July 1969

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!  Dr. Seuss

1969 Leabank Primary SchoolTo ponder why we travel and from where the passion to explore is derived is a complex question; often not determined by one quick answer. For me, and I would guess for many, it would be easy to give all credit in the direction of one or both parents however just as often influences can be found in a multitude of experiences occupied by our youth.

In primary school I had a teacher, Mr. Tooze, who introduced me to the life and culture of Hong Kong’s Junk Boat citizenry.  For a couple of weeks Mr. Tooze worked our imaginations into a frenzy as we drew pictures, crafted stories, encouraged our study, and read about life in the harbor of Hong Kong.

I was mesmerized. I still have vivid memories of my romantic and innocent imagination as I envisioned my own life on board a junk boat. Never setting foot on land and living in tune with the ebb and flow of the ocean tide. Walking with buoyancy to allow my knees the ability to bend and flex along with the rolling of the sea. 

I was six and already my thoughts were electrified by a world outside the small community in which I lived and the even smaller cluster that made up my class.

It was a milestone year for my imagination and up next were the classics.

First it was the study of pre-historic creatures. Flesh eating juggernauts that roamed the earth millions of years ago. To further enlighten and enliven a young mind we were taken on field trips to see first hand how dinosaurs lived, how big they were compared to us, the sounds they made, how they hunted, and what ultimately was their demise.

I would have given anything right then to travel back in time and see it for myself. To live in a cave, be among these creatures, and be part of this era. The Flintstones did little to add historic accuracy to my mind’s eye but the knowledge that this period once existed sent my imagination into overdrive and I wanted to go there.

The Cretaceous morphed into Ancient Egypt and I was re-fascinated. I could relate to the boy King known as Tutankhamun. Not because I possessed any royal blood or lauded over a vast land whose people were my subjects but because he was a boy and so was I.

What more did I need to know; it was obvious to me that we had a lot in common.

These three examples are the clearest recollections I have as contributing factors to why I find the world a captivating place that should be cherished and explored. Not only because these topics were offered up to me in a classroom but because my imagination was cultivated, nurtured, and fed.

From then on I had the tools to locate amazement in almost anything.

I was a foundation pupil at Leabank Primary School; a five minute walk from home. My classroom was “2B” and the irony of this number letter combination as a setting to grow a mind is not lost on me now.

Every afternoon we would haul a dozen long grey mats outside to the concrete assembly area where we would pretend to nap for fifteen minutes. It was required. In hindsight it was likely more a requirement for teacher sanity than the assigned reason of rest for our over-energized six year old minds and bodies.

Some kind of interactive class would always follow. We would be read a book, a chapter a day. Or we would tell stories about our weekends or a special event, or we would sing songs.

The Burl Ives rendition of Pearly Shells accompanied by thirty restless youngsters could often be heard across the fields adjacent. Once, I even stood at the front of the class and performed it solo; an experience I have trouble relating to today.

It was a Monday in July of 1969.

A gorgeous day in Auckland; the sky a deep mid-winter blue. There was not a cloud in the sky but the excitement in the classroom was palpable.

We were all shuttled outside with grey mats in tow. Sitting side by side and cross-legged we waited as our teacher setup the small black and white television on the bench that acted as a barrier to protect our class garden.

As this preparatory work was underway all eyes were elsewhere. Staring in amazement at the moon as she floated above us; half obscured, the other half gleaming in the glow of the southern hemisphere sun.

I got bitten by the travel bug right there on the concrete slab outside classroom 2B.

That afternoon, instead of a story or a song, we watched the sky. The moon had never looked so majestic or so engaging.  On television the news was filled with continuous reports of Apollo 11 and its historic journey through space.

We listened and watched in awe; imagining what was happening way up there in space.

At 2:56 pm on Monday July 21st 1969 it was announced that Neil Armstrong had set foot on the moon; the very moon we were gazing at.  My mind boggled. With the help of our imaginations we could see it happening, live. There was no need for actual footage. I was as close to euphoria as a six year old can be.

I was busting at the seams.

New Zealand did not have a satellite dish at the time so it would be another 4 hours before film of the landing was received; touching down at Wellington Airport by way of an air-force bomber. It was then beamed into every household across the country.

For me though, listening to the announcers talk about the landing; describing it in detail without visual aid, while I sat on a grey mat outside class “2B”, was far more powerful of an experience than seeing the images later that evening.

I wanted to be an astronaut.

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.  Mark Twain

 

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52 thoughts on “July 1969

  1. As always I love your writing and in this case it’s even more fascinating as it gives some insight into how you became the traveler and the great writer that you are. Thanks for sharing this look back.

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  2. What a lovely memoir! And your classroom “2B” so apt. It’s amazing the impact experiences such as you describe can have on what the child becomes. Enjoyed this post.

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    1. It was a time I have always recognized as playing an important part in the development of my wanderlust and world fascination; it was good to get it down on paper.

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  3. Oh, this post made me reflect so much upon my childhood!
    I only (really) discovered the passion for travelling in my early twenties. Before, as a teenager, I never understood the meaning of travelling, but now I wish I travelled every day!

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  4. Teachers have such impact, as I’m sure anyone who serves a large audience does. They always seem humbled and awed by their adult students’ mentions of the enduring effects of their influence. Even when they have forgotten us, we remember them.

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  5. I too had similar experiences as a child, I think we all do. I wonder at what point does that desire to see the world, the way we look at the world with childlike eyes ends. I guess the struggles of adulthood, strangles that out of us.

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  6. I wonder if your Mr. Tooze has any idea what an inspiration he was to you? This is a beautiful reminder of the power of a good teacher, combined with a good imagination. And what a cute school picture! Keep exploring…

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    1. I have often wondered that Meredith; I hope he sees this story. I ended up sending a copy to the school head master just to let them know what an influence this year was on me.

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  7. I saw both of your pictures for almost a minute and was amazed by the fact that your smile is still same. Quite impressive that a young energetic boy who decided at a very early age what he wants to do and followed his dreams ,was with books even at that time.
    About stepping on Moon. I have read this story of Neil Armstrong in my books and wished that I could have seen that live. I feel may be I was watching him from heavens at that time.
    It is nice that some teachers have ever lasting impression on our minds and change our lives and thoughts.
    Nice to know about your inspiration that came when you were sitting outside 2B.

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  8. Tim what a great post…i often think about when and where i caught the travel bug…I think it was a mix of my Dad- who collected different currencies and stamps explaining where they came from and my grandmother who always had maps and who herself was fascinated with world flags and capitals. I think it opened to mind to the fact that there is so much out there. and I wanted to see and do it all.

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  9. At the age of 6, I was probably somewhat more narrowly focused geographically than you were. But the thing that fascinated me was Greece and Rome. I was curious about the layers of reality, the ancient world, the modern world and then this fantastic body of storytelling that we call mythology. The first time I visited Rome that all came back to me.

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  10. Tim, I loved the picture – looks just like I imagined you would at six years old – a bit of mischief showing through. You are right about being influenced by outside sources. I was fascinated with the areal photos of the prairies shown in our geography books. i could just imagine riding the open fields on a horse. While I never made it out West, i did manage to ride our own horse on our own open fields – that’s something. Anyway, Tim, thanks for sharing another great post.

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  11. I’ve often though about why I ended up traveling so much (well not as much as people like you, but I do get around…) For me it was a combination of reading a lot and also REALLY not liking the small mining town I grew up in. I just saw how nobody hardly went anywhere, but I did have an English teacher who would tell us about her adventures in the bowels of the airport in Egypt and just got to thinking, yep I want to have some adventures. Funny too that I also wanted to be an astronaut. BTW, Mr. Tooze is such a great name.

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  12. Childhood memories…they’re the best. You were very fortunate to have such a impassioned and vivid history teacher who not only brought alive ages long past but helped you witness one of the most significant events in modern history too.

    Thanks for sharing this trip down memory lane Tim!

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  13. Hi Tim, What a lovely trip down the memory lane! I could very vividly visualise the boy who could relate to the stories, especially King Tut. I am amazed at the interest and the fascination that could be evoked at such a young age! Do you give credit to the teacher, the exposure or your own imagination?

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  14. Damn you were a cutie Tim! And I listened to the Burl Ives Pearly shells as I read the story…it really did enhance the experience! I’m so happy that the bite from the travel bug propelled you so far and from such a young age. Now, it seems, there is still that last frontier! While it may be too late to become an astronaut, there’s a chance you’ll be able to ride into space during your lifetime. Now THAT is traveling:)

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  15. Love this, but I didn’t realise you were THAT old haha!! Bet you’ve had far more fun travelling on terra firma than you would have had doing the moon commute. Hope all well x

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  16. Hi Tim, What an adorable picture of you as a boy! How nice that you knew from the time you were young what you wanted to do and have been able to follow your dreams. Not many people can get to say they have done that. Imagine when you are old and gray the memories you will have and the stories you will be able to tell. Congrats to you on living your dream!

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