Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oo, 'e is a card.

I don't want to appear a cheap curmudgeonly old crookshanks...

Oh, all right then. Call me a cheap curmudgeonly old crookshanks if you will, but I do maintain that the modern rort that is bottled water does have its equivalent from the late 1800s. It came from some clever and fly old bugger noticing how dewy-eyed his Mrs got when she received a hand-made one, and one of Mr Edison's new-fangled light bulbs went on above his head.

I'll call him Mr Hallmark, although that wasn't his name. I refuse to research it, because to give the guy even the fleeting notoriety a blog that has a total readership in the dozens is more than he deserves.

Now, hands up everyone who's stoopid enough to buy bottled water. OK, Jenny - you can put yours down. Jenny knows that buying bottled water gives you an even smaller return for your money than buying a Lotto ticket, but she will insist on buying one before we go for a long drive. Then she'll spend a hundred kilometres looking for a public loo. One forgives one's beloved their little peccadilloes, though, and I am ever gracious in the way I overlook this display of crass stoopiditty.

What I find harder to forgive is the insistence on buying bloody birthday cards for all and sundry. Yes, it's nice to acknowledge someone's birthday. The birthday person comes over all warm and gooey, and will hopefully rewrite their wills. In my favour.

But a phone call is a lot more personal. "Look, ma: I've picked up the phone and we're communicating! You can hear the joy in my voice that you've survived another year in Godzone!" And, with the ever-improving telephone rates, it's as cheap as chips. In fact, if my mother would switch to Slingshot, the calls would be free, but that's another matter.

But no, my darling insists that we go and buy a card. We have four options: vulgar humour, or schmaltzy weepy crap, and cheap or expensive. What am I saying? Expensive, or bloody outrageous. You can mix the four around so you can have schmaltzy and expensive, schmaltzy and bloody etcetera, vulgar and BO, and so on. I mean: a bit of flimsy cardboard, printed both sides... if you were to get a quote from a printer, you could probably knock 'em out at $50 a hundred. And Jenny gladly forks out $8.50 for one of them, then insists on stuffing the envelope with the aforementioned financially futile Lotto ticket.

OK, I know you can get greeting cards for as "little" as $4.50. Gosh, and suck my thumb. The thought of it is enough to turn my teeth to toast*. And we only do it because we're expected to. Well, ha and bumbug. Send me an ecard, and dump your water bottle into the recycling bin for me. Or fill it from the tap, and re-use it fifty times, then dump it in the recycling bin, and then remember what glass tumblers were invented for.

Actually, don't send me an ecard. They are, if anything, even more scandalously schmaltzy than the worst of Mr Hallmark's droning efforts. Call me. I have a phone number. If you're a friend, you'll know it, and you'll thrill me to bits with your call. If you're not a friend, but someone who likes my writing, add a comment on my blog of the day. Don't worry - I'll be pre-announcing my birthday in plenty of time, so you won't miss it. Actually, add a comment anyway. This daily tap-tap-grumping needs some leavening, and your wit and wisdom might just be the kick in the pants I need.

And here's an added bonus: if the mailman isn't labouring under the burden of several gazillion greeting cards every year, s/he may be able to start delivering your other mail on time.

Kia kaha, folks.

*turn my teeth to toast isn't my line. I wish it was. It comes from "The Oath of Bad Brown Bill," by Stephen Axelson. My friend, Gillyin, brought it up to Auckland to show me. I nearly wet myself. It should be as popular as The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

READING: Coming to the end of "Silesian Station", by David Downing. Well written, well-researched spy story set in Berlin, Warsaw, and Moscow in 1939. Highly recommended. About to start "Tuesdays with Morrie". I fear it may be more treacle-y than Hallmark, but we'll see.

LISTENING TO: "Modern Jazz at St Germain de Pres," Bernard Pfeiffer and Bernard Zacharias. I like it a great deal.

WORD OF THE DAY: crookshanks.

More Henry, folks... A whole chapter, this time!

The First Cut Is The Deepest.
What, exactly, is it that has made Henry into the person he is? Part of it is his own personal philosophy that states that if it is observable, then it has already happened. There is no such thing as an observable present. There is only the past, in which we all live, or there is the future; and, if you are in a constant state of observing yourself and the things you have just done, then you can learn immediate lessons from your actions, and thereby influence the future.
This is a solid and practical philosophy for Henry, and is the reason he spends so much time in reliving the distant past. This is the path he chose very early in life, and he is comfortable with the ruts and potholes he occasionally stumbles on.
His car is nearly forty years old, he is radically conservative in his dress, he believes firmly that it takes a village to raise a child, he is passionate about the values that made his own childhood a time of golden dawns, scarlet gloamings, and sun-soaked days of adventure and freedom.
Henry has few true loves, but he cleaves to them all with an intensity that is inspirational – and the delightful thing is that he is totally unaware of the hope and joy he gives others around him.
His family, immediate and spread, is his second love. I think we all know, by now, the object of his deepest affection. To say that Henry would give his life for his family is to utter a truism that’s as banal as saying that the sky is blue.
Everyone has defining moments. Both Henry and his brother-in-law, Micah, shared one, and, when they’re shirtless you can see the reminders, for each bears on the insides of their rights arms and down their ribcages and thighs dozens of jagged scars.
It happened like this:
The beach stretches for miles in either direction, sparkling white sand, soft, warm waves rolling in from the Pacific Ocean, grumbling and muttering that their long journeys have ended here. The current swept the waves in from the left, and continually uncurling ribbon of pleasure. There are a few small town dotted along this coastline, and Henry, Mary, and their son Adam are enjoying a couple of week’s break at one of them with Sybil, Micah, and their four children: Josie, Charlie, Felicity, and Bob. Every now and then one of the adults glances up to make sure the swimmers are safe, but there’s no real urgency: unlike his father, Adam’s a strong swimmer, despite being just ten years old. Little Felicity seems to be part otter – Micah had stunned the assemblage earlier that day by saying that “she otter be in the water, that girl.”
For a man who rarely jokes, this is fall-about laughing mirth.
The jetty pokes a long tongue out to the water, providing berthing for the odd fishing boat or cabin cruiser that may potter along. In a previous generation, the jetty had been used to load coastal traders from: there’d been a prosperous trade in the long-grained kauri logs which had been felled by the thousand. Now, in better times, the forest is protected, but the jetty, with its rail line along its length, is a reminder of those days. The jetty is built out where the water suddenly shelves away, where nature had provided a decent draught for the four and five thousand-ton ships that moored there. It extends a runway at least fifty metres out, and the children are expressly forbidden to swim around it.
So this is what’s happening, right at this moment: Adam and Felicity are swimming, body-surfing the waves, shrieking and yelling their delight, a pair of long-limbed dolphins, their brown bodies shining and fit. The other four kids have been sent on an errand to the local shop for ice-cream and Cokes, Mary and Sybil are chatting quietly, Micah is working feverishly at a foolscap pad with a pencil and eraser, and Henry’s chuckling at Yossarian’s frantic attempts to avoid and escape the bony fingers of Catch 22. There’s another family on the beach, about fifty metres south of our comfortable group. Henry’s just getting his head around Major Major Major’s rules about his office, when he notices a change in pitch to the kids’ shouts and taunts and shrieking laughter, and at the same time he hears a shout from down the beach. He looks, and sees a woman pointing out to the water. Blood draining from his face, he turns, to see Adam and Felicity at least a hundred metres out: too far. Too damn’ far! Micah is standing beside him, huge and shaggy, and then they’re running. They can see Adam’s holding Felicity, but they’re in the grip of a strong tidal rip, and being carried along the beach. Henry’s about to leap into the water when Micah grabs his arm, and shouted “The jetty! We go in off the jetty! It’ll save time!” And so they ran, this pair of men, ran for the lives of their children, up onto the jetty and a hard fifty metre sprint over splintered wood and gullshit and rusted railway lines and threw themselves at the water, the sweet and salty water than was carrying their children away, and they thumped at the water with their arms, sweeping it aside as they struggled to reach the children and it was an age an eternity my god galaxies grew and died in the time it took them and Henry swallowed a mouthful of water and coughed and shouted for his son “Aaaaadaaam!” he screamed, and then his hand closed over a smooth limb and he held the small body to his chest, and it’s Felicity.
“I’ve got him,” shouts Micah. “I have Adam!”
“Thankyou. Oh god, thankyou,” says Henry. “I’ve got Floss.”
The child is in tears, suddenly exhausted and heavy beyond belief. “Come on, sweetheart,” says Henry to Felicity. “You’re safe now. I’ll not let you go,” and he knows that Micah’s talking to Adam, comforting him, and he wants to weep, but kicks himself onto his back and lays the little girl onto his chest and he feels her shivering and he feels her fear and he feels her courage, and he kicks out hard for the beach.
Neither man is a strong swimmer: the only thing they have going for them is their fitness. Henry still plays cricket and coaches rugby, while Micah, who never learnt to drive, cycles everywhere in Wellington. Their legs scissor and kick at the ocean’s tug and grab, and Henry casts a despairing look back to the beach. It’s a day’s hard work away. More. The thought that he won’t make it frightens him, and he looks again: the jetty.
“The jetty!” he screams to Micah. “Make for the jetty!” And they kick and struggle and there’s a red haze in Henry’s eyes, and he hears Micah beside him, spluttering encouragement, and then a barnacle, oyster, and mussel encrusted jetty leg scrapes his back, and he grabs it with his right arm, keeping the child safe and held high in his left, her head well clear, and she’s sobbing into his hair, snot and tears and screams, and he grips the pole, and the oysters and mussels razor into his flesh, stab and pierce him, slash and cut away at his strength, and behind him Micah is undergoing exactly the same sweet torture, but the children are safe.
The water around the two men is turning crimson, an incarnadine soup, but they dare not let go for they’re not sanguine that they have the strength to keep the children safe, and the water’s tugging at them, seducing them into surrender, sucking at their wounds, slapping and slamming them again and again and again into the shellfish, each man is being cut and slashed but they hold the children safe, away from the seduction of the poles, and a boat is there and voices are crying out to them and arms are reaching out for Floss and Adam and Henry can’t let go of the pole, so tired, too tired to give up, the struggle cannot end and Sybil is in the water with them and she is slapping and slapping and screaming at Henry and he gives up so tired so very, very tired, and he is pulled into the boat where Micah is already bleeding and laughing and shouting that they did it, they did it, and Adam is weeping and then they’re on the beach and the children, the children are safe.
Later that afternoon, at the medical centre, they compare wounds and running repairs. Henry has a glorious total of 187 stitches in his hide, while Micah cropped 221. But then, there’s quite a good deal more of Micah to damage, isn’t there.
The kids were back in the water the next day, and Floss went on, years later, to represent her country at the Commonwealth Games. No worries.
The bond that Henry and Micah share can’t be described, and both men would be embarrassed if it was talked about. It just is, that’s all, and there’s no need to blither on.

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