MEMOIRS

of

BRUCE EWEN CULPAN
Born – 1930
School – 1935 - 1946
Apprentice – 1946 - 1951
Rowing – 1944 - 1955
Pharmacist – 1952 - 2003
Retired – July, 2003

LIFE IN HERNE BAY

I was born on 16th June, 1930 on the kitchen table at Hackett St,Herne Bay to Olive and Hector Culpan. Had one brother Roger.  Then lived at Shelley Beach Rd and West End Rd.  My great grandfather (William) came out from England on the Jane Gifford in1842.  He’s now buried under Grafton Bridge. I attended Curran St Primary, and Bayfield Primary School and then moved onto MtAlbert Grammar School (MAGS) for four years (1942-1946), and got SchoolCertificate.  Left at beginning of the next year to become a pharmacy apprentice. A few incidents:

MAJOR ACCIDENT 1

Point Erin park – getting sand one day for the bird, I fell over the cliff, slid on the pine needles whilst taking a short cut.  Evidently I had grabbed a tree root on the way down and that broke the fall. Crashed onto the path down below. Unconscious for two weeks with a fractured skull.  The guy next to me in the hospital had swallowed a nail.  Wouldn’t have been too good for his digestion!!! Would have been a genius had that not have happened!!

  • At the farm next to MAGS we used get the pitch fork and heave cow shit (manure) at each other.  Ended up getting the cane for that!!
  • One chap got questioned by the master, “What have you got in your pocket son?” His reply, “Rocks Sir!!!” He got the cane for having a Shanghai in his pocket.

MAJOR ACCIDENT 2

Osteomyelitis – Got a knee trembler at school ie a kick in the thigh– had a boil at the time and all the bugs rushed to the site – temp shot up to 105.4 degrees.  Didn’t know if it was night or day. Looked out and saw a sea of tents in Auckland domain – the US Army were camped there.  Getting ready to operate, the surgeon said – “We’ll try some drugs”.  They gave me penicillin every six hours”.  It fixed it in a week. First patient to have penicillin for the osteomyelitis.

MAJOR ACCIDENT 3

Vacuum Cleaner incident –Cycling down Fyfe St with the vacuum cleaner on board – all the pipes wrapped around the handle bars, and only one hand on the handle bars. I lost control and crashed into the taxi door handle with my neck.  Went a bit close on the corner!!! Just missed the jugular by a millimetre and broke my collar bone.

  • We used to make tin boat sand paddled out to the Te Atatu Bombing Range, now Hobsonville.  Lucky to survive the big waves in the harbour in our home built vessel. Ended up with a hiding from my father, as he’d told us not to, because it was so dangerous.
  • One day my brother, Roger made a hydrogen bomb in the kitchen. He ignited and made a huge mark on the ceiling!!
  • Used to visit to Yanks at the camp in Western Springs They gave us chewing gum, chocolates, all sorts.The women were swarming round them, as they were so generous.  The Kiwi men were not impressed!!

ROWER OF DISTINCTION

A lot of fun down at the Boat Shed…  

  • I joined West End Rowing Club down at West Haven boat harbour in St Mary’s Bay.  West Haven had just been formed out of mud from the boat harbour using a big suction dredge.  A lot of the mud from the dredge ended up in big holding pens – waiting to solidify. Very, very dangerous if you walked on it. 
  • Rowed for 12 years and was selected to row for New Zealand in the 1950 Empire Games at Karapiro in the Eight and came 2nd (Silver Medal); and then in 1954 in Vancouver and came 2nd again. 
  • One we day connected the “Eight” to the balcony – half, three quarter, full!!  Ripped the whole balcony straight off the building!! 
  • Nearly drowned off the oil tanks.  Swamped.  Numb with cold – At least an hour to thaw out. 
  • One day a flying fish flew straight into the boat! And flew out again!!
  • A few chaps used to sleep down there.  In training, weights would go straight through the floor if you dropped them. 
  • Brothel upstairs – “Flora”was the lady’s name. I always wondered why there were a lot of cars were parked up in Ring Terrace.  The coxswain ended up in the bath and then she fell down the cliff. Evidently, she had a big revolving bed. She eventually moved to Christchurch.
  • A lot of Italians – good tunnellers, helped build the Harbour Bridge, and we’d see them up at the pub – The Gluepot in Three Lamps.  A lot of fights in those days.
  • No plumbing in the boat shed– the toilet went straight down to the rocks below. And as kids, Roger and I used to explore down there!! We would have “at homes” ie races. Not sure, to this day, what they did, if they needed to go to the toilet.
  • Another bomb down at West End.  A 0.5 cartridge filled with pot chlorate, sulphur and charcoal.  Lit the fuse and threw it in the mud.  A great geyser of sand and mud flew up. Unfortunately, the caretaker saw and reported us to the headmaster.  Got a severe telling off from the stage in front off the 900 pupils.

PHARMACY

Served my internship at Grafton Pharmacy opposite Auckland Hospital for four years (1947-1951).  Qualified as a Pharmaceutical Chemist in 1951.  June was a nurse at Auckland Hospital and we used the frequent the nurse’s home in Greenlane.  Roger was an intern at Greenlane.  He invited me to a party and rode his motorbike halfway up the wall in the doctor’s residence.

  • One day delivering drugs to Huia Hospital (cnr Park and Grafton Rd) looked in the sluice room next to the theatre and saw someone strung up in stirrups, being operated on.  Wasn’t a pretty site.  I was about 17yrs old.
  • Did some relieving at Rotorua Hospital for six months.  We ended up having an anaesthetic binge and I kicked a hole in the wall. 
  • The pharmacy started in 1909and had very little business. The trams from town would make deliveries ie a tube of toothpaste would be passed to the motorman and delivered to the shop on the tram’s journey through Remuera. I bought the pharmacy in 1954 from Frank Santh, just before I married the beautiful June.  He was unqualified and needed my for my ticket to run the shop.  The pharmacy was showing a loss and I paid £2557 for the business.
  • Mr. Sanft used to go toNewmarket to get a hip flask of gin and come back and sit out the back - He’d call out occasionally – “Tell me when the old bitch is coming!!”. After he’d finished each bottle, he’d would toss the bottle out the back window to the yard which was littered with old bottles. When he hit another bottle he’d yell,“Bull’s Eye!!”  He said to his wife if anything ever happens to him – “Sell the shop”. Then he died 3 years later.
  • The lawyer, at the time, told me not to buy the business, as it was showing a loss, but luckily, I ignored his advice and paid £2557 for the business.  The pharmacy board said a qualified pharmacist could only have one shop. Three other pharmacists tried to buy it, but they already had shops. I built up the business to the level it is today.
  • Later I had to buy half the property because the owner had got behind in his maintenance to his estranged wife, and I paid £4000 for the half the property.
  • Next door was Mr. Hare,Margaret’s uncle, and his wife.  He was the confectioner and provided us with all sorts of wonderful sweets.
  • When the buses rumbled through Remuera, before the days of traffic lights, the whole building would shake. The patients would exclaim, “Doctor, doctor, the building’s falling down!” He’d ring up and complain, but there was nothing I could do. Eventually it resolved itself when traffic lights were put in. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise!!
  • June and I had to chip the lino off the floor when renovating.  It was riddled with bora.  They reckon the only thing keeping it together was that the “bora were holding hands!!!”
  • I remember a lady coming into the shop one day with a food stain on her costume having been out to lunch!  I dabbed it with peroxide-double strength. Worked like a charm.  Removed the stain but bleached the costume instead. She exclaimed, “You’ve ruined my dress!!”  I said it was “buggered anyway”, so couldn’t really be helped. She wasn’t happy and didn’t become a good customer afterwards. She would never come back. Fortunately, the ‘faux pas’ was covered by insurance!!
  • One Friday night after a few drinks with the shop girls and their boyfriends, I arrived home late.  June wasn’t happy.  I explained that we’d been exceptionally busy and hence held up leaving.  She said, “Asa matter of fact I was over at the Post Office watching, and you weren’t busy at all.  I’ve just seen all the girls and guys leaving”. I was in the dog box after that and she didn’t speak to me for several days !!!

STINK BOMB IN BUTCHERS

We had a spare section out the back of the shop and planted some tomatoes there.  They all got blight.  Next door was the Keenan’s Butchery.  In summer there was always a terrible smell because they kept the offal and bones, etc there.  I warned them several times about the smell.  Due to exasperated attempts I decided to make a stink bomb out of rock sulphur and hydrochloric acid.  I crept behind the shop and placed it in the rafters underneath the shop where they hung the old meat.  They came screaming into the shop about the awful smell.  Consequently, their practise of storing offal was never revisited.

CLONBERN ROAD

Bought Clonbern Rd for £4950 in the early 50’s and lived there until I moved into 7 StVincent in December, 2005.

  • After a memorable Christmas function in the shop, arrived home to find all doors locked. So, had to bed down in the children’s playhouse out the back. After a couple of hours, I was allowed back inside.
  • We had a back yard and this was enjoyed immensely by the kids.  We always had a selection of various animals, especially cats. We had a few dogs –they always dug the dam lawn up. Cats were no problems. A few budgies. A rabbit. Even a horse was in residence at one stage!
  • We had a terrible fire in1997 in the kitchen.  A lot of damage was done, so the house had to be completely refurbished.  Nigel & I ended up in hospital for a few days.

FAMILY

  • Had four kids over ten years between 1957 and 1967. Two boys and two girls – Jane, Nigel, Philip & Sarah. And now have five grand children and one great grand child on the way!!

HAHEI

Bought a section in 1964 down at Hahei – we were too scared to tell anyone what we paid in those days as in was a lot of money back then – and still is.  Built a Lockwood home on it in 1967 – one of the first Lockwood homes on the Peninsula. Had a lot of fun down there over the years fishing and diving and a few drinks.

  • Remember going out to get the craypots in with the kids, as we were leaving to go home, and the sea was a bit rough. We took a few waves over the bow but lucky managed to arrive back onshore safety. The kids looked a bit pale!
  • Caught a sting-ray in the net one day.  So, we chopped the barb off whilst getting it out of the net and then released it.  Remarkably the next day when snorkelling, Is potted the sting-ray happily swimming along with no tail.

KUMEU / BOMBAY

Had10 acres at Kumeu, and then bought a larger property at Bombay (133 acres) in1975 where the family used to ride horses, especially Jane, and raise sheep and pigs.

  • A lot of time was spent up there fencing, painting, etc. having BBQs and enjoying a few drinks!!
  • A very nice escape from thepressures of the shop.

matamata

  • My eldest daughter had moved to Matamata, and subsequently so has my youngest, Sarah.  One Christmas, I was down there, all the blokes had gone down the back of the farm to see the horses. I was in the house doing the dishes, with all the sheilas - always doing dishes you know. I happened to look out the window. Something like a fish appeared to splash in the pool.  I mentioned to Jane and we both rushed out.  To our horror it was a little child, floating about two feet below the surface.  We reached down and plucked it out.  After a few coughs and splutters it came right.  Luckily, I’d spotted it, any longer and it would have been history.

SPORT

Other sports I was involved in other than Rowing included Rugby at school, Squash/Tennis for many years, Golf and Running.

  • I was an inaugural member of Auckland Joggers Club, along with Colin Kay and Arthur Lydiard in 1972 and helped organised many “Round the Bays”.
  • I completed four Rotorua Marathons. The best one being about 3hrs 16mins.  Probably explains why I’ve had four hip replacements!!  Actually, standing one place in the shop is more likely to be the reason for that!!
  • Played Golf at the Grange every Wednesday for many years. Never could hit the dam thing.
  • I learnt to SCUBA dive in the early 80’s, after Philip encouraged us, and managed to clock up about a 100dives!!! The highlight being wreck diving with Nigel on the President Coolidgein Vanuatu, Espirito Santo. I always remember seeing another diver frantically gesticulating from behind the pothole. He had lingered behind and couldn’t find his way out. The dive master went and retrieved him. Terror was on his face.

CHURCH

I served six years on the Vestry at St. Aidan’s Church, down the road here. I mowed the lawns, rung the bell and collected the money!!

  • God wasn’t that humorous and nothing very funny happened there!!  He didn’t smile on me.

PONY CLUB

I was also on the committee at St Heliers Bay Pony Club where Jane kept her horses. Helped build the club houses and fenced the property. I was grazier for a period ensuring all the horses had enough to eat!!

  • One incident which didn’t go too well with the horses, nor their owners, was when one chap lit a fire with petrol. It exploded in a ball of flame and the horses went berserk.
  • We used to follow the Pakuranga Hunt around. We saw more hares than they ever did. The breakfasts afterward were always nice though!

TRAVELLING

  • Travelled to Fiji a few times, Rarotonga – not so great, very windy, Hawaii – twice, busy but very nice.Very interesting seeing Pearl Harbour.  Visited Europe on a bus trip in 1999 withPhilip and visited-England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy – a lot to see; Canada – rowing trip, America – Los Angeles, Miami; a Caribbean cruise, and South Africa.
  • In 2003 we went for a cruise around the Caribbean, with my daughter Jane and her husband, Bill. One funny episode - At night time they turn down the bed and put a couple of chocolates on your pillow.  We’d had a few drinks.  When I got back to the room, I didn’t know the chocolates were there and promptly went to sleep with them still on the pillow.  The next morning when I woke up, I was covered in brown stuff!! I had a horrible thought there had been a nasty accident.  I phoned Jane and Bill, who thought it was a huge joke.  Luckily room service cleaned up the mess no problem.  I am always careful now about chocolates on the pillow!!!
  • In August my son, Nigel, is accompanying me Europe to see the Landing Beaches in France, Berlin and Krakow.  I’m sure there’ll be a few more stories to tell after that!!!

CONCLUSION

So, after all those adventures, I’m amazed I’m still here to tell the tale. Thank you for listening and putting up with me. Hope you enjoyed my tale.  Sorry to inflict my woes on you.

Thank you