No Minister

The Actuary Cometh

When I was a little boy there was a period of perhaps two-three years where I felt surrounded by death.

“I see dead people”

Not in any scary way though. Certainly not in the manner of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, stealing little figurines of the Virgin Mary, Christ and others from a local Catholic church to arrange in a defensive line around the bed covers tent he sets up in his bedroom.

No, mine was the more mundane observation that every couple of months another aunt, uncle, great uncle or some other distant relative who had bounced me on my knee as a baby, had dropped dead. It seemed like an almost endless list of days where I’d get taken out of school and to a funeral with Mum and Dad.

Then it all seemed to come to a stop. The last I can recall vividly was years later: my Dad’s youngest brother, A WWII Vet of Italy who karked from a heart attack just after sitting down to watch the Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali fight. In that case I was buried in school exam prep and could not go, which was a pity as I knew and liked him the best of all.

Three decades of being bullet-proof passed.

Cathy

Then in the middle of the winter of 2015, while making dinner, an email flashed up telling me that Cathy, an old varsity friend & flatmate I’d stayed in close contact with, had gone missing on her way from her San Francisco house to her lodge up in the Sierra Nevadas. She’d gone to prep for an Independence Day bash with friends. Within 48 hours her friends had found her wrecked car.

We think she simply fell asleep at the wheel and went straight off a corner at speed into a tree, killing her and her beloved dog, Trixie. She’d already had one such incident on the I-101 heading home from the Airport: a minor nose-to-tail, but a result of working long hours in software development, flying SF-Dallas every week. She’d gone from Morrinsville to a Math degree at Waikato to starting work as a teller in a small bank in Oamaru to Sydney to the heart of Silicon Valley.

Ray

Early in 2017 I got news that another old close varsity mate who’d only recently returned to NZ after making a pile in the UK (another Math major, he fell into the world of Black & Scholes) had died in a simple swimming accident off Murawai beach, which he knew well. I’d only had the two most recent Old Boys reunions to catch up on the missing years.

Ray had three memorial events held for him; here, in Britain, and in Croatia, where he had simply turned up in the 2000’s with little more than a swag bag, despite all his money, and simply made friends in some small village he arrived at randomly. He was that nice. Being trapped in a Nigerian jail for weeks after being betrayed by his lover was something else, but he was never bitter about it, simply shrugging his shoulders at the price of love. We gave him endless shit that our gaydar had always been better than his.

The picture on his memorial card was perfect given what a huge Bowie fan he’d always been (“It must always be played at maximum volume, Tom”)

Ian

Ian and I had been fast friends through Primary school and after high school he’d stayed in our old farming district, as did almost all the boys I knew. In late 2020 I got word that he had not returned home from checking out the back of his hill country farm. The district mobilised its S&R and dozens of locals combed the place – you’d be surprised at how well farmers know their neighbour’s farms. They found him quickly enough, surrounded by his dogs, not actually that far from where this photo was taken when we were children. He’d simply had a massive heart attack at far too young an age.

Gordon

Gordon was another farm boy, from our neighbouring district. I didn’t meet him until high school but we became good friends. Like so many other Kiwis he departed on the big OE to Britain and did not return, starting up an engineering company and becoming very rich. He sold out a few years ago to a large corporate and effectively retired, doing a bit of consulting and travelling around the world, motor-biking and making several trips to NZ simply to catch up with old friends.

I’d looked forward to being able to head to Britain some time in the next year or two and return the favour, but it was not to be. In mid 2020 he got a diagnosis of Stage IV Prostate cancer. He managed to hang on until just a few months ago.

Kim

Finally, there’s Kim, or Kimbo as he was known on the NZ blogs, including here at No Minister. Our friendship started in a very 21st century way – via blog comments. Back at the end of 2015 there was a Kiwiblog post on why Kiwis so celebrated England getting booted from the Rugby World Cup. There had been a few souls sniping at the arrogance of the All Blacks and their fans and I opined that they weren’t as arrogant as Aussie cricketers, the New York Yankees, or the fans of both. This implied loathing of the Yankees intrigued Kimbo, who asked whether I might be from Boston. I revealed the terrible truth that I was …. a Chicago Cubs fan.

The Cubs?! That ain’t penance, that’s…being the victim of a war crime! 😉

He unloaded the Cubs joke from Back To The Future II, as well as the famous poem Tinkers-To-Evers-To-Chance. Holy crap: a New Zealander who knew baseball? A friendship was born – sort of.

Throughout 2016 he regularly taunted me (sometimes when I was not even on a thread) by relaying to me the Cubs smashing progress that year as they wracked up 103 wins as the best team in baseball, together with the knowledge of the inevitable fate that awaited them in the Fall, as it had for 108 years. This taunting naturally continued right up to Game 7 of the World Series on November 3, 2016, and even to the last out:

Jose Ramirez grounds out, the Cubs just one out away. Only one team – the 1986 Red Sox have ever lost a World Series from this position, If the curse of the Billy Goat still lives, now is the time it will manifest itself 😉

Prick! Luckily I wasn’t watching the comments at that precise moment but caught up a little later.

It would be a few months before Kimbo contacted me via DPF exchanging our email addresses and we finally met in the flesh for a beer, and then with another Kiwiblog commentator, “Swifty” for a barbecue. Turned out that Kim had just survived a bout of cancer via radiotherapy but for the next four years we had some good beer calls, a couple of times to watch the Cubs in post-season play. It turned out that he was a Ponsonby Rugby Club man from way back, involved at every level, and his knowledge of the game was encyclopedic, as more than a few found out on Kiwiblog. Naturally enough he’d turned that into a Masters thesis on rugby strategy and tactics (and then a book), to go with his Bachelor’s in Theology, having started life as an atheist.

I’m still struggling with his explanation of how Calvinism was replaced in America by the Arminian Pentecostal/Chraismatic revivalism of the 19th century.

He loved arguing, something that I think often annoyed his interlocutors on blogs. A once staunch Labour Party man he’d delivered the pamphlets in 1984 and cheered Muldoon’s defeat but found himself, years later, voting for Key’s competence (while chuckling about the supremely political move of not recalling where he sat on the Tour of 1981). At the same time he regularly stuck it to me about America’s foibles and that while “broken-arsed Randians” 😄 had won the 1980’s arguments on economic reform they’d repeatedly lost on healthcare, education and social welfare. He couldn’t stand Adern and her “shower” as he described them, but hated being called a shill when pointing out how useless Collins and National were in the 2020 election. They were fun drinking sessions.

Then, back in April a “lump” was found during a regular checkup and it all unraveled from there. The cancer had returned and this time it would have to be chemo plus surgery. Except the surgery in June found the tumour was too close to the aorta to extract and he couldn’t be buggered with a million-to-one-shot of chemo, so that was that. From then it was, as he said, a matter of a week, a month… It would at least be quick, unusual for cancer. He was not afraid in the least, having stared into the abyss more than once. He also had an absolute faith in God.

To give him a break from everything I took him down to my farm for a few days. Even then it was physically tough for him to get around the place but we did it. Also finally got him to watch Bull Durham, which I figured he’d appreciate more than anybody else I know in New Zealand. And Midway (2019) because, like me, he felt the weight of history.

He died last Friday morning, having gone into hospital the day before with yet another “persistent cough” (the tumour pressing on his throat he guessed). The last text I got from him on Thursday cracked wise about continuing the fight “for quality of life”, something I jabbed him about being a line used by The Borg in Star Trek. I probably won’t even be able to attend his funeral.

I’m going to miss him. I miss all of them. I move forward.

Also linked to the September 27 GD at Kiwiblog,

==================================

I don’t know why I’ve written this. Last year when we were moving NM to this new platform, Psycho Milt opined to me that perhaps in the future historians might find our spoor and use it as least as a small insight into our times, much as the Vindolanda Tablets do for the 3rd century AD Romans in the North Country of Britain. Even scattered across The Cloud, perhaps the memories of these ordinary people who were my friends, will survive.

I am more aware than ever that the clock is ticking.

Written by Tom Hunter

September 26, 2021 at 11:59 pm

Posted in History, New Zealand

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12 Responses

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  1. Tom
    I find myself in a similar position to you. However, I am still losing people I know to that hidden killer, suicide. That is where I get most upset. Cancer, including my own, I can deal with. People taking their own life i can’t process.
    The health services in this country towards the mental issues are very badly managed. To compound that,, they are getting worse. The last year’s suicide figures haven’t been released yet. Invariably, they will show a big upturn, caused by a government that just doesn’t care. Pale stale males aren’t on anyone’s radar.

    Chris Morris

    September 27, 2021 at 5:14 am

    • I’ve been lucky so far on that front, but I’m aware of at least a couple just in our neighbourhood alone.

      Tom Hunter

      September 27, 2021 at 7:55 am

  2. There are so many things I could say about this subject, but I only have my phone with me and it’s cumbersome to type on.

    Uncoffined

    September 27, 2021 at 7:02 am

  3. 1 Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.

    2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.

    3 Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.

    4 For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

    5 Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up.

    6 In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.

    7 For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.

    8 Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

    9 For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.

    10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

    11 Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.

    12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

    13 Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants.

    14 O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

    15 Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.

    16 Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children.

    17 And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

    Andrei

    September 27, 2021 at 7:39 am

    • Thanks Andrei. He’d have appreciated that.

      Tom Hunter

      September 27, 2021 at 8:56 am

  4. Sorry to hear that, but I am sure it feels good to have written it down.

    John JohnO

    September 27, 2021 at 8:04 am

  5. Heartfelt Tom and very moving.

    I look back to the guys from my school days and University who went West early.

    Perhaps T S Eliot covers it nicely:

    “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”

    I see exploration as a metaphor for Life.

    rossco

    September 27, 2021 at 9:05 am

  6. It’s a very insightful post Tom, but also a potentially depressing one.
    I once read somewhere that the Greeks viewed life in hindsight and went thru life looking back at history, this may be true but I see it as a flawed way of living.
    We are here for a limited time, and we don’t know when that time is up, therefore use it while you can constructively.
    The first funeral I went to was some guy that held me in his arms when I was three, and apparently was a really good guy. I was about nine yrs old at the time and obviously don’t remember him. I do remember that everyone was sad for some reason and that the club sandwiches on the table with a strange green thing (asparugus) tasted really horrible.
    The second funeral was for my father. I wasn’t close to him as my parents had got divorced years earlier and I got kicked out of his house 2 weeks before School C exams to make room for his new partner.
    The third funeral was for a mate who lived life to the full, and was killed in a motorcycle accident. it was a very positive affair and was effectively a celebration of his life. When I die, I would like my funeral to be like that, rather than a sad affair that leaves people unable to move on.
    The forth funeral was for my father in law. It was very sad. I gave a positive uplifting speech which i think lifted some peoples spirits a bit (but not much). I don’t drink much, but man, did I want a drink after that one.
    I suspect you are older than me Tom, but you are only as old as you feel. you can’t change the past, but you can look forward to the future.

    P.S. this written by a guy riding a skateboard in his fifties in order to inspire his children

    Uncoffined

    September 27, 2021 at 5:20 pm

  7. Hi Tom,

    Thanks so much for letting the blogworld know about Kimbo’s passing. I was very sad to hear the news, but also thankful to you for making sure that he didn’t just vanish.

    My first memory of Kimbo was of a rather fiery exchange we had on Whale Oil Beef Hooked. I didn’t know who he was, but he knew me and attacked with gusto. Anyway, we made friends of a sort that you do once the dust settles and you realise you are not actually adversaries. 🙂

    I wish I’d met him in person.

    Lucia Maria

    September 27, 2021 at 6:30 pm

    • Thanks Lucia. He could be rather fiery online, although in my case, as I pointed out, it was more good-natured (if barbed) shit stirring on my lack of faith in the Cubs in 2016. 🙂

      I also barbed him back with things like this, which I know you will appreciate:

      As I recall his response was something like, “Is that aimed at me, Papist Boy”

      Tom Hunter

      September 30, 2021 at 3:10 pm

  8. Well expressed, written…appreciated. Just another example of why NoMin is my ‘treat’ blog. I also enjoy the windy, (as in winding) & sardonic posts of GD, all bloggers here are worth my time. Sad to hear of Kimbo, whom I enjoyed on Karl’s blog. Y’all are responsible for my household procrastinations…

    hilarytee

    September 30, 2021 at 10:36 am

  9. Thanks hillary. your comment reminds me that I missed Lucia’s comment and must respond to it

    Tom Hunter

    September 30, 2021 at 3:07 pm


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