Having finished my horticulture studies I went back home and worked as a shepherd on my parents’ farm in the Hawke’s Bay. Paul turned up towards the end of the year and, as was the plan, the four of us, including Ivan and my brother Martin, picked up hay the whole summer. Paul and I would save enough money to travel to Europe. One way. We employed Jenny Inon to cook.
It was about this time I had the penguin dream.
North Africa. A large square in the centre of town. Midday. The buildings, as are the people, all dressed in white. Excitement pouring in from every corner. Something is up.
I make my way to where I can see. A jeep pulls up not far in front of the crowd. Two soldiers. Between them a prisoner.
Today, there is to be an execution.
Unhurried, the soldiers wait and joke with the crowd.
Two men from the crowd approach the jeep. The soldiers raise their rifles, warning them away. But the two men continue right up. Together, they poke their noses into the ends of the barrels.
A shot goes off.
The crowd erupts in a panic, screaming and jostling.
Without a thought, I run for the jeep.
On the front seat, in the middle, is a little penguin.
I am struck by its colour, an unheard-of colour, not of this planet.
I see too that it is bleeding.
I pick it up.
I turn to walk away.
That I am holding in my arms the most precious being in the living universe..
and that it is wounded..
now I am running!
I shoulder open the door to a doctor’s surgery.
The receptionist looks me over.
I am mad.
Or at least in the wrong place.
My Dad’s was the honesty religion. Fairly early on, Don asked me in the shearing shed what was the best way to get on with my Dad. Don was the new shepherd.
“To be honest,” I said.
“To be honest, what?”
“To be honest!” I said.
On one account though, apart from all his good shepherding, Don went in the total opposite direction. Although married with two beautiful daughters of his own, Don in due course became the father of my nephew.
My Dad was not impressed.
On the other hand, where would we be without Billy Boy?
I called my Dad a patrimaniac. A patrimaniac is a man who is super-passionate about being a father. Maybe it’s the French blood made him so. Or the Irish. Maybe it was just him.
I called my sister a matrimaniac.
I put it like this: “What is innocence?”
I put it like that and inserted it into some story I was writing at the time. It was called “A Penguin In Africa,” a story about Hone Heke. And I made Hone Heke have the penguin dream, but with carts and muskets.
Hone Heke was a Maori chief who chopped down the British flagstaff a couple of times in the 1840’s.
I dug out all the archival material I could find in the library and threw that in too.
I was going through a poetic stage.
At the same time, I developed a passion for penguins. Not that I saw too many. I was living inland.
And it followed that, in tandem with the penguins, I felt a certain affection for Antarctica. Antarctica was the conscience of the world. I knew this because of two things. Firstly, the absolute certain knowledge that a conscience resides in one’s feet. Second, because some Australian had turned up on the farm and reckoned that if the world were a ‘being’ then Australia would be its kidneys. He supposed because of its shape. Evidently, the world needed only one kidney.
For proximity reasons, the conversation didn’t get further than that. The implication was clear. What the Australian was saying was that New Zealand was the asshole of the world.
Later, under candle-light, I got out a map. Allowing for the world-being having slightly different priorities and possibly different relative organ sizes to the average human, it took all of five seconds to see how right the Australian was. New Zealand, plain to see, was the asshole of the world! Cook Strait being the actual sphincter.
Studying the other side of the world then, I saw that Great Britain would be the eye of the world, with Ireland the iris. France would be the nose. Spain the upper lip. Portugal was the moustache of the world. The entire Mediterranean was the mouth, with Italy the tongue. Sardinia, Corsica, Malta and Crete were bits of food. Greece, I guessed, the epiglottis.
Strangely, the world had no teeth.
Somewhere in Scandinavia were the sinuses and the fjord-like frontal lobe of the world-brain. It went without saying that the greater unused six sevenths of the world’s brain was Russia. In a nutshell, China was the belly. Africa the heart, counting the beat. India the lungs. South-east Asia, the nether regions.
The American continent appeared at first to be a slight problem. But the world, I realised, had a very narrow waist. I was looking at the legs of this world. The butt, the thighs, knees, calves, ankles..
Which left only one thing.
So what was innocence according to Hone Heke?
An apostle from the planet of sapphires?
A rare and priceless stone whose colour had never before been seen but which was blue?
This much was fact: Innocence, childlike innocence, flying like a fish and swimming like a bird, residing as it did in a hemisphere to which it did not belong, was found to be under attack on all sides, so soon to be wiped off the map.
And did we then laugh and spit and pour scorn, thinking innocence guilty and worthy of death as we rightly believed, allowing ourselves to smile absurdly at the very prospect of a world without courage, a world without action? A world that was all but arrived?
No. This, Hone Heke would not do.
For what was an action without innocence but the action of a slave. A machine. Of the future dead.
The free act alone was immortal.