ also changed the existing drink-driving laws to lower the limit from 400mcg to 250mcg per litre of breath/50mg of alcohol per 100ml blood for those over 20 and zeromcg/0mg for those under 20.

I’ll say this now: lowering of the drink-drive limit is definitely a good thing. The numbers are arbitrary, given everyone’s different reaction to alcohol- my limit is about 1/2 a standard drink before I’m driving impaired. PlusOne’s limit is two. Since I don’t drink anyway, PlusOne can have all the booze he wants.

Getting back to it…

PlusOne and I attended the closure since the Navy Reserve wanted a presence there and PlusOne volunteered, since it was his day off. We get there (with some difficulty- a tree fell and blocked our route, so we had to go the long way around), and we socialise a little bit before the ceremony. The old boys (the vets) are happy to see a young’un in his whites and I think they were happy that the Navy sent a current serviceman there; judging from the amount of attention he got from the olds, his presence was very much appreciated (and extremely appreciated by a number of old ladies- rubbing a sailor’s collar apparently brings good luck. For more luck, rub longer). A number of them regaled him with their time in the services (army, navy, air force) or to just thank him for being there.

Especially the navy boys.

Get a bunch of navy boys together, and they all talk about the navy. I did learn a few interesting things about the navy: gunners drink the dregs, stokers worked in the boiler room, communicators are in a special class all their own, how some of them feel about their service time vs the modern service (they’re all sitting in air-conditioned rooms now), was serenaded by a few of them singing The Lobster Song (hi-diddly-oh, rip shit or bust, never let your bollocks dangle in the dust), and was (I think) made an honourary member of a naval frigate.

And then, there’s the rum. It’s all true what they say about the navy and rum. The Royal NZ Navy was the last navy that issued a rum ration; they abolished it in 1990. The extremely abridged history goes that when the Caribbean was colonised and sugarcane became a luxury item, the planters needed to defend their plantations from foreign navies and pirates. In order to compensate a sailor and keep his mind off the shit conditions of the vessel, the navy gave them a ration of beer (about a gallon a day). As beer was apt to spoil, they later changed to rum. A sailor would now get a pint, which dropped over time to about 70ml (or a tot) of rum, between 11am and noon, since rum was less likely to spoil. In the 1970s, the British navy decided that alcohol wasn’t the best thing for mental concentration and discontinued the daily ration. NZ didn’t catch up for another 20 years.

I lost count at 5 rums and 6 pints of beer. In fact, most of it came up later, once we got home.

There’s another lesson I learned: if it’s an important day to them and for them, just let them enjoy it.


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