Perceptive grandson gets to the heart

Image by Roy Colbert.
Image by Roy Colbert.
Movies suck us in off the street with log lines, a pithy one-punch summary of all the movie is.

Rambo: First Blood. Man who cannot talk kills a lot of people.

Rambo: First Blood Part II. Same man kills even more people, this time with helicopter. We live in an age controlled by descriptive brevity. Our lives should be like that, too.

But they're not. How many of us can be summed up in one line?

Until I accompanied my 6-year-old grandson into his George Street School classroom last week, I would have thought, most of us. I am fond of peeling off possibilities at the family dinner table. Put that on my headstone, I announce grandly.

Yes dear, says my wife. That headstone would need to be the size of Hadrian's Wall to get all my suggestions over the years, the original Hadrian's Wall I mean, nearly 2000 years ago, not the small line of rubble I saw somewhere up north on my quick-get-on-the-bus British tour in 2000. "He was small, but big on the inside." Damn near perfect, that one. Why it has elicited so much derision is just one of life's eternal mysteries. "He had lunch with Stevie Nicks and held his own." None of my friends can claim this. Few of my friends even believe it.

Rowan was keen to introduce me to his new friends at George Street, and I stood humble and aw-shucks beside him awaiting his one-liner describing everything I stand for as a mature, fully formed and fabulously fulfilled grown-up.

"This is my granddad, he has diabetes."

You could have felled me with an ant's antler. Is that it?

Just diabetes?

A disease so common its global numbers are closing in on 400 million?

A grain of sand on St Kilda Beach is bigger than this. What about my three years in the early 1990s on Creative New Zealand shaping the cultural future of the nation?

Do we not have Kimbra now?

What about the music I wrote and performed for an RHE Refrigeration radio ad in 1972?

Sure, it was rejected, out of hand if you want the full story, but if we are to define creativity by its marketplace reception, then we will quickly find ourselves in a very sorry state.

But we do. Creative people find it very hard, and few arrows have a sharper point than those from a local refrigeration company. A man has to surround his cerebral cortex with a bullet-proof vest to put up with stuff like this. And if we are talking bullet-proof vests, and goodness gracious, we actually are, can I just throw this one out there: what do bullet-proof vests, fire escapes, windshield wipers and laser printers all have in common?


Well, I'll tell you, they were all invented by women. Look it up. My point, incidentally, is not that these are supposedly male domains surprisingly invaded by women, but that it would be foolish to ever think that. I wouldn't in 10 million years. Why, a woman invented beer as well! Nunkasi, a glamorous 4000-year-old Sumerian goddess. Good beer it was too, they say, like Emersons.

It kept her alive for 4000 years after all, do the math.

I asked Rowan later if he were to think of another way to describe me, what would it be?

He paused for an inordinately long time, I could hear his fertile little brain working through the options like a coffee grinder dealing to a Crunchie bar"This is my granddad, he will eat anything."

Fair enough. Five weeks back in the country and he has already noticed my shocking diet. Why, only last Sunday at a 1-year-old's party in the Leith Valley, he saw me eating lolly cake embedded with licorice allsorts, and Cheezels.

"This is my granddad, he is a bag of bones."

Unkind perhaps, acerbic even, and yet right on the button.

"This is my granddad, he thinks he's an idiot, but I don't."

Tears welled up in my eyes like welled-up tears. Yes, that one will do.

• Roy Colbert is a Dunedin writer.


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