Island Life by David Slack

Parking Tickets and Other Crimes

I'm not sure if anyone's ever actually gone to jail for not paying parking tickets, but I once told someone (who hadn't seen me for a while and wondered what I'd been up to) that I'd been banged up in Mt Crawford for just such a crime.

That's about the only time I've made up a story about my personal adventures for entertainment purposes. (Hope that answers the question I got from an anonymous correspondent a couple of weeks ago. If I was making this stuff up to fill an empty page, do you really think it would be a broken rib?)

Anyway, I made up the prison story one day at the Trentham races. Back in the days when the country would more or less shut down for the weekend, we made our own fun. I told Janey the story because I thought she was shrewd enough to know it was bullshit. When she and her friend seemed to go along with it, I just assumed we were all in on the joke, and the story got embroidered over the next five races.

No-one came to see me because my crooked lawyer was taking liberties, that kind of thing.

In the middle of this elaborate dance (which eventually played out over two days, took four of us on a trip to Ruapehu and ended up in a Chinese Restaurant in Palmerston North the following evening when I finally came clean and got a large amount of liquor chucked in my face by Janey) I also described the ordeal to Heather Glengarry.

It was just an aside really: Janey this is Heather, she's John Glengarry's mother. Heather, this is Janey. Yes, it's been a while hasn't it? I was just explaining to Janey about my recent custodial experience. Etc.

This is not something you would usually joke about with one of your friend's parents. But the thing about Heather and her husband Jack was that they were quite unlike any other parents I'd known. The day I first met them, they were on holiday at a motel in Peka Peka. They pulled out a wine bottle, and we sat down to talk and drink and joke in a way that I'd never really encountered before. They were exuberant, they were genial, they were relaxed. They were fun.

They also had a bit to do with horses, which impressed me. Jack had been a racing journalist and they had made an entire living out of books about the business. Also: if you ever want to impress people with your sporting trivia knowledge, Mr Jack Glengarry has run around every racing track in New Zealand.

You could always spot Heather at the races from several hundred metres away. She was nearly six feet tall, and a good deal taller when she wore her hats. Big sweeping affairs. She was always pleased to see you and always ready to swap a joke. So naturally I knew she'd like the Mt Crawford one. I only discovered this week that I'd done an inexpert job of telling it. Jack told me she'd been aghast until she found out it was just a stunt.

If you've ever known someone's parents who would welcome you into their house at any hour of the day or night, and were always glad to see you, then you know why everyone liked Heather and Jack so much. They lived in big old houses on the edge of Wanganui and everything about them was a just a bit larger than life.

I was back in Wanganui this week for Heather's funeral. She was 66.

John had a nice thing to say in his eulogy about age. He was describing a holiday they'd taken to Australia in 1975, Heather and the two boys. They were enjoying the excitement of exploring Sydney on their first trip outside New Zealand, and he talked about the sheer enjoyment she had at places like Luna Park. She was the mother of two teenagers, he said, but she was also a 36 year old.

The service was at the chapel in Wanganui Collegiate. I'd never been there before, and I have to say I was impressed. The buildings are beautiful.

As to the quality of education, well, the league tables have plenty to say about that in an academic sense. But these schools also influence character, they say. Playing grounds of Eton and all that.

It strikes me that there are two personality types in particular that emerge at the end of the private school experience.

You get the personality that seems conscious of the advantage they've had and feels some kind of social responsibility.

But there's another kind that I can't warm to. This the personality that seems equally conscious of their advantage, but more or less absent of any sense of consideration for anyone else. Their one burning question seems to be: what else can I get? I get the feeling I see that personality when the camera fixes on the blinded-possum eyes of George W Bush.

I don't care for people who swagger in their position of advantage and don't seem to register the extent to which they are the beneficiaries of enormous good fortune. Typically they're not especially smart, but they more than compensate for that with a blend of shrewd and mean.

Talk about your good fortune. He gets into Andover and Yale and graduates with a mediocre academic record. He gets himself leapfrogged up the queue of privilege and gets to make his contribution to the Vietnam War in the Texas National Guard. He tries to be an oilman, but never quite gets it right, and has to be bailed out by his father's friends and business contacts, winding up with $300,000 profit by selling stock two months before it tanks.

And on it goes.

Of course there's an important point in the narrative that people will point out here. Some time after the years when he did or didn't get into trouble over something that might or might not have involved drugs, and somewhere after all the years of drinking, he got sober and got religion.

Whether he has since devoted his life to the service of God, or whether he has since devoted his life to calling on the service of God to validate his choices is a debatable question.

The way he treats the help offers some insight, perhaps.

I know that people will argue that he's given plenty in service of his country these past four years, but for the life of life of me, I can't see it. What I see is a guy who is happy to get someone else to wear the bullets while he pursues a military strategy of the most dubious and ill-considered nature.

It doesn't look to me as though it's noblesse oblige that moves him, and outside of serving as a handy tool for invoking blind faith, I'm not sure how much spirituality has to do with it either.

I think this suggests he's spurred by different impulses:

According to the Washington Post, friends and lawmakers who met with Bush just before he launched the invasion found him "upbeat," "chatty," "cocky and relaxed" and "in high spirits." The most revealing moment came when he thought the cameras were off: Before he gave his national address announcing that the war had begun, a camera caught Bush pumping his fist, as though instead of initiating a war he had kicked a winning field goal or hit a home run. "Feels good," he said.

Doesn't feel so good to me. Roll on Wednesday.