It was late on a cold afternoon when I borrowed a mate’s car and headed way up into the Canterbury High Country. The sky was the perfect shade of blue, dotted here and there with patches of white cumulus that drifted by on the icy winter wind. Overhead, high above the gravel road, a pair of hawks wheeled lazily, eagle-eyed, perhaps hoping to dine on a slow rabbit or rat. Stones thumped noisily against the Nissan’s undercarriage, adding a backbeat to the constant rattle and crunch as the car ploughed its way through the river stones that covered the track. I turned on the CD player and choked. Christian Rock! An oxy-fucking-moron. I couldn’t imagine a Christian Band wrecking a hotel room after snorting coke from a groupie’s cleavage. The music went off.
The shadows slowly lengthened as the rim of the sun dipped below the far off snow-capped mountain range. It grew suddenly cooler, so I hit the heater switch and thought of a comfortable armchair in front of an open fire, logs crackling, a steaming hot cuppa held in one hand, a knee rug over my legs. I imagined quietly sitting, staring into the glowing hearth, listening to the crackle and hiss of the rain pattering on the roof and a cold wind tugging impatiently at the gables. The patter of tiny feet… Probably rats…
I shuddered in horror and floored it. The car drifted sideways in a slew of gravel as I turned the bend and found myself on a bloody causeway. Giving in to a moment’s stupidity I tapped the brake and nearly went tits up over the side of a berm into the bloody lake. Damn I thought. I’d rather die in a freezing lake after a four wheel drift gone bad than be found drooling under a knee rug. ‘He croaked surrounded by loved ones’ just isn’t that appealing to me. I don’t know about you lot, but I’d feel like a sick goldfish, stared at by the mob as you went belly up, wiggling your tail as you tried not to sink to the bottom of the tank, knowing damn well you’ll be netted and dumped soon enough. But that’s just me. There’s no accounting for taste.
I finally arrived at the end of the road to discover two bovines named Bill and Bob, who patiently wait in this frozen field, quietly chewing a last meal while a bunch of dudes arrange to have them herded, trapped, trucked, electrocuted, gutted, slashed, skinned, diced and minced, before finally being bagged and tagged at the end of an industrialized disassembly line of Death.
Later, the hungry mob will ogle Bob’s body parts as they sit on display, laid out in blood-stained trays at place called a ‘super market’. Well there’s nothing very super about it for our bovine pals. Bob for one is rather pissed.
I tried consoling him. ‘Bob’ said I, ‘life is loss. Suck it up mate. Every relationship must end sooner or later, a father before a son, a husband before a wife, a friend before a friend, Bill before Bob… We can’t all go at the same time now, can we?’
Bob took this philosophical statement in his stride. He looked dumbly back at me, and farted.
At least we were getting somewhere I thought. Apparently Bill had hoped to retire to a stud farm, but he’d been rudely informed the placement was in one of those new-fangled artificial insemination joints. Bill wasn’t keen. ‘The staff are all wankers’ he reckoned.
We three stood there in the chill, glumly thinking about life and loss.
‘Is it true you lot sit at a table covered with a crisp cotton coverlet, gnashing your teeth and gobbling down parts of diced animal?’ asked Bob. ‘Do you roll your eyes and smack your lips, then belch and laugh? You fucking sick fucks!’
Bill joined in. ‘Yeah you dirty bastards. Fancy chowing down on bobby calves barely off a mother’s teat. Scoffing fluffy chickens boiled in oil, tearing and chomping at chunks of hide from a baby lamb who only days before was frolicking innocently in this bloody field.
I felt awful, so I turned and left them there, all alone, freezing cold, waiting for the meat truck.
I snapped this pic as I scarpered. Then I slowly wound my way back down the lonely valley. I drove carefully, contemplating Bill and Bob’s sad and sorry situation. I hit the macadam surface as the first hint of darkness descended like a cloak, wrapping the valley in a crisp, dark-blue haze that seemed to seep down from the whitened peaks high up on either side. The hawks had now gone, perhaps to some far off eyrie to enjoy a feast of freshly road-killed kitten.
I arrived back in town the next day feeling rather crook. Sort of light headed. Bloody Iron deficient I thought, so down I went to the local Pack & Save. I reeled about like a drunk looking for a lamppost to piss on. I actually think I felt Bob at the meat counter. He was such a tender soul.
Anyway, I bought a Scotch fillet and headed home for a fry up.
This may seem melancholy, but while we think of someone, they never really die. I sometimes see my mother in dreams. She smiles but never speaks, and I now struggle to recall the richness of her voice.
Erin loved using expressions, sometimes informing me that someone or other was ‘not up to par.’ She’d frown after meeting one friend or another, tilt her chin up and say, “Who was that drongo.. did you see his shoes? He’s not worth a brass razoo!”
Several days ago, in preparation for work on the house, I was moving items from one floor to another, and there in a bookcase full of life’s memories, books given, collected, or purchased, I found this picture of Erin. Nearby sat the Mayfair’s old desk bell. It brought back a few memories.
I made my mother laugh so hard she gasped for breath, and as she leaned over the kauri dining table, with it’s stacks of glossy fashion magazines, piled bills, and unread paperbacks, she spilt her coffee.
Glistening tears of mirth streamed down her face.
Within the week I sat beside her bed as she lay dying in a darkened hospital room. Just outside in the brightly lit hallway, the nurses went about their duties, drank coffee, and quietly gossiped as the day slowly descended into night.
My brother and I sat together in the gathering gloom, and we waited, and watched, helplessly.
Before us lay our mother, unconscious on a steel and chrome hospital bed.
Over the next few hours her breathing gradually became more and more labored, until it slowed, and then paused, and finally stopped.
Every faltering step she had taken as a child, every path she had walked, every trail she had followed, had led her to this time, and this place, and all the roads that led her there were winding..
Meet Richard. He spends most of his days seeking the company of like-minded individuals. Today he was cold and lonely and propped on an old box under the overpass, amongst the filth and the debris and the discarded wine casks. He’s unemployed and on an Invalid’s benefit, if you can call being tied to a meager handout any kind of benefit whatsoever.
Richard hails from Rotorua, and ran away from home years ago. I don’t know if he meant he’d runaway from a wife, or a family home.
Perhaps Richard’s wife found she had too little husband, and Richard found he had too much wife.
Richard wasn’t hungry. Nor did he ask for anything of a monetary value. He wanted the thing we all have to give. Some cheerful company. Today Richard seemed harmless enough, but he self harms and has a history of harming others. To me he just seemed rather timid and far less resilient than the rest of us.
I suppose that’s his lot in life. He was short changed, cheated, inheriting a few bad genes. What can I say?
“He’s just a bad machine”.
I traded my time for this picture. It’s a slightly haunted ‘character shot’, so I probably cheated him too.
Such is life.
I was on my way to meet an old friend whose new acquaintance was an activist for the legalization of medical marijuana movement. My friend and I thought the event was worthy of support, with an added bonus. It hinted at some form of amusement.
Parking on Cashel St, I strolled among the shoppers, then walked down the road towards the damaged Bridge of Remembrance. As I approached the Avon river, a bullhorn’s electric tone could be heard hectoring the occupants of passing cars.
“Legalize marijuana.. marijuana saves lives, legalize marijuana.. marijuana is good for you.” I was obviously headed in the right direction. A long haired man in his late 60s barked at the bullhorn while two older guys resignedly took down signs and flags at the behest of a bemused looking City Council employee. Apparently things were off to a shaky start. Passing cars tooted support as they drove by, but most of Christchurch’s potheads had stayed home, leaving the diehard weed commandos to do all the work. Parked beneath a huge Oak tree growing beside the river was a 74 Austin Allegro 1000 with a faded Union Jack painted across it’s roof. I suspect this was the headquarters of the movement, the vechile was a mobile Marijuana Think-Tank.
I wandered across the Avon bridge to find my friend waiting near a wire-wove fence that blocked access to the damaged Bridge of Remembrance. We stood in the sun and waited for the Rally to get organized. A march was apparently planned.
I imagined serried ranks of Christchurch weed smokers, defiantly marching through the Cashel Mall, swinging dreadlocks, tie dyed Marley t-shirts, smiling toddlers holding pregnant mum’s hands, passing joints, exhaling clouds of smoke in dignified protest. But things were going slowly it seemed, the supporters only numbered about twenty, and these hard core weed warriors seemed to disagree as to which side of the river was best for their rallying point.
While this was slowly being sorted the protest continued with joints being lit, and the passing ’round commenced. As the sweet smell of marijuana spread in the midday breeze new protestors with dirty backpacks and wide grins appeared, the homeless were joining the protest!
I helped a wheelchair bound man with one and a half legs tape his marijuana flags to the wire fence, “These were only three dollars each,” he beamed proudly. “Got ’em at a closing down sale.” He looked at me keenly, as if to offer me a dozen at a good price.
Soon, we all moved to a low stone wall and sat down beside the river. From the river bank just below, a brown trout swam lazily out of the silty gloom and moved out into the passing stream, before swimming down river. The joints passed hand to hand, and of course I pretended to smoke, but didn’t inhale.
Up near the street ‘Bullhorn’ continued to harangue the strolling shoppers. We were missing out, so we returned to stand by the wire fence.
“Get High! Don’t get low.. depression is a business.” Bullhorn was now getting into his stride.
Solely to be polite, I passed the joint again while Bullhorn continued. “Marijuana seeds are edible, they have more Omega 3 than fish. John Key is pals with the Chinese, Key is going to shit on the people of Aranui, he doesn’t care about them, he’d rather make millions with his Chinese pals, and they don’t even speak English!”
I laughed so hard I fell backwards into the fence, and for a second Bullhorn looked around at me, then he grinned widely, and returned to his spiel.
“Legalize marijuana, it’s healthy, cures disease..the Government wont do it, they make millions with the drug companies. NO, they don’t. THEY MAKE BILLIONS!”
A round-faced girl added her voice to Bullhorns, then another protester found a voice. Each speaker sometimes interjected simultaneously, all making different points.
The watchers grinned, and the joints did the rounds, and slowly the desire to march seemed to fade. Apparently the protest was going up in smoke, and anyway, I was feeling peckish, my mate wanted a ride, so it was time to blow.
As we wandered off to the car the sound of the bullhorn slowly receded. The protesters had settled in for the duration, and the weed warriors had missed their day of glory. Not a single one had ‘felt the swing of the truncheon thing,’ and anyway, there were food outlets nearby.
I spent the rest of the afternoon recovering in a deep armchair, scoffing a pie, a cream bun, and some chocolate eggs.
I wonder who’s protesting tomorrow?