Patrick O'Brien

Category: short story

Just for fun (10)

Keeping a sense of humour . . .

A man died and went to Heaven. As he stood at the Pearly Gates, he saw a huge wall of clocks before him.

“What are all those clocks?” he asked.

St. Peter answered, “Those are Lie-Clocks. Everyone on earth has a Lie-Clock. Every time you lie the hands on your clock move.”

“Oh,” said the man. “Whose clock is that?”

“That’s Mother Teresa’s clock,” replied St. Peter. “The hands have never moved, indicating that she never told a lie.”

“Incredible,” said the man. “And whose clock is that one?”

St. Peter responded, “That’s Abraham Lincoln’s clock. The hands have moved twice, telling us that Abraham told only two lies in his entire life.”

“Where’s Patrick O’Brien’s clock?” asked the man.

“Patrick O’Brien’s clock is in God’s office . . . He’s using it as a ceiling fan.”

New Zealand Truth Commission





On simplicity (2)

Image 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

“The Fisherman and the Banker”

One of my favourite stories . . .

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna.

The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, only a little while.

The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and, with the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York city where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions — then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos . . .”

~ Author unknown


Fighting the Bureaucrats

Copyright 2012 © Patrick O’Brien

On occasion, people ask my help in dealing with government or bureaucracy, often times assisting them with letters to a local authority when they’ve been unfairly treated. In this example, a community house called The Neighbourhood Centre faced closure when budget cuts by a District Health Board saw their funding removed, so they asked me to write something. The human characters in my piece are real, and so is their story:

—  The Neighbourhood Centre  —

At the bottom of a narrow valley, its slopes covered with little wooden houses, is a small park surrounded by large trees and in which I’ve built my home.

From the branch where my house sits I can look down on my world: the park with its playground rides for children and seats for those who just wish to sit, the surrounding cottages with their tin roofs and sections neatly marked off with little fences, the people who live in the Neighbourhood and their coming and going.

Adjoining the park is a House. No different to look at than any of the others in the valley, but one which has a Rainbow Aura around it. Each morning the children come here to play and, as it is winter, they come warmly dressed with runny noses and woolly hats. The parents stamp their feet and blow onto their hands, complaining to each other of the cold.

Each day at around mid-morning, my friends and I fly across the park to the back gate of the House’s garden where the children feed us with crusts and crumbs left over from their morning tea. The children are a happy lot, tripping and falling over in their enthusiastic manner, squabbling over who is going to throw which crust and yelling at the seagulls who try to take the food.

In winter there is little else to eat.

I was startled when, yesterday, one of the children spoke to me.

“Hello little bird,” the child said; “my name’s Shannon, what’s yours?”

“Sparrow,” I replied.

“Where do you live, Sparrow?” asked the child.

“Over there in that tree, next to the climbing pole. Tell me, Shannon, where do you live?”

The child raised its large brown eyes and pointed.

“A long way from here,” it said. “over the other side of those hills there, near the sea at place called Tahunanui.”

I looked more closely at this child and realised that it was not from this Neighbourhood, and remembered having watched it arrive each morning for several months day on the back of a bike being pedalled by its father.

“That is a long way to come,” I said to the child. “Surely there must be other places you can go to play with children and which are closer to your home?”

“There are,” agreed the child; “but we are poor people and there is no money for me to attend those other play groups. Anyway,” the child concluded with a big smile, “I’ve been to some of them and I like it here the best!”

The child continued, in silence, to throw crumbs over the gate, then, after a while, suddenly looked up and spoke again.

“When it is very cold I would rather we stayed at home. Even though my father dresses me warmly in a ski suit, gloves, and a crash helmet on my head, my feet and face still hurt very much. It is painful for my father, too; I hear him moaning softly to himself on some morning when the frost is really bad . . . but he insists that we come.”

“Why does he do that, Shannon,” I asked curiously before picking up another crumb the child had thrown to me.

The child stopped throwing bread and looked at me. A large tear formed in one eye then ran down a cheek.

“My mum has gone away,” the child replied, “and my dad is lonely and sometimes very sad. He used to get angry with me, yelling, and hitting me too sometimes, when his pain was really bad. But since coming here he doesn’t do that any more; so I’m pleased to bring him, that he may be with other adults and share his problems.”

The child stopped speaking for a moment and then its face broke into a wide grin.

“I don’t mind the cold bike ride too much — the staff always have a warm fire going for us to stand by when we arrive. My father sits beside if talking to the other parents and I hear them discuss their problems and ask the staff for advice when one of us children are sick. We have been coming all winter and my father is much happier: this makes things better at home and easier for me to please him.”

The child then laughed and gaily threw the rest of the bread scraps it was holding over the fence to me. “See you tomorrow, Sparrow,” the child called happily. “I’m off now to blow bubbles.” And, with that, the child turned and skipped up the path towards the back door of the House, dodging other children at their play.

This morning I waited for my little friend, the child, to return. My wait was forlorn as the child never arrived. All day I sat near the back gate waiting for the bile with its baby seat on the rear, but it never came. None of the other children came today, either, and my friends and I went hungry with nobody to feed us.

Late in the afternoon a large furniture truck arrived. Two men got out and then spent several hours taking furniture from the House and placing it in the van. I flew closer to find out what was happening.

“Where are all the children today?” I called out, but they ignored me continued speaking to each other as they worked.

“What a shame about all these budget cuts,” said one of the men to the other. “With this place closed down the Neighbourhood kids will have nowhere to go. I wonder what will be done with the building?”

“Bulldoze it down and make a parking lot, no doubt,” the other man replied; they both laughed.

As they drove away with the last of the furniture from the House I flew back to the top of my tree and sat thinking.

“What,” I wondered, “is a budget cut; and why did it mean that the children couldn’t come here any more.”

Then, as the sun set, a deep sigh seemed to pass over the Neighbourhood and, as I watched, the Rainbow Aura around the House flickered briefly and went out.




I’m happy to report that the District Health Board reversed its original budgetary decision and funding for The Neighbourhood Centre was increased. It remains open, delivering early intervention health care to its local community . . .

A hitchhiker’s death

Conversation between a Minister and a Hitchhiker

Minister: How long have you been hitchhiking?
Hitchhiker: Twenty years.
Minister: Was your father a hitchhiker?
Hitchhiker: Yes.
Minister: What happened to him?
Hitchhiker: He died while hitchhiking.
Minister: And your grandfather?
Hitchhiker: He was a hitchhiker. He also died while hitchhiking.
Minister: But this is an awful prospect for you, my poor man. Are
…………you not afraid to go hitchhiking?
Hitchhiker: Afraid, parson? Where did your father die?
Minister: In bed, of course, like a good Christian.
Hitchhiker: And your grandfather?
Minister: He died in his bed, too.
Hitchhiker: That’s bad, parson. Are you not afraid, then, to go to bed?

Adapted from:
“A Mariner’s Miscellany”
by Peter H. Spectre

The Tooth Faerie

Successful hitchhikers keep their faith and embrace the Road, for
they know that, like a loving mother, she will always provide . . .

I’d been to Gore once before. A successful photo shoot, portraits of a young woman, and an earnest invitation from her mother to call again and stay if passing through.

Nestled among rolling green hills stocked with grazing sheep and dissected by the Mataura River, one of the world’s finest brown trout fisheries, it’s a pretty place.

Small town New Zealand; parks full of exotic European timber introduced by early settlers from the Occident — and a bored youth. Booze, cars, drugs and teenage pregnancy.

A weird combination of circumstances and rides saw me arrive back in Gore at sunset, Easter Sunday.

Pitching my tent, I felt the first tingle of things amiss in my jaw. Tooth ache, a slow, minor niggle at first, accelerating into a mind bending crescendo within 24 hours, with that creeping numbness indicating the complication of infection.

Strange town, no money, medical emergency. The hitchhikers nightmare.

At 4.00 am on the Tuesday morning, desperate from pain, I remembered the earnest mother from two years earlier and knocked on her door.

Yes, of course I could use the phone.

A call to the after hours emergency number was answered by a female voice thick with sleep. She woke her husband, Mr James, the local dentist.

I’m just a traveller passing through, I told him. Not a problem – happy to help you.

I have no money, I told him. Not a problem – see you in my clinic at eight.

A few hours later, with offending tooth pulled, and a pocket full of antibiotics to clear a nasty infection, I mulled over the Road’s splendour: it had picked me up and carried me down to this little town at the bottom of the world with perfect timing to fix a pending problem.

Thank you, God!

Tonight, I’ll leave the tooth in my tin cup outside the tent door for the tooth faerie . . . I need $45 to pay the good Mr James.


Copyright 2011 © Patrick O’Brien

The Messenger

In the daily hunt for food, shelter and our next ride, we hitchhikers risk
becoming self centred — which is understandable given the power of
our survival instincts. However, and as this experience shows, it’s not
always about us . . .

Mr “P” stopped and gave me a ride just outside Taumarunui. Nice car. European. Built for speed.

He drove very fast. Too fast, perhaps, but seemed to know what he was doing and I soon relaxed into a fun ride.

Eventually, the afternoon ran down and her shadows lengthened. It’s not my practise to travel after dark, usually stopping before sun set and pitching the tent, so I studied my map and searched the unfolding landscape looking for a likely place to camp.

Suddenly my inner voice spoke.

Experienced travellers nurture their inner voices, learning to trust them without question. So, when mine said “stay with this ride,” I didn’t hesitate and we raced on into the night without event but at high speed for several hours.

Then, the first indication of trouble.

It came as my driver used an unorthodox point of entry when approaching a long, gradual right-hand-sweeper. A concrete bridge with squat, solid abutments sat on the apex.

A few car lengths away from colliding with the bridge, I remember thinking what a strange line we were taking and looked across at Mr. “P”.

He was asleep.

It can be difficult to accurately judge time/distance at night, especially with high speed factored in, yet, when I turned back to look at the road, death was just an instant away.

My hand took the steering wheel and the car responded. Immediately. Thank God for German engineering.

We swerved slightly, almost imperceptibly, just enough to miss the abutment head-on, bounced off the inner guard rail, shaved some speed then charged at the opposite rail across the road — at which point Mr. “P” woke up.

Correcting my over steer, he steadied our vehicle along the centre line then braked us to a halt.

We sat there, quietly, my voice the first to break our silence.

“Would you like me to drive?”

“Yes!” he said, “and please come home to meet the family.”


Home was a mansion in West Auckland surrounded by high fences with large steel gates and my introduction to the family was brief:

“This is Succat. He’s a hitchhiker. He saved my life.”

Then I was introduced to the fit young men. I recognized their type. Minders.

And then I found out what they were minding.

Crystal meth. Speed. Bags of it, pure metamphetamine — also known as “P”— elongated crystals the size of a computer mouse, millions of dollars worth.

This was serious shit.

All my instincts said to leave but my inner voice spoke again telling me to stay, and so stay I did.

Mr. “P” made me most welcome, an honoured guest with free run of his home and property, a witness to the comings and goings of the fit young men. No door was locked, no conversation blocked, even commissioning me to shoot a documentary photo essay of a ‘Day In His Life’ such was the trust.

After browsing through a small portfolio of my work, his daughter spoke to me.

“Succat, will you look at my photographs?”

Annie was a pretty young girl with large brown eyes, not yet a teenager. We shared a couch and balanced her laptop computer on our knees while she scrolled through her collection.

The images were stunning.

“How much training have you had?” I asked.


“How long have you been taking photographs?” I asked.

About a week.

I was speechless; a natural talent.

All next day, and the following one, I spent with Annie and her little point-n-shoot. We talked about photography and the world outside, of places far away and the adventures to be had with a camera.


On the fourth night I hitched up my pack and slipped quietly away. A fit young man at the gate smiled and waved me through without question.

It took me some time to recover from that whole experience.

Previously I’d prided myself, thinking my travels were about helping people and that, somehow, the people I helped were in some way deserving. It haunted me to know I’d saved a merchant of destruction, our Mr. “P”.

And then my inner voice spoke again:

It’s not about you, it was Annie.”

The Universe had required a messenger reach this little girl inside her home, a photographer who could identify her germinating gift, offer encouragement and provide some hope of life beyond the compound.

Given the barricades, those fit young men and a father’s criminal paranoia — this was a big ask!

One couldn’t simply knock on the gates and ask to come in.

The task required someone who had a gained a unique position of trust, someone who had done something extraordinary, someone like . . . someone who had saved her daddy’s life.

People’s names, some minor descriptive details and the location of

Succat’s pick-up point have been changed in the telling of this story.


Copyright 2008 © New Zealand Herald