Southerly by David Haywood

The Beautiful Berton Sisters

When I was a lad, my great-uncle Bob would often greet me with the words: "Hello, young shaver."

Personally, I never cared for his usage of the word 'shaver'. I didn't know what it meant (and still don't), but I have always suspected that it was some sort of insult. Unfortunately, however, in the twenty or so years before he became ex-great-uncle Bob, I was never able to think of a snappy rejoinder, and was forced to express my disapproval by merely glowering at him in resentful silence.

A few years back I acquired a nephew of my own. In a playful mood one day, I greeted him in the manner of my late great-uncle.

"I'm not a shaver," replied my nephew indignantly.

So simple! If only I'd thought of that.

My nephew, Zeno (appropriately named after the brainy Greek philosopher), was four years old at the time. Since then I have regarded him with a certain awe. It seems to me that he is bound to go on to great things.

On this basis, I am always ready to augment his 'official' education with an inexhaustible supply of avuncular anecdotes and edifying homilies. Principally, I admit, in the hope that he won't forget me -- particularly in the financial sense -- when he becomes the prime minister and/or a multi-billionaire.

On such occasions I light a metaphorical cigar, pour myself a metaphorical brandy, get myself comfortable on my metaphorical wing-backed armchair, fold my hands contentedly across my not-at-all metaphorical paunch, and dispense pearls of wisdom to his tender young ears.

Zeno is eleven now. His recently-developed interest in guitars has -- perhaps inevitably -- given these philosophical discussions a slight musical flavour. Nevertheless, as you will observe, I generally manage to fit in an instructive homily or two.

"Uncle David, what's that twiddly chord in the guitar riff from the song Ziggy Stardust on the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars?"

"Well, Zeno, your question reminds me of a little story I've been meaning to tell you for some time. Sit down on this metaphorical horsehair sofa, and listen carefully to what I'm about to say.

"When your Uncle David was a teenager (as recently as the early 1990s) he lived here in West Auckland. And, in those days, the suburb of Mt Roskill was home to three beautiful sisters, who -- for the sake of your uncle's future legal bills -- we'll call the Bertons.

"Susan was the youngest of the Berton sisters, Sarah was the eldest, and Judith was in the middle. I didn't really know Judith, so my educational monologue will limit itself to the allures of Susan and Sarah.

"Susan was not only extremely cute, but she also had copious quantities of X-factor. Men used to fall for her like they'd been pole-axed. She worked in a pizza shop, and on one single day she had three different men profess their love for her -- a delivery boy, a co-worker, and a guy in Wellington that phoned about a yeast order. That's right, Zeno, she had so much X-factor that it could travel down telephone lines as far as the lower North Island.

"Her older sister Sarah was just as lovely -- perhaps not quite as much X-factor, but better hair. In fact, before meeting Sarah I had never entertained the possibility of marrying someone solely on account of their hair. After meeting Sarah it wouldn't have struck me as an unreasonable suggestion.

"To cut a long story short the entire situation bore a remarkable similarity to that DVD we watched about the princess and the handsome stable-boy. I had no more thought of marrying one of the beautiful Berton sisters than I did of flying to the moon. They were not only in a different league -- they were in an entirely different sporting code. The possibility of a romantic relationship simply never occurred to me. And I hope it won't ruin the story by mentioning at this point that I never did have a romantic relationship with any of them.

"But around this same time I had a friend called Jonathan -- a humble woodcutter's son from Totara North. He bore little resemblance to Brad Pitt. He didn't drive a sports car. He wasn't even an international spy. In fact, Jonathan was a linguist who specialized in the languages of the Papua New Guinea highlands.

"I happened to introduce him to Sarah one day, and the next thing I knew they were going out. I couldn't have been more surprised if I'd discovered that Jonathan had been elected as Pope, or recruited to replace Joey Santiago in the Pixies

"Zeno, I know that my concluding point will make practically no sense to you. But consider this astonishing fact: your Aunt Jennifer once repeated my interpretation of these events to one of her uber-feminist friends, and after hearing it, the uber-feminist said she no longer hated men -- she just pitied them.

"Where I saw an insurmountable barrier of beauty, intelligence, and charm, Jonathan saw (I suppose) just another human being with really great hair. It was a revelation for me, Zeno. An event that made me look at the world with new eyes.

"If an ordinary mortal human being like Jonathan -- a run-of-the-mill bloke just like you or me -- could date a goddess with magnificent hair like Sarah Berton then practically anything is possible. There are virtually no limits to what the human race can achieve. We could bring an end to war, hunger, and disease. We could live in bubble-dome cities on the moon. We could teach the ordinary citizens of this proud nation to use apostrophes correctly. And you, personally, could become as good at playing the guitar as Mick ‘Ronno’ Ronson from The Spiders from Mars.

"So go forth and change the world, young shaver. The chord is D major with a suspended 4th -- and don't forget me when you make your first billion."