Friday, November 26, 2010


Weeks into the voyage of 1879, London to Lyttelton, the passengers of the sailing ship Euterpe began to be seriously troubled by rats which were starting to get hungry. “We are getting swarmed with rats” wrote one passenger, “they being a little more sociable than we like, having through the night got into my bunk.” Another passenger reported that “the rats ate part of my boot last night.”

The wife of the editor of the ship’s newspaper was one night alarmed by a large rat tumbling off the top of her bunk on to her head. “She shrieked in horror” the paper noted gleefully, “and springing from her bunk seized a shawl which she hurriedly wrapped around her and jumped on the table in the centre of the Cabin. Here she sat perched up like an Hindoo Goddess, her eyes almost startling out of her head with fright and declared she would never go to bed again in the Horrid Ship” (Euterpe Times No. 14).

The same edition of the paper reported on a new and exciting sport that had sprung up on the ship: rat hunting. Some of the passengers set to work making snares, and others took to throwing belaying pins at them, the daily kill being exhibited on deck with the largest sporting a triumphal ribbon. “There were all sizes of them from the infant … to the aged and grey bearded depredator and hardened criminal” went the report. One young man wrote in his diary that he had got up at 3.30am and had caught ten.

The squeamish should stop reading here, because there were thousands of rats, and the food on the ship was running low. A few of the passengers began to supplement their rations with rat pies. They skinned them and put the shoulders and legs into a dish and put a piece of pastry over it, wrote one diarist. The Euterpe Times (no. 14) gave a well-bred shudder but, under the heading “Rats a la Paris”, reported that “Rat pie has been in great demand during the last 2 weeks by a few of those who are not over fastidious in their tastes and are wishful for a change of diet. We are told by the bon-vivants they possess the flavour of a young pigeon and that they are nice and tender. Perhaps it is so but we should prefer an Albatross, or any of the numerous birds caught to the most dainty dish of vermin than can be served up on board the Euterpe.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


A while ago I was lucky enough – in fact astounded – to receive a letter from the El Gordo Spanish Sweepstake Lottery S.A.

The letter was from the desk of Don Javier Perez, the Managing Director of International Promotions/Prize Award Department, and he informed me that I had won US$960,000 – nearly NZ1.38 million. Senor Perez said that my name was attached to ticket number 025-11464992-750, serial number 2113-05, which drew the lucky numbers 19576 (it was getting quite complicated, don’t you think?) and won the lottery in the second category, whatever that was. Whoopee! I said.

I was therefore approved for a lump sum payout in cash, reference number blah blah – part of a total kitty of US$7,680,000 shared among eight international winners. The eight of us, out of 25,000 people from Europe, America, Australia, Asia and North America (did I live in Australia or Asia I wondered) had scooped this massive pool and my money was safely deposited to a special account in my name, waiting for me to claim it. Wow! I said. Senor Perez begged me not to tell anyone until the transaction had been completed, but he hoped that I would take part in the end of year highstake US$1.3 billion international lottery. You bet! I said. When you’re on a roll …

There was a Payment Processing Form attached to the letter. It required a lot of sensitive information including occupation, marital status, bank account number, date of birth and other details. I could choose to have the money transferred to my own bank account or, my goodness, I could pick it up personally! My eyes lit up. It so happened that I knew someone who lived in Spain. Perhaps he would be so kind as to pop along to see Senor Antonio Molina, the Foreign Services Manager of General Seguros S.A. in Barcelona and pick up the cheque for me. I would gladly give him half the money for his trouble.

Senor Perez was so excited to be able to tell me all this good news, offered me the congratulations of his staff, and thanked me for being part of their promotions program. But there was a niggle in the back of my mind – just a tiny niggle really. I didn’t actually remember buying a ticket in the El Gordo Spanish Sweepstake Lottery S.A.