Topic: Getting Lost by Ruth Munro

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Ruth MunroArchived version here.

I can remember starting school at the age of five, when everything was simple.  I sat on a rug on the floor while the teacher introduced us to a blackboard on the wall.  This was where she wrote things with a piece of chalk, and rubbed out with her duster.  I can still smell dust from that chalk as the teacher wrote on the board words, that in the beginning, I didn’t understand, but with careful concentration, I began to recognise, and. These words became for me, the beginning of a new world of understanding.

Then the teacher introduced colourful beads which were used in learning to count, and if we were lucky, an abacus. Following this the slate was introduced, which I loved, along with a slate pencil to write with.  These were individually wrapped with paper, each end protruding.  Any mistake was easily rubbed out.  How I enjoyed my slate, using it to learn how to print new words, count, and add up numbers.

At last we were introduced to paper.  I loved the smell of it (which carried on throughout my life) and the rustle and feel of its newness.  Then along came coloured paper, which was used to cut out all sorts of shapes, like the Japanese are so talented at.

As we sat intensely concentrating we would hear the rustle of trees outside, the singing of birds as they went about their daily chores, traffic as it rattled past and the whistling of the wind blowing around corners of the school.  We were content to sit and learn in simplicity and quiet in natural surroundings, always eager for the next new step in our education.

Not so today. Things have changed so much for modern children.  Who would have thought a child of five would be subjected to sitting in front of a computer with ear phones on, shutting out the wonderful sounds of nature? Well, it is happening and the modern child thinks this is natural, when in fact it is depriving them of so much normal living.

What is happening to them as they sit and stare at a glass screen, hearing artificial voices for much of the day?  Where does reality start and finish?  Are they lost in a world of technology?

Memories of my mother working with a wood and coal range, as she toiled to nourish us all, cooking our meals naturally, so not many nutrients were destroyed.

Today travel can be a nightmare, as motel ranges are all so different.  Some have knobs or buttons, not switches, which are easier to control.  The usual lost feeling invades the senses as I search for the instruction book to cook a meal. Even my own gas cooker requires a button to ignite the flame, but that has given up with no chance of being fixed, due to having been made overseas.  So, what do I do?  Yes, a gas gun, hastily bought at Mitre 10.  That should do the trick.

On arriving home with my newfound gadget, I set to work to ignite the flame only to finish up with sore fingers and no flame.  Back to the shop, but no-one could help, except an offer of money back, which I eagerly accepted.

This was soon replaced by a different one, which sometimes worked with careful handling.  Oh, to have the gas pistol my mother had.  One shot and the flame would blast into life. Notwithstanding there was always the good old match tucked away for such emergencies; it would never let you down.

Or would it?

Ever been had?

They were soon put to work, only to find that the red gunpowder on the end would spark and explode in a fizz all over the place.  Again, trial and error with this basic equipment until finally almost losing my patience it would finally explode into flame, but with the fine wood breaking into pieces and coming to grief on the floor. 

My battle continues trying to light the gas, with splattered matches lying everywhere, while the sandpaper on the box finally gives out leaving me trying to strike a match on cardboard only.

Simplicity of accomplishment is all but lost.

Eventually I acquire a new telephone. Such a simple task. I have been using it for years, but nothing is the same. So complicated, needing assistance of the instruction book, which even the workman said he couldn’t understand as it was only meant to confuse. 

So how am I expected to? Then a new mobile phone, supposed to be state of the art in modern living, but what is the use of it if you don’t know how to turn it on or when it’s on, how to turn it off.  I don’t think I will venture into the iPad; it looks too complicated for me.

The computer is bad enough as it never does what you want it to. You know that when you sit down in front of it, it is sure to beat you at every turn as it seems to be smarter than us all.  If the computer does what you want, you can bet the printer won’t.

Then microwave ovens, which I have tried to use on rare occasions only to give up as they never work for me. 

On to radios, TVs, DVDs, etc.  One wrong flick of the switch in the middle of a riveting programme and all is lost again.  So deeply lost in a maze of how to do this and that I can’t even go back to the beginning to start again.

And where to begin with all those buttons on washing machines?  When you finally get the washing done, how do you open the door, especially a front loader, to retrieve the washing?

Black ceramic range tops with no knobs or buttons. Guess where to put your finger and hope a light turns on and when it does, what do you do?    Guesswork comes into play until it is time to turn it off.  But where?   I’m lost.


I thought life was meant to be simple and it was, when I was five.  Is this why so many elderly people have just switched off, as they can’t cope with the feeling of being lost in a web of wires and buttons?  

While contemplating this hopeless situation we have found ourselves in, I thought I heard a sound far away in the distance, but getting closer and closer.


Seated one day at the organ,

I was weary and ill at ease,

And my fingers wandered idly

Over the noisy keys;

I know not what I was playing,

Or what I was dreaming then,

But I struck one chord of music,

Like the sound of a great Amen ...


Was this the chord that was lost?  Has it finally been found?


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

Discuss This Topic

There are 0 comments in this discussion.

join this discussion

Getting Lost by Ruth Munro

Note:About the author: I was born in Dunedin. 1931. 5th of seven children all very musical and finished my schooling at Otago Girls High. I married Eric Munro a school teacher before settling in the Nth Island. We brought up three children in Auckland where I was a stay at home mother with intermittent office positions. Life was filled with tennis fencing netball needlework sewing art and reading. I was for many years involved in Christian work with women and now keeping busy in the Probus writers group and studying Biblical History.