The grumble of thunder has passed overhead, blue skies emerging as if nothing ever happened.
About five haircuts ago, October 15 2004 to be precise, I wrote of the nature of being kiwi had a lot to do with the weather. I started the blog as a means to further define in my own fuzzy way what it means to be here and now. Unfortunately, I got distracted. My bad. Thing is, there is such a thing as kiwi. In this, the last place to be inhabited by people, geographically isolated with the firm, undisputed border of our fractal coastlines. We carve a place for ourselves here and the place carves us in return.
Kiwis are at home in both light and shadow. Sam Neill's Cinema of Unease puts the point nicely. Neill's debut in Sleeping Dogs, ending with him doing the finger to authority, is a prime example of Kiwiness (It's all the more poignant now after Sam Neill, winemaker, addressed the Labour party conference last year). Tim Finn sang of Dirty Creatures and Leaky Boats. Fuck knows what Colin MacCahon was on about, but it wasn't Disney.
With this is mind, as well as the upcoming ANZAC Day, it was a good time to unveil the excellent Paul Dibble memorial sculpture destined for Hyde Park. At first I thought it was a mimic of the anti-tank defences used on the beaches. Then the crosses at the top were shown, raw and bright. The distinct totems on each beam. Respect.
My brother, Randy Gonzales, sent me a copy of Dad's memoir notes for my birthday. In Trev's words:
"My Father William Leo de Cleene volunteered for the NZ Rifle Brigade and was grievously wounded by shell fire near the town of Ypres. Mary and he married when he was discharged from the army on a pension. He slept with a loaded rifle beside his bed to repel possible dawn assualts. I think that it has always been difficult for those who have not suffered in the horrors of war to appreciate the influence it had on those who survived it. "Pop" only rarely spoke of his experiences but such was his "shellshock" he became drunk on little alcohol. A few beers and he was away. His body had holes where the shrapnel had gone in and much of it stayed there.I am quite sure they in there own way loved each other. I never saw my Mother and Father embrace - hold hands or display emotions publicly."
It's eerie to compare with my own upbringing. Dad slept with a loaded Luger under the pillow and, later, he upgraded to a minimum-length pump action shotgun under the bed. Like Pop, he was waiting for a dawn raid that never came. Well, there was that one time...
On an aside, Dad's Mum smoked like a chimney. At the hospital where she was slowly dying of cancer, she was disappointed Dad had bought her chocolates and not a pouch of tobacco. All the ashtrays in the family vehicles were full of live .22 rounds, the glovebox crammed with 12 gauge cartridges. No way anyone smoked in Dad's car. Trev was a supporter of ASH way before recovering alcoholic Mark Peck became director of the Smokefree Coalition. It's amazing the ingenuity that goes into the transference of rage. Back to Trev:
"Pop put me on his bike and took me to the Pub where I would sit on the Bar and drink raspberry and lemonade while he drank beer with his mates. "Don't tell your Mother." Mary de Cleene was a "pointer" when it came to flushing Pop out of the Pub. He would take his bike inside the bar but she would still find him and drag him out. We would all bike home.
"When he did cut loose and she could not find him, she would lock him out and he would sleep on the floor of the wash house with its concrete tub and copper. Despite the arguments over it he never hit her.
"I was in the kitchen with Mum one night when I was about 12 years of age and Pop came home to the locked door and attacked it with the axe. She opened the door - took the axe off him and locked him back out. Such was his conscience on the morrow that he would do the lawns, the garden, the house - you name it. About a month later it would happen again.
"On the night of the axe incident, she nagged him in that kitchen while he was in a drunken state. I have always told my Clients in later life not to disagree with their men when the men are drunk. Give it to them in the morning when they have got a sore head and a conscience. On this occasion Pop, completely exasperated, raised his hand to his wife Mary. She just stood there and looked at him. "Bill de Cleene," she said, "You are drunk and you will go to sleep. You hit me and I will boil a kettle and pour it over your balls!"
My mother didn't have Mary's personality and didn't have the skills to put up with my father's shit. She couldn't keep his rages in check. After the divorce, Dad used to take us three kids to the Te Puna Tavern. We'd sit in the Range Rover drinking raspberry lemonades while Dad sat in the pub talking to his mates. One time Randy and my sister, well on her way to becoming Uptight Rodriguez, convinced me to go in and ask Dad when we were leaving. He marched me out the door and kicked me across the carpark while his mates pissed themselves laughing.
There are many out there with similar tales to tell. Good on Taika Cohen for Two Cars, One Night. Donna Awatere-Huata's dad, Lt Col Arapeta Huata, blew a man's brains onto the ceiling after WWII. The wars fought so long ago are still fought today. Which is why I tend to agree with Gregory Fortuin's stance about the reporting of suicide. Everyone knows about it but we just don't want to talk about it. If we don't talk about it, the theory goes, it'll go away on its own. That's what the MPs reckon anyway. Just like the Misuse of Drugs Act, everything is just fine.
By all odds, I shouldn't be here. Apart from the phenomenal odds against my being born in the first place, I have almost got myself killed in one way or another on many occasions. That time in Brisbane, standing on the Storey Bridge weighing up hope and despair. Overtaking that truck on the loose gravel, almost flipping the van into the path of an oncoming truck. Boo-hooing over Emily in high school. That time when I was 11, fearing for my life when we were stranded on a boat off Kapiti Island with next to no provisions and Joe Walding, a man medically diagnosed as being addicted to food. I have since found a new respect for old people, because they are not yet dead.
The freedom to leave is of great comfort. Let kiwis go abroad if they so wish. Matter of fact, I'd make it complusory. None of this military training crap, boot em out for a couple of years to get a real education. Put them on the ground with Volunteers Services Abroad. Give them ten grand and a one-way ticket to London or Mumbai. Earn big money as a guinea pig. Work in Dubai, earn shitloads of cash, then come back here and be your own boss. That's one way to do it.
(Originally posted 9/4/06)