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.
MORE HENRY! Yay!
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?
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?
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.
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.