Southerly by David Haywood


Gerry Brownlee: “I Like To Knock Cats Off Tables”

Guest Speaker, Gerry Brownlee, talks about his favourite hobby.

Coo! After a hard day of driving my digger and smashing historic buildings in Christchurch I find there's no better way to relax than knocking a cat off a table.

We have three moggies and they're always climbing over the furniture. As you well know, I have hands like plates of meat, and if I ever managed to give one of my cats a wallop they'd be knocked halfway into next week. But the sods are too damned quick!

One night my wife and I dimmed the lights in our sitting room for a 'romantic' few moments together. In the gloom, I suddenly perceived that a cat was sitting on the table, and I was able to sneak up and give it a hell of a bash with one of my great big hands, shouting: “Take that you horrible hairy bastard.”

Unfortunately, I soon realized that it was my mother-in-law rather than a cat. Mum had crept into the sitting room in order to keep warm by the heater! When she finally regained consciousness, I explained my mistake and she immediately saw the funny side. We often reminisce about this incident, and whenever it's mentioned my mother-in-law laughs for hours.

Silvio Berlusconi was one of the few international leaders who understood my desire to knock cats off tables. When I visited him in Rome I told him, “Coo! I'd love to knock an Italian cat off a table.” He replied: “Signore Brownlee, I know a man who can get you three Italian cats to knock off a table. They will be willing young cats, scarcely more than kittens, and I can promise you that none of them has ever been knocked off a table before.” Such is the world-famous hospitality of the Italians!

After lunch at the Palazzo Chigi, Silvio took me to visit the Pantheon. I had to be honest with him: “Silvio, this building is what we in New Zealand call 'a dunga', and frankly so is your Palazzo Chigi. Put a cat on a table in each building and then borrow me a digger. I'll get stuck in and smash them both down for you; then we'll get Fletchers to whistle up a couple of proper tilt-slab buildings.”

Unaccountably, Silvio seemed offended by my words, and in the end I never did get to knock an Italian cat off a table. So much for the famed Italian hospitality!

On the subject of foreign leaders, I have to say that I was very impressed by François Hollande's table manners. He used cutlery at lunchtime. Coo! You can't have cutlery when you're eating lunch in the cab of a digger as I usually do. Not when you're health and safety conscious!

After our official meeting I was able to spend a few private moments with the President. “Look, mate,” I said, “a word to the wise. It's no wonder that you guys never managed to colonize the South Island. You know why? Too many dunga buildings in France. Look at that old ruin in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle—my cat could crap a better triumphal arch than that. And the Louvre is totally bloody old-fashioned! Te Papa is heaps nicer. You ought to get the boys from Fletchers to come over and knock down the whole of Paris. Put up some decent tilt-slabs.”

I reckon President Hollande was pretty blown away by my architectural vision. He didn't actually say anything; he just left a really, really long silence. Then the bloke from MFAT said it was time to go to Belgium, and so I never got to ask if I could drive one of the demo diggers.

Anyway, it was nice to visit Europe (apart from the old dunga buildings), but as you can imagine I was itching to finally knock a cat off a table when I arrived back in Christchurch. So I phoned up Graham Darlow from Fletchers and told him to go down to Cranmer Court and personally put a cat on a table for me. Then I drove my digger to Cranmer Square and smashed everything to bits. Despite having a pair of big slabby hands I have been told that I am quite balletic when at the controls of a digger.

Afterwards, Graham and I searched through the wreckage of Cranmer Court and guess what? No cat! “Coo!” I said, “where's the cat, Graham?”

“Minister,” he replied, “I suspect that the cat may have got off the table and left the building when you began demolition. Cats are rather uncooperative animals.”

Alas, insofar as knocking cats off tables are concerned, this would seem to be the story of my life!

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