Twenty Tiny Elephants: The Curse of the Wibble


Wibbling is one of the overt results of a certain limited mobility. Like that orange-haired, smiling-faced, round-bottomed now vintage hard plastic toy, there’s a constant side-to- side movement – wibble-wobble. All that’s needed is the vacant smile and the internal bell – you too could join the circus.

Wibbling creates the potential hazards of dropping, spilling and sloshing.   Wobbling up the hallway with a hot drink becomes a test of focus and balance previously reserved for cleaning the spouting or painting the roof of the barn.

“Four legs good two legs bad”. If I meet those pigs I’ll enlighten them. iI’s “two legs good one leg…wibble”.

I’m so glad some of my earlier life was misspent. With hindsight, pretty tame and ordinary but then, when “Coffee Shops” were arriving in the barren wasteland that was Auckland Central, descending those gloomy stairs was regarded as dangerous as visiting an opium den.

I can’t remember the food. Somewhere about this time I think we learned about bran muffins but I developed a liking for little round cakes with incredibly hard pink icing and half an artificial cherry on top.

My other addiction to toasted sandwiches (the Kiwi classic of tinned Spaghetti) developed while “training” at the Newmarket Olympic pool, took years to fade.   Even now I can close my eyes and I’m back standing on that permanently wet concrete outside that little shop under the stands overlooking that beautiful water, engulfed in the smell of hot butter and waiting to burn my tongue.

What I remember about the “Coffee Shops” is heavy cups on big saucers with brown liquid topped with large amounts of whipped cream into which you could add sugar. Somewhere in my memory I recall real sugar in real sugar bowls you all put your spoons into while avoiding little clumps of coffee hardened sugar created by previous spoon dippers…

After you’d eaten the cream off the top of the coffee there was this oily yellow slick.   Little puddles of fat glistening in the dim light. I think people were still allowed to smoke (cigarettes) in small, badly-lit places of communal association. It made your hair and your clothes smell (stink actually) so there was no point trying to pretend to some parent with the penetrating eye of a WWII survivor that you’d spent the evening in the Auckland Public Library.

A “Coffee Shop” was not the kind of place where if you ended up with something sloshing around in the saucer you tipped it back into the cup….darling!  I’m not entirely clear whether they were there from the beginning or they were introduced to improve our coffee shop behaviours. I’m talking about those little circles with squiggly round edges which were always under your filled to the brim cup (in those days everything was filled to the rim – I think it was a money’s worth kind of thing).

The little round circles between your cup and your saucer were made of pressed layers of paper. Some of those little paper circles had a thin brown edging – terribly sophisticated. They were specifically designed to absorb any overflow or cup content spillage as you tottered through the gloom to your still sticky table (also brown).   And they worked unless you tripped or were banged into by some myopic black-turtle-neck, brown-corduroy-trouser-wearing gender male.

I don’t have any of those little pressed paper circles with sophisticated brown edges but I confess that’s where I got the idea to fold up my cheap paper napkins and put them on the saucer then embed my cup in the napkin.   If you don’t have cheap paper napkins that wonderful embossed 3 ply toilet paper does the same thing and completely negates the effects of wibbling and wobbling down the hall.

Why has it taken me two pages to tell you that? Probably for the same reason someone wrote an entire dictatorially worded booklet on how to use the new rubbish and recycling bins in our district.

I hope you don’t wonder about me as much as I wondered about the rubbish bin booklet which was followed up by stern rubbish bin cardboard complaint cards from the rubbish truck if your bin tag was not correctly applied.   (One of my friends informed me she wrote “Fuck Off” on her bin after she received one of those stern complaint cards…well that’s what she said.)

I ask you not to email me and suggest I use a mug.   If I used a mug or one of those contemporary lidded cups, I wouldn’t have had the joy of remembering what Auckland Central was like all those years ago.

Anyway, even if I used a mug it would still spill if I were to wibble or lurch dramatically ….

P.S.  or  addendum, which ever you prefer.  While the copy cat folded paper works to prevent sloshing created by uneven movement, it’s of absolutely no use if you put your cup and sauce on top of a patina coated sugar bowl while you think you’ll close a window.  It is amazing how much tea is in a cup when it’s running down a bookcase, a wall, over the boxes of stationery and into the flower wrapping brown paper container.   There is a word for this behaviour, it’s similar to what my friend wrote on her rubbish bin.  Just do as I say, definitely not as I do.


Next in Twenty Tiny Elephants:   Introducing Miranda and Marmaduke

Rosemary Balu.   Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. She has been interested in all forms of the arts since childhood.



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