Yesterday, I approached a theme that I intend to revisit and examine over the course of the next few weeks: that of nobility. I was ruminating,much as the cow-pat producing creatures also mentioned in yesterday's blog do, last night on where this thought would take me, when my attention was miserably grabbed by the witterings on television.
The headline news on the broadcast was about the rorts and sticky-fingered activities of our M.Ps. I am enraged. I agree that the job is demanding, and that it is far better for the individual M.Ps to have their families nearby. This is what a just and reasonable society would expect, and be happy to pay for. But when a career politician like Bill English, who is practically guaranteed tenure in his seat, buys a house in Wellington for his family to live in full-time, then I do not think it behooves him to claim any sort of subsidy from the people of New Zealand for those living arrangements.
His is a high wage, and a deserved one. A quarter of a million dollars PA is not a mean sum. What is mean is his claiming a further $45,000-odd to live in a house he bought with the intention of living in for a long, long time. And to come on to television and congratulate himself for reducing his claim by 50% is so far beyond hypocritical as to make me want to vomit.
This man's scurrilous behavior makes my skin crawl. Let's take a look at the steps he has taken in his descent into the gutter.
1: He became an M.P, undoubtedly with the honourable intention of serving his community and country. 10 out of 10, Bill. Well done.
2: For his first term – as he was earning his stripes – he commuted back and forth to his family in Winton or Wonton or Witless, in the South island. Uprooting them at that point would be cruel, and a bit of a hard gamble. He finds out that his living costs in Wellington, while he's far from the bosom of his family, are to be met by Parliamentary Services. This is what a just and honourable society will do, and I pat myself on the back for supporting that.
3: Once he decides that he has tenure as an MP – something that MMP practically guarantees him - he buys a family home in Wellington, where he will spend the vast majority of his time, so he could have his family with him. He undoubtedly loves his wife and children, and wants to be with them. Dammit, another 10 out of a possible 10. You're on a roll, Bill.
4: He then, while in Opposition, continues claiming for living in his - now – family home. His children are going to school in Wellington, his wife has a busy medical practice in Wellington, he is an absentee MP., only occasionally visiting the people he represents in Witless. The amount he is able to claim for not living in Witless is around $24,000: he takes full, greedy, advantage of this. 2 out of 10, Sweet William: your halo has slipped.
5: When his party sweeps into power, and he becomes a Cabinet Minister, his privileges are increased. Most of this I have no problem with: as I said, it is my duty and pleasure to support that people who do make considerable sacrifices to govern. But he is now a full-time resident of Wellington. It has become his home town. Parliamentary Services says he can claim $48,000 if the place he lives in isn't his own. So he changes the title of his long-term home in Wellington to his wife's name.. and claims that extra cash Tut, Bill. Tut. 0 out of 10.
6: When this rort is disclosed, he smiles disingenuously, and says he's done nothing wrong.
But Bill - the question is this: have you done anything right? You have used the system, you have abused the system, and that means you have used and abused me. And to generously repay half of what you have ripped the system off for is to compound your ignoble actions.
Bill, you are a cur. As is everyone else in Parliament who has used this loose rule to secure thousands of extra dollars. I am sure that there are Labour, Green, Maori, and ACT members who are or who have fleeced the system just as you are continuing to do.
Noble? Nothing noble about this at all.
LISTENING TO: Carl Davis "Music from the Movies". Just heard the theme to "Lawrence of Arabia". There was someone noble. Quite mad, of course. But nobly so.
READING: Coming to the end of Connolly's book. I have to put it down occasionally, as I'm gasping for air.
WORD OF THE DAY: Perfidy.
Money, money, money.
As it eventuated, the family wouldn’t buy the Talbot Street house. It was mutually agreed that it should be kept in a Family Trust, with disposal to be decided on Henry and Mary’s return. With their investments and savings liquidated, the couple had a little over three quarters of a million dollars in cool cash to fool around with, and the family didn’t want Mary to be left with nothing after Henry checked out.
The language they had used while talking about the problem that been evasive, and laden with heavy euphemism. The words dying, death, dead were used only by the ever-practical Henry and the ever-astonished Micah. All the others used phrases like “when you leave us,” “passed on“, “gone over“, “checked-out,” or even “gone to glory.” Henry grumbled that it was dishonest, while Mary understood the defence mechanisms that where being put into place.
The further tests that Henry underwent in Auckland confirmed the early diagnosis. Henry surprised himself by the deep feelings of defeat and depression that swept over him when the specialists told him. But the words were out, the proof there in his blood and in the pictures and in the grimly leaden faces of the medical staff of the hospital. There was nothing that could be done: not money nor hope nor prayers offered a release. Henry smiled at Mary, hiding the chill in his heart, and said “Well. We’d better try laughter, then.”
Of death and love.
Twenty six years ago, when Henry was 21 years old, he hopped onto the overnight express and rode the rails through the night to Hamilton, then hitched a ride home with a madman dressed in a violent yellow shirt, and driving a Vanguard. The Vanguard is probably one of the ugliest and most useless cars to ever be built in Britain, and was almost definitely the cause of that fair nation’s decline as a world power. No country with aspirations to greatness could ever have designed, made, and marketed the Vanguard. A rumour once circulated that Margaret Thatcher had been conceived in the back of a Vanguard grocery van, which could go a long way toward explaining a great many things about that precious isle, that Albion.
This, however, is a divertissement: the Vanguard features no more in Henry’s life, although he will never forget it.
The yellow-clad madman dropped Henry off in the centre of Northridge, and he walked the rest of the way home: Talbot Terrace was just a mile or so down the road, so he slung his bag across his shoulders and started jogging.
He had been drawn home by a call late in the previous day: Mary’s mother had slipped on the back step, and fallen, cracking her skull on the concrete stairs. She died, as they say, in a heartbeat - although that is somewhat oxymoronic. Fortunately, it was her neighbour who found her, and called the ambulance and police. Mary was contacted by Henry Talbot Snr., and picked up and brought home by Gussy, who called Henry Jnr. home.
Mary didn’t know whether or not she was an orphan. She had never known her father, who had hitched a ride on an island trader when the then blushing Miss Pickering had told him she was pregnant. That was the last time she saw him. The Miss was changed to Mrs, and her parents had bought the house for her in Talbot Terrace when Mary had spent a full term at a dismal school in The City. Even before the packers had arrived with her furniture, she had been to the nearby school and enrolled Mary. She had been a Talbot Terrace resident for two weeks before asking that terribly serious little boy to walk her daughter to school, as she had twisted her ankle. On such small things does the world turn.
When Henry jogged up Talbot Terrace he looked at Number Ten, with its curtains drawn and blinds pulled. He stopped and stood, panting in the early morning air, breath billowing in great white clouds. He said “Mary.” And, his throat aching with deep sorrow, he went home and let himself in, through and past the great stag at bay on the door. It was far too early for the household to be stirring, so he took his shoes, socks, and jacket off and went to the kitchen and made a brew: Amber Tips, his favourite tea. A hefty dollop of milk, a teaspoon of sugar, and he went up to his room, opening the door and dumping his bag, and setting his cup of steaming hot tea on his dresser.
His bed was not empty.
His bed was still not empty.
There were red curls on his pillow, a shape under the covers. “Mary,” he breathed.
His bed was occupied. “Mary,” he whispered.
He knelt by the bed, and stayed still for several lifetimes, looking at her. She had a spit-bubble at the corner of her mouth, and she hadn’t taken her make-up off before going to bed. Mascara stained her cheek where a tear bad borne it, and he had never seen anything so unutterably beautiful in all his life.
His bed. Was. Not. Empty. “Mary,” he sighed.
Her eyes opened, brilliant and green in the early morning light, and he saw the gold fleck which he always searched for, and she smiled and held her arms out and clasped him around his neck. “Mary,” he cried. “Hold me,” she wept.
Mary lay in his bed, for the first time…
He lay beside her, on top of the covers, and he felt her grief and love, and he held her as she wept for her Mother, as she wept for herself, as he promised her, “I will never leave you.” And she told him he must, that he needed to finish his degree, and her lips moved against his ear, and she wet his cheek with her tears as her lips moved to his mouth, and he kissed her gently, and she asked him to hold her, talking into his mouth, and the taste of her breath was sweet.
She was wearing his pyjamas, a pair that Gussy had characteristically saved from when he had been in his early teens, and they were still too large for her. He will never forget the moment she sat up, warm and inviting, the jacket of trains on a background of blue sliding off her warm body. He couldn’t move. He was, in so many, many ways, rigid.
Mary took one of his hands, and put it onto her left breast: he could feel her heart thudding. His own was setting up a tsunami of emotions, and he was deafened by the thunder of hope and love and fear and desire that coursed through him. She undid the buttons of his shirt, and pressed herself to him for the first time.
An eon or two passed by, various henges where built on the crossroads of time, and she moved his hands to her bottom, and she kissed him. “Mary,” he moaned. “My Henry,” she said. “My Henry.” If you were to ask him, he could never have explained what happened to encumbrances made by Wrangler and Jockey. Mary claimed him with her body, and loved him, and he moved into her and she took him for her own while he took her for his own, and from that moment on he has never, could never, would never look at or think of another woman. He was, indeed, her Henry, as she was his Mary.
Two hours later Gussy opened the bedroom door, and looked at them sleeping peacefully, in each others arms, and she smiled and thought “how right,” and picked up a cold cup of tea, Amber Tips, his favourite, and left them. Henry’s dreams that morning were his, and his alone.
Henry Snr. was to die just four weeks later: he came home from work, bent to passionately kiss Gussy hello, said “Oh, gosh” and fell to the floor. He was dead before he hit the vinyl. Henry came home again, astonishing himself by the coldness of his emotions. He didn’t weep for his father then: he couldn’t. Gussy was almost destroyed, but also buoyed up that the very last thing her Henry had done was to show, even in such a tiny way, his love for her. This was, of course, cold comfort. Occasionally, however, that’s the best we can hope for.
Henry made the arrangements for his father’s funeral. It fell on him to choose a coffin, to pay the undertaker, to sit and call everyone who mattered in his father’s life: “Mrs Johnstone? It’s Henry Talbot here - Henry and Gussy’s son. Yes, very well, thankyou, but I’m afraid I have to tell you that my Dad died yesterday afternoon. Yes. Thankyou. We’ll have the funeral on Thursday, at the Northridge Funeral Serv - yes. At 11. You’ll be there with Mr Johnstone? Good. Fine.”
No, of course it wasn’t fine. In his mind he was shrieking “Jesus Dad, Jesus Dad, how could you have done this? I hate you for this!” but he had his sisters and brother to care for, and his Mum, and Mary was strong and was always there as Henry tried to understand his feelings.