Cone Man the Roadman


Right; let me make myself perfectly clear – OCD is no laughing matter! And this post is not intended to poke fun at anyone who has OCD, or offend anyone who knows someone who has.

People living with OCD generally have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions,  sometimes both, and these symptoms can interfere with all aspects of life, such as work, school, and personal relationships. It can be a crippling condition.

As an Employment Consultant specializing in placing people living with disability I thought I knew a little bit about OCD and how it can effect people in the workplace. But last weekend I learnt a very valuable insight into the work life of someone living with OCD.

It was a cloudy Saturday morning and my family and I were driving from Nelson to Hanmer Springs, an alpine village famous for its beautiful hot springs.


Its about a 3.5 hour drive and we were driving down to meet with family and stay for the ANZAC Day Holiday weekend. ANZAC day is a day of national importance for NZ and as a family we try to spend ANZAC weekend together.

To learn more about ANZAC Day please check out my ANZAC post from 2 years ago:

Also, here’s Maddie singing ‘Lest we forget’, also from 2 years ago (she was 8)

So anyway!

About an hour and a half into our journey (just past Murchison) we were required to stop for Road Works. Being stopped is a bummer on any journey, but on a holiday weekend, and keen to catch up with loved ones, it seems especially so. luckily though we were the  first vehicle to be stopped, giving us a clear view of the road works ahead of us.

Graders were working furiously, clearing and tidying up the edges of the road as quickly as the could. Lollipop people holding stop go signs were stationed at either end of the road works, heads down, their eyes averted, trying to avoid contact with seething drivers (why do they do this on the weekend?)

But in the middle of this all this  – amongst  the activity and noise Cone Man was placing cones to create a one lane passage way for cars to pass through.

cone man 2

Please note this is not the real Cone Man

Cone Man was bloody good at his job. Bloody bloody good! As in the picture above the road works were close to a bend, but this didn’t stop him lining up all the cones so they were perfectly in line.  And when they weren’t in line he would make microscopic adjustments to  them – one at time. He was precision personified.  He would start at one end and then work his way back along the line to the other. Only then to find out the cones in the middle had mischievously moved out of alignment. So he would go back to sort them out, only to find that either beginning or end of the line was then out.

After ten minutes waiting and watching, I could see the importance of such a task, and in the spirit of generosity I genuinely wanted to get out and help him. If I had a theodolite, level and rod, even a simple measuring tape – I would have gladly gifted it to him.  Even, Kate and Maddie joined in too, shouting words of  encouragement.

‘to the left a little,’

‘to the right,’

‘no the other one’

‘go back, go back!’

Alas, with our windows closed, he couldn’t hear us.

After 15 minutes of waiting, it was our turn to proceed along the one lane passageway, past the Lollipop lady, who once again averted her eyes, past the graders, and as we approached and passed Cone Man, Kate wound down her window.

‘You’re doing a great job‘ – she offered, but all to no avail. Cone Man had his head down and was busy adjusting the cone in front of him by a few millimeters.

This week this little encounter has had me questioning my assumptions about suitable jobs for people living with OCD. And I know I am going to be more judicious about what might work and what won’t. I’m not sure being a Road Man does.

Kia Ora


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We will remember them

We will remember them.

To my surprise and much gratitude, about a month ago my mother gave to me a WW2 service medal.


It belonged to my great uncle Vernon Lindsay Norrish (on my father’s side).

This is his story.

My Uncle’s war story starts when he joined the 4th Reserve Mechanical Transport Company

The 4th RMT Company’s story goes back to the first Tuesday in October, in the ripe spring of 1939. That was when the First Echelon marched into New Zealand’s three main camps: Ngaruawahia, Trentham, and Burnham. These men, volunteers for a Special Force, known as 2 NZEF.  The new recruits wore civilian clothes and carried small suitcases or sugar–bags. The old soldiers shook their heads….

The quartermasters handed out tin plates, pannikins, and clumsy knives, forks and spoons coated against rust in a loathsome grease. Each man picked up a sacking palliasse and stuffed it with straw. For candlesticks, old triangular bayonets, salvaged from heaven knows where, turned up. Old, too, were many of the khaki serge uniforms of assorted shades and sizes, their folds filled with flakes of naphthalene, their four–starred brass buttons heavy with green. Greatcoats in two sizes (too big or too small) were mustard-coloured survivals from 1916, some with disturbing bullet holes. But the black boots and the grey blankets were good, very good.

On January 5th 1940, RMT was despatched to Egypt.

wgtn departure

Over the widening water behind, them lay New Zealand in her pakeha centennial year. Visitors to the Exhibition in Wellington were nearing the million mark. From the top of a crazy house a model of a man laughed incessantly upon the crowds below. Bing Crosby fans sang ‘Pennies from Heaven’, and Claudette Colbert was appearing in a film, ‘It’s a Wonderful World’. The last to be seen of New Zealand was Mount Egmont, with a bit of cloud, at 6 p.m

RMT’s job was to carry riflemen about and to lend a hand with the multitude of transport tasks required by a modern army. However, hardly anybody had handled a heavy lorry in his life. In one section, for example, of 90 men only three (yes, three) had driven heavy transport vehicles in New Zealand, and only 30 had car licences. The remaining 57 had never even driven a car. For an hour or so each week drivers coached non–drivers in starting, changing gears, and steering on a hard, firm stretch of sand. The learners then passed on to more advanced instructors, and finally had to pass a gruelling test over really tough going of soft sand, rocks, and hummocks.

As it turned out, after a short time in the Western Desert, practically any driver could be sent confidently on any task, a tribute to the corporals for studying, nursing, and developing their men.

Fighting in the Western Desert was essentially a war of movement. Mobility played a decisive part. New Zealanders were ideal men for this class of warfare. They found their way by night as well as day across the unmapped featureless desert with accuracy and skill and, as it were, almost by instinct.

The 4th Reserve Motor Transport Company was in fact one of the first units of the New Zealand Division to take the field in Lord Wavell’s victorious campaign in the Western Desert in 1940. On 9 December 1940, RMT drove into its first action. The RMT is the first company of the 2 NZEF to go into action in the Second World War.

sollum trucks

Two weeks later my Great Uncle died of wounds after an Italian Air Attack.

During the third week of December 1940, 4 RMT moved to Sollum. Snub-nosed barges from ships out in the bay were now bringing war materials into Sollum’s little port, and 4 RMT’s job was to help carry this material from the stone pier up hairpin bends to dumps scattered along the dreary escarpment. The company worked the clock round, sections taking turns with the night shifts, for with the advance in the desert supply problems had increased, especially with food, water, and petrol. Tanks alone in one action needed between 20,000 and 25,000 gallons of petrol a day. ASC drivers ‘worked against great difficulties of time and space,’ says a War Office publication, Destruction of an Army, ‘and these men, hardy, tough and enterprising, deserve to share in the triumphs of the campaign as much as the men who drove more spectacular vehicles.’

Sollum, bombed regularly by enemy aircraft, was also troubled by a big gun in Bardia, “Bardia Bill’. It paid not to waste time around that narrow wharf. Warnings came from an old mariner who would emerge from a hut and shout ‘Air raid!’ from small naval gunboats opening fire out in the bay; and from the stampede of wharf workers, Cypriots and Palestinians, heading for the caves.

sollum 1940

On the day before Christmas 4 RMT met with its heaviest air-raid casualties in Africa. The men, all from B Section, were anxious to speed up the work and had four trucks loading at the same time. At 12.40 p.m. a flight of 17 Italian aircraft caught everyone by surprise. Bombs straddled wharf and barges. In the ruins (and among the red oranges intended for the troops on Christmas Day), lay:

  • 2 Lt J. T. Wallace, m.i.d.; born USA 5 Mar 1910; machinery salesman; killed in action 24 Dec 1940
  • Corporal Pussell
  • Lance-Corporal Norrish L-Cpl V. L. Norrish born NZ 11 Dec 1918; clerk; died of wounds 24 Dec 1940
  • Driver Ted Reynolds Dvr E. W. Reynolds; born NZ 2 May 1906; truck and service-car driver; killed in action 24 Dec 1940, and
  • Dvr A. B. Hurst; born Ireland1 Oct 1904; labourer; died of wounds 25 Dec 1940

The wounded included:

  • Sergeant C. J. Mulligan born NZ 18 Apr 1914; traction-engine driver;
  • Maj R. K. Davis born Auckland 2 Mar 1917; clerk;
  • Dvr N. A. S. Quintal, born Waihi27 Aug 1914; labourer;
  • Dvr I. E. Appleton; born Wellington12 Sep 1915 clerk;
  • Dvr E. W. Boosey; born Wellington25 Mar 1918; clerk;


The five deaths sent a shadow of sorrow over the first Christmas away from home, and the day passed without any celebrating by the hardworking drivers. They made up for it though when a Naafi ship came in for unloading before the New Year. Thanks to the ship’s crew, the barge men, the Cypriots and Palestinians, the wharf MPs and the RMT, much of the original cargo failed to reach the Naafi tent.

So what do I think?

Well for one, I’m not going to give my Brother Chris any more hard times about his second middle name – Vernon!

I also understand now why Christmas at my Paternal Grandparents always seemed to be so low key and reserved.

As far as I know, no one in my family has ever visited Vernon’s grave.

norrish grave

He’s been lying in the desert for 75 years. I now question my bravery and motivation in never travelling to Sollum, Egypt. Ten years ago I was motivated and had even made plans to go. However, marriage, Maddie, finances, all seemed convenient excuses not to go. And of course, troubles in Egypt, Libya, and the entire middle east all offer good reasons not to go.

However, I would dare say Sollum today is a far less dangerous place than in 1940.

I hope I get there soon and I will be wearing his medal at this years Anzac Day dawn parade with a great deal of pride and humbleness.

sollum war gravesAnzac

    • References:
    • Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force. (1941). Nominal Roll Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force No. 1 (Embarkations to 31st March, 1940). Wellington, N.Z.: Govt. Printer. AWMM WW2 1: WW2 135 AWMM
    • Henderson, J. (1954). RMT: official history of the 4th and 6th Reserve Mechanical Transport Companies. Wellington, N.Z.: Department of Internal Affairs. AWMMD.743 Official History RMT. Page 19 F/N, page 40 text & F/N
    • NZ War graves commission