Posts for November, 2009

The Rise of Wheeler Jones

My friend Bob Ross turned seventy recently. He and I go back almost forty years and I credit him with some of the best fun I’ve ever had. A lot of it is a bit hazy now. It took place mostly in various restaurants and bars, the back bar of the Intercontinental in particular. The Big I, now the Auckland Hyatt, was just across the road from Bob’s office and it was our regular haunt until Pat Sheehan bought the Globe Hotel in Wakefield Street and we moved our deliberations there.

Bob’s great gift is his conversation. A wry wit, a fertile imagination and a fine sense of the absurd combine to form a hotbed of creativity in which ideas sprout and bloom like flowers in a compost heap. Together we have dreamt up enough schemes to fuel a dozen think tanks. We might have made our fortunes twice over, if only we could have remembered the details afterwards.

One of Bob’s claims to fame is that he was once the country’s most succesful bible salesman: this despite the fact that he has a thorough dislike of conventional religion. He’s certainly agnostic, possibly an atheist. These sorts of views typically come with a strong commitment to science and rational materialism (think Dawkins et al). Bob, however, isn’t that way inclined either. He has a soft-spot for certain aspects of the paranormal, for example. I suspect that his problem with God is that he doesn’t like anyone telling him what to think.

He and I have talked about religion occasionally over the years, although not often seriously. He reminded me recently of an afternoon in the Big I when he invented a character called Wheeler Jones. We were exploring the idea that God was a comedian and that humankind provided an endless stream of straight guys. If this was true, Bob decided, then it ought to become the central doctrine to a new faith. Wheeler Jones was to be the guru and practical jokes the only true form of worship. A practical joke every day was the cornerstone of the Jones devotions.

It strikes me now that we weren’t far off the mark in our analysis and that Wheeler Jones was one of the early proponents of Teapot Buddhism – the sublime as the ridiculous.

Cold. The back fence needs rebuilding after the southerly got into it.


Heather McKenzie died last week of a brain aneurism. She was 44. I never spent much time with Heather – just conversations at book launches and award ceremonies and over the counter at Unity Books where she worked for a while – but over the years all those little interactions have added up to something, not friendship exactly but more than mere acquaintance. About ten years ago, she kindly agreed to read a late draft of my novel The Beetle in the Box. She didn’t give me any detailed comment but her response was enthusiastic enough to make me feel it was worth pursuing. It is a small debt but it adds a little extra to the memory of someone who always seemed both vibrant and also grounded in the present moment. At her funeral, in one of the eulogies, the speaker noted how she could enter a room and immediately engage in meaningful conversation with whoever was there. ‘Engaging’ is the word for Heather. It was a big funeral.

One death, of course, contains so many others and the suddeness of this one resonates in particular with me. I lost my father when he was 45 and my son when he was 18. In neither case was there any warning – just the bolt out of the blue that shakes your foundations loose from the ground. When my son died, I felt as if something had torn my arm off. Heather’s partner, Neil, and her family and friends are going through all that as I write this.

When someone dies, they leave a hole and the closer they are to you, the bigger hole they leave. This is a cliché but also, it seems to me, a literal truth. It isn’t just that the death leaves particular people bereft and in pain. The living go on and for many of us it as if Heather is still alive, somewhere, in the places she used to be when she was not spending time with us. It comes as a shock to remember she is no longer in the world. It is an even bigger shock to realise that there is no world from Heather’s perspective. That special way of seeing and feeling, acting and reacting is gone. And given that we realise ourselves in the lives of others, the people who knew her have all lost part of themselves with the loss of that world. Our human reality just is the sum of our shared experience and the loss of one consciousness takes away from the whole by the amount of that person’s experience. We feel the thoughtlessness of our assumptions and we see how each life is at once so precious and so fragile.

Warm and sunny. Aubergine in the hot-house. Potatoes in bags. First blooms on the new rose. Wonderful scent. 

In the beginning…

In the beginning was the site and the site was in the Teapot and the site was the Teapot.