When I see myself in the reflection of a shop window nowadays I’m a little dismayed. Yesterday, walking past the Caledonian, I saw my doppelganger in the window and cringed at its ho-hum, shoulder shrug appearance; the very epitome of a middle-aged, middle-class man slowly letting himself go: a polo shirt, knee-length shorts, something sort of like canvas shoes, and a straw hat. I shuddered and kept walking, slightly comforted by the unacceptably loud and aggressive music I was listening to on my headphones.
Today we went to do some Christmas shopping. We began at Gubbs where Eleanor and Rosamund got new sandals, and the shop assistant was a girl I had taught all year in Year 13 Sociology. Buying new sandals was a serious, slow business, and we stumbled several times on the issue of colour, and comfort. Eleanor regarded us all dubiously – Cathy, the shop assistant and I – as we reassured her that leather softens and stretches over time. “Yes,” she said, “but it hurts now.”
Walking across Civic Square afterwards we saw a brass band dressed in navy blue pants and white shirts fanned out about a conductor, and we went and sat down to listen. The conductor put down his baton, closed his sheet music, and the band stood up and disgorged itself across the square for a break. I believe this is called anti-climactic. Inside the library, on the mezzanine floor, there was a sign just inside the door of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau that said: “Are you here for the JP?”
From the steps leading down to the Library foyer we saw my mother, and went and had morning tea. We talked about Aunty Isobel, my father’s sister, turning 90 in February next year. Perhaps 60 years ago now she had two sisters, a brother, and two parents. None of them are alive now. I dwell on death too much. It bothers me. Both that it happens, and that modern, urban society seems to want to hide that fact. It is possible to look at the neat rows of sausage packs in the refrigerated units in the supermarket and not, even for a moment, acknowledge death. Most days this is a blessing, let’s be honest.
Standing inside the entrance of the Lyall Bay Warehouse I watched the people streaming in and out, as I waited for Cathy and Rosamund. I saw four students from my school, and two more working at the checkouts. For students, meeting a teacher outside school can be like they have suddenly switched from a Chekov to a Brecht play where the teacher in the play called “My Life As a Student” is suddenly revealed simply as a man out shopping at the Warehouse.
In the books section of the Warehouse I saw Bible Stories for Children. It was a little strange to see something Christian at Christmas. A woman walked past with a set of disposable paper plates with the word JOY printed on them. Joy. I suppose it was joyous – the birth of Jesus – joyous or at the least a relief. The family in an occupied country, pursued refugees, unable to find shelter as night closed in, and in the dark of the animal pens a baby. Joy?
Outside in the carpark a kid trailed behind his dad chanting “buy one get one free,” the dad had a sausage in a piece of white bread in one hand and some car keys in the other.