If you unscrew your belly button, your bottom will fall off; and other things my Dad taught me.

My Dad died a year ago today, 5 December.

My earliest memory is sitting on his shoulders watching a Guy Fawkes bonfire on one of several visits to the UK as a child.

An electrical engineer by trade, he worked on some of the early mainframes before moving to New Zealand to marry my mum. He loved teaching my brother, cousins, grandchildren and I about anything scientific, the ancient Lancastrian martial art of Ecky Thump and stories of building a canon and blowing a hole in the neighbours garage – but refusing to let my brother and I make anything similar!

I hope he has found my mum, who he missed dearly, and the rest of his welcoming party, at the great ISO9000 audit conference in the sky.

Below are some important life lessons he taught me over the years:

If you unscrew your belly button, your bottom will fall off.

This, along with the “lying still game” and many other “games” ensured hours of peace and quiet for adults trying to talk after dinner or at any family occasion.

Don’t play “knuckles” with my Dad. You have been warned.

Your friends and acquaintances follow you everywhere you go

It didn’t matter where we were – traveling around the country, at a hospital appointment with Mum, or a hotel in Hong Kong, Dad would suddenly strike up a conversation with a seemingly random person and it would turn out they knew each other in some obscure way.

Even the Chaplin who blessed Dad’s body at the hospital after he passed knew him from his time on the local school Board of Trustees – even in death, still finding people he knows.

Your neighbours will indulge the craziest of schemes

We were gifted a very old and very heavy piano. To get it inside required moving it from a neighbouring house to our house, and going up a considerable flight of stairs.

Rather than spend money on professional piano movers, somehow Dad convinced every abled-bodied person in our street to pitch in and help carry the piano up the stairs, which they did willingly.

At some point my friends and I collected aluminium cans to raise funds to build a clubhouse.

We didn’t collect enough to buy plywood for the walls, so we came up with the plan to cover the neighbour’s old hen-house with black polythene.

I don’t know what Mr McGregor thought when Dad turned up one afternoon with a large sheet of polythene and a staple gun but he let him cover the old hen-house with it without question.

Black polythene isn’t a great material for building clubhouses, by the way.


Dad and I went for one practice driving lesson.

Rumour is that I rolled into the car in front of us at an intersection.

From that point on, Mum was in charge of driving lessons.

How to troll your cousin

People often talk about carrying secrets to the grave. I am about to reveal one of Dad’s recent secrets.

One of the side effects of being an engineer is the irresistible urge to take things apart.

Mum like collecting cheap outdoor solar lights that often broke (or got crushed by cars). Dad salvaged a particular light with a green LED, took it apart, and hung the still-working electrics in the dining room window.

Every night at dusk the little green light would come on.

Our cousin Maureen has been visiting for many years now, and would stay with my parents over Christmas. This particular year, she noticed the little green light hanging in the window.

“What’s that light?” she asked.

Quick as a flash, Dad explained that it was a new Auckland Council initiative to remind elderly people to close their curtains when it got dark. They had people driving round to check and if they saw the light, you got a fine.

Maureen must have been skeptical, but Mum immediately backed up Dad’s story.

For the three years that followed, Maureen would jump up as soon as the light came on to close the curtains, determined to avoid a fine.

Sadly the little LED light stopped working and was thrown away.

Maureen queried where it was the following year, and Dad explained the scheme had ended after complaints and the elderly were left to control their own curtain closing once more.

In Summary

  • Figure out a way to make children keep quiet and call it a game
  • Make enough friends so they’ll always be someone around who you know, and they’ll help with your crazy projects
  • You can convince anyone to believe a good story
  • Delegate the really dangerous jobs to your wife.