The common word that's being used in all media reports is "devastation", and when we look upon the faces of the survivors and see the pictures of wrecked homes and lives, we can see that this little island nation truly has been devastated.
I watched, with tears on my cheeks, as a man who has lost 11 family members - ranging in age from a child of just 5 to his father of 98, was interviewed. Such dignity.
Tonga, too, feels the loss. Just weeks after one of their ferries sank, they are hit by further tragedy. Five dead, when compared to Samoa's 120, may seem small pickings. But on top of everything, I can quite easily imagine how this could break the heart and spirit of this small community.
I note that a lot of people are saying they will pray for the survivors. A little late, I should think, for prayer. Surely to goodness people must realise that if prayer actually worked, then no-one would have perished? Their god is worse than toothless. It is powerless, and every day that goes by demonstrates that it is nothing more than a figment of someone's feverish imagination.
So it goes: the astonishing power of nature once again demonstrates how fragile we are, and how we are merely hours away from disaster. I hope we've learned from this. To a degree, I hope we've learned what devastation really is. But I know that come the end of Saturday's football game between two professional rugby league teams, the losing captain will pronounce himself as "gutted", and tens of thousandsof fans will say they're "devastated". Well, they won't be. They'll merely be mildly disappointed. The battered and mourning people people of Samoa are on our tele screens, showing us what devastation really is.
READING: Romanitas, still.
LISTENING TO: Dianne Reeves, "Lovin' You".
WORD OF THE DAY: Dignity. Today, I saw it, in the face of a man who has lost everything.
“We went at it like bunnies, my Colin and me,” Mum told them. Once a day, except for Sundays, when we went for the daily double.”
The kids were silenced. I was glad Useless was in his room. There were things he didn't need to hear. Not yet, anyway.
“Anyway, Wendy love, I've only ever known four men who were worth more than spit. Mr Tomlinson was as good a man as you'll ever find; Colin, my husband; Mr Talbot up the road here; and young Chutty. But I know your Johnno, and I think he might just be a winner.”
'Most people don't think so, Mrs – Nan,” said Wendy. “They look at him and see his tattoo and long hair, and just write him off.”
“Nonsense, girl,” said Mum. “Don't you pay no never mind to those people. They don't know what they're talking about.”
Wendy sat back, looking smug. I looked back into the kitchen, to make sure the pots were staying at a simmer. Treen stood, and came to the other side of the bench, and leaned on it.
And told me something that made me even more determined to make sure that tonight's surprise went well.
“Dad probably won't tell you, Mum, and he asked me not to. So -”
“Spill the beans, girls. What's happened?”
“Dad. He was fierce, today. You know that Jack Stack?”
I had to stop and think for a bit. Then he came to me. A young man, with a real vicious streak in him. Came from a strange family, down by the river. If any part of town could be considered to be the wrong side of the tracks, it was the few streets down by the river. In the winter they rarely managed to get their chimney-pots out of the fog. I nodded to her, telling her to continue.
“Well, me and Dad -”
“Dad and I,” I corrected.
“Well, Dad and I were at at the club, with all dad's mates, and Wiri's grandson Wally, and we were watching the game, and there was some coverage of the protesters there on the tele, and Jack Stack starts yelling out about them, and how they were all stupid, and should all be carted off to prison, and stuff,” she said. I narrowed my eyes. “Dad did that, too! That eye thing. He called out to Jack, telling him to pipe down, that they weren't doing any harm, and they had a few good points to make.”
“Did he indeed,” I said. “Wonders will never cease.”
“And so Jack started yelling at Dad, and Dad went over to his table. I could hear what was being said: and here's what happened....”
The club had three big tele sets, and there was a general hubbub of noise. Most of the people there were men, with only a few women. To be fair, the club was trying to get more women to come down for a drink or a meal, and in time it would happen. They needed the tempering effect women made on men. Treen, Chutty, and a half-dozen others had collected at one of the tables, drinking, and eating chippies and salted peanuts, and enjoying the build-up to the game. On the tele they could see live shots of the protesters at New Plymouth's Bullring, marching and chanting, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
It was then that Jack Stack started. Jack's a heavy-handed 21 year old, who's always been a bit too tightly wrapped. He favours tight-fitting flannel shirts, ironed to within an inch of their life, and sharply pressed gabardine trousers. He's a hard worker though, and as far as anyone knows he's as honest as the day's long. Just because none of us can find it in ourselves to like the lad doesn't mean he's a bad person.
Jack Stack knew I'd done my protest on Ugglesworth Street, at the Post Office building. Everyone in the village knows it, mainly because we had made the front page of the Northbridge News: two women, motorcycle helmets on, waving placards at the three policemen who'd come on down out of curiosity to see what the fuss was about. So when he started to give a bit of a rant, in a very loud voice, he knew exactly what he was doing: poking a very sharp stick at Tarquin Russel Wrigley, and his daughter Katrina, who were just a couple of tables away.
“These bloody stupid women, trying to tell us what's what, and trying to get us to do as they bloody want. Typical bloody brainless women, probably don't even know what they're protesting about,” and on and on he went, casting sly glances across at Chutty.
Treen told me that her Dad put up with it for five minutes. Then he simply picked up a jug of beer, walked over to Jack Stack, and poured it over his head, saying “Those protesters are trying to make a good point, boy. Them South African's treat their black people like shit. And all of those protesters are showing more bloody courage than you have. So shut the hell up,all right?”
Jack Stack's tirade stopped, the spluttering started, and Jack made a fist. Chutty just stood there, and looked him in the eye. The lad backed off, then stormed out of the club. Warren Peabody, the manager, then came over and told Chutty he'd have to ban him from the club for three hours. He said that he'd be banning Jack Stack for a week, next time he came in.
“Fair enough,” Chutty said.