Thursday, July 30, 2009

The PK Chewing Gum TVCs

Every now and then a TV commercial comes along that works on every level. A series for a very well-known, trusted, and popular product did that recently – the series for Wrigley's PK chewing gum. It works viscerally. It works intellectually. Who among us doesn't feel a frisson of discomfort when we see the two guys in the changing room, scant inches apart, having a regular guy conversation? Just to watch it is to cringe. The punchline, that PK takes out the discomfort, makes it all make sense. Two guys fishing – same thing.

It's brilliant. And it's so simple. So simple, in fact, that I know it was quite probably the first thought on the table when the agency guys started talking about the campaign, and it stayed on the table, surviving the onslaught of a hundred different,more complex ideas were tossed around.

And it backs up what McKee says, in his book “Story”. Get the story right, then write the dialogue. Discover what you want the story to tell, make sure the visual story is there, and the words will come naturally.

These commercials truly are mini-movies. They make the audience think, they involve the audience, they make the audience respond.

These commercials for PK gum deserve all the awards they're going to win.

READING NOW: Still with Connolly. The man makes me gasp.

LISTENING TO: Bobby Darrin, Best of. Damn, he was good.
WORD OF THE MOMENT: Story. Tell it.
More Henry....

Chapter Twelve
On The Ball

Sport plays a large role in the Talbot family. Mary is her age group champion at the Northridge Badminton Club, and loudly supports as many Northridge High School netball games as she can get along to. Henry plays cricket every second weekend in the summer, and runs and works out at the gym three times a week so he doesn’t let his team-mates down. He also plays touch rugby and rugby sevens during the winter. When Adam played his rugby or softball, he could count on his father quietly applauding him whenever he had the ball or bat, and his mother’s excited shrieks right through the game. Henry also coaches for the Northridge Rugby Club.

But oddly enough the one who has had the greatest effect on the great and noble game of rugby is Mary, who has never played. Jerry Ngamoki gives Mary the credit for his All Black status: here’s what happened.

It all has to do with time. Mary is, and always has been, sure of it.
Henry says that if it takes time for light to reflect off something into the eye and for the eye to decode that light, then you could never observe the present as it happened. That’s why Henry was technically a very good rugby and cricket player: he knew what he’d done in the past, and knew that what he was doing now was occurring in the past, and is a reflection of the hundreds of other times you’ve done it. In so many ways he moved in the future, gaining a result in his experienced past.
One winter afternoon, when it was still cold enough to raise billows of vapour from everyone’s breath, Mary was prowling the sidelines of her son’s game. It was all going quite satisfactorily – well, they weren’t losing too badly – so Mary turned to watch the game in the field next to Adam’s.

It was the Northridge High’s 3rd XV, and they were getting hammered. Totally destroyed. Ripped apart, gasping, floundering. Losing more with every second that passed by – and to the boys in the Northridge High 3rd XV, time was passing by with its feet in treacle. In four minutes Mary saw two tries, both converted with contemptuous ease, and it’s fair to say they were not scored by the lads in the Northridge High footy jersey. This game was a bust.
And Mary couldn’t keep her eyes off the carnage. On the far side of the field parents were doing their best to cheer their boys on, but they all knew that it wasn’t going to be happening this weekend. Up behind the goalposts was the team’s coach, a spindrift of a man who had parlayed his BSc into a teaching position, and he was standing shoulders hunched, hands plunged deep into pockets, replaying the conversation he’d had with the Headmaster six months previously: “But I don’t know anything about rugby! The closest I came to playing a contact sport was when I got punched on the nose by a kid from the Chess Club – I’d beaten him three games running!”
“Doesn’t matter,” was the Head‘s reply. “It’s a tradition that the Fourth Form’s science master coaches the 3rd XV, so you’d better bone up on rucks, scrums, and mauls.”

He’d enjoyed it, mainly. He’d applied his chess skills to the game rugby, and had a number of excellent set pieces well drilled into the boys: but they weren’t getting that ball often enough, and in the right places. And worst of all he knew that the kids still had faith in him, and the taste of that was galling on his tongue.

“Hello, Mr Benefield.”
“Mrs, ah, Mrs Talbot. How are you?”
“Better than you, I’m sure. It’s not the best game, is it?”
“No.” Benefield grimaced. “You know, I never wanted this job. I’ve never played the game - I just feel that I’ve let these kids down. I would have been better with the Chess Club.”
Mary smiled in sympathy, not knowing how to respond. They watched on despondently as, at the far end of the field, another try was scored.
And converted.
“Who’s that boy – your half-back?”
“Jerry Ngamoki. He’s our team captain: a real athlete. Would you believe he’s only 13? When he grows up he’ll be First Fifteen material. As long as he doesn’t get discouraged.”
Mary left Mr Benefield, BSc, chess-player, science teacher, and reluctant rugby coach, and wandered down to the far end of the football field, and watched. The game mercifully played itself out, and the hip-rahs were shouted and the boys went to their parents, except for one lad: Jerry Ngamoki, who stayed on the field, the football clutched to his chest. He walked to the fifty metre line, and stood, silently for moment – and then he ran, He jinked, he jazzed, he danced, he fended off ghostly players, he cut back, he stepped off his left foot, then three paces later off his right, he made three dummy passes. It was a dazzling, virtuoso display. Mary grinned, silently applauded him, and went back to see Mr Benefield.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bad Sports, and the Ageless One

I don't understand what all the fuss about. With the swimming people, I mean. When it comes to the Ageless One, I know all right.

But let's take a look at the swimming scene first. It seems these new suits, as partly developed in New Zealand, are causing all sorts of ructions in and out of the pools. They don't help with divers, nor are the of any assistance with the co-ordinated drowning people. Perhaps unfortunately.

Anyway, these sleek suits that make the swimmers look like finless dolphins help them swim faster. One has apparently helped an unknown Cherman beat Mr Phelps, who hadn't been beaten since 1897, or something. Well, boo hoo, Phelpsy boy. You were wearing one of the suits too, and you lost. You're getting older, it'll happen. Get over it.

I was there, as they say, when Peter Snell broke the world record for the mile at Cook's Garden in Wanganui a million or two years ago. he ran on grass, in the spiked running shoes of the day. It was later worked out (by someone with a slide-rule, undoubtedly: this was before the age of the 'pooter) that had Peter Snell run that same race on an artificial surface (known as tartan, for some godforsaken reason) and in modern running shoes, he would have been the first man to have broken 3 minutes 50 for the mile. Twenty years before it actually happened.

Technology happens. The first disced wheel on a treadly helped some cyclist achieve unheard of speeds. Modern shoes help all runners run faster. Swimmers have even talked about slow and fast pools- the floor design apparently helps them with their strokes. There's a new football design that helps the ball fly faster and further. Dimples on a golf ball were introduced after many years of playing - so the balls went farther, straighter. Cricket bats have changed. Golf clubs bear sod-all resemblance to those of fifty years ago. Formula One race cars change every year.

If the swimming people are reeally concerned about level playing fields (or pools) then have everyone swim naked. It'd certainly help with viewer numbers.

The Ageless One is coming back to NZ: Cliff Richard. With the Shadows! Frankly, I'd probably pay good money (if I had any) to see the Shadows. Cliff? He creeps me out. Yes, he does look a little different now from 45 years ago. A little, A tiny little. The man's in his 60s, and he still looks as though he's learning how to shave.

READING: John Connolly's"The Lovers". If you haven't discovered John Connolly yet, do so.

LISTENING TO: Nick Cave "No More Shall We Part". Stunning.

WORD OF THE DAY: Doughty. What a marvellous thing to be. Doughty. Intrepid.


For us, there is no present. There’s only the future, and the past.
Q: I would have thought Henry was exactly like that: everything he did was considered, thought about, wrestled with, before he took any action.
A: Yes, but he thinks about things with an eye on the past: last time I did this, X happened. It wasn't a good result, so I should try Y. Or, M happened, and it was a good thing, so I shall do exactly the same thing over again. I, however, tend to want to try and do new things for the sake of doing them: Henry does new things because he can’t see an alternative. See?
Q: Go on.
A: So there I was, in my green cocktail dress. It’s such a hoot! Henry likes it so much, because it has such a strong relationship with his time-reference, and I love it because it’s so outlandishly garish. People say this country was a dull little Balkanised boring backwater in the fifties: I say that any society where women dressed like that could never have been boring. I dressed up in the green silk ensemble, and took him my thought.
Q: Past and future coming together to a single point in time?
A: You do understand! Well done. I went to Henry, who was in his big old study, sitting in his big old chair – that used to be his father’s, did you know that?
Q: No.
A: Well, it was. The poor dear was pretty shaken up, and so was I. But the thoughts that we kept returning to over the night all centred around one thing: that Henry had, in effect, been given a death sentence. Well, that’s the way it was. Henry had very solidly and stolidly thought about it, had decided to resign from the firm – did you hear the capital letters there?
Q: No.
A: I’ll try again: The Firm! Better?
Q: Yes, I heard it that time.
A: My god, you laugh. Wonders will never cease. I simply suggested to Henry that we stop looking on this thing as being a death sentence, and turn it on its head. We start looking on it as a life sentence.
Q: Pretty sophomoric, surely?
A: Well, up yours, chump. This is my man, and I needed him to be happy.
Q: Sorry.
A: That’s better. Look, I know that it’s childish, and the conceit of the whole thing has flaws bigger than Buckingham Palace’s ballroom. Floors, flaws? Never mind. The thing is, if you’re sure you only have six months in which to die, you also have six months in which to live. So that’s what we decided. Bugger the seven stages, the anger, the bargaining, the denial, the rationalising, the acceptance, oh I don’t know what they are. Simply put: he has six months to live, so let’s live it.
Q: And his reaction?
A: He laughed with joy. Henry’s never been a man to show his emotions, but he did. He did. He did! You have no idea how important that was to me. How important.
Q: (Long pause) Would you like a tissue? Some water?
A: I’ll be all right. Thanks. And so we came to the Gathering of The Clan. They’re a pretty good bunch, really. I mean, here we are, we’d just told Sybil and Micah, and young John, to drop everything, and be here, and they did, without question. Do you have any idea how astonishing that is?
Q: No, not really.
A: Take my word for it: it is. Anyway, Wolf was the first to arrive, and he always lightens the atmosphere. He’s a truly fun person, and the last person you’d think would marry a dedicated copper like Charlie, but there you are. He’s the champagne for her slipper, I suppose. Then came John – but why don’t we look at the painting I made of the day?
Q: Hmm. All right.

John came up the footpath from the driveway to the front door, and, as always, had to stifle a smile. This must be the only house in the world that still has a door with a window that’s been sandblasted with the Stag at Bay. And to have that stag painted in neon-bright colours, so it’s a celebration of the stag’s life, rather than a hunter’s target.
He could see that Wolf and Charlie were here already: the red VeeDub beetle was parked haphazardly, as only Wolf could park. His own very corporate Mitsubishi sat behind it, and he thumbed the key remote to lock it. Chirp-chirp. He liked his pointy-beepy-chirpy-locky thing. He thumbed the button again. Chirp. And again. Chirp chirp. The door behind him opened, and Wolf glared at him. Chirp. Grin.
“So, what have we herein, hey? We have the wastrel, the layabout, the young rugby thug who wastes his time playing with the toys, ja?” His face creased with happiness, and he opened his arms. “John, John. How are you? We have not seen you for so many, many hours. Friday, perhaps?”
John gave Wolf a bear hug, then hoisted him over his shoulder. “And he takes a mighty sidestep to the left and the Voertrekker bastard yarpie misses the tackle, and mighty John Talbot races to the corner for a try!’ And he dumped the laughing Austrian on the Astrakhan rug. “How’s it going, Wolf? Still wearing it to the left?”
“But of course! I am sincere in my left-wearing. I swear that one day we will have the proper-thinking party in Parliament, may God bless it and all who lie in it, and I shall unveil my glory to the world. Today Northridge, tomorrow –“
“Ze verlt! Ve shall be haffink nozzink of the rukby nor zer clicket! Ve shall be serous minded, und –“
“Drink, drink, drink.”
“Jeez, you two,” drawled Charlie. “Can we get a bit of decorum going here? Johnny, have you heard yet from Sybil and Paradox?”
“Got a text message a quarter hour ago. They’re not far away. Sis – what’s going on? You sounded as grim as death of the phone, eh.”
“Yeah, well. Henry’s got something that needs the family –“
“That’s what I mean. I’ve called the family together a couple a times when I’ve been in the shit, and we’ve circled the wagons around you a few times. We’ve even all shot down to Wellington to be with Sybil when young Floss got herself all buggered up. But Henry’s never called us all in. Come on, girl: you can tell me. He wasn‘t hurt worse than the news said, was he?”
“No.” Charlie’s a little agitated now. Her right hand flies to her hair, and her eyes glisten. “Just wait, John. Please?”
“Yeah, sure, orright.” It’s anything but orright, but what can a man do? Christ. Charlie’s got a tear. Something’s bloody off. Right off. And yeah, while Henry did get himself shot, oh, I dunno: it‘s weird. “How’s the copper business going then?”
“It’s paying the bills. Or that’s what Wolf tells me, anyway. “
“And I would not put you crook, my little Antipodean princess.” Wolf struck a scrawny pose, flexed a muscle, and reached for a cigar. “John, your sister is right. We must wait for Sybil and Micah.”
It would only happen in bad American TV shows: the doorbell rang. “Such timing,” cried Wolf, as he opened it with a flourish and a burst of Austrian that frightened the sparrows on the bird-bath.
He greeted Sybil and her bewildered husband. Let us be clear about this: Micah lives his life in a state of continual bewilderment and diamond-bright clarity. He realised long ago that the more he knew the less he understood. Or was it the other way around? It could be, now that he comes to think about it. But there are better things to think about than himself. There’s the difficulty of finding an answer to the question about what can be done with dead AA batteries. Millions of them are thrown away every day. Hmm.
“Sorry, Micah. What was that?” asked John, after hugging his sister.
“Eh? Oh. Yes. Batteries. Just had a thought about incorporating them into pressed earth bricks. How are you, um, yes.”
“John, mate. Hard name to remember, but it’s done me OK for a while now.”
“Yes, sorry, John. A little anxious, you know. About Henry. What‘s this shooting business?” Micah’s a giant. Literally. He stands at 6 foot 11 in his possum-fur socks. He’s happy with his male pattern baldness, his immense beard, and his lack of coordination. That is to say that he never thinks about it. His life is almost entirely cerebral, with the delightful addition of his five great addictions: Sybil, and their two sets of twins. One set male and female, the other, tidily, female and male.
The Austrian dynamo barrelled into the big man, flinging arms about his waist. “Micah, you sad excuse for a man. How are you?”
“Gidday, um, Wolf. Good. What’s that bloody cigar made of? Dried up goat turds?”
“Nein! The nun must have had the fever. Sybil, my precious, how are you?”
Sybil is an impossibly serious person. She is dressed in gold today, a fetching little two-piece suit with an ivory silk white scoop-necked blouse under the jacket. Her calf-eye brown hair is styled the way it has always been styled: dead straight helmet cut. She was a little hurt that Wolf shook her hand. There’s a part of her that wants to be able to celebrate life the way Wolf does, but she doesn’t really know how to go about it. One day, she thought. One day. Maybe.

“OK, look: thanks, everyone, for coming here at such short notice. Mum, can you hear? And Adam?”
The speaker-phone chirped and buzzed, and a pair of voices came through. “Yeah Dad.” “No worries, son.” Then a third disembodied voice, “Here’s the food, and the wine. Hello John. How are you Mary?”
“’allo, Norman,” cried Wolf.
“Wolf, my friend. When do you come here to civilisation to visit us and dance?”
“Like the mad Zorba? Tomorrow!”
“OK, come on guys.” Henry is his normal self: calm, quiet, in control. Mary looks at him, and thinks that if Henry had been captaining the Titanic, not a single life would have been lost. Except, hopefully, the character de Caprio played. He deserved the hottest pits of hell.
“I wanted you all here because you all have an interest in the old family home. Five generations of Talbots, and so on. Now Mary and I are here as guardians for the place, and it’s suited us well. But we’re leaving it now, moving on. I want you to buy us out. We want you to, that is.”
There’s a cacophony of voices. Henry raises his hands, and the hubbub dies down.
“Yeah, look, I know it’s unexpected, and all. Charlie knows why I’m asking, and Adam’s been told as well.”
“And the little bastard wouldn’t tell me dick!” squawked Gussy.
“Thanks Adam. I owe you one. Look, I’ll come to the point: It seems that I’ve got this medical condition, and because of it Mary and I are going to buzz off for a while.”
There’s a silence, a crashing of doom. Then a hesitant voice.
“What do you mean, bro,” asked John. “What’s a bloody medical condition when it’s at home? You’re not gunna die or something, are you?”
Henry squirmed in discomfort. “Well, not or something. Yeah, it seems that I’ve got this tumour, and it’s probably inoperable – I’ll know more tomorrow - and so Mary and I are shooting through. We’re heading off to see Adam and you, Mum, first.”
The speaker-phone sobs.
“Aw, jees, Mum. Stop carrying on, Anyone’d think Norman had spilled the grappa.”
The room burst into sound. Voices raised, faces white, eyes desperate.
Henry looked pleadingly at Mary. He was stuck, actually sweating. Perhaps the Titanic’s passengers would have been doomed, after all. Mary stood in glorious green, raised her hands, and called for quiet.
“I know this is a shock to you all. Henry’s going up to Auckland tomorrow for a few more tests, but it looks pretty conclusive already. You all know Joe Know: he told us yesterday that Henry almost definitely has a brain tumour. The thing is this: even if it’s not right, we’re leaving Talbot Terrace anyway. We’ve either got just a little time to do a few things we want and need to do, and so we’re going to be selfish and do them. Or, Joe Know’s made the first mistake I’ve ever known him to make, Henry’s OK, and we have all the time in the world – but we’re still going to do them.”
“What?” asked John. “Run that past us again?”“We’re buggering off, you moron,” said Henry, and Mary’s great bellow of a laugh washed over them all.
And they all felt good, hearing it.
“Mum? Can you hear me? I’ll go through to the hall and pick up the extension, and leave Mary with this lot, OK?”
There’s another sob from the phone, and Henry leaves the room.
He picked up the hallway phone, and listened as the speakerphone was hung up. “Mum?”
“Oh, Henry. Henry, Henry, Henry.”
“Yes. Yeah. Look, I’m sorry I told you like this, but I was so scared. I didn’t want to have to go through telling everyone individually.”
“Henry. You’re almost the same age as your dad was –“
“Thanks. I needed reminding about that, too. Oh, look, I’m sorry. Listen - we’re coming over there, soon.”
“What if the doctors won’t let you travel?”
“Sod them, Mum: just sod them.”

And so it was that the family were told, and the odyssey of Henry and Mary started. Mary’s dreams that night were filled with flame and heat. Henry’s dreams featured weasels and Australian jails, and he smiled in his sleep.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Time goes fast when you're not having fun. But not so fast that one can't an opportunity to find something new to complain about, and to then develop a list of the twenty differemt ways it really gets stuck in your craw.

I'm not about to give you both barrels of this one, but I will give you a taste: I trust you enough by now to know that you'll see the wisdom of my carefully worded rant, and to carry it on for yourself.

I blame Monsarrat. He wrote a book called "The Treacherous Sea". And, in the title, he spawned a few generations of word-abusers. Treacherous. To be a traitor. To betray. We hear the word used this way every day, especially by the wit-free nincompoops who write the news, for the pretty newsreaders and weather-presenters to shriek, bellow, and gibber at us. "The roads were treacherous today," they rant. "The treacherous weather," they witter. The treacherous, this. The treacherous that.

They don't seem to understand that betrayal is a conscious act. As a thinking being, one who can (should I choose to do so) betray people, can be described as treacherous. Not being sapient, the weather, the sea, the roads, and so on can not betray us. Therefore, they can't be called treacherous. They just are what they are.

Talk to any weathered seaman: he (or she) will tell you that the sea is, at all times, a particularly dangerous place. It is a place were people die. Stupid people will die sooner than those who take precautions, but eventually pretty well everyone who messes about in boats is going to have a heart-stopping moment. The sea is dangerous. If we could ascribe the word 'treacherous' to it, it could only be under one circumstance: that it suddenly became a benign and safe place, where there is absolutely no risk to life or limb. It will then have betrayed the reality we know. Should I go to sea in a small boat excpecting to be safe, and be surprised by the realisation that I am in danger of losing limb or life, it is my expectations that have betrayed me - not the sea.

Any good driver, and all motorcyclists, know that they stand a chance of being made dead when they hit the road. That's why they drive defensively. That's why we use seatbelts, child restraints, and really like cars with airbags. To do otherwise is to increase the already considerable risk we face when we go out on the road. Our expectations are that we are willingly putting our lives at risk. Therefore, when someone does die, it's not because the road was treacherous. The road just was what is was - a dangerous place to be.

Weather, of course, is astonishingly dangerous. The average thunderhead packs as much energyas a small atomic bomb. The same reasoning applies.

And so it goes.

What Monsarrat did, perhaps with a malicious giggle up his sleeve, was use "treacherous" instead of "dangerous".

Of course, we misuse words all the time. Often, it's a way of ducking responsibily. How often have we heard that "the car went out of control"? There's never been a car built that "went out of control". Drivers lose control. For a car to go out of control implies that it is capable of independent action. Accidents are rare. Crashed are common: and crashes are caused by people. In our haste to not blame people, we capriciously cast about for a way of off-loading the guilt. The car went out of control. The motorcycle crashed. Bullshit: the driver lost control, the rider crashed.

Saw "Coraline" on Sunday. Even better than hoped for.

READING: For the second time, "Story", by Robert McKee. Although written for wannabe screenwriters, this book should be read by anyone who fancies themselves as a story writer. That includes advertising copywriters - who, after all, are constrructing stories about somone's product or service.
Also READING: "Bluesman" by Rob Vollmar and Pablo G Callejo - a graphic novelisation of several histories of the original blues players and travelling troubadors of the 1930s. Deeply satisfying, on many levels.

LISTENING TO: Duffy, "Rock Ferry", and Tim Finn's "Imaginary Kingdom".

WORD OF THE DAY: Treacherous. What else?

More Henry!

And now she was dead.

Mary had known and felt and marvelled at the love Henry felt for their daughter. For the four months since her birth Henry had sat up with his two girls when Miriam wanted a feed in the night-time. He had changed every nappy he could while not at work, he had come home during his lunch break, had bathed and coo-ed and powdered and dressed and every moment was a precious time, a treasure to be held, as he had held her when she chuckled and crowed and bawled, and his heart melted when her deep blue left eye glinted with a single golden fleck.
Mary, of course, also doted on this, their first child. Like all new mothers, she had been nervous and more than a little anxious, but the birthing had gone better than expected, and Henry’s unexpected devotion to her and their baby had been more than a bonus. She’d been relieved not to experience past-partum depression: her own mother had been devilled by it, and it had been Mary’s greatest fear that she, too, would turn away from her child in the black depths of depression. But nothing, it seemed, would ever happen to mar this perfect child, this perfect husband, this perfect love.Their first two years of marriage had been like anyone else’s: they’d had problems, faced them, overcome them. There had been compromise and stubbornness and botched meals and arguing about little things and then lovemaking and laughter and discovery and joy and anger and mollification and the pregnancy and the awe and shock and sleep-less nights and the birth and now, after just four months, death.
It nearly destroyed Henry: it nearly destroyed them both. Cot death, they called it then. SIDS, now; a name for a bad, sad English comedian. Miriam had never slept in the cot Henry had made for her, had never taken a first step, and had never spoken a word. Yet she taught them far more than they could have ever learnt in a dozen lecture halls, or from a hundred books, or in a hundred churches.
To this day neither of them clearly remembers the funeral, the tears, the murmurs of sympathy, the worried looks, the offers of help. They do remember the songs, they do remember the love, they do remember the heartbreak, they do remember how Miriam smelt and sounded and felt so tiny, so defenseless, and oh why couldn’t they protect her keep her safe?
Henry, blessedly, doesn’t remember his dreams of that period.
They do remember how they’d woken one morning, a few months after Miriam’s death, and realized over their bran and toast and coffee that they’d been sleeping with strangers. People they didn’t know had inhabited their bodies: people who sounded a lot like them, looked like them, but who weren’t them. People who were turned inward, festering on loss, living an insane lie, perhaps even a pleasure and a justification, in the death of their daughter. It was then that Mary made a half-dozen picture frames, and left them empty. She scattered them around their home, and each time they noticed one, they could think of Miriam: how she was when she died, and how she would be now if she had lived. Then, in time, the scars paled, and blended into their lives, and Adam came along, and the brambles and weeds finally died, and their garden was, once again, filled to overflowing.
What is that makes a couple like Mary and Henry? Perhaps it’s their need to see their love in everything they do.

What’s life got to do with it?

When Henry’s Mother, the indomitable Gussy, saw Henry in Greece a week or two after the diagnosis was confirmed, she hugged him, kissed his face a thousand times, left a pint of tears on his collar, and then kicked him on the shin. Gussy had refused to come back to Northridge, thinking that it would be a lot colder there than on the patio of her Greek home, where the Etruscan potter potted.
His name, by the way – and annoyingly, too, by another way – is now Norman. Last year he called himself Claude, and the year before he was known as Keving. Yes, Keving. While he speaks English like a be-whiskered m’lord, his spelling is suspect. He is a potter, after all, and not a writer. He is blocky in build, sports a formidable moustache, wears muscle-shirts, tight tiny blue shorts, and espadrilles. In the winter he apparently wears a thick submariner’s sweater, and red satin Mickey Mouse boxer shorts. Why this should be so is a secret best left kept by both Norman and Gussy. Norman is a remarkably vigorous individual, bushy of eyebrow, chocolate of skin and eye, dazzling of teeth, and almost always slightly tipsy.

The meeting of the family on June 4th was, to say the least, interesting. Wolf had arrived early, as he always did. “You never catch a Kraut being late, hein?” Well, that’s what he says, despite also insisting that he isn‘t a Kraut. He arrived wearing a blue and white striped shirt, bright blue bow-tie, red braces holding up a pair of expensive grey flannel pants, and black loafers. No socks. In the breast pocket of his shirt he carried a half-dozen of his twisted cigars.
Wolf stands a solid five foot six above the carpet, and has one grey eye, and one brown. Henry has yet to decide whether or not he is the ugliest human being he has ever clapped eyes on, but then brings Mary’s sketch of Wolf to mind, and sees him as he really is: a radiant, happy, warm, and loving man. Wolf strode in through the open doors, leaving a string of German curses in his wake. The journalists were back, and oddly, one was resting on the ground, and clutching his groin. It’s Jason Timmings, and he’s swearing and groaning, feebly.
“I am sorry, Charlie,” said Wolf, kissing her, “but I accidentally hit him with my foot, when my leg had a fit, and spasms like this!” and Wolf demonstrates a perfect drop-kick to the goolies.
“What a shame, darling. Do you think he’ll recover?” Charlie’s grin is wide, and infectious.
“One hopes not. But what am I saying? Of course he will recover, what are you saying? After all, my leg it only spasms like this,” and Wolf goose-steps again, “maybe twice. Come to my arms!”
And he buries his nose between Charlie’s breasts, sighs, and tells her that he missed her last night.
“You know, Wolf,” says Henry, “I’m never really sure that you are a German.”
“Austrian, my dear fellow! There is a difference! We Austrians are fiery lovers, we put the chicken-shit French and the mechanical Germans to shame. One shot, and they die. With us Austrians, we are like machine-gons!”
“Guns, mate.”
“So? Picky, picky, picky. And to suggest that I am a German, all hide-bound and jackboots and strange electronic music, pcha! I am Austrian, with a soul, and Charlie tells me you are for the chop, hein?”
“So it appears, yeah.”
“Hmph. So. A lot of fun will go out of my life.”
“All of it’s gunna go out of mine, Wolf.”
A burst of Austrian laughter. “True. Perhaps I will marry Mary, have two wives, like the Sheikhs of Araby, and the crazy Mormons.”
“How would Charlie go on that idea, pal?”
“She would kill me, and I would join you in the everlasting hereafter.” Wolf laughed, and looked at Henry. Over the past few years he had come to love this big, bluff man. Henry was deliberate, and considered everything twice, or perhaps twenty times, before committing himself to any action. And now, here he is, he doesn’t even have a say in this, the greatest thing that has happened in his life.
“Listen, Wolf,” Henry is hesitant. ”Keep your mouth closed about this, eh. Adam knows – I called him last night, but I want to tell the others my own way. I’m glad Charlie told you, but, well, if it’s OK with you?”
“I am the soul of discretion, Henry. Austrian discretion, which is the best in the world, like Austrian chocolate and schnapps. Ah, there she is! Mary!” And Wolf ran to bury his nose between her breasts, as well.

And so they came: John, on his own, a younger version of Henry. And Sybil, with the double-doc, Micah.

Q: How did it go, Mary?
A: Truthfully?
Q: Please.
A: One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I had dressed for the occasion, and Henry was his normal self. Almost. I think that what we had discussed earlier had given him something to hold on to.
Q: And what was that? Henry refers to it as your gift.
A: Henry always gives me far too much credit. But we had sat up most of the night, talking about this and that, making and abandoning plans, crying and laughing and kissing and Charlie was wonderful, a silent, solid chunk of love. She was, I don’t know, green, perhaps? The strength she has! The strength she is! She was deep ocean green and lime and olive and Lincoln green and all shot with blue.
Q: Yes.
A: You are impatient, aren’t you? Well, I had a thought. You see: Henry has always looked through a glass darkly, while my specs have been rose tinted. He’s not a half-empty glass, I’m not saying that. But he has a natural steadiness to him, a solid, tree-like fatality. I’m more of the butterfly. Oh, I miss him so. And he hasn’t left me yet.
Q: Yes. Not yet.
A: All right! You’re making me cross now, and that will never do. What colour is this smell, do you think?
Q: The hospital smell?
A: Yes. It’s a pale yellow. Straw, perhaps. Well, I know it’s silly. You see, we had been talking over the previous three months about the nature of time.
Q: Time?
A: Henry was coming to the conclusion that there could be no such thing as the present, no measurable thing. Because the moment you’ve observed something, it’s in the past. Time is fleeting. It’s not a commodity you can save, or preserve, for later use.
I look on the other side of the present. I see everything in terms of the future: before I paint a stroke, I know what it’ll be like, how it will appear, because I’ve lived with that paint stroke all my life. In fact, no matter what I’m doing, I’ve been waiting all my life to do it, and that’s what makes it all so exciting. Henry isn’t like that. He can’t be like that. That’s why he loves old and beautiful things. And that’s why we are the perfect couple. For us, there is no present. There’s only the future, and the past.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sunday Scribbles, IV

And here we are, another Sunday.

First, the news. I spotted a squib in the 'paper yesterday: a very short story, no more than a paragraph. It told of a political uprising in Yemen.5000 demonstrators, waving placards, etc, wanting a bit of political reform. Security forces opened fire, killing 12 people,and injuring scores more. This is a hugely important story. It shows us that there's a real undercurrent in the Middle East of regular citizens wanting change. It shows us that the so-called “Muslim world” (which doesn't really exist) is crumbling. The power of the Mullahs is propped up by fear of the gun and fear of god. I don't care what Mao Zhedong said: power does not come from the barrel of a gun. It comes from the people on the street. The best and most lasting power is that which is given, not taken.
This story, so vital to our understanding of a troubled part of the world, was just 12 lines long. Fair enough, I thought: the Yemen's a pretty locked-down sort of place. Getting news might be difficult. So there should be more on this in the evening news on tele. It's so important that it should, at least, be in the first three or four stories they broadcast. Yeah, well. No such luck. No mention. Of course, the Yemen isn't of strategic importance: not much oil to speak of, and they don't eat many Kiwifruit.
Shame on TV3, I say. People are killed for asking for what we take for granted – political freedom – and they ignore it.

The shoot for episode one of the second series of “Legends of the Seeker” has finished. I gather it'll be on air in March of next year. In it, I am a terrified towensperson, forever running away from danger. Typecasting.

We're off to the movies this afternoon: a real special treat. It's a Film Festival flick, and there's a small story behind our eagerness to see it. A few weeks ago, I got the graphic novel “Coraline”, by Neil Gaiman, from the library. I read it, and passed it on enthusiastically to Jenny, saying it was extraordinarily good, and I could see a film-maker like Peter Jackson turning it into an exceptional movie. Three days later we picked up the Film Festival programme, and there it was. PJ won't have a chance to make it. Perhaps he'll be remaking it in forty years time.

READING: Well, nothing – art from Harry P. I've started a couple of other books, but they didn't inspire me. About time to open the new John Connolly, “The Lovers”. That'll do the trick.

LISTENING TO: The radio. Actually, Radio New Zealand National. Whew! What a mouthful!

WORD OF THE DAY: Ignorant. If I rely on TV News, I'll end up ignorant.


Mary makes most of her own clothing. She buys shoes and underwear and hosiery, and things like the pink and white candy-striped tights as well. But her dresses and skirts and gowns and smocks and blouses and hats she sews and stitches and blocks and creates for herself. And she makes them almost exclusively from a cabinet of over two thousand Butterick and Style and Vogue sewing patterns from the 1950s and 1960s that she bought as a job lot at an auction a long, long time ago.

In a galaxy far, far away.

The dress is green. Emerald green, like the stockings. It is definitely of the 1950s, and her mother might well have worn one. But probably not; it’s a cocktail dress, of shot silk, buttoned tightly with two rows of buttons that march up her belly to just under her breasts, and then the collar flairs outward and upward, eat your heart out Ming the Merciless, and the sleeves are tight over her arms, coming to point half-way down the backs of her hands. The black velvet sash circles her waist, and is tied with an extravagant bow over her left hip. The skirt flares and glows and swirls and sparkles, and she laughs and grins, and slips on a pair of candy-apple green pumps, cocks her finger gun, shoots the mirror, and says “Cowabunga, dude.”
Then she went downstairs, and spoke to her Henry, and gave him the gift, and he smiled. Then he grinned. Then he put his head back and laughed.“Oh, Mary, Mary. Wonders will never cease, not as long as I love you.”
The fog had vanished.
That night, Henry slept, and dreamed of a broad, open green field, where he ran, and ran, and ran.

Chapter Ten
Love Songs of Old Girlfriends, 2.

What is it that makes a couple like Henry and Mary?
It has been suggested by people who haven’t known them very long that theirs is the perfect relationship, made so by being secure and safe, and because they had faced only small hardships.
After all, they had never been burdened by a mortgage, had a fine, upstanding son, and less than a quarter-acre of lawns to mow. Mary had talent, beauty, and the sort of fame that meant that her pictures would be recognised while her picture wouldn’t. Henry enjoyed the respect and friendship of a town, and was well rewarded for the job he did at Brunton, McAllister, and Whey, Barristers and Solicitors to half the town.
But, like most couples, there have been brambles in their garden. Brambles that had twined their thorny tendrils about them and had nearly choked them to death.

It was like this:

Henry was mad with grief. It tore at him, a physical entity, a beast that clawed at his mind and heart. His despair was total: he had never thought that he could ever love another girl, but Miriam had stolen his heart and soul, and was now in front of him, dead. She was pure and beautiful, with an unruly skull-cap of curly brown hair, and Henry loved her with all his might, and now she was here, in front of him, dead.
His face was numb, his hands shaking, his thoughts a distant clacking, a hollow thrumming in his head. She was his Miriam, his life, his soul, and she was in front of him now, and she was dead. He picked up her limp body, and held her close to his chest, and moaned, and wept, and groaned, and he stayed like that for an eternity, and he grieves for her yet.
He had never seen sunshine as clearly as he had when he was with her. He had never smelt roses so sweet as when he was sharing them with her. He had showered her with kisses and held her hand and been in utter, blind, perfect love with her.

And now she was dead.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

UFOs, and TVCs

Just a short one today - my time's pretty tight. I'll be working for the next two days on "Legends of the Seeker", and they tend to be 15 hour days: so I probably shan't be writing anything then, either.

I was clearing my emails this morning (unemployed as I am, I still get 10 to 15 emails a day. Some of them are from friends - the rest seem to assume I have aproblem with having a tiny dick that I can't get up any more.

Anyway: there was an email from the Skeptics Society today: always a welcome sight in the Inbox. There's always something new there, and this week it was a link to a YouFace of a Larry King Live programme on UFOs, featuring the Skeptic Society's prez and editor, Michael Shermer: one sceptical face among five True Believers. Although, it must be said, Shermer did get a little help from Buzz Aldrin half way through.

Anyways. It was the usual "Hallelujah, I Believe, oh Lordy lordy, I Beleive, come and get me, visitors from 240 light years away etc" from everyone, with Shermer trying to get a few words of sanity in there somewhere.

But that wasn't what I wanted to talk about. The whole programme, commercials and all, had been downloaded onto YouTube.

Bloody hell. I thought our commercials were dire. Frankly, even the Frank Allan Tyres commercial makes the best of the sampling I saw look like a work of communications genius. I saw about 15 commercials -it was a full hour show, anhd most, if not all, commercials were 60"long. Two were of my email correspondents' businesses: getting my little dick up. Several were for treatments for ailments that sounded as though they'd been invented purely for the snake-oil they were selling, and several more were for prescription medicines. The capper was avery, very long one featuring wotsisname Wagner from that TV show thirty years ago about a Mr and Mrs private detective set up. He was hawking a reverse mortgage company, one of the most vile facets of the finance business.* And there was a really expensive one for a Cadillac. If it was indicative of GM's TVCs, it's no wonder General Motors went bust.

In all cases, including wotsisname wagner, the acting was appalling. The scripts were rank - and really did seem to be written by people whose third language was English.

I gather Larry King's pretty big in the States - I understand he attracts upwards of 60 million viewers. So why were their commercials so uniformly bad?

As I say - in comparison, the poorest and worst of ours shine out like beacons of rare creativity in comparison.

*I will not- can not - refer to anything called "The Finance Industry" for exactly the same reason I won't talk about the "Real Estate Industry". Neither group have ever actually made anything. And industry's purpose is to build, create, and make stuff. tangible stuff.

LISTENING TO: Ray Davies "Other people's Lives". Yes, the Kink. His forst solo album, two years old now. It's brilliant. buy it. At once.

READING: harry Potter. Big fat book, and very good.

MORE HENRY: You're coming up to some good bits. Finally!

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of Authors and Poets that Henry will always recommend.
Stephen Hunter
Bernard Cornwell
Philip Pullman
Neville Shute
Sam Hunt
Joseph Conrad
William Shakespeare
Leonard Cohen
Robert Graves
Dennis Lehane
James Lee Burke
Terry Pratchett
Wilfred Owen
John Connolly
Dan Simmons

Look, Ma. They’re all men.

Chapter Nine
The silken mist.

Mary Talbot is, it has already been said, a mainstay of our Henry’s life. And now that Henry had enjoyed the first fruits of his bullet and crisis, she decided that she would be the mainstay of the rest of his life, no matter how short that may be.
This much is true: Mary knows her man. She knows him to be stiff-necked, to be stubborn, to be inflexible, to be dull and dowdy and forest green and plaid jackets and old-fashioned cars and a rack of pipes that he’s never, ever smoked.
“It’s just that they look good in my study, sweetheart.”
“Did I say anything?”
“You looked.”
“Of course I looked. I’m a good-looker.”
“Yes,” he said, smiling, and ignoring the hyphen. “You are.”
She also knows that inside that stuffed shirt lives a loving, living, vital, caring, simply wonderful man. Of course she also recognises and understands that she may be biased.
“But not much, Charlie. I don’t think many people see my Henry the way I see him, but the lucky few who do know precisely what I’m talking about.”
“I’ve been his sister for an awfully long time,” replied Charlie. “All my life, really. And it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve admitted to myself that because Henry’s the man he is, is why I’ve tended to churn through men. I never realised that I was looking for another Henry.”
“Poor you.”
“But I found one.”
“Wolf?”“But uff cuss, Frau Talbot!”
“A bit of a difference in size.”
“Not where it counts, dear girl. Wolf’s lederhosen hide a demon snake of immense proportions!”
“I wonder if he’d pose for me –“
“Nude? He’s been wanting to, ever since he saw the sketch you made of him. Actually, since before then: from the moment he met you!”
“I think I’ll wait,” Mary laughed, “‘til later.”
Mary has an intense belief in life and love and goodness, and Henry has been heard to remark that was because she had a great belief in herself. When Henry told her about the early diagnosis, about the visitor in his head, he felt that he had been violated. For Mary, it was a knife to the heart. But it was a wound the agony of which she had to conceal. The Painting (for her, it was always capitalised. The Painting was her mirror on her life: the love and pain Miriam and her son and husband had given her, the love and sorrow she shared with them. But more of that later.) had been in the periphery of her sight, and when Henry had uttered those words –

“I spoke with Joe Know,” said Henry, “and he tells me that I may only have six months to live.”

- the colours twisted and smoked and writhed on the canvas, and all went black, and she went to Henry, and took his strength, and looked again, and saw the laughter and love and joy of the past thirty-eight years, and she started to understand that she and Henry had been given a gift.
But right now was not the time to open it.
That time came later, an hour or so before the family came to 22 Talbot Terrace.
That time came after much thought, and careful consideration.
That time came after Mary had left Henry alone, sitting in the big overblown ugly deep-buttoned leather armchair in his brown study.
“I need a moment or two to myself, Mary. Do you mind?”
She had been watching him carefully, all morning. He’d enjoyed a good breakfast, after Baz Thorndike had left, taking the baby-faced Gibbs with him. By that time, Baz had been sworn to secrecy by Mary, who had, of course, told the burly copper everything.
“Christ, Mary. Why didn’t he say anything about it.”
“Family first, Baz, you know that. Even before the best of his friends.”
“Yeah, but Jesus. There’s no mistake?”
“Almost definitely not. Joe’s a good doctor, and he wouldn’t make a mistake like that. Now don’t say anything, Barry. You hear me? He's trying to keep on an even keel, and it’s hard. Precious hard. You’re not to say anything to him.”
“I won’t. You know that, Mary. I won’t. Stiff upper lip, wot!”
Her laugh was a carillion in his head, the chiming of a thousand silver bells, a balm to the bleeding gash that had just been torn in his life.
Mary had drunk the banana, yoghurt, raspberry, and peach smoothy Henry had made, shooed him off to his study, organised a few details with Charlie and sent her off on some errands, then gone to change.
She had been wearing candy-striped tights under a huge floppy black sweater – her best Audrey Hepburn look – but decided that she needed to be flamboyant. She needed colour, she needed style, she needed pizzazz and rumpty-ha-ha-ha! And she had just the outfit that gave it to her.
First, the underwear: fire engine red knickers and bra, and a pair of emerald green stockings. Thank god suspender belts weren’t needed in these elastic-topped days.

Then, the dress.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Moon Landings, Conspiracies, and Life.

When the moon landings happened (or did they?!) a phrase was made that should be inscribed on the hearts of everyone alive: "We now live on a world that has put a man on the world."

There are many poeople who insist that we don't, in fact, live on a world that has put a man on the moon. They insist that the whole endeavour was a Hollywood fabrication, done to scupper them dirty ol' Reds in Russia and their filthy Communist dreams of Space Domination, and to demonstrate that the Mighty You Ess of A was that greatest nation in the world. Ever. So there.

A Cold War lie,in other words. I have two close friends - people whose minds and reasoning abilities I otherwise admire and respect - who hold this belief. This astonishes me, and gives me cause to stop and investigate my prejudices once again. My unthinking mind tells me that people who are capableof independent, critical thought would never hold such viewes. Just goes to show. These people, of course, remain respected friends. It's just that I now look at them a little differently.

A year or so ago I was having a quiet yarn with my father, and he told me that he was a part of the radar team who spotted a Japanese reconnaisance aircraft, escorted by several fighter aircraft, on its way to New Zealand's pacific shores during the Second World War. The RNZAF radar team he was a part of directed a squadron of New Zealand interceptors to the Japanese craft, and the enemy planes were destroyed. My relationship with my father changed at that moment. I had never known that he had been wholly or even partially responsible for the deaths of about a dozen fellow human beings. His rationale for doing so was exemplary, of course - but I had always imagined his war years to have been unstained by combat of any description. Now, crushingly, I saw that he still felt the burden of that occasion. That day in 1944 changed him, and the day he told me about it changed me, and my perception of him..

The day Armstrong stepped onto the moon changed everyone on Earth. The vast majority, of course, knew nothing about it. Vast swathes of Africa, India, and Asia still had no radio or television communication: they were lucky if they had sporadic electricity. But to the hundreds of millions who had access to a television set or radio, the future suddenly changed. We now lived on a world that had put a man on the moon.

The conspiracy stories started almost immediately. With a staggering lack of evidence or proof - but with a determined hatred of tall poppies - nay-sayers picked up their bullhorns, and started spouting their bull. Their reasoning was (and remains) that it's a lot easier to have tens of thousands of individuals join together in an enormous lie, and for many hundreds of journalists suddenly and completely lose their incredulity and investigative powers on this one topic only than it is to actually acheive something magnificent.

I have friends who believe in a god of some description, and I would never reject them for that - so I must make allowances for the friends who believe, against the evidence, that the moonlandings where all faked.

My real concern for the past thirty-odd years is that despite the fact that we live on a world that has put a man on the moon... we've forgotten it. Right now we're indulging in a bit of a PR orgy of hey, wow, gee whiz we did it-mania. But what will be top-of-mind in three months time?

I think mankind needs something magnificent to do. Getting mack on the Moon, and using it as a springboard to the planets would be a fine thing indeed. And it's something we can all have a part in... and it's something that will benefit us all.

If we set aside $10 for every man, woman, and child in the developed world twice a year for the next ten years, we'd be able to contribute $60 billion a year to the international space exploration agency. And even though I am currently very poor, I have my first ten dollars in small change available right now. I won't miss it. And I won't miss watching thye tele for the next time we get a man on the moon.

LISTENING TO: Blind Faith. Clapton at the height of his powers. Brilliant.

READING: Neil Gaiman, "American Gods" and JK Rowling "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows".

WORD OF THE DAY: Curiosity. Without curiosity, mankind would still be in the trees.

MORE HARRY! Time to find out about The Painting....

“The painting?” There was a small smile on Henry’s face, and Buster Gibbs later swore that Henry Talbot’s face glowed when he turned to the portrait.
“Yes, Sir. The Painting.”
“Everyone wants to know about the painting.” And Henry’s mind flashed back all those years. He still remembers what he had been doing when the knock came at his door on the second floor of 147 Upland Road, in Wellington’s leafy Kelburn. He had managed, just, to do three hundred press-ups on the trot. He didn’t really know why he needed to do them, but there was something black and nasty at the back of his mind, a heavy despair, and he wanted to sweat it out. The blood was pounding in his ears, his arms and neck and shoulders and back and gut were quivering, and perspiration was running into his eyes and he was thinking that he had another twenty in him, and there came three sharp raps on the door.
He stopped, and his muscles immediately started to freeze and lock in place. He let go, collapsing, and called out “half a mo’, be right there.”
And, yes, in half a mo’, he was. Mind you, it was a mo’ that seemed to last for a few decades. His right arm was cramping up, the bicep turning into a vicious little ball of steel-hard acid, and he turned the doorknob, and pulled the door open towards him.
“The top right hand corner of the frame smacked me right between the eyes. Not this frame: it’s been changed half-a-dozen times since then. Whims and fancies. The frame it had then had sharp corners, and this one opened up a wound. The scar’s still there.”
Gibbs looked. A triangular scar, right where Dirty Harry shot the bad guys.
The painting had only been started then, but Henry wasn’t to know that. All he knew was that his arm hurt, he had a five-foot high thing that was trying to kill him, and blood was pouring into his eyes.
He heard a whistle from the front of the house, and raced to his window. Looking down on the steep walkway which led up to his bed-sit, he saw her: flame red hair, pale oval of a face, flashing green eyes, and a cheesy grin. She waved, and trotted down the step to the roadside, where she hopped into the passenger side of a red Mini with a Union Jack painted on the roof, and raced off. The painting thumped to the floor, and he turned back to it, wondering who was driving the Mini. Then he thought of Hazel, and he blushed, knowing what the black thing was that had made him hammer his body. Not Hazel’s fault, of course. He could have said no. Yeah, right.
The painting was, happily, face up. There were five brush-strokes on the prepared canvas, and a few dots. The background had been prepared and painted a reasonably uniform grey, a little paler where there was a flash of curling red. A dot of green with an even tinier golden dot, a sensuous brown slash down one side, and, looking at it, Henry immediately knew what Mary would look like, naked. He blushed. Two more lines showed where the hands would be, and there was a vague hint, a mere wisp of shadow of a fog of, my god, it’s her, her, and he grabbed the painting and pulled it into his room, and made a space for it on the wall, and hung it. It wasn’t until the next week that he noticed her signature: Mary Talbot.
“She came by again, a month later, and added a couple of lines, a shadow, and now, after nearly, what, 25-odd years, give or take, with an addition here, an erasure there, that’s it. So far. It’s a work in progress, and probably will be until the day I, well, the day I die. Or the day she dies, probably.”
“It’s stunning, Sir.”
“Right,” said Buster Gibbs.
“Look there: that’s Adam, our son. See him? He’s in Greece now, with Gussy, his grandmother, my Mum. And there, in that curve: our first holiday away, overseas. We went to Rarotonga.”
It has, in fact, taken Mary a little over 26 years to get to this stage of the painting. Buster Gibbs doesn’t know it, but he is the first person to have heard Henry Talbot be vague about numbers. If Mary had been listening to the conversations, she would have fallen from her chair with shock.
The two men talked about the painting for another twenty minutes (well, 17 minutes 37 seconds, if you must be Henry-ish about it), and by the time Barry Thorndike came to collect him, Buster Gibbs was another Henry Talbot convert. Not that it did Henry any good: Buster couldn’t bring himself to call the older man Hank, and never would.
Buster’s hero-worship of Henry that day wasn’t to last too long, however, because immediately following his Senior Sergeant into the Talbot’s living room was Mrs Talbot herself.
“Ah, sweetheart: you’ve not met Barry’s youngest and latest addition,” boomed Henry. “Brian Gibbs, a.k.a. Buster; Mary Talbot, the painter.”
“Gosh,” said Buster Gibbs. A woman of forty-something shouldn’t look this good. I thought Charlie was a looker. Oh, hell: she’s almost old enough to be my Mum, and I’m thinking dirty thoughts. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs Talbot.” All he’d done was look into her eyes. The whites were clear, the green irises were as deep as a forest pool. Funny: is that a gold fleck there?
Many people think Mary Talbot’s eyes to be her best feature, which is saying something. Their perfect oval shape makes them appear larger than they really are. They are set quite deeply, and when she smiles her cheeks rise over those perfect bones, and the eyes become half-moons, cheeky and laughing.
“Please, Buster. Call me Mary.”
“Yes, ma’am.” And Buster blushed. Barry Thorndike snorted, and grabbed the Constable’s arm, and pulled him away.
“Come on Gibbs. We’re on a hiding to nothing here.”
Charlie came in, and raised her hand. “Sir?”
“Would you mind terrifically if I took the day off? My desk’s pretty clear, and I think that Henry and Mary might need me for the next few hours.”
Not the way I’ve needed you, thought Gibbs, and blushed again. What was it about older women?
“Righto,” said Barry Thorndike, the boss with a heart of stone. “We owe you a couple of month’s-worth in lieu anyway.”
“Thankyou, Sir.”
That night, Henry slept, and dreamed of broken glass clogging his throat, staining his lips red.

Q: So the whole thing was a waste of time, then?
A: No, not really.
Q: You sure?
A: No.
Q: You said that Mary was your strength through that first month.
A: She always has been, hasn’t she. Yeah, I was all at sixes and sevens. The only way I knew which way was up was by checking which way my bum pointed when I was on my feet.
Q: Very droll.
A: Oh, up yours. Look, here I was at the ragged end of life, shocked, and for the first time ever in my life I didn’t know what to do.
Q: So – what did you do?
A: I asked Mary. Of course.
Q: And?
A: And she asked me if I wanted to die. I said no. It’s a pretty unusual sort of person who has a burning desire to go shuffling off the coil, mortal or otherwise.
Q: Yes. And?
A: She told me not to.
Q: Not to?
A: Yes. Not to die. It was the most perfect thing she could have said.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bombs, and bad manners

I just don't get it. Maybe I'm dim, but it seems to me that if I had a political cause I wanted to promote then I probably wouldn't immediatelty reach for the bag of explosives. The latest round of explosive political argument in Indonesia is not only stupid, it's also, well, bad manners.

The idea of slaughtering innocent people to promote your polical or religious cause in time-honoured, of course. Mankind's been doing it for millennia. And it can hardly be described as a bad thing to defend yourself from such hairy-eyed idiots. But what I don't get is why they think it's a really good idea to turn a bunch of of strangers into jellimeat? how is that ever going to helppeople understand or sympathise with their arguments?

Yes, of course they're fanatics. They are incapable of listening to another's point of view. Their way is the only way. They have no tolerance for argument, for nuance, for empathy. They are emotionally and intellectually stunted. Even so, they must have the odd rational moment. I can imagine their boardroom meetings (and, in order to not sound racist, or culturalist, or even istist, I'll name my Terror Executives as B1, B2, B3, and so on. The "B", of course, stands for Bomber.):

B1: Order. The Hairy-Eyed Terror Executive must come to order. Thankyou.

B2: Thanks, B1. Now, like all true Hairy-Eyed believers, I know that it's impewritive that everyone we know, and as well as everyone else, must follow the hairy-Eyed creed. Am I not right?

(General mutterings of yeah, too right, well said B2, etc.

B2: So what I'm suggesting is a nice ad campaign. We'll start of small, and,as funds roll in from new Hairy-Eyes, we'll expand it out so that by the time the World cup comes around we can make a positive statement to the entire world. Remember that 17 billion people will be watching the Grand final, live from Eden Park: a well-placed message there will surely help everyone see us as the serious candidates for world supremacy that we really are.

B7: Nicely put, B2. I have a friend in advertising. She can help us draw up the positive paradigms of our campaign. Put an emotionally uplifting spin on our objectives. It's not much we want, after all: simply world dominance. And who doesn't wnat that for their children, eh?

B1: Hang on, B7. Nice offer, but aren't you forgetting rule 3 (B[iii]IV) of the Hairy-Eyes Charter? The one that says that even before we try winning their hearts and minds, we have to kill a whole bunch of people? I've perrsonally always found that killing strangers has been of enormous benefgit in promoting a cause. Why, when i was in the Jolly Rogers -

B2: (sotto voce) Here we go again, guys*.

B1: We blew up a holden Commodore full of Trappist monks. Worked a btreat. One minute nobody knew about us, the next minute we had a Trappist jam, and the whole world knew of us. Brilliant. Ah, those were the days.

B7: Right, B1, thanks for that. So we bomb the Grand Final, kill a lot of folk, and immediately everyone else in the world will come flocking to our cause? That's the basic argument?

B2: Flocking well said, B7. Calm, rational, didactic. Whatever that means.

*They're always guys.

Dumb. The terrorist in Indonesia are just dumb. Brutally so. Andwe can'tgo easy on them. It's up to Key and his cronies to offer the peoplef Indonesia all the help we can give to stamp these mad buggers out. Remember that Indonesia's the fourth most populous country in the world... and they're our neighbours. It's only good manners to offer to help your biggest neighbours. it's also good politics.

READING: Kelly Armstrong's "Bitten". Hilarious - a modern day feminist werewolf yarn.

LISTENING TO: Ry Cooder's "My Name Is Buddy". Excellent.

WORD OF THE DAY: Polemic. lookiit up.

Time for more Henry, folks!

My Mother, who can be an appalling creature at times, has told me that she thought it was delightful.
My son? Well, I think Adam’s still working it through, but he will get it. Actually, I rather think that he may understand that the shooting was a good thing in its context, but the – hell, how can I expect him to understand it? I barely understand it.
The other first – well, it wasn’t, really. I know that Charlie is dining out on the story of how I told people to go away, yes, all right, to fuck off, and how it was the first time I had ever used “bad” language, but it’s not true. I well recall when I was in the 7th Form at Northbridge High, and we were playing our annual First XV game against the Marist boys, and Bill Townsley, the Marist First-Five coat-hangered me: a rigid forearm against my throat when I was running flat out. I well recall telling him exactly what I thought of him, and it did include the use of that word. In fact, I told him he was a fucking loser.
He apologised later, and we became rather good friends.
Anyway. Where was I? Ah, yes. Oddly enough, Wolf – Charlie’s hubby – helped the whole thing along. The telling the family thing, I mean.
The night seemed endless. Mary and I sat together, and sometimes there’d be a burst of words, sometimes we sat in that silence in which we tell each other so much more than we ever can verbally. Charlie was a brick. She phoned around, eventually getting in touch with Sybil at two in the morning. She made no mention of what was going on, simply told the Sybling she had to be here later in the morning. She made sure everyone was set up to come around at 10.30, 11. See, I had to see Barry Thorndike first thing in the morning. Joe Know had apparently called him and told him that I shouldn’t be interviewed, that taking a statement when I was still groggy from Joseph’s gentle and tireless ministrations would not serve justice at all well. Baz had called Charlie’s cellphone, and together we made an 8.30 appointment.
Q: How did that go? The first police interview?
A: You know, I think I can remember the conversation verbatim. Barry knocked on the door on the stroke of 8.30. He was all very fine in his uniform, with that young C.I.D. plain-clothed copper, one of Charlie’s colleagues at his side. Funny guy: he was hugely embarrassed, and very quiet. Well, initially, anyway. Here’s how it went.

Charlie was rinsing a few dishes at the sink, and making a hell of a din. Her mind was still filled with the thought that she’d be losing Henry. Well, no, it wasn’t guaranteed yet, tomorrow’s appointment up in Auckland would sort that out, but still. And Henry just up and deciding to resign! Well, retire, really. Still, he’s always been good with money. Thank god Wolf’s a he-man with a chequebook and credit card: I was zillions in debt when we got together. Anyway, what’s that bloody noise? Oh. The door. Bloody reporters.
“Coming, hold your dick!” She went to the door, ready to slug the reporter who would be standing there. She opened the door to see the heavy blue uniform with the sparkly little silver bits. Barry Thorndike, her boss. Shit. Hiding behind big Baz was a smaller man, younger, a lad trying to grow a moustache. Brian Gibbs, aka Buster, due to an unfortunate incident involving half a dozen coffee cups at the canteen on his first day.
“Oh. Sorry Sir. Thought you were another blood – another reporter. Is it that time already? Come in, come in,” Christ I’m babbling like a schoolgirl. “Henry’s just having a quick shave, cup of coffee or tea? Hello, Buster. Here to take notes? If you can get something out of our Henry then you’re a better man than I am.”
Brian looks at her, knowing full-well that she can slaughter half the men on the force at arm wrestling. “I’ll never be a better man than you, Sergeant,” he replies.
“How sweet,” she smiles at him, and yes, he is dazzled. She is quite an amazing looking woman.
“Coffee, please,” says her boss. “And you, Gibbs: stop looking at Sergeant Schmidt as though she’s the treasure of the Sierra Madre.”
“Shut your mouth, man: you’re drooling.”
Charlie smiles at Buster Gibbs again, is rewarded with another blush, and heads to the kitchen. Really, it’s too easy.
The Senior Sergeant walks through to the living room, and raises his eyes to the painting beside the fireplace. Barry Thorndike’s been in this home more times than he can count, and he’s seen the decor change on almost a seasonable basis. Mary has always been a firm believer in colour, dammit: the beiges and taupes of this world were not, and will not be an option! White, maybe: in fact, she had once tricked out the entire interior of the house flat white – but changed it the moment she saw the same thing on “Miami Vice.”
But one thing remained the same, and that was by Henry’s firm dictum, made more than twenty years ago:
“I don’t care what you do to the rest of the house, my dear, but there are two things I must put my foot down about. One: you leave my study alone. It is for my pleasure, and my pleasure alone, and if I want a brown study, then a brown study I shall have!”
She dabbed some lime-green paint on the end of his nose, and said “I hear and obey, my lord and master!”
“Cheeky wench. I’ll lord and master you.”
“Oh, please!”
“Hmph. And second, that picture must remain there. Please?”
The painting in question is a large piece, perhaps 1700 mill high, 800 wide, and is an early-and-middle-and-late Mary Talbot full-length self-portrait. It is the first piece she gave Henry, and it had arrived on his doorstep in his third year at Victoria. At the time she had signed it “Mary Talbot.”

“Use your own name, Mary. Your own name.”
“I’ll use the name of my love,” she replied. And dazzled him with her smile.

The painting in question is one of two things – well, maybe three - of Henry’s that Barry is desperately jealous of. The other is his collection of single-malt whiskies, maintained at an even thirty bottles, all opened, all tasted, all appreciated. And we’ll leave Mary out of the rest of this equation, despite her membership.
Henry limped into the room, carrying a tray with coffee and buttered toast. He set them down on the table, and poured three cups. Not a word was spoken. Henry knows all too well that Barry needs time with the painting, and respects that time. After all, Henry himself still got lost in it several times a week, even after all these years.
Barry Thorndike drew in a deep breath, sighed, and said “A spot of milk today, if you’d be so kind, Henry.”
“Already done, Baz.”
Gibbs nearly choked. Baz! There’s someone in this world who called The Boss “Baz”? And it’s this bloke! I mean, look at him. All right, a big fellow, obviously fit, but a face that’s as plain and bland as Mum’s vege broth. Nondescript hair, bit of a nancy wave in it, green corduroy trousers! Who wears green corduroy trousers, hell, any corduroy trousers, these days? I’ll bet he’s got one of those tweed jackets with bits of leather on the elbows. And oh good grief, a red and blue-check flannel shirt. Still, they do say heroes come in all manner of shapes and sizes, and he did stop an armed man, getting himself shot in the process.
“And you would be?” Henry asked, with a gentle smile.
“Eh? Oh, sorry, Sir, I’m Brian Gibbs. My friends – including your sister, call me Buster.”
“Well, I hope you’ll extend the privilege to me – Buster.” Henry held out his hand, and Buster Gibbs took it. Christ all bloody mighty! The man’s got a grip of iron. Buster looked a little deeper at Henry, and saw something he hadn’t expected. Something feral. Something with a wicked grin. This can’t have been the same man The Boss had talked about on their way over here.
“Right,” said Thorndike. “I’ll be talking with Mary a little later, Henry. But I need to have a few words with you first. You OK with this?”
Henry sighs. He knows he must do this, but he desperately doesn’t want to. Actually, a part of him is intrigued: he’s never had any dealings with Baz as a copper before, and he’s an entirely different man. “Yes,” says Henry to the stranger in the blue uniform. “Yes, let’s get it done.”
Thorndike looks at Henry closely, and turns to the junior officer. “Gibbs, start the recorder. Good lad. This is an interview conducted on Wednesday June 4th, the time is 8.37, I’m Senior Sergeant Barry M. Thorndike, with me is Detective Constable Brian Gibbs, no middle initial, and we’re talking to?” He invites the answer.
“Henry Talbot, Baz. The one and only Henry Talbot.”
The tape, when you hear it now, has a long pause at this junction. Then it carries on.
“Are you all right, Henry? You don’t seem to be quite yourself.”
“Of course I’m not myself, Baz. I’ve been shot. I am holey, I have been perforated, a perfectly good suit has been ruined, you can bet that the insurance company won’t pay out for it, my car’s headlamp, almost irreplaceable now, has been thoroughly buggered up, I slept very little last night, and I have an important family conference happening here very soon. So, if you’d be so kind as to ask me your Constabulatory questions, we’ll get this whole business done with so I can carry on with my life.”

Six months, Henry thought.

He said, “buggered up,” Barry Thorndike thought. How extraordinary.
“How’s your coffee, young Buster?” asked Henry.
“Oh, good, Sir. Thanks.”
“Call me Hank, there’s a good little Detective Constable.”
Hank? “Yes, Sir,” quaked the boy.
Thorndike took over. “Right, let’s keep this official then, shall we? Now, can you describe, in your own words, what happened yesterday?”
“In my own words, Baz? As opposed to, say, Mahatma Ghandi’s words? And what part of the day. Come on man, be specific! You’re a gentrified Copper, worked hard to get where you are, got a good mind, stop waffling.”
“Eh?” It must be, what do they call it, Post Stress Syndrome.
“Oh, forget it. Look: I left Joe Know’s little house of horrors,” six months, he thought, “ and crossed the road to 1: get some cash, and 2: get my car. I had just hauled three hundred bucks out of the infernal machine, the ATM, not my car, when I heard a bang, saw a hole appear in the bank window, then this chap came barrelling out and shot a monitor camera thing, so I flung my money in the air, he watched it, I hit him, the gun went off with a surprisingly small bang –“
“That’s when he shot you, Sir?” Young Buster.
“No, I didn’t say that. I said the gun went off. It is, yes, when I was struck by the bullet, but I can’t say that he shot me.”
“But you were shot.” Barry Thorndike is wondering just what has happened to his old friend. In fact, Barry is three years older than Henry, but has always looked on Henry as being the older man. Now, he’s concerned. Henry’s behaviour is not the behaviour of Henry. And what’s this Hank business?
“But not purposely, Baz. I’m sure that it wasn’t done with any malice. If you charge that young man, whoever it was, with malicious wounding, I’ll haunt you so you die young and white-haired.”
“Hmph. You’ll outlive me, Henry. And you know who it was.”
“Nothing is guaranteed, Baz. Not any more. Now, remember, I was in shock, having found myself in the unaccustomed position of being a shootee. Yes, I removed the young man’s mask, but I was in a swoon, having been overcome with the vapours, and I couldn’t swear to his identity.”
“We’ve got him all right, Sir,” Buster says. “James Fletcher. He had gunpowder residue on his hands, three very nice bruises coming up where you socked him, and a sack full of money that wasn’t his.”
“A bit of a giveaway, that,” said Henry. “Nonetheless, I can’t and shan’t swear to anything.”
“How is your leg, Sir?”
“Ha!” said Henry. “Now there’s a thing, young Buster. Baz here, who’s been a good friend of mine for more years than he can count, didn’t ask me that. You want to know why?”
“Because Baz can only think of two things when he’s coming up my driveway: my whisky, and The Painting.” Henry pointed to the portrait.
“It is quite remarkable, Sir.”
“You know, Buster, I’ve a good mind to leave it to you in my will. Just to get up your boss’s nose.”
“That’s enough, Henry,” snapped Thorndike. He is thoroughly irritated now. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but a screw’s come loose somewhere along the line. Switch the tape off, Gibbs. Henry – do you mind if I speak with Mary? In private?”
“Oh Barry.” Henry’s sigh had the breath of a thousand years behind it. He suddenly sounds exhausted, as though he were insubstantial., thin and wraithlike. “Oh, Barry. Yes, go ahead.”

The recording stops here, but a careful listener (and there have been quite a few) will hear the quiver in Henry’s voice. Barry left the room, in search of Mary, and Henry leaned back, seemingly exhausted. Gibbs looked at him with some concern: the older man’s face was pale, and his eyes were closed.
“Sir? Are you all right?”
Henry’s eyes snapped open. “Yes, fine. Sorry, Buster. I suppose events got on top of me a bit.”
“I can imagine, Sir.”
Henry looked at the young Detective. Was I ever this young, he wondered? The lad can’t have been any more than 22 or 23. The lines at Henry’s eyes crinkled when he watched where the boy’s attention kept wandering.
“Actually, Buster, you can’t. And I hope you never will be able to. But never mind. Now, while the good Senior Sergeant’s busy grilling my wife, what would you like to talk about? Hm? Carry on the in-depth interrogation?”
“Well, actually, Sir –“
“Oh, do call me Hank.”
“Right. Sir. What I wanted to know about is – “
“The painting?” There was a small smile on Henry’s face, and Buster Gibbs later swore that Henry Talbot’s face glowed when he turned to the portrait.
“Yes, Sir. The painting.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Telecom vs 2 degrees

This is the first of my projected TVC critiques,and I thought I'd start on something that's so clear cut as to be unfair.

Telecom, with its budget of mega-gazillions, wanted to launch a new product. OK, not a new product. A product that all Vodaphone subscribers had been using for years - but a product / service that was new for Telecom's patient, long-suffering customers.

And they went at it with a hiss, a roar, and a flub, flub, flub, as the air went out of their tyres.

I can see the Agency's board room now. They were thinking power. They were thinking mass appeal. They were thinking that what their clients and prospective punters wanted was... Richard Hammond. The Hamster. And, to be fair, the pre-launch commercial looked good. American fighter planes, flash speedboats, race cars, Hammond, dressed as the first evil Stig, in a pair of fireproof overalls that are seven sizes too large. Didn't they know Hammond's tiny?

The they looked for a nest, found their own, and crapped in it by carrying the theme on. With Hammond theatrically wincing. With Hammond doing all those cute little Hamster things he's famous for. Oh - and I'd give a doubling of my Telecom bill to have heard the conversations around Telecom's water coolers as they discussed the stock footage of the "their" speedboat turning up in a Lexus commercial this week. Somehow, it's fitting.

They had Hammond wincing and cringing as he statically read some static lines off a Tel-E-Prompter, as a New Zealand fashion designer looked "cross" and "embarrassed" in various places around the world, as she showed that the new service worked in Australia, London, and, oh, there. They had the Hamster taking a photograph of a jet boat with an 800 horsepower that generates 8 gees but no whizz, and - get this - sending a photograph before the boat crossed a finish line. Wince.

It was embarrassing, poorly conceived, and so bloody foreign. It resonated with two or three of the throngs of Kiwis who watch "Top Gear", and the dozens who can afford a flash new designer-label frock.

Compare it to the new 2 degree commercials. A brand-spankin' new company that managed, in a nanosecond, to make themselves a million times more Kiwi than Telecom. Damned if I know who are backing 2 degrees financially. Don't care, either - their TV commercials scream New Zild. Why? Oh, yeah: home-grown talent, home-grown humour, and commercials that stay on message. Does anyone doubt that Rhys Darby had a big hand in writing the scripts? Loggo? I hang out, waiting to hear that line. New Zealand locations... out on a farm! Not in a high-tech studio that looks as though it might well have been TV1's newsroom two years ago.

Telecom 2 out of 10. 2 degrees? 9. Conservatively, that is.


Chapter Eight
Even the thickest fog dissolves under heat.

Q: Looking back on it, can you describe just how difficult it was? For you?
A: It was Mary who helped me. It has always been that way, and always will be. Always, of course, having a somewhat short-term sound to it now.
You know, I can’t figure out right now whether I’m a human-shaped pain, or a pain-shaped human. I didn’t think this sort of pain was possible.
Q: Why won’t you take some relief?
A: No. Perhaps later. The first week after I had been told that my days were numbered, and the total of numbered days was less or may be less than 180, was a blur. Of course, my little adventure outside the bank had helped crystallise a few things for me. The sudden, awful, realisation that life can indeed be measured not in years or months or indeed days but in nano-seconds brought me up short.
I think it can be fairly said that I have never given the appearance of being an imaginative man, but, in truth, I think that I am not unimaginative. It is entirely possible that I am not a demonstrative person, that I am guilty, if that’s the right word, of maintaining a certain decorum in my demeanour regardless of the circumstances.
Well, as Yogi Bera said: I yam what I yam. Or was it Mayer?
And for those first few days, what I was, was scared. But I was also exultant.
Joe Know told me that there are seven stages we go through when anticipating death: fear, anger, bargaining, rejection, begging, depression, and acceptance. They are similar to the seven stages of grief: one grieves and weeps for what will not be.
And the thing that was not to be was, of course, me.
Q: You had no doubt about that? About the lack of being?
A: Oh, absolutely not. I was convinced that death was final. All things considered, still am. You, of course, may beg to differ.
Q: Oh no. No. It’s entirely your own affair.
A: Well, then. At the very least you’re polite. Let’s move on.
After telling Mary, that first evening, I had the task of telling the rest of my family. Indeed: our family. This, it transpired, was uncommonly difficult. Charlie, of course, knew: she had been with us that first evening. Even now, after so much has happened, I remember that night with a startling clarity. I look back on it, and it is looking through a glass, lightly and clearly.
I had decided, perhaps uncharacteristically, that I was going to resign my position at McAlester, Brunton, and Whey, Barristers and Solicitors. Young Jimmy Fletcher did me an enormous favour. I had initially thought, after my discussion with Joe, that I would carry on as before, ensuring that all loose ends were tied, that I would leave Mary well established, with a nice income, and so on, and then just shuffle off this coil quietly and unobtrusively. Like an old cat going down the back of the garden to die among the nasturtiums and pumpkin vines.
Then Jimmy came along with his silly little gun, and I got shot.
It was a great day of firsts for me: it was the first time I had ever been told I was going to die. It’s not something we dwell on, really: intellectually, we know we’re mortal. In an abstract way, we suspect that death is our ultimate destination. However, we also suspect that it is going to happen to someone who is far older than we are: the death of Henry Talbot was going to happen to a Henry Talbot I didn’t know. At least, that’s the way it was, until Joe Know stuck his nose into my affairs and brought the date, and the reality, forward a bit. Six months, he had told me. It had rocked me somewhat, but by the time I was getting my money from the ATM I had come to a sort of understanding, a stoical and completely ridiculous acceptance, of the fact that I was going to be a 95 kilogram slab of dead Talbot in six months time. Possibly more, possibly less. Then there was the Jimmy incident, and my second first of the day: I got shot.
Now, you’ll notice that I said that I got shot. I did not say Jimmy shot me, because he didn’t. I had hit him very hard, three times, and his finger tightened on the trigger. I hit him because I was starting to feel the initial rage that all but consumed me in that first week or two.
Q: A little earlier you said it was fear.
A: Did I? Fear, rage, what’s the difference? Is there a difference? I don’t know that there is. I rage because I am scared, I am fearful because of my anger. Don’t you see? I had spent a lifetime of being in control. And, for Pete’s sake, please stop interrupting. Just let me tell the story in my own way. I’m sure any little contradictions will be straightened out.
After all, what are we but a mess of contradictions?
Q: I only meant –
A: Sod what you only meant. I don’t care what you “only meant”. If I must tell this story, then you butting in every five minutes isn’t going to be helpful. Frankly, I’d rather tell you to sod off completely, but I’m not sure that that’s an option.
Is it?
Q: No.
A: Right. As I thought. Now, where was I? Ah, yes: Jimmy. I was invited to attend Jimmy’s trial, and condemn him there. Find me one who is without sin, I say. And, to be fair, I was preoccupied with other matters: more on that later.
Mary understood almost immediately that my getting shot was the best thing that could have ever happened to me, regardless of the illness. My Mother, who can be an appalling creature at times, has told me that she thought it was delightful.

Monday, July 13, 2009


It's been a few days too long since my last posting, and I beg your forgiveness. In my defence, I can state that I've been putting in 12 and 15-hour days on Legends of the Seeker, butg frankly a lot of that was down-time. If I'd taken my notebook with me, I could have spent some time tap-tap-tapping out a blog or two.

I have had several thoughts about things for the future.. and it's the future I want to ruminate on right now.

Because, yes, I have finally become a grandfather. Georgia (Gorgeous Georgia) was born on Sunday the 12th of July, at around 5.30am. Weighing in at a healthy 3.3 kilos, and with the designated number of finger and toes, she's apparently very cute. She obviously takes after her mother, who is actually more stunningly beautiful than cute, but one hopes that Georgia will grow into that.

It's odd, but I feel an overwhelming love for this child. I've not seen her, and the chances are excellent that I shan't see her until she's walking, talking, and exchanging Platonic sophistries on campus at Melbourne's university campus. Hopefully a little before then, of course. But it will be a while - and yet, I feel intensely protective of her.

When Adam first told me that Gabrielle was pregnant, I was so happy I could have farted. It was an exceptional day. The day he told me the name they'd chosen, I wanted to tell every stranger I saw on the street. But on Sunday, I nearly burst with joy after receiving the text announcing her safe arrival. And the following, on set at LOTS, I told one of my friends - and imemdiately word got around. Two of the kids involved in the shoot found out about it, and immediately adopted me as their "Set Grandad". That was very cool.

I know one shouldn't really over-analyse happiness. It should really just be something of the moment: but I can't help asking myself why I'm so damned chuffed. And, so help me, I cannotg come up with an answer. All I can really do is work on the knowledge that georgia will have a better father than my sons did, and hope that I have a chnace to prove to myself that I will be a terrific grandad.

It's likely I will post another blog today: it's afternoon now, and I had a spare half hour. I have some work to do on a couple of projects that I have also been neglecting, and mjust get to those.

In the future I am going to do a weekly TV commercial critique, and I think I shall be kicking off the first one tonight, when Jenny's watching "Coronation Street". Why such an otherwise perfect sheila would indulge in two hours of mind-rotting television every week I don't know - but it's a good time for me to get away and consider life, the universe, and Brighton Rock.

LISTENING TO: Jethro Tull, "Heavy Horses".

READING: T.S. Elliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". I spoend a month every year trying to get to the bottom of this poem, and every year I find there's another layer of complexity.

WORD OF THE DAY: Georgia. Of course.

HENRY: Read on....

Mary’s legs disappear. They simply evaporate, like fog under a hot sun. She feels herself falling, collapsing, star-stuff into a black hole, and she sits flat-bang on her bum, and says “No.”
Charlie feels the blood leave her face, and thinks stupidly that she hasn’t put any make-up on and she must look like a ghost.
Christ. Ghost. Henry. Six months? No.
Henry takes a sip of the whisky, and sighs. “I got so scared, Mary. So scared.” He helps her up, and holds her. “I knew that I could cope, but then that silly boy had to rob the bank and then he shot me and I realised I hadn’t told you I loved you today and it could have been six seconds, not six months, and Mary, oh Mary.” He holds her with a desperation that neither one of them knew he was capable of. She smells warm, safe. A refuge. Six months, he thought.
“Why? What is it?” Mary asks. Her chin is up, she won’t say quit, she won’t say pax, she won’t say die. She is a rock, this woman. She is strong, she will not give in to fear.
“Brain tumour. The C.A.T. scan people think so, anyway.” Henry is calm now. Mary sits on his lap, her arms around his neck. Charlie leaves the room, heads into the kitchen. Tea, she thinks. Tea, a sweet biscuit or two with cheese, and a slug of Henry’s whisky. Tea for two. Jesus. Is this what he’s going to tell us? Of course it is.
She makes the tea, pours, and takes the cups back. Henry is sitting, holding her sister-in-law. Her sister. Charlie thinks: he is so gentle. The times I saw him on the footy ground, fierce and strong and proud and always, always so gentle. I used to love watching him play cricket, she thinks. Even if he is my brother, he was the most gorgeous man there: shining in his whites, wielding his bat like a toothpick, punishing any loose ball into the boundary.
And I’ve never known a day when he hasn’t loved this woman, my sister-in-law, my sister. Charlie can hear him murmuring to her, whispering into her hair. She turns to go back to the kitchen, but Henry raises his voice and calls her in.
“Charlie? Is that tea?” He says it and suddenly, just because he said it, and the way he said it, it sounds special. She knows instantly that she’s done something extraordinary. She nods, and brings it in. His smile is broad as he says “And I bet there’s some cheese and Crispies on the go?”
Charlie smiles. “Of course. I’ll bring them in.”
She fetches a plate, biscuits, cheese, the cheese knife, two more whisky tumblers, and the Macallan. She brings a small table over to the chair where her brother and sister-in-law, sister, are, and waits. She looks at them, at the way Mary’s face is buried in Henry’s shoulder.
“Mary,” Charlie asks, ”would you like a drop of whisky?”
Mary turns her face to Charlie, wipes a tear away, and grins. “You’ll never guess what Henry’s just told me.”
“I heard. Six months?”
“Not that. Not that. No. Henry’s told me that he wants to learn how to be a Hank.”
Charlie is dumbstruck, again. “A what?”
Henry’s voice rumbles from behind Mary’s hair. “A Hank. I’ve never had a nick-name. I’ve always been Henry. Not only been Henry – I’ve been a Henry. And before I die, I want someone to call me Hank. Just Hank. And spontaneously.”
Charlie is stunned. Henry wants to be a Hank? A skein of wool?
“What’s a hank?”
“Like Henry Fonda. Hank Fonda.”
The light dawns. Henry wants to be Henry Fonda. Wait - he wants to be artistic. Or brave, or strong, and he’s already all those things and more.
But he’s never been a Hank, has he. “Well, hell,” says Charlie, and laughs. “Why not?”There’s an electric air of hysteria about the house that night. Charlie called Wolf, explained the situation to him. He urges her to stay, and says “Scheizen” a lot. He had told Charlie once, a year or two ago, the Scheizen literally translated into “I love you” when said with the right glottle-stop. But if that was the case, Wolf loved pretty well everyone, including doltish drivers, rubbish-collectors who left half the week’s garbage around the bin, and even abusers of innocent apostrophes.

Perhaps he did.

After hanging up, Wolf dug out one of his famous twisted cigars, lit up, and then drank the better part of a two-litre flask of orange juice.
“Tomorrow,” he thought, “the schnapps. Tonight, perhaps, a prayer to my Bavarian nuns, on whose milky thighs these cigars are rolled.”

It was a night for waiting, for talking of dreams, of dreaming of love. Henry played a lot of music, laughed, drank, and didn’t get drunk. He made a phone call at three, and talked and listened and smiled, and told his son that he would be over in Greece soon to see him.
“Yeah?” said Adam. “I didn’t think you fancied the Greek Islands. Thought Mum’d do a Shirley Valentine on you.”
“Can’t worry about that now. No – I’d like to see those Gates of Fire, that Thermopylae place. And you remember us talking about Uncle Don?”
Don Talbot had gone to be a soldier, and had ended up being a part of the landscape in Greece. Not enough of him was found to fill a soldier’s pack, but a white marble cross with a silver fern and an astonishingly young man’s name had been put into a war cemetery not five hundred yards from where the German 88 millimetre shell had separated him from his life.
“Yeah,’ said Adam. “ ’Course I do.”
“Yes. I feel I owe it to my Dad to go and see where his brother died. Find the grave.”
“I can take you straight there, Dad. Me and Gussy went up there a couple of months ago.”
“Really?” Henry was surprised, and pleased. “That’s good. What are you doing now?”
Adam’s a little puzzled at this phone call. He loves his Dad, and even more important, he likes his Dad. But Dad’s never been one for a chat. Not on the phone, anyway.
“I’m out on the terraces, just below Gussy and Norm’s place. I’ve got the easel set up, there’s a nice French girl, Danielle, watching me – I’m looking dead Greek, Dad. White linen trousers held up with a bit a blue rope, long hair, tanned to buggery. I’ve known Danielle a while now. Polishing up on the parlez vous, nes’t paz?”
Henry imagined the scene. Adam took after Henry’s brother in appearance: lean and shark-like, with an eager, open face. “I don’t know that I need to hear too much about your sex life, son.”
Son? Dad never calls me son. Not unless – “Dad, is everything all right?”
And the conversation went on for another half-hour, with Mary grabbing the receiver every few minutes to make sure the second great love of her life was all right.
“Jesus, Mum! No! I’m not bloody all right! How can he tell me this? And anyway, it might be all up the boo-ai, eh. It’s not confirmed, is it?”
No, it hadn’t yet been confirmed, but both Henry and Mary knew that it would be. They said goodbye to their son, to their beautiful boy, and sat in silence a while.
At four, they went to bed, leaving Charlie with the tidy-up. Henry slept, and dreamed of ants crawling over his body, nipping his skin, carrying him away piecemeal to a destination he didn‘t care for.
Charlie sat at the table, and wept, softly, silently into the dawn.