Andrew

I googled the name ‘Andrew Matus’ the other day and got four results on the first page. One was a lance corporal in the US marines who was shot and killed in Iraq on 25 January 2007. Another was someone credited with designing Swaxy, a trendy new shopping website. The third was the owner of a MySpace page with the latest entry ‘got drunk last night n thought i got locked in and kicked down the wrong door…my bad…. mood: haaaa thats fun’. The fourth, with by far the most references, was the one I was looking for – a biochemist working at The Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland.

I met Andrew in our first year at Auckland Grammar School. We had quite a bit in common. We were both English, for a start, and both newly arrived in the country. He and his family had made the trip a few months before us – from Scotland, as I recall, although his online cv says that he was born in London. We were also both big fans of the Goons and of the black humour of Tom Lehrer. I remember him as skinny, like me but quite a bit shorter. He had curly, blondish hair and a narrow, pointed face, a quick wit and a restless mind. I am not surprised he became a research scientist with what seems to be an international reputation because although he was never at the top of the class he was one of the more interesting and creative members of it.

Andrew always seemed to have something new to talk about. I remember him once enthusing about this writer James Joyce and a book called Ulysses. Apparently, it was one of the most important works of the century, with all kinds of interesting stuff in it such as a section written like a play and passages in stream of consciousness, whatever that was. There were also sex scenes.

I am not sure if Andrew actually read Ulysses but I did.  I bought a copy for 20/- from The Book Centre in Queens Arcade, one of the havens of my culture starved life. I wonder now what the owner, Bob Goodman, thought about a sixteen-year-old acquiring a novel like that. Was he tempted to object or to point out its unsuitability? I am thankful he didn’t. Reading Ulysses for the dirty bits isn’t the usual way into modern literature but it worked for me. It led to The Essential James Joyce, 21/- from the same shop, which contained A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This was to become the great novel of my teenage years. Of course. Its tale of the developing alienation of an aesthetic, young intellectual paralleled my own spiritual journey to a T.

The second book that Andrew’s conversation led me to was Tristram Shandy. This I found in the school library in the McDonald edition (complete with marbled page) and it opened my eyes to the fun that could be had with narrative. I read it so avidly at the end of my sixth form year that I neglected everything else and failed my English exam – a nice irony, which Sterne might have appreciated.  

Andrew’s eclecticism extended into other areas. Inspired, I suppose, by Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, he learned the clarinet and became an accomplished jazz musician and in his last year at school he became deeply interested in politics. He was Jewish and felt the strong appeal of the growing Zionist movement. I can remember his talking about Israel with a seriousness that he rarely gave to anything else.

We lost touch after we left school. I abandoned science for the arts in my second year at university and drifted away from all of my school friends. My last memory of Andrew is him playing the clarinet at some university concert. I had always assumed he had gone to Israel but if he did, he didn’t stay there. By 1971 he was graduating with a PhD from the University College of London and has been in biochemical research ever since.

I owe him a lot.

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