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I grew up in a small rural community in the hills of New Zealand. My early life was shrouded in mist and the ever-present wind that pummeled our hilltop community and we loved every wet windy second. So much so that even today, all these decades later, my definition of a perfect day is a misty drizzly soggy one where I can snuggle down and take life off the hook and feel perfectly justified in being a sloth.

As kids, we roamed the paddocks, built campfires and fought incredible wars. 

Just above our home was a dairy farm and it boasted what was the very best staging post for monumental battles. We called it Pine Cone Hill. It was aptly named because there was a stand of pine trees that gave generous ammunition for two armies to lob at each other. The added bonus was that it was the site of an old maori Pa or village in layman's terms. What not many people know is that the Maori people of New Zealand had perfected the art of trench warfare long before the French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban came up with his clever idea back in the 17th Century.

The old abandoned trenches were perfect for a group of enthusiastic kids to claim as their own and we regularly headed up to Pine Cone Hill and prepared for victory or defeat, depending on who managed to get enough ammo to hurl at the opposing army.  My older brother was always the Military Leader who divided us into armies and then assigned our trenches. We would then race around like worker ants, gathering pine cones and taking them back to the trenches. When sufficient supplies had been accumulated, he would put his hankie ( handkerchief for those unfamiliar with the term ) on the end of a stick and, like the guy who kicked off the Grand Prix, would bring it down and yell " Commence battle! "

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At this stage, we would start throwing pinecones at the opposing trench dwellers and hurl a fair amount of banter as well. The secret to a successful trench warfare campaign, as everyone knows, is to make sure your head is above the trench for as little time as possible. Without the protection of a helmet, you were a sitting duck to the enemy forces. 

One particular day, I was a bit slow in ducking back down and got taken out by a particularly nasty pinecone that left me bleeding and injured for the duration of the onslaught. I was probably about 7 or 8 years old and the shame I felt for letting my fellow soldiers down in the midst of an attack was worse than the wound itself. 

The winner of the fight was the side that still had ammo. When the other side had exhausted their supply of pinecones my brother would hold up his hankie on a stick and declare the battle over and yell " All hail the victors! " 

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That particular day, as my two older brothers helped me limp and valiantly trudge back home, the thing uppermost in my mind was how the hell we were going to explain to Mum that I was bleeding all over my clothes? It was decided that I had fallen over and hit my head. She didn't need to know the boring details, after all, it could easily have been an accident, couldn't it?

Mum got out the iodine and gave me a lecture about washing clothes and how hard it was to get blood stains out of cotton. So we lived to fight another day.

When I turned 10, I got my first slug gun. I think that they are called air rifles or BB guns elsewhere. We all had them and you could only get a .22 when you were 12. For some reason, birthdays signalled life changing events like being allowed to drive a tractor or own a gun. 

One day, we were down at one of our friend's houses - his mother was our Sunday School teacher and she played the organ in our church. She was a very pious woman and felt that all children should look a lot like the kids in the pictures we saw at Sunday School, gathered around Christ and looking up at him with wonder in their eyes and boasting red and rosy cheeks with wholesomeness oozing out of every pore. 

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This particular morning we had brought our slug guns for war. It was obvious that we would not use the small pellets because 

1. They were dangerous

2. They were expensive.

It was decided that grains of rice would be perfect. No one could say that they had not been shot if they had a red welt on their leg. We raided our friend's mother's pantry and took some rice and prepared for battle.


It was all going swimmingly until the mother returned home earlier than expected. 

The look on her face will stay with me forever. All of the pious, rosy-cheeked urchins who sat in Sunday School with dutiful and freshly scrubbed faces were " nothing but a bunch of savages!" Her words, not mine. 

The following Sunday, we all fronted up at Sunday School, as usual, looking every bit the gentle lambs she thought we were. While we sat in the church and listened to our Minister's usual hellfire and brimstone sermon, little did she know that we were planning our next battle on Pine Cone Hill. 

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