Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sunday Scribbles XXVII

Tangiwai: as promised, a wee yarn. I was chatting, as I do, with one of my older customers. She is / was a history lecturer at Auckland University, and we were swapping memories. It makes you think, when you realise you're talking history... and you actually were alive when it happened. Cutting to the chase, though. This was a personal story from her, and it's about the stories we don't hear. This gem of a woman asked me if I recalled the Tangiwai disaster. I answered her positively, and recapped to her the great yarn of that dreadful occasion: that of the heroic Kiwi chap who spotted the downed bridge, and attempted to stop the train before it came to grief - and then, with little regard for his own life, struggled in the deluge to help the victims of the train wreck. He was, she told me, her relative. A great man, she said. A happy-go-lucky individual before that night, a larrikin. After that night, he was a broken, withdrawn creature, a wounded bird. He descended into the nightmare of alcoholism, and an early grave.

Consequences. We hear of the great deeds our heroes do, and only rarely do we stop to ask what happened afterwards.

It's 1.45am. Jenny and I went to the theatre last evening, to see a local production of a corker New Zild play, "A Pack of Girls". I couldn't sleep when we retired, so got up so as to avoid disturbing her. We met two of our favourite people for dinner, a fine Indian meal, and went on to see four more great friends at the theatre. I'm a rich man. Truly fortunate. And after the play, I bumped into a chap I had become close to last year when I was getting work as an actor / extra / motile movie furniture - a delightful reunion.

Titirangi's theatre, in Lopdell House, is a quaint and lovely place. Jenny and I married there, on stage. Later today - this afternoon - I'm returning to the theatre to audition for a rolein their next production. It's about time I got back into the theatre. I loved it so.

I'm also going to volunteer to work on the Maritime Museum's boats. We both need to get out more: I hope Jenny also decides to do some volunteer work somewhewre - possibly also at the Maritime Museum. Steve, who wemet up with at the theatre, crews one of the Museum's ketches: I can see myself as a part-time Jack Tar.

Listening to: Neil Young, "Prairie Wind". Perfect very late night / very early morning music.

Reading: Just started "The Cleaner", by Paul Cleave. He a Kiwi, writres about serialkillers in Christchurch. Oddly, it fits. I cannot conceive of a serial killer in, say, hamilton, palmerston North, or Invercargill. But Christchurch? Oh, yes.

Movies seen: Watched "The 300 Spartans" while ironing my shirts this afternoon. Made in 1962. Pretty good.

Word of the Day: Consequences. See above.


But people tended to take a second look at his earnest, broad face, and deal patiently with him.
He ran a black fingernail along the lines, his lips moving as he concentrated. Every so often he'd grunt with satisfaction as he got what he thought was the right pronunciation. Time would tell, he thought. His back was starting to ache when he noticed a change in the background noise.
Gunfire is a constant sound on the lines. Rifle fire, the odd stuttered machine-gun burst, an occasional cannon or howitzer round, an idle mortar bomb: it would be a rare minute that wasn't punctuated by one or more of those sounds, near and far. But he'd noticed that occasionally there would be a lull, as though the beast of war had exhausted itself for the day, and was curling its rancid body down in repose.
The sudden silence was heavy, a wet blanket, oppressive. Arthur sat still, alert, ears pricked, head swivelling, trying to pick up a sound. The trenches were ten feet up the wooden steps, and had a 90 degree bend half-way up, so the men's voices were always muffled, but he couldn't her anything. Then – a sudden fart, a muttered comment, and laughter. Then footsteps, on his steps.
No-one visited Arthur Tomlinson, apart from the Major. But now he heard two sets of footsteps coming down. He heard whispers, then the leather blast-curtain was thrust aside, and Major Weatherby came into the bunker, hunched down from the low ceiling in the stairwell, and straightening to his full height.
Two years of war had improved Weatherby's personality. He was no longer driven by ambition, or a need to show the world he was the better man. He'd see action at Gallipoli, and had participated in several famous battles on the Western front. No one doubted his courage, and he doubted no-one else's. He was popular with the men, and, despite being offered promotion a dozen times in the past year, had always turned it down. As a Major, he was responsible for keeping nearly 500 men in full battle-readiness, and he felt that it was always his place to lead them into battle.
Like every man on the front, he didn't expect to survive the war. Like every sensible man on the front, he saw himself as already dead. And, in dying, he had freed himself of the chip on his shoulder. Arthur genuinely liked the Major, and he felt that they had a good, but still slightly uneasy relationship.

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