With the dinner table temporarily sagging beneath the
intellectual weight of two tiny but highly verbal American
children, the nature of our conversation has changed so
dramatically, I often wonder if I have stumbled into the
wrong house. We are at present operating on a level which is
quite simply beyond anything I can muster.
"Okay," roars the one at the table who gives all the
commands, doubtless thinking she is still at school, and
that's fair enough, "it's time to say three things we did
Phwooaaarrr! Children love this. They do, after all, three
things a second. Six year-olds, and we have one of these,
start their school day by giving news, where jewelled casket
family secrets are sprayed around the classroom's walls like
paint. I'll warrant primary school teachers' Three Things I
Heard From The Kids At School Today is a dinner table topic
that freezes food at the first swallow.
What I have been finding with this talking about the day
thing is that, first, I have to somehow justify my day being
worthy enough to have actually consisted of three worthwhile
things. And, secondly, to somehow describe these things in
such a way that one of the grandchildren doesn't ask if
granddad is still going.
My days, of course, are highly evolved adventures, redolent
with careful and significant thought patterns. It has become
baffling to me that the information I have both proferred and
absorbed whilst hunched over an inner city coffee table, the
only position to sit when dealing with wisdom, is as much use
to a family dinner as a bicycle. Is this the way society is
going? In some cultures, the oldest family members are given
the greatest respect, the young hang from their opinions like
stalactites. And yet for me, only derision. Or, worse, sorry
granddad, we haven't got time for this story, the kids are
Inevitably, I have a fine example of that of which I speak.
Last week at hospital, suffering pain in an upper tooth that
made childbirth, in comparison, merely the raising of an
eyebrow, I was sent to the dental school across the road.
Normal humans can wait days for urgent extractions, but not
There was a suggestion I might not even live long enough to
make it across the road.
Those who have been at the dental school know there is a bit
of waiting to be done, a bit of sending texts that read,
I could not afford to leave the waiting room for a second.
But even kidney transplantees have to take a whazz, so
regretfully I set off for the little boys' room.
I always choose the huge wheelchair enclosure with a lock,
regardless of what I have in mind. If there is one thing I
want in the little boys' room, it's privacy and colossal
space. So I get in there and begin my stately trouserial
Imagine then my shock-horror-swear-word reaction when I
turned to my right and saw another man in a similar stage of
undress by the bowl.
"(SWEAR WORD!)," I burst out.
"I am SO sorry, I never knew they had two toilets in here."
I quickly hauled my badly repaired black Levis back up the
thigh. I noticed he, too, was at a similar level of red-faced
"It's okay mate," I said, "you were here first, I'll go."
Yes, yes, you've worked it out.
But I don't work things out. I am an idiot. But why the
swear-word would the dental school put a wall-sized mirror in
a wheelchair toilet? This was a truly stellar tale to bring
to the family dinner table that night, granddad jabbering at
himself like a demented old fool in a room made of glass. A
story like this comes around once every 10 years. But I only
got as far as, today at the dental school, and I was swept
from the table like a crumb. Just where exactly
DO you tell stories like this?
• Roy Colbert is a Dunedin writer.