Monday, August 31, 2009


Winter is officially over. I nearly missed it. Auckland doesn't really have a winter: it enjoys a benign climate, one that drifts along without any dramatic changes.

When I was a child, I lived in a small town called Mangakino, on the banks of the Waikato River. Mangakino was then very much a frontier town, a rough-and-ready purpose-built village that sprang from nothing, and eventually shrank back to nothing. Summers there were hot and still, Autumns sullen and chill, Winters were frost-and-fog blasted, and Spring came with a triumphant shout of life reborn.

Winter in Mangakino was an adventure. The town was built over the course of just a couple of years to provide a base for the families of the thousands of men who worked on the great hydro-electric dams that were developed and built in the 1950s. I was a cross-eyed boy of two when our family pitched up there, and I was nine when we left. I saw seven Mangankino winters, and I shall never forget them. At the time I had nothing to compare them to: winter was just winter, a time when fog and frost reigned. Walking to school was an adventure: the fog was often so thick that one had to walk along with arms outstretched. The walk was roughly a mile long, and involved the crossing of several streets, but we children were privileged. It was a decade since World War Two had come to its final, bloody end, and children were a precious commodity: everywhere we went there was an adult, making sure we were safe. The puddles at the sides of the roads were often deep, and often frozen. To be the first to stomp on a six-inch deep puddle of dirty frozen water was a rare trhrill: someone always seemed to have gotten to it first.

The cold was intense. Even though we were dressed up in several layers of home-knitted New Zealand wool garments, it was a rare morning that didn't see us arrive at school with thoroughly numbed hands and feet.

I don't recall that we complained. The weather and the climate were simply what was: we had no experience of anything else. But when I hear someone talking about being frozen, and the temperature's still in double digits, I have to smile to myself.

Auckland doesn't have a proper winter and is, I think, the poorer for it. Give me Autumn's golden and fiery leaves, give me Winter's bitter chill, give me Spring's glorious bursting forth, and let me enjoy the baking heat of a cicada-shrill Summer's day. Auckland is an excellent place to live, but it could do with some weather.

READING: William Bernhardt, "Nemesis - the final case of Eliot Ness".

LISTENING TO: The Small Faces, "Ogden's Nut-Gone Flake". Excellent.

WORD OF THE DAY: Hope. Spring does bring hope back into the world.

More Henry:

Where in the world do we belong?
Q: So, Mary: comfortable?
A: No. Never. Never again.
Q: It’s the quietness of the hour. This is the time they die, did you know that?
A: Thanks, buster. Look - if it’s OK with you, would you just mind pissing off?
The constant strain was telling on Mary now. They’d been back in New Zealand, back in Northridge, for four weeks. Her bruises and scrapes had healed, but Henry’s health had collapsed. She thought of him on the river bank, strong and brave, a man in despair, throwing the rope, and a tiny part of her withered and died. Dust in her heart. Star-stuff.
Q: What do you mean by that? You’ve mentioned it before.
A: Star-stuff? It’s something Henry read. Carl Sagan. He wrote about the cosmos in a way that made it so very touchable. He said that everything on earth, including Earth itself, was made up of the stuff from exploded stars. We are all made of star stuff, he said.
God, it was a big star that gave us Henry, she thought.
It’s three in the morning, and Mary hasn’t slept for 29 hours. Wolf, John, Charlie - they’ve all been here, trying to convince her to go home, to get some rest. But she can’t leave. She looks through the window into Henry’s room, where he can just be seen. A dim light shows him lying there. She stands from the seat in the hospital corridor, and peers closer. The monitor twitches with his life-rhythm. It flickers a green light against the curtain, a steady blink, blink, blink of his life winding down. She knows now that he is slipping away from her, and she is deadly afraid for him. He is asleep now, blessedly so. The pain she’s seen him cope with over the past few days has weakened her. He’s refusing the medication now, preferring to keep lucid. He says that the pain is now a friend: it keeps him sharp, keeps his mind working.
Q: Do you really mean that, Henry?
A: Yes.
Q: But surely a little hit now and then of morphine…
A: Get thee behind me. It’s a funny thing, now. I’m here in the hospital, about to die, talking to some voice in my head that Mary tells me she can also hear, and I know that I’m about to die, and -
Q: Yes?
A: I’m quite content.
Henry didn’t know it, but he suspected that he was being drugged. He was right. His courage notwithstanding, Mary and Joe Know had both agreed to get a little morphine into his saline drip, to help him sleep.
Q: Can you tell me what it’s like?
A: You mean you don’t know? All right then: it is, in almost every way imaginable way, depressing. I’d like to be able to fling these bed-covers aside and go and make love with my Mary and give Adam a little bowling practice, and I can’t. I’m going to be like my Father, and not know my grandchildren. Who’s going to cut the firewood for Mary now?
Q: Firewood? Is it that important?
A: It’s probably the most important thing I have ever done for Mary. I handled all my problems while chopping the wood. Boiled everything down so I could take a good question to her for her wisdom, or take a solution for Adam, or find a way for John. Just as I didn’t -
Q: Yes?
A: I brushed aside my very best friends problems once, because I was too dense to listen. And I’ve never forgiven myself.
Q: Adam? Your friend Spot?
A: Yes. I ignored him because I just didn’t know how he was being bullied, and he couldn’t cope. Damn me for a fool. I’ve carried the pain of his death with me every day since then.
Q: I think, somehow, that he would have forgiven you.
A: Yes. He was a far better man than I am.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Happiness is so many things, most of them small. I read recently that we folk at the bottom of the world were a pretty happy bunch, all things considered. And, when I consider all things, I know I'm happy.

Our circumstances have changed astonishingly over the past nine months. I was made redundant, which is a blow to the ego, then Jenny was made redundant, and we lost our house and savings and fortune and everything. But we've made it through the other side, to the point that we're back into employment, and I realised that despite the way our lives have changed I am extraordinarily happy, and have been for a long while.

Things that are making me happy today:

The smell of an excellent sausage or seven slowly baking in the oven. They're pork sausages, and they smell delightful. I love a hot sausage, and a cold one makes the ends of my toes tingle. I understand vegetarionism, and do eat a lot less meat than I did ten years ago.... but I'll immediately turn carnivore when there's a sausage on the menu.

Why is it that Shakespeare never wrote "How do I love thee? / Let me compare thee to a hot sausage.."

Terry Pratchett understands sausages. If you've never read Mr Pratchett's work, you are missing a real treat.

I have a cup of tea cooling, waiting for me. Tea is the great healer. It's a far superior drink to coffee, comes in a multitude of flavours... it can be gentle and delicate, or it can fetch you a wallop behind the back of the neck that'll have you seeing stars. Mmmm. Tea.

I've been to the gym, and feel fantastic. The slight fright my heart gave me last week is now nothing but a memory, although there has been one completely unexpected side-effect: two weeks ago I could put in a hard and fast twenty minutes of the exercycle, and drive my pulse up to 125. Now, I can't crack 95. My standing pulse was in the late 70s, early 80s - it's not in the late 60s.

Jenny will be home soon, and that's always a happy-making thought.

The cats both check up on my every once in a while: Cleo to see if I'm good for as few cat biscuits, Granny because she's lost again.

I have Stevie Ray Vaughan playing loud on the 'pooter: there's something about the blues that makes one happy.

The weather's good, warm and windy.

Happiness. It really is the simple things.

READING: a Popular mechanics magazine. There was an advertisement for the best looking tool for pulling walls down. I want one. I'll never have a use for it, but it looks soooo mean and gnarly.

LISTENING TO: Stevie Ray Vaughan, "Live in Chicago". Great.

WORD OF THE DAY: Friends. Really, it's friendship that does it.

“Seen your headlights,” says this mirage. “Figured you could use a hand.”
Henry doesn’t know it, but he is a mess. His nose is bleeding, his eyes crazed, and all he can do is wave and say “Mary,” and the cowboy looked, and said a well by golly.
“Name’s Walter Cochrane. Let’s get the rope off the boy and get him in the vehicle, and then we‘ll see what we can do about your missus.”
“Thanks. Thankyou. I’m Henry. Henry Talbot.”
“OK, Hank. Let’s get this show on the road,” says Walter Cochrane, this genuine by-god cowboy, with his boots and coat and hat, a man who is amazed by the grin on Henry’s face.
“What did you call me?” asks Henry Talbot.
“Can’t stand here beating our gums, Hank. Let’s get this rope over to your Missus.”
And so they did. And so it was that two minutes later, Mary was where she belonged, at her son’s side, weeping and laughing and living. They left the Chevy where it stood. “God ain’t made a wind strong enough move that sucker,” says Walter Cochrane. “You just get yourself in my vehicle. You the folks from where the hell is it, New Zealand, staying at the line-shack on 44?”
And so it was they all made it back to the cabin, and Adam and Walter attended to the horses, and Henry and Mary went indoors.
Henry crashed the door open, swept his hat off his head, and picked Mary up with a yee-ha! or two, kissed her in a way he hadn’t managed for a few months, told her he loved her - which she knew anyway, damn fool - and passed out, hitting the floor like a sack of wheat.

The next day, battered, bruised, scraped, and exhilarated by the fact that they were by-golly, by-Henry, and by-Walter alive, Mary, Adam, and Henry decided that they’d be booking tickets on the next flight home. The flights took them three days, and Henry arrived in Northridge in an ambulance.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sunday Scribblings VIII

A short post today: we're going out very soon.


We turned on the tele late last night, to watch the final couple of hours of Part One of Spike Lee's opus on Hurricane katrina, and the way the American government dropped the ball with disaster relief. But before I strarted the tape, I caught a commercial break, and immediately wished I hadn't. There was the usual strident shouty Harvey Norman commercial, and their big offer was this: four years' interest free terms, with no repayments 'til 2011.

Um - excuse me, but isn't that the sort of thing that dropped the world into such financial poo a little more than a year ago? How bloody stupid are we?!? When will we start to realise that making the same mistakes will not bring about a different result? The sooner we get some sane regulations into the credit business the better. yes, we need it. The monetary system, that's been the backbomne of human civilisation for the past 10,000 years, is predicated on the back and forth of credit. But let's put a few barriers in place, so the unscrupulous can be fettered.

And may Harvey Norman and all their ilk with their 36 months' interest free and 18 months of no payments go to hell, where they belong. With their easy credit, they create bad debtors. We need to encourage people to save.

LISTENING TO: Fairport Convention, "Unhalfbricking". Good cover version of "The Ballad of Easy Rider".

READING: Comic book: David Brin, "The Life Eaters".

WORD OF THE DAY: Credit. let's keep it, but make it a little more difficult.

“Go on,” he’d said. “I’ll be all right.” Never once did he think that they might not be.

Henry has never worked as hard as he does now. He draws a deep, shuddering breath, and the darkness retreats. A spear of pain lances through his head. Not now! I don’t have time! The black spots dance in his vision, and he knows he’s close to blacking out again. Oh jesus dear lord not now, he prays and another part of his mind tips a mocking hat at his hypocrisy.
And then something in his brain stem stirs: suddenly, he’s thinking in the here, in the now. The air becomes crystal clear, the hairs on the back of his neck stir, his scrotum tightens, and there’s no more time to think. There’s barely time to take action.
The sound of the rain blots everything out: it pounds, hammers, seethes and drums at the roof, a tympanic deluge, and the wind is a triumphant gibbering shriek of heaven’s glory gone mad. The small building shakes and trembles, a flimsy dot under the wrath of the storm, and Henry heaves himself onto his feet, breath and life tearing at his throat. He staggers to the door, throws an oilskin coat on, claps his hat onto his head and tightens the pigging-thong to hold it in place, grabs a rope, and runs for the truck.

He has never been more alive in his life.

He leaps in into the cab, and is momentarily confused: where’s the steering wheel? Then the thought cuts through his fear – American truck. Left hand drive. Mover over, and move it!
The big Chevy starts immediately, its V8 rumble almost inaudible over the hammering crash and rattle of the rain on the roof. Henry flicks at the lever on the steering column to start the wipers. They slap at the rain to little effect, but there’s a momentary clearness he can use. Then his eyesight sparkles with the pain that tears at his head, and he bellows “I don’t have time now, I have no time for this.”
The truck is slithering and sliding as he punches it down the track, and he curses the machine’s perversity. He is ferociously cold, and sweat is perversely standing out on his forehead. He wrestles with the wheel, slipping and sliding the vehicle across and through a small river that cuts across the track. He turns the headlights on, and yells as a horse, terrified, cuts in front of him. God - that’s Adam’s dun, saddled. The horse gallops from sight, heading back to the barn. Damn damn damn, where am I? There are no landmarks. Lightning dances across the horizon, shattering the morning’s deep gloom into a thousand shards that sparkle in Henry’s already confused eyes. Then, there: the bay mare, rearing and kicking, and tugging at the rope that ties her to a tree. Henry fights the big Chevy over, and drags it to a halt. The pain tears through his head, and he opens the door and vomits. He stands and looks, and is appalled. The dry gully is now a torrent of black water racing by and tearing at the banks. And then the sight he had driven to see, the sight he had dreaded to see: there, not twenty metres away, on the small island, were his Mary and Adam.
There’s a small scrubby tree on the tiny patch of land Mary and Adam are clinging to. It’s possible that god knows how old it is, but it looks as though it’s been here since before the Ark. Henry leaves the truck’s engine running and the headlights on. Even though it’s mid-morning, the storm has blackened the sky, and visibility is diminishing. The wind tears at Henry as he grabs the rope and ties it to the front bumper.
“Mary!” he shrieks. “Mary!”
“Sweetheart, I love you,” she calls back. He hardly hears her, but her declaration gives him strength.
“I’m going to throw the rope over to you!” he shouts, and grabs the coiled rope and walks to the bank, and the wind slaps him in the face and he leans back then hurls the rope as far as he can. The wind whips at it, and tosses it back at him, contemptuously. Christ! Henry’s on his knees now, the pain in his head a shrieking torment. The horse screams in fear, and Henry staggers to his feet, and staggers to it. It settles momentarily, its big stupid eye rolling, and he murmurs soothingly and pulls out his clasp knife and cuts the beast free. Then another slap of pain sends him reeling as the horse gallops away, and he sags to the ground again. I can’t do it, he says. I can’t do it. I don’t have the strength. But I must do it. He gropes around and finds a rock. About a kilo. He ties the rope end around and around it, straining at the knot, then stands and falls again as the wind slaps him against the truck. His breath is coming in short hasping rasping grasping pants, tearing at his throat, and blood vessels burst in his nose and he struggles back to his feet and swings the weighted rope, and send it sailing out, defeating the wind. It misses the island by five metres. He drags it in again, shocked at the strength of the water’s rushing current that snaps and drags at the rock, and swings again, and misses again. “Mary!” he shouts, a cry of fear and hope and he drags the rock back and swings and throws, and the third time’s the charm, and he snags the tree.

He collapses with the relief, then the fear surges through him again, and he fights his failing strength and struggles again to his feet and he can see that she is tying the rope around Adam’s chest, and he wants to shriek “No!” but knows he would do exactly the same thing and he can see the boy arguing, wanting to give his Mother the rope, and Mary slaps him and pulls the rope tight, and sticks two fingers in her mouth and whistle a shrieking piercing whistle how the hell does she do that and he gets in the cab and slaps the machine into R and backs slowly for an eternity, and Adam is hauled over the bank’s edge and it’s P for Pray and Henry’s running and slipping and sliding to the boy and he dead, no he’s dead, oh please don’t him be dead, but he’s breathing, turn him and the filthy water gushes from him and Henry’s laughing, and Adam’s coughing and swearing and he’s fine, by god he’s all right and a voice behind him says “You need a hand, son?” and Henry turns in shock and there’s a by-god cowboy. A gent standing seven feet tall and wearing by-god cowboys boots all stitching and heels, and a by-god duster and a giant moustache and a Stetson that’d keep him dry in a hurricane.
“Seen your headlights,” says this mirage. “Figured you could use a hand.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Battlers

It's been a staple of the journalist's list of cliches: INSERT NAME HERE has lost his / her battle with INSERT DISEASE NAME HERE.

Usually, the disease is cancer, and the more exotic, the better. According to our journalists (who know all, and see everything) famous people should not die of ordinary diseases, nor should they accept that the fatal disease they have is going to kill them. No, they have to battle it, and then bravely and stoically lose that battle.

This manure gets trotted out almost every time someone famous carks it. Ted Kennedy's the latest, apparently "losing his battle with Brain Cancer". There's so much that's wrong with the statement and the emotion that words almost fail me.

However, I won't let my internal splutering slow me down. First: what the hell sort of cancer is Brain Cancer? I'm pretty damn' sure that I won't find it in Jenny's Big Book Of Diseases, the grey volume that gets trotted out whenever someone gets a little crook. Wait a moment while I scurry off and check...

Nope. There are cancers of the brain, but no Brain Cancer. Oddly, I'm hearing a little "woo-woo" chord in my head when I tap out those two words... oh, wait: I'm listening to Ella Fitzgerald. Going "woo-woo". That's not Ella Fitzgerald Kennedy, you understand..

And I actually looked at Big Ted as he was busy working while cancerous, and he simply seemed - to me, anyway - to have accepted that fact that he was dying, and he was getting on with life while he had some to get on with. One thing he wasn't doing was "battle his cancer". That phrase indicates to me that the soon-to-be-ex-person is rushing about, trying quack medicines, going to shonky Mexican clinics or Filipino psychic surgeons, and brewing a cup of nettle tea to slurp down with their toast and ragwort jam breakfast.

The very phrase "battle with cancer" applies to people who are afraid of death, and set up some extraordinary startegy of prolonging life, and going all Egyptian about their imminent death. Going into de Nile, you understand.

I'll be spittingly angry if I ever contract some fell fatal disease, because - as an atheist - I won't be able to threaten to haunt any bugger who uses the phrase "Allan lost his battle with booger disease last Tuesday..". The phrase is a sodding insult to the no-longer working intelligence of the dead person. Yes, the person may have been pissed off at the thought of his or her imminent demise, but that doesn't mean they went all mushy-brained and started looking for some slightly demented layer-on-of-hands to pull a miraculous cure from the ether. And it dopesn't mean they went spitting and cursing in the face of Death, either.

As an aside: the proof that miracles don't (and never did) exist is the fact that almost anything these days is described as miraculous. The miracle of life. Yeah, right. The miraculous victory of the Wallabies against the Springboks, and the Black Caps against the Sri Lankans... well, actually, if that does happen I may start wondering about divine intervention. Pamela Anderson's miraculous dress-sense and cantilevered breasts, Miracle Whip whipped cream in a can, someone's miraculous brush with death (that's every second week, on the cover of any woman's magazine..), and so on.

READING: Bruce Kennedy Jones & Eric Allison "Fat Blackmail". Just started it, and it looks good.British crime.

LISTENING TO: Ella Fitzgerald, Best of album, and Nick Cave "Murder Songs". Nice and jolly.

WORD OF THE DAY: Dead. Let's not be afraid of death or dying... or of actually talking about it.


But he owed them a good death, just as he’d always striven to give them a good life.
He was afraid of the thought that came to him occasionally, a black dog in the night, that whispered that maybe he was more a symbol to them than a reality; that when he left them all they’d recall was what he stood for, what he’d meant, instead of who he was and who he had been.
His thoughts have become cloudy now, mushy. He must return home. Suddenly where he dies becomes more important than when. He marvels that he is vacillating, even now. He now knew that time, this vacant concept that Mary and he had been playing with for a moment, a lifetime, means nothing when you’re past your allotted span.
He was cold, and struggled to put his hands in his pockets. He was unequal to the task, and simply let his hands drop into his lap. The cold is right, somehow. It’s reaching into his flesh, slowing his mind.
“I’ll be all right. Just make sure you take care of yourselves.”
The lethargy he feels is now intense. His limbs are leaden, his lips are thick, and they prickle with pins and needles. His vision narrows, and his breath is rasping in his throat. A distant thunderclap tears at the silence, and he raises heavy, heavy eyelids to look out, over to the northern horizon. The sky is black, and rushing at him, a crackling giant overwhelming this vast landscape. Lightning stabs the ground, thunder booms a kettle-drum howl of conquest. He watches the display, unmoved. He can count three great anvil-heads towering thousands of feet into the air, storm clouds brimming and churning with the fury and anger of an affronted nature, and a shiver runs down his spine. The speed of the storms appals and terrifies him – in minutes the shack is engulfed in hammering rain, and the wind rages and whips at the windows and roof. A shutter slams and slaps at the wall, and he hears it as a distant clatter. Henry Talbot, lover of Mary, father to Adam, is dying. His eyelids flicker, and he welcomes the blackness that’s shrouding his mind. It’s coming, and I’ll be all right. Don’t you worry. I’ll be all right.
Christ. They’re going to be caught in this. They’d been told to keep clear of the gulch if a storm threatened, that flash-floods can come quicker than thought.
“Go on,” he’d said. “I’ll be all right.” Never once did he think that they might not be.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


On Monday I had a wee cardiac scare, one that saw me admitted to hospital. This was oddly concidental, as on Sunday I'd sent a note to a blogger in Brooklyn on how I couldn't understand why so many Americans were worried by the thought of so-called “socialised” medicine.
And here I am, having just been the recipient of the astonishing level of care available at our public hospitals.

That's all pretty much an aside, alhough it does,perhaps, explain why I was reclining on a bed, wearing a god-awful hospital shirt, and looking at my bare feet whilelistening to Blood, Sweat, and Tears on my baby 'pooter (an Acer notebook. My best friend). I'd read a hundred pages of an old William Diehl book, “Sharky's Machine”, and set it down, thinking about how much things have changed 31 years: the book was published in 1978. No talk of cell-phones or PCs.A ham-fisted description of a circuit board. The scandal! shock! horror! of charging for phone sex... ear sex, he called it.

But time spent in hospital is hard spent. It goes slowly. And so it was that I set aside my book and my baby 'pooter, and looked at my bare feet. Fascinating. Pale, off shaped things. I saw that I still have a scar on my left foot, and I suddenly (as suddenly as anything happens in hospital) realised that the scar was fifty years old. This astonished me. The scar's between a couple of toe bones: it's where I stuck a pitchfork when I was six or seven. Just digging away in the sandpit, with a rusty old garden tool I'd found under the house. It went clean through, and pinned my foot to the ground. I vaguely recall that it hurt, and I certainly recall being concerned when father fainted as he watched the fork being pulled from the wound.

But 50, or possibly 51 years old! When I consider what I've acheived since that fork impaled my foot, I realise I still have time for two more major life mistakes, and to make another 6,000 or so trivial daily mistakes. Hoorah!

Daniel Vettori, the captain of the New Zealand cricket team, has just taken his 300th test wicket, and scored 3,000 test runs. Jenny and I have followed his career keenly, having seen his astonishing talents and abilities when he was first selected for the Black Caps 12 years ago. Well done, Danny.

LISTENING TO: Blood, Sweat,and Tears"Best Of" album. Not a dud song on the disc.

READING: Nothing new - finishing the Diehl book, which is hugely entertaining (were we really that naive?) and the extraordinary "Shadow of Ravens" that i mentioned the other day.

WORD OF THE DAY: HOME. No place like it.


Poems and love-songs had surrounded them, and the air had grown thick and heavy with their togetherness and familiarity. Mary had drawn constantly, pencil and charcoal flashing over notebook after notebook, all of which she wrapped for mailing back home. Adam’s camera had been busy, storing dozens of images for future use.
They’d wanted him to come with them to the gully, to the small island in the dry creek bed. It was an hour’s ride down to the south-west, and Mary had wanted to capture the strata lines that made up the wall of the gulch. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of years of geological life, exposed by a flash flood two years ago.
Henry’s life was now splintering into thin fragments of time. His eyesight jerked, an old silent movie clattering away in a country hall hung with the bunting of an old Empire.
Arizona’s horizons had silenced them all. They’d spent so long in the closer confines of their own precious river valley, bounded by a skyline that was no further then 10 miles away at its most distant that this great vacant bowl of sky baffled their senses. But there, in the gully, the horizons were just a hundred metres away, standing tall over them, crushing them. They’d been there twice before, riding out, leaving the horses at the top of the gulch and scrambling down the twenty-foot high cliff to the creek-bed.
He sat in the line-shack, and looked around him. For something they called a shack, it was big and comfortable. Three bedrooms, excellent kitchen, great stone fireplace. He stood to throw another log on the fire, and sat immediately, dizziness blurring his vision. Later. He’ll put the log on later.
This landscape was foreign and confusing. This country was foreign and confusing, despite having come into their living rooms on a daily basis for decades. They were far from home, and Henry knew that he would have been a different person if he’d been born and raised here. The size of the sky scared him, making him think too often of the eternal finality that waited him. It made him smaller than the man he‘d always imagined himself to be.
Six months, he thought. It had now been more than six months, and for the past few weeks he had been measuring his life in minutes. Six months, he had once thought. Such a luxury. Now, six minutes? The blackouts and headaches warned him that it may be.
Time to go home, to see Charlie and Wolf and John and Sybil the Sibling and the Paradox, and Floss and Joe Know and who knew? “You go on. I’ll be all right,” he’d said. And so they rode out together.
He knew they needed their times together, that Adam needed his time with Mary, that she needed Adam’s strength. He was so proud of the boy. Clear, steadfast. And, in his right eye, a fleck of gold among the green. Henry’s heart is swelling with love. His vision clouds with black motes, dancing in front of his eyes, a mad dervish, a fandango of fate.
This landscape was hard, harsh, and unforgiving. It brooked no mistakes. Henry had grown in a small town surrounded by soft green fields that could sustain ten milk-cows per acre: this land was hard pushed to feed one beast over five acres. The individual paddocks and pastures were immense, the grass scattered and scrubby, the cattle lean and hard. At this time of years snow, hard and dry and gritty as sand, spotted the ground, caught on clumps of mesquite.
Six months, he thought, gazing out the window to the massive butte on the Western horizon. Gone. Time means nothing to me now. And this is a good landscape to discover that: as old as god, these bitter plains and gullies and gulches and hard-scrabble acres have baked and frozen and thawed and prospered and died under countless seasons. Buffalo and snakes and hawks and coyotes owned these lands, living from one heartbeat to the next, never and yet always aware that they could be dead in an instant, but striving to live and to thrive for their offspring, for the next generation.
“Go on. I tell you, I’ll be fine. I have coffee and toast and honey, and I need some time to think, anyway.”
Their love for him hurt now. It was a physical pain, stabbing him like a knife, a liquid gash through his heart. His instinct now was to go away, to walk into the night, to let nature claim him, to die now, to let the wild dogs and buzzards return him to the world. But he owed them a good death, just as he’d always striven to give them a good life.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Fraud. I feel a fraud.
Yesterday morning I said on Facebook that I wasn't feeling too hot, and that I was going for a quiet lie-down.
Well, I ended up in hospital. Having a lie-down, to be sure. It seems I was experiencing something called Ho Fibrillation. What it has to do with Ladies of the Night, I don't know: perhaps it was because my heart was racing out of control, and that is what the odd ho' is supposed to do.
Long story, short: Peter Sellers song, boom boody boom boody boom, oh oh oh! Go grey, want to fall over a lot, Jenny drives me to hospital, they look worried, take blood, take X Rays and scans and stuff, attach wires and winches machines and cables to me, give me drugs to slow things down. Apparently arrythmia is supposed to fix itself after a few minutes: mine carried on for over 24 hours. Drugs knocked me back from 160bpm to 62bpm, a heart-rate I haven't seen since my teen years. All is cool.
But they decided to hold me overnight, and that's why I feel a fraud. I'm sharing a room with people who are, by any definition, ill. By now I could fight off a small army, single-handed. Healthy like a bull, that's me. All around me are people who are ill, and I'm tap-tap-tapping away on my keyboard, while listening to a bit a classical music.
It's hard to scratch your nuts when you're tied up to machinery, too.
Hospitals are not my favourite place. Especially when the guy in the bed next to me is discussing hospice care with his wife. Sigh. Life goes on, but not for much longer for some people, know what I mean?

Home now. They saw trhrough me, and sent me on my way with drugs.

I WAS LISTENING TO: Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite".

I WAS READING: "Sharky's Machine", William Diehl. More on that tomorrow.

WORD OF THE DAY: Defibrillation. I thought they were going to do the whole clear, bang, arching body etc on me. They gave me drugs instead.


Music that Henry loves and listens to is made by:
Jethro Tull
Ian Anderson
Leonard Cohen
Tom Waits
Sarah Vaughan
The Beatles
John Lennon (but not Paul McCartney)
Lucinda Williams
Vaya con Dios
Simon and Garfunkel (together, and separately)
Joni Mitchell
Bob Marley
Neil Young
Louis Armstrong
Eric Clapton
Ben Harper
Chris de Burgh
James Taylor
The Chill
Sarah Vaughan
Janis Joplin
Gillian Welch
Van Morrison
The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band
Stone the Crows
Kate Bush
Willie Nelson
Lullaby for the Working Class
Maria Muldaur
Ry Cooder
Nina Simone
Henry also wishes he understood jazz better, he has listened hard to Coltrane, but sadly just doesn’t get it.
Passing water and wind.
Henry Talbot’s life changed dramatically and permanently on November 8th of this year. The events all started with Henry’s wife Mary rising from the breakfast table, walking to the door, and leaving him. As we already know, she did this on a regular basis, and so he wasn’t at all surprised. And in any case he had already talked about her going as he’d prepared the oatmeal (micro-waved oatmeal! With maple syrup, and by golly ice-cream!), grilled the bacon and tomatoes, and fried their eggs. The weather outside was bitingly cold, and the Mother and Son reunion needed something hot and filling for their project.
“I’ll be all right,” he’d said. “Really. You two go. I wouldn’t mind a little time alone, anyway.”
The physical effects of his illness were becoming more evident every day. He coped with the headaches with a steady diet of analgesics, but he had now banned himself from driving. He had blacked out twice yesterday, and knew the time was coming that he would have to head home.
The thought warmed him, somehow. The place they were at now was all wrong, seasonally: he was accustomed to enjoying Christmas outdoors, a long lazy day under the blazing sunshine, cold beers in the chillybin, Fred McKenzie’s best pork sausages squealing on the barby, friends and family relaxing under the big chestnut tree in the back of the Talbot Terrace house. But right now they were in Arizona, and the Arctic was breathing on them.
“I wouldn’t mind a little time alone, anyway,” he’d said. And so they’d gone. Mary had taken the bay mare, while Adam rode the big dun gelding. “I’ll be all right, honest.”
His words had rung falsely, even to his own ears. He was concerned about his growing weaknesses, and they were all aware of it.
“You go on out. We’ll be away from here in a week, anyway: we don’t want to waste any time.”
Time. When their adventures had started, he couldn’t stop the thought breaking through everything: Six months. Just six months.
Now, eight months later, they were starting their third week at the Arizona ranch. Mary had found the accommodation – a line-shack on a vast cattle ranch – and they’d spent the last week in splendid isolation. They’d talked, laughed, spent hours in silence. Poems and love-songs had surrounded them, and the air had grown thick and heavy with their togetherness and familiarity. Mary had drawn constantly, pencil and charcoal flashing over notebook after notebook, all of which she wrapped for mailing back home.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nobility I

A little while ago I promised to take a series of looks at nobility, and was reminded of my promise by an exchange of emails yesterday with a man who had decided not to employ me.

He elected to write a personal email, telling me why he was turning me down for the position. I replied, thanking him for his courtesy, and making the comment that it's nice to find someone who acts in a gentlemanly way these day.

I didn't accuse him of nobility, but it was a close run thing.

Readers of my blog will know that I am vociferous in my disdain for organised religion. Actually, religion of any kind offends my sensibilities, but the organised type I find to be not only foolish, but also offensive. Be that as it may: when it comes to architecture, organised religion has made marvellous, and noble, contributions. While I have not seen the great cathedrals of Europe in the stone (as it were), I have seen a lot of footage on the Discovery, Documentary, and History Channels. I've also seen an enormous acreage of print photographs. The soaring spires and flying buttresses are marvels. In Asia, the various wats, with thier intricate carvings and mind-blowing complexities. The Buddhist temples of Japan, the Hindu concoctions of India. The South American pyramids, the Egyptian temples, the Russian onion-topped confections: I know that they are supposed to inspire one as to the glory of some god or other, but to me they sing of the nobility of the human spirit, and the astonishing thing we have that sets us apart: our imaginations, our sheer inventiveness.

I think it is impossible for any thinking person to look at the beautiful structures set in place for the Beijing Olympics (another series of cathedrals, but this time built to worship the human body and will) without being en-nobled by the magnificence of it all.

Individual, and small, acts of nobility are all too rare. That is why they are so remarkable when they happen. So let's celebrate them when they happen. What happened to me yesterday was not only gentlemanly, but also noble. Thankyou.

LISTENING TO: Bryan Ferry, "As Time Goes By". The most fun that's been put onto a record album since the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. I have to listen to this album at least once every two weeks.

READING: "White Night", by Jim Butcher. If you ever watched "The Dresden Files"on tele, Jim Butcher's books were the inspiration. Great fun.

WORD OF THE DAY: Gentlemanly. As in behaviour. Everyone can do it, man, woman, child.


New York, New York!
Henry doesn’t think of himself as a nervous man, and one would be hard pressed to call him cowardly. But New York terrified Henry, and he couldn’t wait to get away from there. As you’ll know, Henry’s a small town person, one who understands the Wisdom of the Woodpile, who believes implicitly in the goodness of his neighbours. This great city, reaching to the clouds, with man-made canyons deeper than the ravines that his hometown’s river has carved to make a bed in, this city with its honking and shouting and roaring and spitting and cursing and jostling and rush baffled him, made him fearful.
They went to the Guggenhiem Museum - Mary wanted to see the great collection of abstract art there, while Adam wanted to look over Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning design. Adam was disappointed: the additions made in the 1990s diminished Wright’s soaring vision, while Mary was elated by the glory of the art within.
Henry, however, perplexed by the streets, was white and shaking when they arrived at the museum. The noise of the street hammered at all his senses, blurring his vision, making his mouth coppery with fear. He sat in the lobby of the great museum, insisting the others went their own way, agreeing that if they should separate they‘d leave a message at the Museum‘s reception desk. Sweat stood in great drops on his forehead, his face was ashen.
”I just need a little time to relax.” But he couldn’t. The oppressive fear beat at him, his ears thundered, and his fingers and legs trembled. The walls were crowding at him, closing him in, choking him, and he needed to see the sky so he rushed out, looking up, and the great buildings leaned over him and he fell to his knees while tens of people, hundreds of people walked by him, chattering to each other, squawking into cell-phones, shouting at cabs and street vendors, never quiet, always talking and shouting and he shouted “shut up!” he screamed “Shut up!“ and trembled. He roared “shut up,“ and the grit of the street tore at his knees, and Adam saw him, and helped him up.
“I’m all right,” Henry said. “All right.” But he wasn’t. Adam took him and sat him on the stairway to the museum, and went indoors to leave a message for Mary, then went back out to find his father and take him back to their hotel, where Henry went to bed, shivering.
Fear makes a fool of us all, and it wasn’t something that Henry was accustomed to.
What is there to fear in a comfortable little town in a comfortable little country down at the bottom of the world? War and famine and political or criminal repression had played no part in Henry’s life. His had been an easy life, one of confined valley horizons and a warm home, in an environment where he was supported and strengthened by neighbours, colleagues, family, and friends.
This was Henry’s first brush with an irrational fear, and the first time that he was brought face to face with the possibility that yes, he too was vulnerable to phobias.
Many people would this of Henry: that one of his more admirable traits was his simplicity: what you saw was precisely what you got.
Others might say this: that one of his least admirable traits was his simplicity: what you saw was precisely what you got.
This isn’t to say that he didn’t have his complexities, dear me no. But he wore those badges of maturity on his sleeve for everyone to see. He had few prejudices, and was concerned by the ones he had. He liked to think that he took people at face value, and valued them for what and who they were: but he had no understanding of mental health problems, and thought of them as being easy to control.
“All these people have to do, surely, is apply a little rational thought to their fear. An agorophobic person knows, rationally, that wide open spaces can’t really hurt them. Therefore, the fear should be easily dealt with. Likewise, arachnophobes know spiders, by and large, are harmless. Nothing to it.”
But now he had been plunged into the void that a claustrophobic person fears, and come out of it badly. They left town the very next day, to Go West, young man. And they did: but not before seeing enough of America’s great cities to know that while they were grand and huge and places of marvel, they were also places with their mean and grubby sides, streets of brick tenement blocks which gave shelter to scores of hundreds of people, and allowed them no horizon at all, but that of a construct which was exactly the same as the one they sobbed their life away in. Adam too was appalled, and his camera was still: no picture could contain the trivial and crushing way these people spent their lives.
It’s not death that’s cheap here, he thought. It’s life. And so they moved on, and on New jersey’s grimy streets they found an agent who sent them way out west, to Arizona. And it was while there, in Arizona, that they found the true tyrant of Talbot Terrace.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Shrieking of Fiends

We kill our children in New Zealand.

A year or so ago, our parliament voted overwhelmingly to remove a clause from the Crimes Act that gave adults the right to defend themselves against charges of child-bashing by saying they used reasonable force to discipline the child. The Holy Ones, of course, got up in arms, and, inspired by their snarling and vengeful gods, got up a petition, demanding a referendum to rescind this most sensible and loving of amendments. All very democratic. The referendum was granted, and the voting papers came out, with a thoroughly ambiguous and leading question: "Do you think parents who smack their children for disciplinary reasons should be criminalised?"

Well, it is an impossible question to answer. I, like most people, understand that sometimes a light smack is the last resort, and may be the only thing that will work at the time. So, given those circumstances, I would have to say that no, I wouldn't like to see anyone hauled before a judge.

But what about the person who smacks their child as a second, or even first resort? What if that person "lightly" smacks their child ten, fifteen, twenty times a day? "It's only light smacking, yer onner. No harm done, eh?" Wink wank nidge nudge say no more.

Once, when caught up in a bit of fundamentalist christianity (no capitals on purpose, folks.) , I heard that adage "Spare the rod and spoil the child" and I acted on it. Another couple were in a similar situation to us: young couple with baby, raising our hands in joy to the lord. Sigh. We babysat for them one evening, and - with their permission (spare that rod, people..) - smacked their baby when it cried. I struck that baby once. Disciplinary, you see. Necessary: god said so.

I still have nightmares.

I now read, or hear, that injunction quite differently. I now say spare the rod by putting it away. And then spoil the child. Spoil the little bugger rotten. Loving a child never hurt it, so love that child a little more today than you did yesterday.

I can understand smacking a child, I really can. But I cannot understand the urge to hit a child twice, and nor can I understand why we should want something put back onto our statute books that allows the hitting of a child.

I was one of 13% of people who voted "yes", to keep a smack a criminal matter. The law will be used sensibly, and not vindictively. But it'll be there, and perhaps we'll grow into a nation that looks with repugnance on the violence we mete out to the most defenceless of us.

We kill our children, here in New Zealand. Because we still, deep in our feral hearts, believe that bashing a kid will help him or her grow up.

This is one aspect of our culture that I despise.

READING: "Bodies Left behind", by Jeffery Deaver. My word. More red herrings than a John West canning factory, more twists than a drunken snake's passage across a road. I have found myself saying "Oh, no!" out loud. A lovely piece of storytelling.

LISTENING TO: Simon & Garfunkel, "Bridge Over troubled Water". Still great, after all these years.

WORD OF THE DAY: Discipline. With love, not violence.


He suddenly felt small and defenceless, and very, very scared.

Adam had stayed behind, watching this man who was being taken from him. Adam shivered in the heat, a violent shudder that wracked his body. His eyes misted over, and he blinked, vision suddenly betraying him again, and again the rage came upon him: the man down there was a stranger, not his father. This man was an impostor, a fraud, some fell creature who picked fussily through the rocks, who was shrunken and frail, not real at all: a phantasm of fading flesh. Adam shakes himself, shivering in the Grecian afternoon, and looks again. His dad, Henry Talbot, looking up at him, and the power of his love is like a blow.
Henry paced the small patch of land where heroes lie in peace, and wondered why he was here. He turned and looked back up the slope at his son. Long and lean of limb, with a golden glow of youth and health that was almost impossible to believe. He eyes filled with tears, and he didn’t know whether they were tears of love, of self-pity, or of fear. He blinked, and looked back up the hill. He paused, shocked, breath snatched from his lips. By the boy: a young woman, glowing in the afternoon light. She’s tall, willowy, dressed in a simple white shift. She looks down at him, and he is sure he can see a golden glint in her eye. Henry loses his footing, and looks down to find the rock that had turned under his feet. When he looks up again, she is gone. He walks up to his son, and embraces him, and says, simply, “Let’s go back home. To Gussy’s. To see Mum.”
“But Uncle Don. The grave?”
“Enough of death, Adam. Enough.”
“That girl.”
“What girl, Dad?”
“I thought I saw a girl standing next to you.”
“I didn’t notice.”
He’s curiously light on the bike on the way back down the coast. Adam is hardly aware he’s there: the pillion in a million. In truth, Henry is preoccupied, his eyes dull and unseeing, his thought as fast as light. He’s relaxed on the motorbike, because he just doesn’t care enough right now. They go straight back to Gussy’s, not even taking the detour to the cemetery where Henry’s uncle lies, his dust mere star-stuff.
That night Henry is lying next to Mary. It’s three in the morning, and neither of them has slept; not because of the heat that thickened the air, nor for any hankying or pankying, oh no! Mary, to be honest, was as randy as a stoat, but Henry had something on his mind that he needed to sort through. He’d been quiet and moody since going away with his son, and Adam had retreated as well. All she knew was that she had to give them time, and they’d come to her. Adam had taken her aside earlier that night, and sobbed as he’d told her how he’d seen his father on the previous sunny afternoon at Thermopylae, and she’d understood precisely: she, too, had seen the shadow over her Henry.
And so she lay in bed next to him, uncomfortably warm, wondering if the heat radiating from Henry’s body was healthy, well of course it wasn’t, and he turned to her, feeling her restlessness, her concern, her love, and he turned and said, “I think I saw Miriam.” And he turned away.
“Who?” She’s shocked. Appalled. Suddenly angry. This is not her Henry! This bloody foulness is stealing my Henry away from me!
“Our daughter, Miriam,” he said, and went on to tell her about his experiences at Thermopylae, at the Gates of Fire. “I don’t want to believe it was her,” he went on, after describing the girl with the glint of light in her eye. “But Adam didn’t see her –“
“He doesn’t see every girl in the world,” she said, her anger fading. He’s kept his scepticism.
“He would have noticed this one, mark my words.” Henry stopped, his mind a-jumble, a-jingle, a-jangle. “Look, this goes against everything I’ve ever thought or –“
“You are a bit fragile at the moment.”
“Not that fragile,” he said. “Not that fragile.” His voice was thin and stretched, and Mary was again suddenly afraid for him. Because he was that fragile, and he didn‘t know it. All at once the ground shifted under her feet, and the colours of her life twisted like smoke in the wind.
What was it they‘d said, those white-coated ravens at the hospital? That they could expect mood and personality changes as the tumour grew?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sunday Scribbles VII

PAIN: Another beautiful Sunday in Parrot Eyes. Not yet 9, and all is well with the world: the pain I've been experiencing for the past week or so has receded: it'd be good if it'd go away all together. I had a moment of madness when I thought I'd go to the Gym to stretch the limbs, but have decided to take it easy, and see if another day of physical laziness will kill the pain. But tomorrow - I'm off to sweat.

ALL BLACKS: They won. But I didn't watch the match last night. They're just not relevant any more. I never thought I'd write that, but there it is. I didn't miss the match accidentally: I simply didn't think about it. If the NZRFU want me to start caring again, they'd better do something, and do it quickly.

CATS: The neighbour's cats are very cocky, and have been so ever since Spike died. But Jenny's great with the water pistol. She can get two aimed blasts of water on target before the cat can get away. Viva la Senora agua pistolero!

BREAD: I do envy Taranaki residents. They get to eat Yarrow's bread, and they don't have to pay a transporting premium for it. We've now found two local supermarkets that stock Yarrow's: but the price is high: $4.50 a loaf. Worth it, though. Yarrow's is the best bread baked in the North Island. Try some. It'll give you strong white hair and curly teeth. Yum.

VALERIE VILI: if all is equal in the world, Valerie Vili will soon be Dame Val. She's is beyond being a mere phenomenon. Like Bolt, she is an astonishing freak of nature. And, like Beatrice Faumuina, she's a really, really nice person. I have read that Our Val, as she's known in our house, has the potential to become the country's greatest athlete. I doubt, however, that the skinheads and racist dorks of the world will celebrate that.

THE MIND: I watched a small segment of a programme about Galileo last night, which led me to review an ongoing conversation that's been going on at Chez Mathews about thew nature of Mind, and other trivialities. We've been discussing how people can consider things that are unknown. More on that subject at a later date. But last night I considered how Galileo's observations and reasoning led to Newton's considering gravity, which led directly to Einstein's banging on about his Relatives. Great thinking prgresses, I guess. Oppenheimer said that his team at Los Alamos stood on the shoulders of the giants, and he was right. But then, there's the other side of Mind - that petty, destructive, and feral side. The brain is a lump of flesh just over a kilogram in weight (I think): why do some blossom with beauty, and others stagnate into savagery? I'm not convinced by either the nurture or nature arguments, although nurture does hold some sway. Hmm. More thinking, more reading to do.

JENNY'S READING (and finishing) Stephen Hunter's "The 47th Samurai". In Bob Lee Swagger he has created, I think, the great American hero.

I'M LISTENING TO: The Raconteurs, "Broken Boy Soldiers". Mr White Stripes is a genius, too.

READING: "Shadow of the Raven" by David Sunstrand. A great yarn about a National Park worker in the Mojave Desert. While I feel that I'm learning more than I need to know about North America's wild sheep, so far I'm well pleased with the book. I also heartily recommend the Radcliffe book I mentioned a few days ago - "Under an English Heaven". Heart wrenching.

WORD OF THE DAY: Brunch. What a concept. And it's not a recent construct, either: my family were having Sunday Brunch when I was a child. Being that nice construct of Br/eakast and L/unch, it just works. Something I want to see get going is it's partner: Lu/nch Di/nner, or Lunner: a slow, mid-afternoon meal that can be as big as you like, and as lazy as you please. It actually works well.


“Tell you what: it’s a deal, as long as you let me take you for a ride on a motorbike first.”
Adam’s second great love – after all the girls in the world aged between, say, 19 and 25 – was motorbikes, and Henry had always hated and feared them. He hesitated again, then laughed. “What the hell! I’ve got nothing to lose now, have I? Where are we going?”
“Thermopylae, then your Uncle Don’s grave. We’ll be two days.”
And, standing outside the room, shamelessly eavesdropping, and dropping fat tears, was Mary, and she wanted to shout her joy and love for her man and her son, but she stifled the impulse, and swallowed the sob, and stole quietly upstairs, and made a pot of coffee. Later that day the entire household went down to the little fishing village that had squatted in the Aegean sun for centuries, and Gussy nudged Norman and pointed.
In front of them walked her son, flanked by her grandson and her daughter in law Mary, and in his right hand Henry held Mary’s left, while his left hand held Adam’s right.
Go, tell the Spartans, thou that passeth by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.
The motorbike was an old red Kawasaki GTR 1000 that Adam had found and bought and tinkered with. It’s a great beast of ill-balanced bitchery, but it had an engine that would never die. Adam, out of deference to his Father‘s uneasiness, kept the speed slow as they hammered at the roads leading to Thermopylae.
Henry had wanted to see this site for years: the story of the battle between the two-thousand strong Grecian Athenian and Spartan companies against the million-man might of Xerxes’ Persians enthralled him. He knew how the Athenians and Spartans had held for two days on this narrow strip of land, and then how Sparta’s King Leonidas had instructed the battered Athenians to retreat and gather a greater army, while he and his surviving 300 Spartans would hold the Persian hordes: hold, and die.
For two days they held. Wave after wave of Xerxes’ troops ran themselves against the Spartan’s spears, and wave after wave of them died. Finally, the Spartans were defeated not by courage – although the Persians had displayed enough courage for a world of victories – but by base treachery. A Greek, Ephialtes, whose name even now is a grave insult in Greece, showed the Persian’s a path which led them behind the tiny Spartan shield-wall. Because of his knavery, the Spartans were surrounded, and utterly destroyed.
There’s an inscription at Thermopylae commemorating the battle:
"Go, tell the Spartans, thou that passeth by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie."
Henry walked the battlefield, stunned by how small it was. He almost imagined he could feel the stickiness of the blood beneath his feet, and smell the sweat and blood and shit and piss and fear and courage of the men who fought here. He marvelled. He felt his own bitter mortality here, where the ghosts of brave men gathered and sang their old soldiers’ songs, their breath rustling the olive trees leaves. He stood under the hot Grecian sun, under this copper bowl of a sky, and tried to understand what it must have been like to stand shoulder to shoulder with men you knew and trusted and loved, and to face certain, almost immediate, death. He could taste the leather armour harness, smell the bronze helms and greaves and swords, the four metre ash spears. Ah, the clash of cutlery, the cut and curse of courage. At the time of their death, he wondered, did they feel warm in their companionship, or did each man die alone, wrapped in his own mystery? He suddenly felt small and defenceless, and very, very scared.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


In the ebb and flow of life's tidal pools, there's probably nothing that has ruled my life more than lust. I'm unique in that I share this with, oh, 6 billion other people.

I always supposed that lust would fade as I got older. It hasn't. Certainly, it's not as sharp: lust no longer has that totally involving stupidity to it that it used to have. But it has merely changed. The leopard's spots are becoming stripes.

James Carter, that most maligned and mis-understood of US presidents, famously said "I have lusted in my heart." He was pilloried for that statement, possibly because of its bland honesty. As I recall, the statement came about because he was trying to explain that while he had never cheated on his wife, he understood those who did so. And, honestly, what individual hasn't, at some stage, looked at an attractive other and thought "Well, cor, I can sure imagine doing the horizontal two-step with you.."? Of course we have. Jimmy's problem was his gee-whiz peanut farmer honesty.

There have been times when I have given in to my lusts. I've been a true, if rueful, surrender monkey. Let's be clear on this: I'm not only talking about sexual lust, although that is a bright and shining star on the firmament of desire. Some lusts, I think, are forgiveable. The simple yearning for a dish of boysenberry ripple ice cream on a steamy summer's afternoon: a lust that's easily given in to, even though I have to acknowledge the down-side - that of an extra ten minutes on the exer-cycle. Other lusts are things of fantasy: the cherry red E-Type Jag or midnight blue 1960 Chev Corvette that I will never own, but remain in the back of my mind, skittering insects, informing me of days gone by when such things were not only desirable, but guilt-free. Today, of course, they're simply desirable, but oh so totally carbonny sinful.

Today, with my hair greying and thinning as fast as my waistline thickens, I think of the various women I have truly lusted for. All unattainable then and now, of course, and there is a certain wistful nostalgia in my recollection of those pulse-pounding moments when I thought "if only...".

Such, of course, is the nature of lust. Satisfying it can be such a disappointment. But then, one is not to know that until one has taken steps to scratch the itch.

So today I find my lusts are travelling in different directions. Physical lusts are still there, no doubt: but they are tempered by more intellectual desires. The idea of rubbing brains instead of groins is starting to take the ascendancy.

The flip side is that, oddly, the meeting of physical desires (Yes, sex. I was trying to be elegant. Bull in china shop, you say? OK...) is far more gooderer now than it ever has been. This has an awful lot to do with my wife, who - well, she's worth a lustful thought every now and then. Like any day with a "y" in it.

Lust is, I think, an allowable sin. Acting on the lust is usually not so easily dismissed. Succumbing to the seratonin-stirring blind ambition of lust will almost always bring pain to someone. Lust is, at core, selfish. It's an "I want it, and I want it now!" shrieking that starts in the gonads and bypasses the bits of the brain that ask "Yeah, but what if?".

So, like Jimmy Carter, I have lusted, and will continue to lust. Probably not in my heart, because I gave thast away some years ago. But certainly in other parts of my psyche, there'll always be a gibbering little monkey leaping up and down saying "gimme gimme gimme". The thing is this: will I continue to keep it chained? Ah, sweet mystery of life.

READING: The Robert J Parker western, "Appaloosa". Brilliant. Sparse, spare, dry, laconic... and as good an acerbic comment on nihilism, anarchy, fascism, and Rousseau's social contract as I've ever read. Back to the library for more, please.

LISTENING TO: Peggy Lee "Golden Greats", simply fantastic. And Russell Morris, "Fundamentalist". The greatest unknown Australian ever.

WORD OF THE DAY: Discipline.

More Henry:

Black Beauty

The horse stood at sixteen hands, and was jet black from fetlock to crupper, from crop to crapper. Henry knew next to nothing about horses, and Mary knew even less. She, at least, appreciated their beauty. Henry derided their stupidity. Where they stood the desert stretched away from them to all points of the compass in a dun broadsheet. The air was drier than Henry could have imagined: it scraped his nasal passages like a fine sandpaper, so he wrapped the scarf around his face, leaving only his eyes uncovered. They glinted as grey as wet steel, and Mary’s mind fled to John Mills at the bridge of a destroyer on an Atlantic convoy, grimly shepherding defenceless cargo ships to safety against an implacable foe. Her fancy made her smile.
They were in Tunisia, and were leaving the next day, to start their American adventure. They’d come here from the stark beauty of Greece, where heartache, courage, grief, love, despair, and hope had been released and reclaimed in equal measures. Gabby, all silks and harrumph, had flowered over the pair of them, while Norman, her Etruscan potter, had been a stalwart column for Adam to lean on.
They had arrived at Gabby’s whitewashed villa shortly after midnight, just three days after receiving the confirmation of diagnosis from the whitewashed medicos in the Auckland hospital. All clinical smiles, bleached hair, and clicking stainless steel instruments, their verdict had been as dry and dusty as they would find the Tunisian sand to be. “Sorry, Mr. Talbot. But your doctor was right.”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” they replied, mis-understanding his question. It could have been quite the joke, one for the cocktail hour, but not for these boy-oes. So unctuous, so false. Mary had a sudden image of black-cloaked ravens, hunched shoulders, green teeth. Well, in Mary’s mind, ravens have teeth, and they are, by golly, green. Give a little, would you? She was sure, at some visceral level, that these men and women drew strength from the dying, and the knowledge they had of their patients’ mortality. She wondered if they knew as well that they too would, one day, be dust.
Tunisian dust, perhaps.
Stardust, never.
Gussy had become an old lady in the three days of waiting for her son. Her vibrancy was gone, and she wafted her silks and chiffons more from habit than desire or pleasure or a need to cock a snoot at you, buster, you in your black suit and black furled umbrella.
Norman looked at her son, this Henry to whom he had spoken so many times but never met face-to-face, and momentarily hated him for the pain he was causing, then he took himself off, and cursed himself for a fool.
Adam’s bewilderment was total. He had always and ever known his father to be a strong man, a tower, a bastion, a rock against which his happiness and delight and joy and fears would dash, to be tamed and returned with that gentle smile.
He had never had cause to stop and consider the love his parents had for him, or the love he held for them.
Love ya, he’d say to his Mother. Hey, Dad, he’d say to his Father. It was all very well for them! They’d only known him for nineteen years, while he’d known them all his life! God damn him, the stupid old bastard! He had no right to die. Had no right. He’d said little that first night in Greece, bewildered by this stranger who’d turned up. This Henry Talbot wasn’t his father: he’s an impostor! His father isn’t going to die: this man was. Adam resented the grim cloak of mortality this man had brought with him, this spectre of death that arrived, gibbering and shrieking, promising pain, tattered robes fluttering on a bitter wind. He had said little to Henry, a little more to Mary, and had been a sullen spectator at the evening meal, taking himself off to bed early.
Then, the next morning, he woke at dawn, and found his Father standing there in his room, looking at a picture he’d taken, and the painting he’d made from it. His Father, standing there, the pride he felt for his son the artist obvious in the way he stood. Adam looked again at his Father, at this man called Henry Talbot, and in that heartbeat understood love and the death that would take his father away from him.
“It’s good,” said Henry to his son. “It’s very good.”
“I’m not happy with it yet.”
Henry smiled. He knew those words, all too well. He said “Your Mum and I were at the Harrison’s a couple of months ago. Do you remember that painting they bought? The blue skiff on the yellow ocean? Your mother wanted to take it back and finish it.”
“It wouldn’t have been the first time.”
“No,” said Henry to his son, and turned to really look at him. Such a fine boy. Long limbed, with the beauty of Mary’s face imprinted over the squareness of his. He had the Talbot hair, the thick brown mop that would only surrender to heavy artillery. And he has Mary’s eyes: vivid green, with a golden speck in the iris of the left eye.
Silence. Then a deep breath from Henry. “You know you’re better than your Mother was when she was your age?”
Adam smiled. “Where you really going to say that?”
Henry stopped, the said “No. Thank you. You’re right - I don’t have time any more to prevaricate. I’d like it if you’d come with us. To wherever it is we’re going. I know I’m asking a lot –“
“I’ll come.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy. I just want to take the chance to be with you and Mary for the time I have left. I don’t know how long it’ll be. The doctors say six months, but it could be a year. This thing that’s growing in my head – well, I am long way away from understanding it. But in a way, I think that it’s given me my life.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No. Nor do I. Not yet, anyway. But I want you with me. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but –“
“Dad, it’s all right.”
Henry sat on the bed, and turned his face from his beautiful son, this young Adonis who looked so much like his uncle but who behaved like his mother, this lad who represented all that was fine and good in Henry’s life. “No.” Said Henry, “It’s not all right. I’ve spent most of my life with your Mother, and never known a real day’s unhappiness – well, except for when your sister died. I’ve been content to stand in my Mary’s glory, and never once have I stopped loving her. I tell her every day that I love her, and I never grow tired of it. I think I’ve told Miriam the same, every day. But I don’t think I’ve ever told you, face to face, man to man, Father to Son, that I have always loved you, too. That –“
“Dad. Some things never need saying. You remember when I scored that try against Southridge, the one that stole the game from them?”
“If you’d seen the look on your face then, Dad, you know that I’d never have any reason to doubt your love.”
Henry sighed, and wondered from where his son had got his wisdom. He‘d certainly never chopped the wood! “But I still should have told you.”
“Perhaps you should,” said Adam. “But you didn’t, and I’m not harmed by that lack. Let’s go somewhere, you and me and Mum, and have a party.”
“What do you say to Tunisia?”
“Why there?”
“Well, that’s where they shot the first Star Wars movie, and where David Lean shot big chunks of Lawrence of Arabia. I think, anyway. And I’ve always wanted to get all dressed up like a Bedouin, like some Sheik of Araby, and ride a horse in the desert.”
“Tell you what: it’s a deal, as long as you let me take you for a ride on a motorbike first.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I was going to write about pain. But I also wanted to write about "Tuesdays with Morrie", the book by Mitch Albom. Then I realised that I could do both, at the same time. I've been putting off writing about the book, because it seems my opinion of it doesn't run alongside that of my wife, and other important people. Like the rest of the reading world, apparently.

The pain I was going to write about is of the physical kind. My arthritis has been kicking up a bit of late, and I've gone a few nights without sleep. Lying in bed, vainly trying to get comfortable, and knowing exactly where my hips and shoulders are at all times because of the molten rock that seems to have replaced the bones becomes a time of deep reflection. One reflects on pain, frustration, pain, discomfort, pain, and pain.

And so the mind swings mightily between pain's casual aspects, and pain's deeper and more meaningful sides. We'll start with the insignificant, and move on to the profound. Small, now: the disappointment and emotional ache that strikes you when you open a pack of potato crisps, only to find that they've been reduced to potato crumbs. Insignificant indeed, but it not to be discounted. If your daily life consists of one hundred and forty figurative packs of potato crumbs, one after the other, you're gonna hurt a lot. The death of a thousand cuts.

Then there's the emotional pain described in "Tuesdays with Morrie", and the intellectual pain the book caused me. Words like cynical manipulation occurred to me, but I have an awful feeling that Mitch was sincere. The whole books reads like a sports-writers efforts to avoid using cliches. Actualloy, it is a book by a sports-writer trying to prove that his lexicon includes more than the five great sporting cliches. Let's be fair, though. The book does describe, quite well, the pain an individual feels when someone s/he knows, loves, and admires is being torn apart by a debilitating illness. Where it goes wrong is in trying to build the dying man up as a reincarnation of Ghandi, Christ, Lenin, Lincoln, and Guevara. Morrie was a simple old professor of Sociology who didn't hold with post-modern consumerism. I happen to think his mind and heart were in the right place, but he was, ultimately, an unsuccessful teacher. He may have led by example, by it seems he had only one disciple: the ever ruminant Mitch. What I'd like to know about Mitch now is this: how big is your TV, Mitch. And how many do you have?

On to significant pain. A few years back my arthritis doctor asked me to grade the daily pain, a score of 1 being minor, 10 being the kind of spiritual and physical pain that makes one question his or her blasphemous atheistic point of view. I said that what I felt then would score a solid 6: the sort of pain that would move me to the over-use of four letter words. They say you forget pain, but you don't. Well, I don't, anyway. Nowadays, if I were to answer the same question, I'd say, yep, 6. And reflect that a few years ago i didn't know diddly about pain.

Frankly, I don't know how my father survived the way he did. His arthjritis was so much more severe than mine, and I have to wonder if I have the courage to live as cheerfully as he did. Still, when all is said and done, it is only a physical experience: it passes, and these are just a few bad days. I have an enormous number of good ones to come.

I can't allow myself to be ruled by pain. But I can try and let it teach me something. The main thing I've learned from the past few days is that I really don't like severe pain.

READING: Robert B Parker's "Appaloosa". A Western. The language is dry and sparse, elegant, and stirring. Thoroughly enjoyable.

LISTENING TO: Jackson Browne, "Time The Conqueror". He's grown up.

WORD OF THE DAY: Drugs. I love them. Especially the pain killing kind. All I have to do is remember to take the damn' things.


Adam ducked and spun and turned and reached and talon-fingers grabbed and gripped and stripped the ball from his opponent, and then he ran.
He ran. On legs as leaden and heavy as punching bags, with the wind rasping and scraping at his throat, the mud and the blood clinging to his boots, he ran and he dared not turn. He heard the yells and the shrieking and the cheering of his home crowd, he heard the blood roaring in his ears, he heard angelic choirs shouting hosannas, he heard his Mother yelling as she ran up the other side of the field, he heard a heavy footfall crash crash crash behind him, he heard the grunting and strain of someone else, an enemy behind him, and he stepped off his right, side-stepping dangerously wide, crash crash behind him, and nearly going over, and there was the sideline, a blur of white and he’s been running for an age, an eternity, civilizations have risen and fallen since to grabbed the ball, and oh god won’t someone take this burden from me, the ball a golden leather trophy tucked under his arm, a chain-weight of glory clasped to his chest, and the ground is sucking at his feet and the drool runs from his lips and down his chin and sweat slaps at his eyes blurring his vision and only 8 seconds have past and he’s an old man, leaden legs driving, lungs heaving, throat screaming, his face a rictus of pain and death and hope and love and he hears a grunting cry as he feels a despairing hand tap at his heel and his left boot goes behind his right ankle but it’s too late too late and he crashes over the try-line and the ball, the precious ball, the burden that he’s carried since time began was between him and the grass, and the try is scored.
And once again, the game is won with a Talbot playing. And the Talbot in question lies still, hearing the thunder of his blood and the heaving of his lunngs and his Mother’s there, kissing him and crying and laughing and cheering and sobbing and screaming and he looks over and there’s his Dad, there’s Henry Talbot, and his Dad’s smile outshines the sun, and Adam knows that it has all been worthwhile.
What was it that made Henry the man he is? Often, it’s nothing more than the actions of the people he loves.

Black Beauty
The horse stood at sixteen hands, and was jet black from fetlock to crupper, from crop to crapper.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


There are a number of evil words in the language. Well - in and of themselves, mere words can't be evil. What the words stand for can be. And it's generally concepts with no consciousness behind them that tend to be evil.

Take, for instance, prejudice, segregation, anti-semitism anti-black anti-white anti-brown anti-Asian anti-muslim anti-wicca anti-aging etc. Concepts that absolutely do not stand up to the rigour of a sound questioning. Thoughtless, baseless concepts.

So, what does that have to do with the innocent word in my title line? Closure. When we have a relationship break-up, we want closure. When we experience the death of someone close to us, we want closure. When our 32 year old son rails at us, telling us we're dick-heads and that what happened ten or fifteen years ago was evil, just evil, we want closure.

Well, no. The entire concept of closure is indicative of our culture of demanding immediate gratification. I have hopes that the recession has taught us a thing or twelve about the costs of instant gratification, but I'm not holding my breath. We want it, and we want it now. We've lost a girlfriend or boyfriend, and it hurts. Want hurt to stop now, Mummy. Make pain go away. Want "closure". So we go and sleep with Kevin or Juliet and blot out the pain with a Margerita or Rum Collins or too much Elephant beer and go and borrow some money and take two weeks off in Tahiti or Fiji, for shame, and we have closure. We've blotted out the learning experience of pain with alcohol and instant hollow pleasure.

We actively learn to not grow, to find ways of stunting growth. We curl our lip at growth and aging, and want everything to stop hurting and make me feel good now.

We want closure, and we're turning into emotional dwarves by seeking it.

It isn't a major evil, but in twenty years time we're going to start wondering why we're making the same mistakes. Over and over and over.

Actually, I agree with what my son had to say. And when I really examined what he had to say (and this was the work of a giant, let me tell you it wasn't easy) it hurt. But I learnt from it. I love my sons. One of them is aware of it.

READING: "Rats", by Allan Mathews. It's my novelisation of my play "Officers & Rats" and I'm putting a few glossy touches to it. Actually, it's not bad. Totally different to "For The Love of Henry", which regular readers of this blog will know all about.

LISTENING TO: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, "No Quarter". Those gents still have it.

WORD OF THE DAY: Closure. Try leaving the fucking door open, instead of looking for "closure". It's artificial, and it doesn't exist, too.


Actually, to say Mary wore her Necklace every day is an exaggeration. There was a three-month period when she’d been uncertain of her Henry, and had thrown it into a bottom drawer in a fit of pique.
And then she took it out again, prepared a canvas, made five exquisite brush strokes, and delivered it to Henry’s small bed-sit in Wellington.
She took it off for her wedding, and now only wears it on her birthday, anniversary, and well, whenever she feels like it, actually. Henry has only ever given Mary three pieces of jewelry: the Necklace, which always had a capital letter; her engagement ring; and her wedding ring. She treasured the necklace most of all, for it had made her a promise that has kept her happy ever since.
Except for the three months when Henry and Hazel were, well, you know.
The Necklace is now as much a part of the lore and legend of Henry and Mary as the painting is, and the try their son Adam scored against the Southridge High School. It was a try that saved the match, and the day, for the good folk North of the Northsouth Bridge.
The game is an annual fixture, and the trophy played for is the Ugglesworth Shield, which has the point of the self-same bayonet that killed Arthur Ugglesworth mounted on it, over a carved representation of Arthur’s moko. It must be said that honours for the Shield cup usually go down-river, to Southridge. An odd fact about the Shield is this: whenever there’s been a Talbot in the Northridge team, then that team has won the day. There have been eight separate occasions: this was to be the ninth, but the result hung on a knife-edge for most of the game.
This annual fixture is celebrated as one of the great games of schoolboy rugby on the calendar. It’s been played since 1893, and has occasionally been televised. This year, however, the cameras were absent. A pity, for this game was to be one of the classics. The Southridge team’s scrummaging pack outweighed the Northridge team’s by nearly 70 kilograms: it was like having an extra player in the pack. It had been a beautifully sunny Saturday in August, and for nearly 75 minutes the two teams had battled and foraged and run and kicked and rucked and scrummaged and bled and wept and scored on the field, under a winter sun that polished the sky a pale metallic blue.
The game had been evenly poised all the way through: while Southridge dominated in the forwards, the Northridge High’s backs’ adventurous forays onto enemy turf had kept them in touch. But right now Southridge were winning, 21-19, and they were desperate to finally put the Talbot curse to bed. For five minutes they had been camped on the Northridge team’s five-metre line, battering and hammering away with set-piece after ruck after maul and scrum after line-out. The Northridge team’s desperate, scrambling, bloody defence had been beyond heroic, the Southridge team’s attack a battering, scrambling, heaving, thumping and bloody marvel to all who saw it. It was a raging North Atlantic hurricane battering at Holland’s dykes, it was Napoleon’s formidable artillery hammering at Wellington’s regiments of scum at Waterloo, it was Xerxes’ glittering thousands hurling themselves upon the spears of Sparta’s bronzed 300 at Thermopylae, and the Northridge team held, and sweated and wept and brayed their war-cry, and grunted as the young heroes from Southridge cut and sawed and pecked and hammered at them in desperation, muscles shrieking, tears running, eyes blazing, the ball going from hand to ground to toe to hand and bodies were wrestled to the ground and the smack and clamour of hard young bodies thumping into one another, the odd grunt of pain, the growls of victory, the bitter snarl of defeat denied, and then it happened.
Adam was dazed, his shirt torn his vision red with strain and sweat and exhaustion and despair when a minor mountain wearing Southridge’s red and yellow, ball tucked under its arm, screaming triumphantly hurtled toward him, and Adam ducked and spun and turned and reached and talon-fingers grabbed and gripped and stripped the ball from his opponent, and then he ran.

Monday, August 17, 2009


It's Tuesday, and alreadt it feels as though the working week is two days old. I missed posting a blog yesterday, and for that I apologise. I offer the best of excuses: my writing would have been terrible. I was hungunder.

For the past thirtyfive odd years I have suffered from hangovers after over indulging in the Western world's Number One Drug, alcohol. My body is becoming less tolerant of this abuse, and I have come to the conclusion that whenever I do get hammered, I end up under the weather. I am not over anything. I feel grotty, sick, trembly, and altogether as though I have been run over by a flock of Percheron horses.

I feel as though I have been hung under a river of molten sandpaper.

I am not hungover, but hung under.

I have now recovered from Sunday's folly, to most of a degree. But then next time I see Jo and Martin I am going to bray like a wounded mule and start bellowing about the option of joining a strange religious sect if Marty makes a move toward his stash of single malt whiskies.

LISTENING TO: Janis Ian, "BIllie's Bones". I couldn't cope with rock music today.

READING: Robert Radcliffe, "Under an English Heaven". Elegant. Marvellous characters.

WORD OF THE DAY: No. Say it, do it.


Here’s a list of movies Henry recommends:
The Wild Bunch
Sin City
Romeo + Juliet
Richard III
The Lord of The Rings (All of them, of course. And in order.)
Ladies in Lavender
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The River Queen
Henry VIII
The Sound of Music (someone has to)
Apocalypse Now
Batman Begins
Das Boot
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Chapter Seventeen.
All that glisters
What is it that makes a woman like Mary love a man like Henry? Let’s relax for a moment, and put Henry’s woes and bullet-pierced hide to one side, and sneak a peek at a curious item in Mary’s jewellery box. It’s a necklace, and on today’s open market is worth, roughly, oh, nothing. Or thereabouts, anyway. It’s bright and colourful, and Henry made it as a gift for her tenth birthday. It was the first real gift he had given her, and it took him a year to make. Here’s how he did it:
First, you take a toothbrush. In 1971 toothbrushes came in a fairly regular size and pattern: there was nothing like the bewildering selection we now enjoy. The handles were of clear vividly coloured plastic, and the business end featured a no-nonsense brush.
So you have your toothbrush – or, in fact, a number of them. Henry had collected his family’s used toothbrushes for nearly twelve months (Gussy favoured the Tek brand), and was now about to start work. He started by dumping a couple of brushes into a pan of boiling water. After a minute or so, the bristles came loose, and floated free. Now’s the time for daring and quick action! The toothbrush handle is grabbed from the water by tongs, and then, before it has a chance to cool, it’s twisted into shape by hands and fingers made clumsy by protective gloves. Henry had 23 toothbrushes – ruby red, emerald green, turquoise, sunflower yellow, a kaleidoscope of colour – and twisted 21of them into figure eight shapes while also plaiting one into the other so he ended up with a rope of colourful plastic. The last two he twisted into interlocking clasps – one for each end of the toothbrush-handle rope.
A Necklace, the likes of which had never before been seen in Northridge. Henry, blushing, had given it to Mary for her tenth birthday, and she wore it every day from then on until her wedding (not to school, however: there were Very Strict Regulations, young lady, about Wearing Jewelry At School! Take That Bauble Off or have it Confiscated, and Thrown into the School Furnace!). So she wore it to school, took it off while there, and put it back on after school hours. Mrs Pickering understood her Mary, and gave her a small jewellery box in which to keep the treasure. It was, and still is, made of faux-tortoise shell, with flaking gilt hinges and trim. A tiny heart-shaped lock keeps it sealed: after all, you wouldn’t want the tooth-fairy to see it. She might want it for herself!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sunday Scribbles VI

Shaved my beard off yesterday. I did it because I was going to a TV shoot,and they wanted me clean-shaven. This is the first time in years the whiskers have all hit the floor, and my face feels it belongs to someone else. Actually, it looks as though it belongs to someone else, as well. It's frightened the cats, and bemused the lovely Jenny. My step-son says that I look like Bill ralston, a local media commentator and all 'round witty guy. Writing like him = good, looking like him = not-so-good. Bill's a nice guy, but has a face like the arse end of the moon.

It's an identity thing, really. I hadn't understood just how much I relied on the facial hair as a prop formy persona. I am Allan, bearded guy. It became even more difficult yesterday, when i went to the shoot. The commercialin question is set in the 1860s, so I stripped off my denims and Batman Tee Shirt, and replaced said garments with pantaloons, high boots, linen shirt, cravat, and frock-coat. On my head went a white powdered wig, and high hat. I successfully stripped off all that was me and became a different man. Dressing up is nothing new to me, but replacing my hairy face with this acreage of skin has disturbed my inner calm.

Not that I have ever had much inner calm: this latest decision to give the people who killed that unfortunate child while trying to "cast out devils" has my blood boiling. If I killed someone because I genuinely believed I could drive drunk safely they'd still lock me up. Just becasue it's "religious" and "spiritual" we have to bow down before it ands grovel. Distasteful, superstitious nonsense - and it pisses me off.

I may have a job. After eight minths on the scrapheap, I may have a job. I'll know on Tuesday.

I'm a fan of capitalism, but not a fan of the so-called market-forces. The unregulated market is a social irresponsibility, one that is designed to hurt people. How can we watch that sort of thing in admiration?

LISTENING TO: Marianne Faithfull, "Blazing Away". She is a marvel.

READING: Still on John Gardner's book. Thought I'd figured out whodunnit, but I was wrong. I'm thoroughly enjoying it: a lovely blend of historical drama, spy yarn, and detective murder thriller. The man has a nice, chummy way of writing, too: he enjoys his audience.

WORD OF THE DAY: Exorcism. It's a concept that will, one day, be regarded with curious horror. How, they will ask, could our civilised ancestors have supported such a peculiar belief?


History Never Repeats
What is it that makes a person like Henry? Background has a lot to do with it.
Henry, being a man who prefers the time that’s gone, often thought that history, like time itself, has a fluid consistency. What is true one day will be demonstrably a fallacy the next. Where, in one man’s history, King Alfred was a ditherer, so that self-same ruler of men strides in another’s history as a behemoth and a paragon of destiny and discipline. So it is with Northridge, Henry’s home town.
Northridge nestles fat and smug on a north-facing slope over the banks of New Zealand’s North Island’s longest river. It had first been settled in the late 1840s by one Arthur Ugglesworth and his wife, Agnes. Already in their 30s, Arthur and Agnes cleared a few acres, planted crops, and developed a good working and trading relationship with the local natives. After five hard years of toil, during which Arthur said not one kind word to his wife, she ran off with a local Maori, who was – it must be said – a far more cheerful individual than the dour Arthur. Agnes and Hemi settled a few miles downstream, cleared a few acres, planted crops, and established – wait for it - Southridge. Arthur carried on alone, and assimilated himself into the daily life of the local Maori village, eventually having a full moko, or tattoo, carved into his face. He tended his farm, helped establish a Co-op General Store, a Blacksmith’s shop, a tavern, and a Post Office.
Now, while Southridge also sat on a North-facing slope of the river, it was, in fact, on the opposite bank of the sinuously twisting river. Halfway between the two is The Bridge. On the Northridge side of the river it is identified as the Northsouth Bridge, while on the opposite side the sign clearly names it the Southnorth Bridge.
Crop and dairy farms soon became established over the area, and local tribesmen fought a few battles as they attempted to secure their land in safety from the invading settlers. It is to Arthur Ugglesworth’s eternal credit that he fought against the British soldiery who came to evict the local native landowners, and after falling in battle with a British bayonet snapped between his ribs, his wife Agnes had him buried in Northridge’s small cemetery.
In time, conquest and submission came to the Waikato region, and the haunted hills and valleys rang to the sound of the settlers’ steel axes felling the mighty forests. Northridge grew North along its slope; Southridge grew South. The entire region basked under a benevolent sun for a hundred years and more, with the immigrant population growing fat and sleek on the fruits of the tamed land. The first Henry Talbot came to Northridge in the late 1880s, having made a respectable pile of golden guineas in the gum-digging fields far to the North. He established a general store, and provided a building for the small township’s first bank. He served on the local district council, and eventually took a place of honour in the town’s growing cemetery. His son, Henry Talbot, was a builder, and built the first of the Talbot houses on Talbot Terrace. The cul-de-sac had been named well beforehand, in recognition of the contributions Henry Talbot (pere) had made to the town. As the years rolled by, so a torrent of sequential Henrys lived and worked from the Talbot Terrace property, until, in 1962 our Henry Talbot wriggled, bellowing, into the world. His father, the penultimate Henry, would have been horrified to learn that his son had sired only one male child and had not carried on the naming tradition. Happily, he was already domiciled in the Northridge cemetery by the time Adam was born, and what he didn’t know certainly wasn’t going to hurt him. We say “happily” in the previous sentence not because the gent in question was a philanderer, wife-beater, serial murderer, or had a habit of swiping coins from Sunday’s collection plate, but rather because Henry-The-Last wouldn’t have wanted to upset his Dad. So, ces’t la vie, Henry pere: Henry fils did what he thought was best.
Which is what he always did.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

District 9.

I went to see the new film, District 9, yesterday. Let's not be in any doubt that it should feature strongly at the Oscar ceremonies. Let's also be well assured that it probably won't do well at all. It should be nominated for a number of awards - best film, direction, actor, photography, screenplay, special whizz-bang effect, sound amongst others - because it works superbly on all levels, and is a movie that's still porobing and prodding my hind-brain 24 hours after saeeing it.

It won't do well, because the lead actor, Sharlto Copley, is palpably South African (and therefore unintelligible to Americans - will they do sub-titles?) and because it deals harshly with a huge problem the world doesn't want to think about any more.

It will undoubtedly be put into the Science Fiction section of your local video store when it's done its theatre thing. This will also be a mistake. While it does feature aliens and a f*cking huge spaceship, it's as much Science Fiction as Orwell's "1984" or "Animal Farm" were Science Fiction.

"District 9" looks at separatism, apartheid, race-hate, segregation, civil rights, call it what you will, and for the first half of the movie I was horrified to find myself almost sympathising with the neo-nazi hero worker-bee as he strove to clear District 9 of life.

The movie's premise is simple: two decades ago, a vast spaceship came to Earth, and parks itself over Johaneesburg. For 20 years, it's hovered there, unmoving. When it arrived, it was filled with a large number of insect-descended aliens, who were ill. They were brought down to the surface, and given a home in District 9 - a slum. At the present time, there are over a million aliens - called Prawns - living a slovenly life in the District 9 slum cum shantytown. A privately owned arm of the Government plans to shift them all 200 kilometres away to District 10, in the heart of the desert: out of sight,out of mind. Our hero is given the task of overseeing the shift. A number of tactics we will recall from historical footage of Nazi Germany, pre-Mandela South Africa, and current day Israel / Palestine will spring to mind.

The movie is initially presented as a documentary: live action shots of Wilkus van der Merwe (astonishly well played by Sharlto Copley in his second first movie role. The first role, five or six years ago, was basically as an extra. This is extraordinary. ) backed by heavily armed henchmen, tricking the hive-mentality Prawns into signing their eviction orders to be taken to their new paradise home, in the heart of a desert. Shades of Soweto, of course. Let's be clear here: the majority of Prawns aren't all that bright. They are sentient, but let's face it: they're way out of their comfort zone. They are refugees, in every sense of the word. Shades of Palestine. They're taken away to their new homes, crammed into the backs of trucks - the movie channels Nazi Germany. There is a bright Prawn, who has an even brighter child. Cute factor. He wants to takes his people home, and has laboured for 20 years to do so. There's a multi-national company that wants the secrets to the Prawn's technology and weaponry - tech that will work only when operated by a Prawn: DNA sensitive. Wheels within wheels, plots within plots, acted and filmed with brio, with drive, with panache, and with rare sympathy to all concerned. Well, there's one character who is an utter bastard, and we know it from minute one.

I won't go any further into the plot: to say too much more would be to spoil the whole.

This is a social drama movie heavily disguised as a Sfi Fi movie heavily disgiused as a small dumb action flick. If you don't see it, you may well miss the best movie of the year. Just don't hold your breath waiting for it to win anything at the Oscars. I hope I'm wrong on that prediction, and I fear I won't be.

READING: Bloody Morrie and those bloody Tuesdays. I'll do a vinegary rant about it soon.

LISTENING TO: Jethro Tull, "Roots to Branches". The song "At last, Forever" is one of the finest love songs I know.

WORD OF THE DAY: MAKATU. Religious / spiritual superstition that allows one to kill an intellectually disabled person and get away with it. I actually thought we were a civilised people here in our little corner of the world. It turns out that we're just a bunch of ignorant, superstitous morons.


The Wisdom of the Woodpile.
Henry has three axes. One has a fine stainless steel head that weighs in at just over two kilograms, and he keeps the edge razor sharp. The handle is hickory, and shows a little damage up at the head where Henry’s misjudged the occasional stroke and overshot the piece of wood he’s cutting. His second is a splitting axe: a small, genetically engineered sledgehammer on which one side narrows into a blade. It’s a heavy, brutal tool that Henry enjoys wielding. The third is a short-handled tomahawk that Henry uses to cut kindling.
Every November Henry has forty three-metre larch logs delivered: there’s an alley that gives trucks access to the Talbot Terrace backyards, and Jake Rimmer, Northridge’s number one firewood guy, knows the alley well. The logs are delivered with precision, money changes hands along with an annual chat about the cost of Christmas and how the ratbag ref completely ballsed up the last All Blacks game. Then Henry rolls his sleeves up, and gets to work.
Each log is manhandled to lean against the back fence, where it will stay for at least a year, drying and curing. In March and April, the year-long dance continues: Henry gets out his cross-frame and bow-saw, and lifts each log, in turn, onto the frame where he handsaws it into 30 centimetre lengths. His neighbours watch him as they guiltily fire up their chainsaws to do a similar chore in their backyards. Smug bastard. Just who the hell does he think he is, anyway, with his precious handsaw. Probably votes for the Greenies. The minuet of the woodpile then takes its third step: the rounds are stacked for another year’s seasoning, and last year’s sawn pieces are taken out for splitting for the coming winter’s fires. And it’s this part that Henry really relishes.
Mary Talbot has painted this scene a number of times, and is yet to be satisfied with her efforts. She sees Henry as a heroic figure, handling the heavy splitting axe like a toothpick, attacking and vanquishing his wood-pile foe. That, of course, is where she’s got it wrong. If Henry were to paint or describe the scene, the first word he would say would be “thought”.
For it’s while he’s splitting the wood into chunks suitable for the fire that he does much of his creative thinking.
Whoa! Creative thought? Our Henry?
Well, yes. When Henry’s troubled, he’ll wander off to the woodshed, and pick up his axe, sharpen it, then cut through a few slabs of fire wood. When Miriam died he cut three winter’s worth of wood, taking his fury and grief out on the chopping block. Mary stood at the kitchen window and watched as Henry balanced two chunks of wood onto his heavy chopping block, then slapped his splitting axe down, slap-crunching through the first piece and cracking the second wide open.
Crash! She’s dead!
Crash! It’s not fair!
Crash! Why her?
Had she been there in earlier years Mary would have seen him as he rehearsed how he would propose to her. She doesn’t know it, but she’s watched him as he’s sorted out how to talk with Adam about sex and drugs and motorbikes and young love and mathematics and music and art and for heaven’s sake keep your room tidy, young man!
Crash! The axe bites deep and the mind freewheels.
Crash! Freewheels onto a poem read the previous evening.
Crash! And what was the poet saying? What images came to mind?
Crash! Actually, the poem was a load of cobblers.
Crash! The Rover needs a tune-up. Better buy the plugs.
Crash! That’s it! That’s how to get the marae’s books sorted!
With the passing of each season the woodpile at 22 Talbot Terrace ebbs and flows, shrinks and grows, and each stroke of the saw, each heave of a log, every drop of sweat that falls, every axe-strike, every delicate little blow with the kindling axe has helped Henry find a solution to whatever it has been that’s worried him, or that’s been gnawing at his mind. Which is why it was so puzzling that Henry left his axes to hang, rusting, on their nails on the woodshed wall while he fled to foreign shores to confront the greatest problem of all.