I learned from the headlines in the Dominion-Post while standing in the queue in Metro New World that Peter Jackson intends producing the remake of ‘Dam Busters’. I immediately wondered if PJ had visions of flying microlights across Karori dam, and then CGI-ing them into Lancaster bombers. And this proved to be the catalyst for explosive birth of thoughts as memories careered across my mind, crashing, bouncing, and exploding into sparks that fueled new explosions – catalytic projection at its best…
I remembered my first exposure to Lancasters was when my sister gave me a model Lancaster to build as a birthday present. I’d never heard of them – as a ten year old pacifist, the gift – then and now – seemed unusual to say the least. Apparently it’s the thought that counts. I was intrigued by the strange cigar shaped body, the ‘windows’ at each end, and the double tails. Didn’t look like any aircraft I’d seen before. I learned a lot from that gift.
Here’s some advice for gift buyers – buy the whole deal: if a model requires sanding to remove the swarf, get sandpaper – most people don’t have it at home. If it requires glue, buy it. I was interested to learn the some plastics dissolve on contact with some glues. Sadly, the Lancaster model did not survive my manually illiterate fingers – in fact that is where my reputation for manual illiteracy was born. The good news is should Peter Jackson require a model of a Lancaster the appears to have lost certain essential parts, and perhaps having been partially eaten by a mutant space virus (so it could do double duty in Halo) then I am the person to call.
Another sister managed a tiny movie theatre in Marton, about 30 minutes from where we lived. I thought the theatre was huge, and was amazed after it was demolished to see just how small the land area actually was – but that’s another story. I can remember seeing Dambusters – all very stiff upperlip and BRITISH and tea and black and white. Anyway, we got the Nazis and it was all good, and the Dambusters theme is what REAL movie theme music is all about. I also saw 633 Squadron there, a ‘me-too’ movie with a great theme. Made you want to get up and do something. Like go to the chippie next door run by the dutch family, and get fish and chips.
My next experience (and catalysed memory) was of a time I worked in a kitchen and bathroom joinery factory. I didn’t know it then but many of the workers were WWII vets, or on the edge of it. It’s as Jackson said in the newpaper – we lived with the war stories and it was very real. I was still uninterested in war (didn’t want to get tainted, see), but I was interested in a good story. One of my workmates was a guy called Bob McDonald. I’d forgotten about Bob until the newpaper article. Bob (and many of the others) must’ve been in his generous 50s-early 60s I’d guess now – to me it seemed like I’d started work with extras from Dad’s Army. It turned out I learned a lot from Bob. He’d flown a Lancaster in the liberation of Italy. It must’ve been very exotic to a kiwi boy – joining the RAF, learning to be a pilot. He would’ve been in his 20s then – only a few years older than I was at the time.
The experience of being an airman had changed Bob. He laughed at everything, finding a cheerful edge on the sceptical blade of his wit. Bob laughed. Most of our workmates were fond of the bottle. Most smoked heavily. We were probably all having permanent damage being done to our hearing from the machinery; and to our nervous system from the solvents and glues. Bob laughed. We worked with foremen and supervisors all of whom were shorter than us in stature, but significantly taller than us in ego. They shouted and acted like despots. And Bob would roll a cigarette from the packet pulled from his apron pocket, and laugh at them. The office biddys would gaflump out with their punga stump thighs, cigarettes, and try to assert their no-existant power and equally non-existant sex appeal. Bob laughed at them. Bob laughed at me too – this kid straight out of school desperately trying to find a space and place and to be taken seriously. And somehow, wonderfully, he made it so I could laugh at me too.
Bob’s good humour made it easy to listen to his stories of the horrors and fears and how he’d married his English sweetheart and returned to New Zealand. I remember Bob as being one of the few people I’ve ever worked with who had no fear, and who looked at it all, saw it for what it was and laughed. I believe Bob was having quite an extensive relationship with cancer, and I like to think – in fact, I expect – he laughed in its face when the time came.