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Friday, 28 September 2012

A Golden Oldie

Sometimes the old ones are the best.

The sun was going down over the hills around Nuova Lazio, the small town in a valley in New Zealand.

It was a Friday and the Empire bar was doing good business.  Wall to wall the locals were having a good old time,  jugs and handles (a quaint name for a pint mug amongst the colonials) of beer were being poured and consumed with, if not quite gay abandon, then at least testosterone-challenged abandon.

The noise of good blokes having a good time was filling the large room and everywhere the feeling was of an end to a successful working week (or in the case of Waccy-Baccy Williams, another successful week of dodging the coppers).

Except in the far corner of the extraordinarily long bar.

In that corner, illuminated by a solitary 40 watt bulb, dangling on an ancient and spiderweb-encrusted flex, was a hunched and solitary figure.

He seemed to radiate waves of negativity, and while not being completely ignored by his jovially drinking neighbours, was being left outside the atmosphere of bonhomie and alcohol-fuelled boisterousness.

The solitary figure was a bloke.

A bloke dressed in an ancient Tweed jacket, with leather or possibly vinyl patches on elbows and cuffs.

He was sitting, hunched over his handle of Speights Old Dark, staring into a nameless space, his semi-focussed gaze seemed to penetrate every possible variation of the space-time continuum, and his scowling visage implied that what he saw did not please him.

His hunched shoulders were covered in a scattering of dandruff flakes and his hair, mostly gray. was on the other side of unruly.

The happy drinkers closest to him, could just make out an almost sub-audible muttering, emanating from the tragic figure, but no individual words could really be distinguished. 

It was almost a chant.

It was almost a mantra, as uttered by the most sacred, wise and probably completely f*cking insane of the highest of the Tibetan monks.

Those monks who, with every breath, using both the inhalation and the exhalation, chant the mantra begging Chthulu to return to this degraded, sinful and lowly plane of existence, and to remove the slime inhabiting the surface of this orb we call Terra; the slime they refer to as mankind.

A youngish incomer was standing nearby.  He was from Auckland, but his kindly new mates didn't even call him a Jafa.  He looked questioningly at the solitary hunched figure under the dangling 40 watt and his curiosity was aroused.

What was it about this bloke that left him separate from his fellows.

Did he have some sort of ancient curse hanging over him, as well as the solitary 40 watt bulb?

Did he have some lingering yet still infectious disease, which caused his fellow-man to shun him?

Was he one of those notorious perverts?  An evil and twisted soul who had experimented with every perversion and variation thereof.  Who had read and added to the infamous La Philosophie dans le boudoir by Donatien Alphonse Fran├žois, Marquis de Sade?

Old Spanker, himself

The Jafa sidled closer to the figure, unaware of the sudden frowns from his drinking buddies who had noticed his interest.

Before anyone could intervene, the young Jafa prodded the muttering bloke on the shoulder.

Just as he did so, silence filled the bar.

It was not an instant thing.

It was not like the instant flash of white as produced by MSgt. Adolphus T. Schwartz when he threw the switch to detonate Trinity at Alamagordo, New Mexico, July 16, 1945 at 5:29:45 A.M. (Mountain War Time).

It was not like the random yet complete silence which suddenly filled the auditorium of the Yorkhill Hospital complex in Glasgow, when a (very) young TSB uttered the infamous words directed at the rather voluptuous lead singer of the band performing on the stage. 

The words were "I bet she goes like a rabbit". 

For the record, it should be noted that the lead singer (a slightly hirsute red-head yclept "Gloria") marched down from the stage and clipped the (very) young TSB on the ear.  She also clipped him on the nose, chin, nose again and whilst his attention was being so distracted, his crotch.

So it was not an instant thing.  It spread.  Not slowly, but it was not instant.
The silence spread like a ripple in a pool when a rock had been dropped into the centre.
It spread like the belief in the assassination conspiracies regarding John Fitzgerald Kennedy. (I still believe Elvis did it)

Anyway it got quiet.

The young Jafa saw the ancient head on the hunched shoulders slowly rotate towards him.  The head rotated slowly but smoothly.

It rotated like the 3 gun 16"/50 calibre turret of the USS Missouri. 

It implied an immense weight, a solidity, a gravitas beyond anything the young Jafa had seen before.

By now the silence was absolute.

The young Jafa took a slug from his handle of Tui (quite a representative modern beer, somewhat like an Indian Pale Ale, but with most of the taste removed and extra C02  added.  Popular with the Rugby viewing masses.), licked his lips and asked:

"G'day mate"

"What do you do?"

Eyes which had seen horrors uncountable gazed into the young Jafa's face.

Those eyes were filled with a terrible pain.

Pain much worse than the trifling pain of childbirth.
Pain much, much worse than a hemorrhoid rupturing under the pressure of a Vindaloo-laden methanogenic explosion.
Pain worse even than the time the bloody French knocked the All Blacks out of the World Bloody Cup in Cardiff in 2007, and it was only a f*cking Quarter-Final, and all because of a bloody useless and blind English bloody referee.  But we're not bitter.

The young Jafa could see the pain, the anguish, the hidden terrors in the old bloke's eyes, but he could also see that the old bugger was going to speak.

"I'm a teacher" he said. 

And it was like hearing a piece of broken chalk being dragged over a field, a battlefield, of broken glass.

There was a sharp intake of breath from everyone around the bar.

The temperature dropped by about 20 degrees.

The young Jafa felt a terrible compulsion.
It was a demanding, insisting, expletive-laden compulsion.

He had to do it.

He had to ask, he did not have enough willpower to resist.

"What do you teach?" he whispered against clenched teeth.

The hunched and solitary figure began to turn fully to look at him.

For the first time the young Jafa had the full and exclusive attention of those eyes.

Those eyes, those eyes;
they bored through his skin,
through his brain,
through his heart and finally through his soul.

Those old eyes had power, held authority and (he was suddenly aware) held absolute knowledge.  There was nothing those eyes didn't know.

They knew if he'd done his homework.
They knew if he was trying to smuggle a lollie out of his pocket into his mouth.
The really knew when he tried to flip a paper pellet off of Budgie McLean's oddly shaped head with an elastic band and two rulers held together by duct tape.

They knew.

The hunched and solitary figure began to turn away from him now.

The young Jafa had been dismissed.

He had been spurned. 
Spurned like a rabid dog.
Spurned like Hitler had with Mussolini.
Like Stalin had with Mao.
Like Abbot had with Costello.

He said it again.

"What do you teach?"

The hunched and solitary figure didn't even twitch, didn't even seem to be about to respond in any way, just kept turning back to his original position.

But there was something.

The young Jafa suddenly knew that he would be getting an answer.

He didn't know how he knew, but he knew.

The hunched and solitary figure lifted the handle clenched in his white-knuckled fingers, and for an instant the young Jafa knew real fear.

He felt the very core of his being shrink away.  His guts began to turn to liquid, and he suddenly wished he was wearing a panty liner at least.

He quaked.

But the hunched and solitary figure just raised the handle to his laps and drank.

He drank deeply; he drank like the dark brown foaming liquid was the elixir of life itself.

He returned the handle to the beer-streaked surface of the bar, and he began to resume his semi-focused search for the meaning of life.
But then he spoke.

He spoke a truth so self-evident that the young Jafa was struck dumb by its magnificent simplicity and immediately obvious sincerity and rightness.

He spoke thus: "Bastards"


  1. Good morning TSB, I see you've been doing a bit of self-examination...

    1. Always. Every morning, along with a little self-massage.

  2. What a grumpy old fart! He shouldn't be a teacher if that's how he responds to a perfectly civil question! I wouldn't give him a job at your school if I were you.

    1. What do you man grumpy?
      He answered the question with what I would say was complete accuracy.

      It's too late. He's cloned himself. There's at least one in every school on the planet.

  3. Ha! I think I ride the train with a few of these guys ... one that swings a very large duffle bag around hoping to hit one of us.

    So sorry you had to cruise a confusion of Pantone of beads v Italian cake ... agree now that you mention it. It sorta make me think of that.

    If you're looking for humor (at least from me) try my older posts on the 'train jeweler' ... that would be my side job

    1. or you could try 'thankful in India - mother in law' if you like stories about India, trains and turkish toilets

    2. No, sorry, they're not teachers. A teacher would never be so rude as to accidentaly hit you with a duffle bag.

      A teacher would ensure he hit you with his duffle bag, especially if you had been saying something nice about children.

      I jest.
      I like to jest a little.
      I like to make a panary reference.

      Train Jeweler?

      I like the sound of that.

      I can imagine a large 40 seater coach encrusted in diamonds and pearls, a locomotive with gold, silver and enamel loops and currlicues embellishing it's good looks.

    3. I'll have a look at 'thankful in India - mother in law', but I'm a bit wary after the panty liner experience to be in any way attached to "turkish toilets"

    4. Indeed! there is a breeze (I hesitate to call it anything like a 'fresh breeze') streaming upwards from the tracks below. It appears to be an art perfected at a young age from folks growing up in India. Who knew?

    5. The toilets on the British Rail trains of my youth were somewhat similar.

      There was a joke of the time about those being in the possession of haemorrhoids were at risk of having them wound around the back axle of the train.

    6. OMG, I must stop reading your blog on my train ride as sudden outburst scare the other passengers

    7. Being scary is good.

      Being scary means that nobody wants to sit beside you, so you get plenty of leg(and if needed) hip room.

  4. I am blown away--this ranks right there at the top of your posts!!

    1. Why thank you fishducky, I appreciate your enthusiasm.

      I used to have enthusiasm, but it sort of evaporated after the report debacle of Term 2.

      Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed this, it came right from the heart.

      Do you think I used enough metaphors?

    2. Like a diarrhea filled toilet--there were more than enough--but yours were FUNNY!!

  5. A classic- am sending to every teacher I know!

    1. Why thanks Austan, I appreciate your concern for the poor fellow battlers-of-the-unclean (and sometimes it feels like the undead as well)

  6. Wow! My first visit here and this was amazing! Hilarious and wonderful at the same time. Great writing, glad I stopped by.

    1. Welcome Michelloui, and thanks for leaving a comment.

      Glad you enjoyed the semi-rant. I just felt this huge calm envelope me after leaving Stalag Luft III (our friendly nickname for Nuova Lazio High School)and the words just flowed.

      My goodness I'm so looking forward to the two week break.

      I used the link to get back to your own blog and was a bit confused. Is it a web-magazine?

  7. Yes, I enjoyed that too! Could have been me last night, but for a chardonnay in the hand.

    1. Moring Richard, glad you enjoyed it. I had a bottle of beer in one hand and a small whisky in the other. My goodness I needed both.

      Well done about the MyTube, you managed to suck in most of the kids, so the rest of us could have a nice nap.

  8. That was so detailed, and the illustrations so patiently constructed for us. It's a painstaking construction, for others, of a moment in pub life, and illustrates how pub life is really a concentrated microcosm of the life outside that the people inside have to deal with. I've been that Jafa myself, and I've been the silenced audience member too. Fucking good one.

    1. Thanks looby, I appreciate your constructive input (no, that's not sarcasm; I acknowledge your greater experience of various media formats and a diverse knowledge of literature forms)

      I almost went into a stream-of-consciousness mode when writing this one, and I found I just couldn't stop. I was having far too much fun.

      I know what you say about being the two types of bar inhabitants I mentioned.

      How many times have we been the one standing on their own, wanting to get involved with the banter surrounding us, but being unable, at that moment, to integrate into the gestalt.

      Then the next week being the heart and soul of the party (a euphemism I always thought meant being a drunken dick)

      PS Sorry about the extra apostrophe on my last comment on your post about Croston. Such basic mistakes are so embarrassing. I blame the Ballantines.

  9. Is this a Halloween thing or just Day In the Life?

    1. It depends.

      It's actually the last day of term, so it's more a Day of Freedom thing.

  10. Accurate, very accurate..Mate, from my days as a school kid through to my days as a parent attending parent/teacher interrogations I really cant understand why teachers put themselves through it. Teaching is so damn hard, not for the teaching but for the unbelievable crap you must wade through. As an experienced but old bugger in my trade it has been put to me many times that I could put something back into the system by teaching at our local vocational/trade college.
    I treat the idea as the insult it is...

    1. It can be hard, but once you've mastered the techniques it isn't too bad.

      I think you might be right to refuse to teach, mind you seniors in a trade college act quite differently to the feral 13 year olds.

  11. Well done TSB! From my short stint as an English Teacher this year I would have to say you have perfectly mastered the art of Short Story Writing, complete with the twist at the end. A+ my dear. Just wish more of my students had an imagination such as yours. I am more tempted to cry out of frustration than joy when I read the writing efforts of today's teens (That's if I can manage to decipher their scribbly writing - another reason why they are taken to the computer suite ti type thier master pieces up!). I think we have to reframe writing in English classes. How about we write a rap or a pop song kids? I'm sure that learning intention would be met with much more enthusiasm.

    1. Thanks for the A+. Do I get a gold star as well?

      I enjoy writing, but I'm afraid I draw the line at rap.

      Actually I lay a minefield at rap, and call in a TOT barrage on anybody using rap. (TOT stands fro time on target, check google and artillery)

  12. Have you been eating your wife's lipstick again? There are mind altering components in there :-)
    Well written. You also confirmed everything I thought about the male dominated New Zealand bar, no women allowed?

    1. No Di, I haven't been eating the lipstick, but I do agree that a mind altering substance is involved.

      It's FREEDOM. I wrote the post on the last dy of term. Two glorious weeks with no kids.


      Of course women are allowed in New Zealand bars. You didn't expect blokes to pour their own pints did you?

  13. Good one.
    And any post that's set in a pub is always worth reading.

    1. Thanks Steve, and I agree about the pub. It certainly adds character.

  14. Nice one. He is lucky he does not also teach bitches.

    1. OOhh, Laoch, we are not allowed to use that word anymore.
      So we don't teach b*tches, we merely try to educate female bastards.

  15. LOL! Great build-up. I may have snorted diet coke when I read the final line.

    1. Thank you. I hope everyone had as much fun reading it as I had writing it.


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