I became a christian when I was five. Maybe earlier, I can’t remember.
Mum gave me a children’s book on the life of Jesus. By the end of it, I was in tears, absolutely distraught. It was the first book I ever remember reading. I found Mum in the laundry doing the washing. What was wrong? I myself didn’t really know and could only splutter and cry. A good man had just been tortured and killed. I could see Mum was too busy to deal with me.
From that moment on, I spoke directly with Jesus. The world, if my five year old mind understood it, had properly demonstrated its indifference. And so I kept it to myself.
I was bright, blue-eyed and dressed in a cowboy suit. What matter if I pooed my pants on the way to piano lessons? Or the giant in my dreams told me to go right back home and clean my knees? Everyone has the odd hiccup. I have always said I had the perfect childhood, in which there was only one absolute certainty.
I would live forever.
School seemed merely to confirm my lack of dumbness. But there you go. Unfortunately, so many types of intelligence are not taught at school.
At twelve I had the instinct but not yet the killer instinct. In the final I got scared. Up until then I hadn’t been coached to deal with fear. At boarding school boxing was big, but not that big. Halfway into round one I caught Collins 2 plum. I knew that feeling myself. It hurt. After that, Collins 2, being angry, spent the rest of the fight hunting me down, and although he didn’t end up landing a punch like the one I’d thrown, he won the fight on account of being the more aggressive, and me just defending. Collins 2 looked like a winner.
Even before prep school, boxing was just about the biggest thing on the planet. At Waipawa Primary,
in the bus on the way to school, kids’d be wearing their plastic Beatle wigs and arguing as to whether Cassius Clay could really box or was he just a loudmouth? Myself, I thought he was both. I especially liked his poetry.
At high school JJ gave us all new names. Mine was TJ Crapout. I can't even remember if anyone else's stuck, but mine did, such that over the years it got shortened, first to Crapout, then to Crud, and in the end, I was simply Bog. At the time, however, none of us were too impressed by this sudden nicknaming. Within the day we came up with one for JJ. Jeremy Dogrooter. His didn’t stick though as he already had a better one. But, as sometimes happens, the name I was given proved to be prophetic.
I started smoking. Three or four of us would crawl under a hedge fairly close to the dormitory and light up our cigarettes there. The taste was so strong, and the effect so nauseating, I liked them straight away. Also, it was like a kind of privacy. Except for sleep there is no privacy at boarding school.
Pretty soon we had plenty of places to smoke and talk. There were always places to hide if you looked for them. One good one was under the stage in the main hall. That was temple-central my whole fourth form. By fourth form we were getting cocky. No longer turds, we were off the bottom rung. The sniff of rebellion became a way of life. Our Latin teacher, for example, was a somewhat weedy, effeminate character, and we naturally gave him hell. Half way through that year he had a nervous breakdown and went to Norfolk Island, no doubt with his opera singing wife who was about twice his size. Success we thought. Then he came back with a go-go watch. We redoubled our efforts. One morning before class, I arrived to see a couple of my classmates pulling the final branches of the phebalium hedge in through the classroom windows. The windows and hedge ran the length of the classroom, the windows opening from the bottom out. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before. Without much fuss, our illustrious teacher made us put it all back.
All sorts of other things happened. He had a kind of miniature collie he used to bring to class which we spattered with ink until our ink wells got taken away. Et cetera, et cetera. Someone even lit up a smoke in class.
If we were remotely good, he read to us from Julius Caesar’s diaries, in English so we could understand. Julius Caesar, we discovered, was nearly as brilliant as us. But that hedge stunt still sticks in my mind. I doubt even Julius would have come up with that.
What you’ve got is people who are bossy, and people who are not. My Latin teacher was not.
In the fifth form I gave up cigarettes. It was an important year.
At some point in the sixth form, by which point I’d decided to take up smoking again, a teacher gave me a vocational guidance booklet. It contained, in alphabetical order, the name of every profession known to woman or man. For a guess, I’d say about 500 entries. I thought “this is great! The perfect way to decide one’s future!” So I read through the entire list, page after page, saying “no” to every one, job after job, only stopping when I finally came across one I didn’t recognise, at professions under V. Viticulture. “That’s it!” I cried, and went off to look up what it meant.
On top of this, I wanted to be a labourer. After all, I had won the languages prize. The former L word not being in the booklet at all. But now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure there was no poet under P either.
And so, in my short later life, I studied horticulture.
For my last year of school I went to Hastings Boys High School. I’d had enough of boarding school, and even though I was still actually boarding in town at Mrs Davidson’s, there was a lot more freedom. I was touch and go to get kicked out of Wanganui anyway. Dad had to drive over there during August holidays and discuss my situation with the headmaster.
At a parents’ day during the previous term my friend Conrad and I had borrowed Dad’s car, driven down to the wholesale and bought two bottles of cheap red wine. For good measure, I managed to dent the car backing out of the carpark.
A few hours later and we’re walking along to a party at the neighbouring girl’s school, drinking on the way. By the time we get there, I’ve drunk my bottle as well as half of Conrad’s and I am totally shit-faced.
Not too far into proceedings, some nice lady grabs me and carts me back to school. As I remember it, the moment of her walking into the room, I am doing laps of the walls, and bouncing off whatever furniture will help me walk on walls.
I am subsequently banned from the school ball at the end of term.
Looking back, I wonder why I would get drunk like that? Fear of sobriety? Fear of girls? A fear of floors?
So when the ball comes around, naturally I’m sitting in my friend’s car listening to the strains of the band and drinking my way through the most vile range of alcoholic concoctions yet to be put together by school children. Suitably legless, I wander past the bouncers into the hall, walk straight to the middle of the dance floor and throw up. The band is playing Jean Genie.
At the end of the holidays, Dad tells me he had to drive the four hours there and back to see the headmaster. He didn’t want to tell me sooner as he thought it would spoil my holiday.
I’ll never forget that.
At Hastings Boys High School, at first fifteen parties, we would race to drink a dozen quart bottles of beer. I’d manage maybe seven or eight by the end of the night. God knows how, one or two guys would get there. They were the chosen ones, virtually infallible.
Meanwhile, Adrian, who was next to infallible, would have stuck a needle through his arm for the sake of acupunctural science. Adrian was the silent, mature type.
And then we’d walk out on the lawn and throw up in unison.
I’d definitely found my crowd. Platform shoes were in.
I remember one party we had at Adrian’s place playing drinking games, the other guys, fair minded and good natured as they were, decided to gang up on me. I thought to myself, “what the fuck! Let’s get drunk.” At some stage I blacked out, and came to on the couch with Joe Keynes pummeling the shit out of my ribs.
“Whoa,” I said. “Hang up. Hold on. What are you hitting me for? What’d I do?”
“You called me a black bastard.”
“No I didn’t. I didn’t say that.”
“I just wouldn’t say that.”
“You did. That’s what you said.”
The other guys all concurred.
“Look,” I said, “I would never say such a thing. Even if I'm drunk. It’s not in me. You reckon I said that? Bullshit!”
They all affirmed the unobvious once again.
“This is wrong.” I looked around at my friends. “OK,” I said. “Adrian. You’re my best friend. There’s only one way to sort this out. You and me, we go outside. We sort it out, you and I.”
We all pile outside, on the back lawn, but not too far away from the beer.
For about five seconds I’m doing fine. This is the way to box, a left jab here, light on the feet..
At least, this time, I didn’t black out. The other guys stepped in and stopped it. I was covering up. Or not. I was in another world. I couldn’t feel anything.
Adrian stopped before any serious damage was done.
Justice served, we all piled back inside, me to the bathroom to wash the blood off my face. We resumed our original positions at the kitchen table. Beers all round.
I could have said sorry. But I’d been framed.