Ian Maxwell Lang

Reminiscence by his brother Donald Lang

In 1931, when Ian was born, the shooting season opened on his birthday. The “lads” who worked for Dad on the farm made a miniature bow and arrow for the new baby.. This they presented to Mum for Ian’s later use,. Dad for quite some time referred, or spoke, to Ian as “Mr Tell”.

Almost any group of siblings will refresh you about stereotypes of the problems of each position in order. There are usually nominations to do with ‘pet’ status. As the 4th child and the middle son Ian had definite middle sibling status. The Mr Tell thing was of minor significance. More important, for ‘pet’ status, was that Mum saw a resemblance to her father. That was not surprising; in later years we found photos of both Ian’s grandfathers. They were not closely related but it was only possible to tell them apart by looking at their contexts. Then there was the matter of the porridge. At about three Ian was being a big boy and carrying a plate of porridge from the kitchen to the dining room table. He came a cropper and scalding porridge hit him on a lot of his chest. I think I am right in assuming that he would have been hand carried down to a bridge about 400 metres away, and over that rickety footbridge to a rather ancient car. There were a lot of bumpy roads in the thirty odd kilometres to the nearest hospital. Mum said later that the hospital people thought he was helped to recover, from something including patches of third degree burns, by a healthy farm life up to that point. The episode was marked out by scar tissue on his chest and I am not sure if it ever became less than conspicuous.

The first school at The Cove was three miles away. The first transport was a placid mare named Roanie, until one night she stood too close to a fence in a thunderstorm and was found dead next morning. Four on one school pony was close to some limit, so once there were five of us we went in a new Ford 10.  The Great Depression was not quite over, but a number of families were finding enough money to make small improvements in their comfort. A family of seven was not an ideal fit, but possible. When a celebration of the centenary of the Treaty of Waitangi came along, we made a trip of over a hundred miles each way on mostly unsealed roads. Two adults could look respectable in the front seat, and five children all under the age of 15 were more or less neatly packed into the back.

In the meantime there was that first sole charge school. Mum was always worried about the numbers, and I think if we had left the district it would have closed. Ian must have found it hard on occasions when his “morning talk” was discussed and dissected at dinnertime, including once his use of the terminology of “he-fishes” and “she-fishes”. Elder siblings can and often do take their superiority for granted.

In 1940, along with the Centennial and the phony war, came consolidation. Six small primary schools disappeared into one “Waipu District High School”. That title acknowledged enough secondary pupils enrolled to justify two teachers for that segment of their education. From this distance it appears that all the teachers were good in subjects for which they had been trained, and were often adequate in picking up the pieces where they had not been trained. Hector started in the High School building  on that site. It had been the old Waipu Centre School. I think each of the rest of us in that or the next year had the new experience of being in a [composite] classroom that did not include a sibling.

The sinking by a mine of the liner Niagara in June1940, just out of sight from us, caused almost all shipping  in and out of Auckland to pass between us and the Hen and Chickens island group. We all then had an interest, “for the duration”, in some aspects of the war at sea. Ian kept a wide ranging fascination with that history open much longer. In recent years wider interest revived in the fate, much further away, of HMAS Sydney. He had never really lost interest. Not long before he died he heard of the fate of the USS Indianapolis. I think he found out as much as he wanted to there and was impressed by the resonances he saw in the fate of the two ships.

During the next few years Ian and Anne each made a considerable collection of New Zealand native plants. I can’t remember the rules for what was admitted under the title. They had over fifty each and could specify where to find them. Most were collected on foot excursions, but a few such as mangroves came after insisting that the car be stopped when we were on our way to Whangarei.. In one case we understood that only one example of the hardy coastal shrub was available, a few miles down the coast. All its relatives were on islands off the coast. Ian became an expert on what was edible in the local bush. All of us sampled pohutukawa honey on the tips of our tongues in December each year. There were many small berries in their seasons. On the other side of the coin were the exotic deadly nightshade and the native karaka that were both the subject of strict warnings. The most important item in our berry diet was the taraire. There was even a named Taraire Tree which had a considerable crop and .a lengthy season. We could not get into it directly but Ian found a route from a bank above into a puriri tree alongside. From one of its branches the taraire tree was accessible, just. At least I got there too, once. The berries are similar in shape and structure to olives. I suspect they are also an acquired taste, and they left a residue on the teeth. Their season did not overlap with that of the blackberry bushes. We had too many of those and occasionally had to rescue sheep from their clutches. The edible things did reduce the chore involved in ‘going round’ the sheep, preferably daily, and especially in the lambing season. That I suppose was our part of the war effort in the early forties.

That first school was close enough to the sea, and small enough, so that the whole school could and did go swimming together. Waipu DHS lost that for us. For our family that was a small loss. The surf was still a within running distance from our house. Even closer to the surf was the Garland house. Jack Garland senior had retired from farming prior to WWII, but his son Jack who had succeeded to the farm, was ‘at the war’. Jack senior drove back there most days. His grandsons Lindsay and Ian Couper were close by his day job and frequent passengers home to the beach at weekends. Lindsay was Ian’s age, and the other Ian just younger than me. Most of the year the beach, and the rocks here and there, were ours. The stream in the middle with a ‘lagoon’ close to where it flowed into the beach, was about equal to our sandmining engineering. We often held it with a dam, but never for long. The vagaries of water flow meant that the stream was always changing course. The sea brought in the sand and the stream carved channels through it. Somewhere there was usually a bend with a bank that was being carved away. It was a challenge to walk away from it, turn to face the stream, close your eyes and ‘walk the plank’ until you stepped over the bank. Wherever you were on the length of the beach you could make a sand fort against the waves. Sometimes there would be a sequence of such forts following the retreating tides down and sometimes there were successive retreats higher up the beach away from the tide. Other boys were included from time to time. Geoff Hill was a frequent holiday visitor to our house, and one summer Fraser Sim spent time with us while recuperating from an appendix operation that nearly cost him his life. It was during WWII that Ian and Geoff and I found an interesting bit of debris on the beach. It was a bundle of four sticks of, as we heard later, explosive. Each was about twice as big as a table candle, plus two priming charges lodged in a couple of them, and a detonator in one of those. We chipped at the explosive but fortunately had enough sense not to attack the rest of it.

After WWII more people came to live in cottages near the shore and many more came to holiday places in summer. The beach did not become crowded, but there were enough in the age group for occasional twilight games of rounders. And these included girls. One such was known in our household as Sock, or ‘The Lovely Sock’.  Several people claimed to be fixated hopelessly on another lady known as Bubbles. I think it was the first appearance of Sock that caused me to remark at home one day that I had seen somebody even better looking than Bubbles. My audience said they would be interested to hear Ian’s reaction to that. In due time Ian walked in and was told to listen to what I had just said. I repeated the comment and Ian considered it. “Come outside. I fight you.” I can’t remember what followed when everyone stopped laughing. Sock got her name somewhat later when she demonstrated an ability and a willingness to administer a mean upper cut to the solar plexus.

By that stage the bagpipes had become a useful social lubricant. That started in the middle of WWII when one of the few pipers from the prewar band still ‘at home’ offered lessons. All three boys took a lesson or more but after about lesson three it was decided that my fingers were not yet big enough and a few years later Hector also quit. A year or two later yet the local MP said one day as we went past his place on the way to swim that he had not heard the pipes yet, and he had been in residence since before Christmas. Next morning, being New Year, Ian and Anne and I were in the large open space accessible under his house, before that household woke. The pipes were authentic. The drum contingent was more improvised. Shortly after we were located  and we waved to them as we left. Dad was horrified and wondered if he dared go to the New Year Games. He had no need. The MP was there telling everybody with delight that he had been serenaded.

There are of course many remarks in any family that carry invisible quotation marks. Quite a number had their origin late in 1946 and were perhaps as much tragic as funny. Ian was on the spot as they appeared, and was happy to give them currency.  A man well known in the area had been away for some time, but decided the time had come to return from Whangarei to live in our area. “Whangarei is too small a place. There is too much talk. They say I’m nuts. But I’m not!” He knew himself to be a big shot. The opinion was not widely shared. He decided unilaterally that he was conferring a favour on a Boer War veteran just down the hill from us by coming to live there while he got his empire in order. In those days we had the closest phone. Phone connections were not easily obtained. We were often visited by people who needed phone contact ‘at the beach’. To make contacts it was necessary to go through a manual switchboard in Waipu. The big shot assumed airily that the operator there was male, and a male who could be required to do his directory work for him.  Among the first of the quotes was “Boy! Get me Rickman!” Phyllis Grant may have even been willing to do that, but she could not keep up with all his demands. “Blasted dormouse; gone to sleep again.” After a few days of this the something bound to give did so. Ian went down to deliver a message and found that the Boer War veteran had jacked up. He was sitting in the outdoor lavatory and refusing to proceed immediately to whatever was demanded next. He instructed his ‘guest’ to “Go and have a roll”. Things went on and Ian may have been pressed into service in calling for a taxi. He was there when it arrived. It was a classic exit. The big shot had obviously packed his own suitcase although “packed” is not quite the term. Here the leg of pyjamas and there the end of a sock made its own statement of conditions inside. The Boer War veteran was standing near the door making an unstandard gesture of farewell. His right thumb was held in his ear and his fingers were opening out flat and clenching again. The next-door neighbour who had had a box seat all morning was enjoying all of that plus the sight of Ian helpless with laughter alongside.

The festive season that year had a special marker. Hector had acquired a puppy to train as his first dog. Ring, according to one of the neighbours, looked “just like a bit of astrakhan”. He had worked out that we made a circle and he belonged in it. Just to be sure he belonged he was extremely tolerant. When Hector was not available Ring supervised us. He had as a matter of course been picked up maternally by the scruff of his neck. We took over that role and he never quite grew out of it. We gave up only when it became obvious that advanced years were making it painful. He similarly continued to obey the command to “go and have a roll” but he preferred to do that on dry ground. My Christmas presents that year included a fishing pole put together by Ian. We fished almost entirely from the rocks, and that required some means to avoid snagging the line in the region between us and the fish. Ring was always happy to come with us and supervise there too.

The previous year, Ian, not very large, had been big enough to represent Waipu DHS in rugby union. After those holidays Ian took three years of a very general education, up to ‘School Certificate’, from Waipu District High School to continue at Mt Albert Grammar School. There he became “Lang of Six Lang”. It would have been better if less euphonious if his preparation could have made him “Lang of Six Science”. He emerged after passing the University Entrance Examination and was more or less at a loose end. It is my impression that he had thought he might go back to the farm and work to establish himself in the agricultural world. Dad thought he would be better to go into the Ministry of [engineering] Works and use his talents there. It was not quite like the Hans Anderson versions. Hector as eldest followed Dad into farming, but he had started early with that in mind and did a lot of work along the way. I simply do not know if putting Ian and Hector down in the family in reverse order would have reversed the temperaments or produced a viable alternative situation. With Hector’s temperament, and in accord with the Hans Anderson, if he had been the second son, he might well have gone to Duntroon and become a professional soldier. A place was offered to him when he was ready to leave school, and he turned it down after considering it. As it was, I cannot see that fitting Ian at all. In any case Dad made enquiries of his engineering friends and Ian was happy to take the opening that appeared.

From this distance, I think Dad was luckier than he might have been. His friends were I think engineers with volunteer army ranks, and they told him that a University career was not really useful. It was possible to learn it all on the job, as their generation had done. So Ian started close to the bottom in Auckland. When he had been working a few weeks it somehow emerged that he had a school certificate. The pay office heard and his pay went up, with an extra dividend in arrears. Ian thought about that and asked if University Entrance, involving an extra year of study after school certificate, had a similar effect. It did. The nature and quality of the work he had already done had not changed but the rate of remuneration had. He was already studying technical subjects at Seddon Memorial Technical College. I am not sure how long it took for him to decide that he might as well go the whole hog and take up a University Education.

Late in 1949 I came in to sit a number of examinations at Princes Street in Auckland University College. Ian managed to look after his little brother and came up to spend his lunch hour with me on those days. We diverged for a while. He was transferred to Wellington and set about the four university subjects required for entry to the Ardmore School of Engineering of the AUC to study as a professional engineer. I went directly from school to study science at Princes Street. We were less visible in Waipu, but usually recognised on sight. All of us, all in Waipu it seemed, were involved in the celebrations for the Waipu Centennial. Ian was at the business end of getting cars parked on a limited area. Others had decided whose pioneer lineage, past performances and current infirmities could be recognised by a parking space from which they could watch the highland dancing competition.  There were also hovering  long standing movers and shakers who took  to themselves the task of easing constraints. At least one driver reached Ian in a slow stream of cars and announced, “Johmy Jack gave me this sticker which allows me to choose my parking space.”

“Johmy Jack cuts no ice with me. However you are on my list here, so you get your wish.”  The sky did not fall.

Over the years people who had met only Hector or Ian or me, and in one context, often approached either of the others in some other context and the belief that they were greeting a person they knew. We had more difficulty accepting that People of our Kin, whom we thought should have known better, were also confused. Questions about how many of us there were, we found provocative. When Mary got married there was a lot of that. Before Anne got married Ian and I were both at AUC.  A lot of people had seen me around before Ian arrived. Both of us were asked : Were we related? Whoever was asked admitted that we were brothers, and that the other one was six months younger. At Anne’s wedding we had our story straight. There were four of us, and the fourth brother, Andrew Wallace Lang, AWL,  was living in Australia. Thereafter Andrew sent telegrams to some other weddings as they occurred, always from spots where none of us was living at the time. It was natural that about this time Ian Maxwell Lang noticed that he could sign himself  I’M Lang.

Ian was not yet fully qualified when he did his compulsory military training, but naturally was placed in the engineering unit. Naturally too, the pipes went with him and he became known as “Haggis”. The pipes were also useful in an Engineering School. Capping Ceremonies were  viewed from on high as solemn celebrations. The tone may have been lowered a little on the occasion when a set of pipes were smuggled, on several persons, into the gallery. The Engineer contingent  went to the stage to be capped to the strains of “For They are Jolly Good Fellows”.

We were already paying one price of city life. In earlier years, bare feet had taken us to school. We could run on a metal road, [that is hard crushed rock usually with uncomfortable corners], or on the rocks at the beach. At least once a year, a flock of sheep had to be herded for several miles on the road on its way to the sales. After a stint in more conventional footwear, the bare feet gave way to football boots, with sprigs, on early mornings when Ian carried a rifle out pig hunting.

At the beach we did the rounds of all the places we were expected to visit, and made frequent excursions to the “Aunt Heap”, where some of Dad’s six sisters were frequently to be found. That later became officially “Lochalsh”. Auntie Hilda was still making the sponge cakes that we had enjoyed from our individual years dot. She had a multitude of cupboards in the kitchen, which we made a point of shutting for her on each visit. There was a cat, one of a sequence always spoken of as “My little Beaudy”, and frequently held like a baby by her. Ring had learnt a lot earlier to stay outside, but accepted the idea when we arrived one day and Ian picked him up to wander round the kitchen murmuring “My little Beaudy” and closing the cupboard doors. Auntie Hilda, following custom, did her best to sound aggrieved as she told him “Here, stop that!” She was not much assisted by her sister in law Auntie Gwen, who was cackling nearby. Ring returned to the great out doors, and whatever real business we had went on.

The student became a Professional Engineer {Civil} responsible for roads and structures over various territories centred on a series of offices. At home Ring was getting old, but the fish were still biting. There were several sheds in the district that could have found places in Saltbush [Joliffe] Cartoons. We had shared a delight in one cartoon with  punch line “…Won’t listen to reason. We will just have to use brute force.” Whichever of us was guilty should not have quoted that quietly, one day when we were spectators safely out of the action. One of those involved in the ‘reasoning’ produced the exasperated question, “What are they laughing at, now?” Another replied, “They think farming is funny!” Solemnity returned, but both lines were added to our stock. When Hector got married a telegram was read out, “Hector, now we can both live a dog’s life. Ring”

I went abroad, as the third son does in Hans Anderson. Ian was a better correspondent, but we kept in touch directly, as well as through Mum’s news distribution service. Ian did consider joining me if he could find a suitable job to enhance his experience. I made tentative, and unsuccessful, overtures to a number of firms. That was just before Margaret arrived on the scene. It was a big deal when I met Margaret by phone, and spoke to Ian, on the day before their wedding. When next Ian and I spoke by phone each of us had acquired a wife, a daughter and a son, in that order. They added a daughter just before we added a son, the final first cousin in that generation.

Mum cleared the news round the family so we heard how he and Margaret progressed through the mixed doubles championship as far as the semi finals in their tennis club. Years later I commented to him that the reports had stopped then, and I had drawn the obvious conclusion. “We won that competition.” We also followed the move from Wanganui to Palmerston North and the acquisition of 7 Nikau Street. Again it was years later that I asked about the state of his mortgage. “We own this shack.” Ian did not believe in ostentation. He thought one needed enough money for comfort and that one should be sufficiently frugal to be able to cope with emergencies as they arrived. Others believed and remarked that he should have erred a little, or a lot more, in the direction of comfort.

I suspect that nobody now produces nomograms. The same work could be done by a tabulation  and processing in the memory of a hand held calculator. The prescription was something like, “measure this; measure that; get out your laminated nomogram; lay a straight edge from the first measurement on this line to the second measurement on the next line, and where the edge crosses that third line [or curve] gives you the next number to use.” It could get more complicated in some cases. I think that the functions are more readily understood by those who have used another obsolete analog device called a slide rule. There must be some record in some archives of a nomogram that Ian produced. I may even have seen a copy, in which case it could emerge shortly in his papers. From memory, engineers often need to take roads through uneven terrain. There need to be banks above the road here and there. A bank with a given slope becomes unstable against slipping, especially when wet, if it exceeds its appropriate height. If I am right, there should be such a ‘gadget’ showing  in one direction the height of the bank, in another some measured or given property of the soil and instructions about laying a straight edge on the page and reading off the limiting angle. I do remember Ian telling me about it. I think it was reproduced for those who could use it and was the cause of a bonus for Ian. That is of course a useful item on a CV.

Members of both our families remember beach holidays with a rosy glow. They were similarly holidays for Mum. She liked to have the younger generation around her, even if she was mildly allergic to the noise they made. It was also an opportunity to get to the beach, and the view, herself. Shortly after Dad died the family consensus was that she could not really live there alone. We fished, we explored the rocks and tested our skills in dam building all over again. All for the children, of course. We did the rounds of our own visiting, often taking Mum with us, and provided transport on her own schedule. She made a point of  coming with us to get shellfish at Johnson’s Point, and visiting the cemetery nearby, taking some flowers for Dad’s grave. Like the rest of us, she loved the pipi fritters. Robert especially followed Ian around when he produced and played the pipes, saying “Play it again.” Jean has a great regret that she went to take a picture that would have done nicely in a Scottish Musical ‘Piper on the Roof‘, and discovered too late that she had just finished the film.

Government Departments like to reshuffle their people from time to time. Families often prefer to stay put. Ian eventually faced a choice of relocation or early retirement and took the one that suited him. He felt no need thereafter to shift from Palmerston North.

He kept his rock-steady views on numerous issues and some people. He could get quite exercised about courts that let manifestly guilty people go, liberated by some careless failure to stitch up a prosecution case for an offence such as DUI. He did not object to the idea of requiring everyone to carry, or at least possess, some sort of Identity Card. Nor to having a national data base associated with it. “If you are open with everyone and have nothing on your conscience, you should not be worried about everyone knowing.” I don’t think he ever modified that. It may be an attitude that suits a civil engineer. He was himself listed in many other minds as “Quirky”. He read the publications that came into the house with an eye to clipping stories about things he in turn found quirky, and sending them on in correspondence. There was still I suspect a large mine of clippings selected for export left behind when he died.

All five of us were together in Waipu in October 1991, on  the occasion of Mum’s funeral  It was the last time all five of us were together, and that all five of us were at the Beach.

Ian naturally started taller than me and he stayed that way. After we were full grown on the other hand I think he was always lighter. Part of that seemed to be that he had a multitude of likes and dislikes in food. Once he had that option, the dislikes were rejected. His diet was simplified and some thought it dangerously oversimplified Quite early in his life several people expressed the opinion that he would eventually starve himself to death. That became worse after Margaret died at an age that nowadays feels tragically young. He never stopped quietly missing her. By the turn of the century he seemed excessively and possibly dangerously thin. There were people willing to blame the composition of his diet, and people who asserted there was just not enough of that diet. It did not stop him from playing tennis until he was 75, or from walking and cycling  even years after that. He did start to look old. It would have been predicted, and it happened, that he became a bit cross with people who mumbled, and those who printed things in too small a font. He never had a hearing aid, and he was satisfied with the improvement in his reading vision wrought by some glasses bought off the shelf. He did not wish to pander to his eyes, because  “… once you start wearing glasses your eyes start to get lazy and you have to keep getting stronger glasses.”

Our generation in youth spent too much time proudly getting sunburn and fifty years later it came back to haunt us. Ian spent time in hospital getting a skin implant over a radiation burn needed to clear up a melanoma. His daughter Catherine discovered not long after that he was not looking after himself properly, and probably needed daily supervision. He was moved in with them while he recovered from being too light even for him, and from a fall after he came a cropper on one of his walks. His health was at best marginal thereafter but he managed to buy a house that was within sight of Catherine’s family and insist on moving in there. His former GP dropped dead unexpectedly, and too young. The medical practice concerned began picking up the pieces and Ian was called in for first one check up, and three weeks later for another. The second lot of results was discussed with Catherine, including various short and longer term plans. Overnight, that night, he died in his sleep. No one was prepared. No one was startled.

On the back of the order of service for his funeral there is a photo of him with Margaret at Catherine’s wedding. Margaret made a brave appearance, although all concerned knew that she was dying. On the front page of the service sheet is a photo of Ian looking up to the camera from signing the register at his own wedding. The twinkle in his eye will remain in memory, and, almost by itself, bring much more to mind.

1936 Donald,Doreen,Bill Ian with dog Pongo

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