Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Road Trip - Part 1

On Monday morning one of my flatmates dashed into my room looking gleefully excited.
"Zabinsky!" she cried. "Are you free on Tuesday and Wednesday? Do you want to go on a mini road trip up to Paihia? All expenses paid?"
I contemplated the question for perhaps three seconds. "Sure," I replied. "Why?"
"We want to take our parents to a place that isn't in Auckland," she explained - my flatmates' parents were visiting from India - "and we need you to drive us."
"Ahhhhh," I said, understanding. In a strange quirk of bureaucracy, both my flatmates (hereafter abbreviated as F1 and F2),  have their full international driver's licenses and even own a dysfunctional car. However, neither of them can actually drive. I own I car. A very large car. I call him Magnus. I even know how to drive him. Consequently, my skills as chauffeur are in great demand, to the extent that people are willing to pay for me to accompany them on holiday.

F2 quickly raced off to start planning the trip, booking accommodation, etc. I too began to prepare. I completed a task so gargantuan, so unbelievably huge it would strike awe into the hearts of mammoths. A task none could have foreseen me ever doing.

I cleared out my car.

The collection of energy drink cans; the fast food wrappings; the motley array of shoes; the surprisingly large quantities of pens; old uni assignments; year-old payslips; the occasional hair tie; the sewing machine; the shovel. All were ruthlessly removed from Magnus and dumped in a haphazard pile on my living room floor.

This was not the extent of the attention I paid to my car. At 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday I struggled out of bed, coffee in hand, and checked the oil level in the car.

And a couple of hours later, after we had set out on our epic journey, we pulled into a gas station where Magnus received a full tank of fuel and even a tire pressure check. Magnus had never been pampered so much in his life.

Perhaps that was the problem. Perhaps Magnus, filled with the glory that loving attention brings, morphed into a spoiled brat of a car. The one thing - the one thing! - I had neglected to check quite literally blew up in my face.

We were about twenty minutes away from Whangarei. It had been a perfect trip. The traffic was light. The sky was blue. I hadn't had to swear at many bad drivers. We drove along in a haze of bliss; F1 even dozed off and began to snore like a very special cricket.

Suddenly, a faint whine not of human origin began to reverberate through the car and I caught a faint whiff of a disgusting smell - my car had overheated.

I was not greatly alarmed. Magnus has always been somewhat temperamental, but I've found that if you treat him with patience and understanding he'll usually respond well enough. He'd had a glitchy fuel injector for at least a year and in all that time had only once broken down and refused to start up again. I'd had him towed to a mechanic who told me it would cost a couple of thousand dollars to fix. My dad laughed, paid the mechanic $100 for his time, towed Magnus home, and had him working again in about ten minutes. Compared to that, overheating was nothing, a minor thing every vehicle went through.

The radiator was steaming slightly, but still, I was not worried. I kept a large bottle of water in my boot for just such an emergency. I decided to be sensible and wait for the motor to cool down a little bit before pouring more water into it. I waited paitiently for the radiator to cease steaming, after which I cautiously tapped the lid to check the temperature. It was still fairly warm, and the lid had the words NEVER OPEN WHEN HOT emblazoned on it, but I figured that was probably due to some lawyer trying to save his company's arse in case some minor disaster occured. It's like how a pen drive always warns you to SAFELY REMOVE HARDWARE BEFORE EJECTING, even though nothing terrible has ever happened from merely tugging it out of the USB socket.

So I shrugged, borrowed a hanky, and used it to protect my hand while I undid the radiator lid.

And discovered that a car is nothing like a computer.

Scalding, foul-smelling brown liquid gushed out, catching me right in the chest. I yelped and leaped back, heart hammering, adrenaline rushing through my veins. A long, agonising moment passed by while I waited for my nervous system to kick in and tell me just how hot the water was, and whether I was seriously burnt, and would I have to go to hospital, and whether the Flatmates and their parents would be able to get home without me, and just how much reconstructive surgery would I need, anyway?

I became dimly aware of a babble of voices anxiously asking whether I was alright. That alone told me that I didn't feel any pain. Hot, yes, and dirty, and quite shocked, but I definitely didn't resemble a half-melted waxwork.

"Yes, I'm fine, I'm quite fine," I said calmly, assuming my Everything Is Perfectly Alright voice that I use whenever people are worried about me (which occurs surprisingly often, though I do not understand why, for I am the epitome of competence).

Everyone agreed that it would probably be best to wait ten minutes before trying to add more water. In the meantime I serenely used the hanky to wipe most of the disgusting water off me.

The water replaced, we hopped back in the car and continued on our way, my shaking hands clutching the steering wheel for support.

We got a few kilometres down the road before Magnus overheated again. I was perturbed, but I figured the motor still hadn't cooled down enough and was feeling crotchety. We pulled into a roadside cafe and had a coffee while we waited for Magnus to calm down.

After that, we set off again and managed to reach Paihia without incident.

We spent a lovely afternoon on a boat that took us on a tour of the Bay of Islands. We saw a couple of dolphins and a lot of islands. We had delicious Indian food at a restaurant and spent the night in a cute little cottage. It was a lovely experience that completely justified the angst in getting there.

Even the snoring that resounded through the cottage could be tolerated, I decided, though the resulting lack of sleep made me feel quite haggard in the morning. One coffee later, though, and we were on our way to the next stage of our trip: Cape Reinga.

The trip was mostly uneventful, though we had a brief stop at Cooper's Beach to swim and another stop in Kaitaia for lunch. I coerced F1 into buying me an iced coffee to give me extra energy oomph.

Magnus seemed to be a tad grumpy on the journey north. His injector pump problem was flaring up again and he was revving wildly. He struggled slowly up hills and took a while to speed up again on the flats. I pushed him as hard as I dared, glancing anxiously up at the late afternoon sky that was slowly turning from cotton wool to dark concrete. Finally, it happened: Magnus overheated just as we pulled into the Cape Reinga carpark.

There was nothing we could do about it, for as soon as we stepped out of the car, the sky turned into an upright pond. Rain raged down in an unforgiving deluge while its accomplice, the Wind, howled like a furious banshee. We leaped back into the car, damp and frozen in our summery beach clothes, and I quietly began to worry. What if the rain kept up for hours? What if we weren't able to put water in the car? Would I be able to drive most of the way home in the dark and the rain without killing us all? What if putting more water in didn't help? What if there was something terribly wrong with Magnus? What if we couldn't get back to Auckland? Would a mechanic in Kaitaia still be open after 6:00 p.m.? Would we even be able to reach Kaitaia?

Luckily, a meteorological miracle happened: ten minutes passed by and the sky was suddenly blue once more. We were able to wander down to the lighthouse and marvel at the scenery while we waited for Magnus to cool down.

On returning to the car, however, my worries began to return. There was more than enough water in the radiator, which suggested something was terribly, horribly wrong.

There was nothing for it but to attempt the drive home. Magnus strained my nerves to breaking point. He was revving more erratically than ever. The temperature gauge constantly hovered somewhere between the "hot" and "halfway" points, though it never completely overheated. I nursed him gently over hills, trying not to strain him too much.

We drove for two hours. We got all the way to Kaitaia. We drove another twenty minutes. Everything seemed fine - or at least manageable. Until we reached a mountain.

And Magnus died.

He overheated on a particularly steep and windy stretch of road. And then he simply... stopped. The engine switched off and we coasted to the side of the road.

I turned the hazard lights on and tried not to show how panicked I was. Night was setting in. We were hours from home and stuck on the side of the road in a car that didn't work. If I had been by myself I would have shrugged, figured everything would be better in the morning, and spent the night in my car, as I have done before. But there were four other people in the car, at least one of whom snored. It would have been impossible.

I was shaking like a madwoman and I didn't know what to do.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Damaged Dignity

Last night, after a particularly arduous shift at work, I went around to Boyfriend's house for hugs and awesome social times with friends. As I excitedly skipped up his driveway, I saw him standing on the deck outside his house conversing with people.

“Hello!” I said excitedly as I claimed my long-awaited hug.
“Hey, gorgeous,” replied Boyfriend. (Boyfriend is nice like that.)

My already considerable ego swelled dangerously. Compliments, while pleasant, tend to instill in me an over-abundance of pride that destroys the sweetness of my soul.

Luckily, on this occasion I was saved from corruption by immediately, and quite accidentally, walking into a glass door.

My dignity was bruised, as were my knees.

Monday, September 3, 2012


My issues with clothing having gained me some sort of dubious notoriety, I thought I'd write about my latest wardrobe disaster.

As some people are probably aware, I am currently performing in a feminist version of Hamlet entitled Ophelia Thinks Harder.  I suppose I can say I have three roles in the play. My primary role is as Rosencrantz, a surprisingly liberal man with several fantastically awesome lines. The second role is as the Ghost of Ophelia's Mother. I wander in for just one scene, mumble a lot of ghosty nonsense, and drift off again. It's a very minor role, as evidenced by the fact that the character doesn't actually get a name other than "The Ghost of Ophelia's Mother" (hereafter abbreviated as GOOM).  My third role (can it even be called that?) is as Occasional Set Changer. No lines at all with this role - I just shift objects around the stage in what I hope is a stylishly efficient manner.

All three of my roles have their own costume requirements. My first foray onto the stage is as a set-changer. As shoving furniture and throwing pillows around is not really the domain of an incorporeal ghost, I wear my Rosencrantz costume. Immediately after that I have my scene as GOOM, after which I change back into Rosencrantz. The distressingly short amount of time between scene-changing and GOOM has resulted in a rather cunning costume cheat: I wear a ludicrous number of pants.

First off, I wear two pairs of underpants. One pair is white. The other is nude. The white underpants are worn on top of the nude underpants, for reasons too complicated and irrelevant to explain.

My GOOM costume consists of a beautiful white dress and cape worn with pale, ghostly pantihose. I put the pantihose on over my underpants at the beginning of the night in anticipation of a quick costume change later on. Over the pantihose I wear my Rosenpants and a pair of black, manly socks.

Underpants within underpants within pantihose within pants with a side-order of socks. It is practically Pantception. Pants-pants-pants-pants.

Usually, it works pretty well. Until one performance a few nights ago... when disaster occured.

I'd just finished my final set-change and I was hurriedly changing into GOOM.  One of my fingers was stinging slightly but, absorbed as I was with costume changing, I ignored it. I ripped off my shirt and tie and flung them haphazardly across a chair. Without pausing I ruthlessly tore off my Rosenpants and replaced them with my GOOM dress.

Just as I was reaching for my cape I glanced down at my dress. Horror rushed through me like a howling wind. Bright red splotches of blood were smeared all over my pristine white dress. I stared wildly at my stinging finger. Evidently, I'd cut it while set-changing. Blood was gushing out of it in torrents, despite it seeming to be only a small cut.

And I had approximately four minutes before I had to go onstage.

I began to panic. I admit it... some expletive may have escaped my tongue. My fellow castmates, alerted to my dilemma, swung into action. One person seized a cloth and desperately tried sponging out the blood on my dress. Another person seized my hand, raised it skywards, and hissed at me to keep it elevated to slow the bleeding. And someone else daringly made a forbidden raid past the audience into the theatre kitchen to grab the first aid kit.

Meanwhile, I'd spotted that my white Rosencrantz shirt, my blue-and-white tie, and my cream-coloured trousers were also speckled with blood. It was a costume disaster of unimaginable proportions.

But it seems that miracles can happen. The blood was able to be sponged off. My finger was liberally smothered in bandaids. I put on my cape. And I made it onstage in time. I still had to keep my finger elevated to stop the bleeding, but hey - I was playing a ghost, and freaky, abnormal hand gestures could definitely be worked into my performance. I wafted onstage, cape billowing, a vision in white, hands raised in holy benediction.

And I looked down and realised I'd forgotten to take off my thick, black, manly socks.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Lesbian Sex-Room Saga - Part 2

After the rather unfortunate father-causing-me-to-run-out-into-the-street-and-scream incident, the Flatmate and I spent an enjoyable evening scouring Google for suitable images - luckily without the aid of my stepmum. I rather suspect that Google censors search results, but even so, we managed to find a few gems. (Wikipedia was surprisingly helpful as well. Too helpful. My mind is forever sullied.)

The next day I went to the uni library to print off the photos. As soon as I entered the library I scouted around for the most inconspicuous computer possible. I wanted to be far, far away from prying eyes. There's just something not right about printing naughty pictures in a library. To my discomfort the only computer available was one in full view right in the centre of the room. Never mind, I thought. If anyone asked, I was an art student doing a project that just happened to feature copulating females.

I decided to do a trial run and print only one photo off to start with. This turned out to be a smart move because the printing system had been recently changed and for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to use it. After struggling unsuccessfully for several minutes with the fandangled new swipe card system, I gave in and asked the librarian for help.

(Because for some reason it's easier to ask a librarian to help you print porn than it is to ask a shop assistant to help you out of a dress you inadvertantly got stuck in.)

A few seconds effort was all it took for the librarian to get the printer working. Her eyes bulged slightly as an A3 photo of a woman clad only in conveniently-tied black rope slid out of the printer, but she graciously refrained from commenting. I did my best to appear nonchalant and not blush.

I successfully printed off the other photos - about fifteen in all - and brought them home and left them on the Flatmate's bed for her to arrange while I went to work.

The next portion of the story is only hearsay; but tell it I must, and I apologise in advance for any inaccuracies that may ensue.

It was not easy for the Flatmate to complete her task. For one, staring at naked women is most definitely not one of her favourite occupations. For another, my parents were at home; which would not normally be a problem as ordinarily she could just shut the door and not be disturbed.

But there was a factor she had not considered: rugby.

Now, my stepmum is an insane rugby fanatic. She is one of those trying people who insist on vocalising every exciting moment of a game. Shrieks, gasps, and cries of "GO! GO!" split the eardrums of any people unfortunate enough to be in her presence. She has caused my father - a former rugby referee - to claim that he does not enjoy watching rugby, simply so he has an excuse not to be in the same room as her during a match.

It so happened that there was a rugby game on that evening. And my stepmum, typically, was watching it alone.

But either she could not contain the ardent glee that rugby brings her, or perhaps she thought she would try and initiate a foreigner into the Kiwi cultural rugby bliss, because in addition to screaming at the top of her lungs she would also run down the hallway to the Flatmate's bedroom and inform her of every event that occured in the game.

This was frustrating for the Flatmate, not merely because she didn't give two hoots about the rugby, but because she had all the lesbian images spread out on her bed as she figured out the best visual arrangement. As soon as she heard my stepmum begin to stir - heralded by a long, piercing shriek - she had to rush furiously to turn every photo over before my stepmum made it to the room. As it is approximately a three-second dash from lounge to bedroom, she had very little time assume an air of decency. The fact that I'd accidentally printed some of the pictures double-sided did not help.

It was a tense evening; but she endured, and at last the pictures were displayed on the wall in their full, graphic glory.

A few hours later her sister arrived from the airport. It really irks me that I couldn't be there to see her reaction; but I was told her eyes widened and she muttered the Hindi version of, "Oh my." The Flatmate congratulated herself; her sister was very, very shocked and even slightly horrified. Did she feel guilty about ruining the innocence of her beloved sister? No! She felt triumphant! Our scheme had succeeded, despite the many odds and obstacles!

Alas, she had underestimated my father's innate desire to be overly-helpful.

After unloading all of the Flatmate's Sister's luggage from the car, he then tried to carry it into the bedroom - now unashamedly a lesbian sex room. The Flatmate resorted to desperate measures as she attempted to waylay him at the door. She somehow convinced my dad to simply bring the suitcases into the house while she shifted them into the bedroom.

This task done, the Flatmate made the foolish, insane mistake of letting my father out of her sight for the shortest of moments. Dad, no longer needed in his role of suitcase-carrier, immediately tried to find something else useful to do. It was a bitterly cold night, he thought. The Flatmate and the New Flatmate were from a tropical country; doubtless they were suffering from winter's chill. He very kindly decided to try to create the conditions described in the old saying, a warm welcome.

I can visualise it so clearly. I can imagine my father walking into the bedroom, joy and goodwill beaming from his soul. He goes over to the heater and switches it on. Her turns to leave – and sees a sight a godly man ought never to see.

His heart would have frozen over. His eyes would have quickly shot away from the ghastly sight of naked women pleasuring each other. His brow would furrow and the corners of his mouth turn down into the bushy depths of his beard. He would have stood still a moment as he meditated on the depravity of modern society.

And then he would have left as fast as he possibly could.

He ran into the Flatmate in the hallway just outside the sex room. They stared awkwardly at each other.
My father cleared his throat. “Um... I just turned the heater in your room on.”
The Flatmate desperately thought of something to say. “Thank you,” she said at last. “That's very kind of you.”

And they turned and walked away from each other, as though they had wordlessly made a pact never to speak of it again.

The Saga continues in Part Three! If the Hobbit can do it, then dammit, so can I.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Lesbian Sex-Room Saga - Part 1

It is traditional amongst my circle of acquaintances to attempt to embarass the hell out of any friend who arrives at the airport from overseas. This normally involves dressing up in elaborate and attention-grabbing outfits, the theory being that the person arriving in the country will be ashamed of their welcoming party being so flamboyantly attired. In the past we have:

- Disguised ourselves as bumblebees
- Turned up wearing pyjamas and clutching teddy bears
- Worn saris (this is not advisable in the middle of winter)
- And on one occasion, I dressed up as an exaggerated version of myself. This involved bracelets crowded all the way up my forearms, an unnecessarily long skirt, teabags trailing from my belt and a tin of muffins clutched to my bejewelled and glittering chest.

The Flatmate's sister would be arriving from India soon to live and study with us. The last time she visited was the occasion of the bumblebee disguise, and to our disgust she did not find it at all embarassing and actually thought it rather cute. This time, the Flatmate and I decided, we would go an extra step. We would not just dress crazy; we would act crazy.

We would stage a loud, raucous, uninhibited lesbian fight. In the middle of the airport. In front of everyone.

The fight was planned with gleeful enthusiasm. It would go something like this:

Flatmate: Welcome, sister! Ah, I see you have a lot of luggage; fear not, for Zabinsky has a sizeable car, and a cavernous wardrobe resides within our bedroom.

Me: Of which bedroom do you speak?

Flatmate: Eh, our bedroom.

Me: You intend for your sister to share our bedroom? I cannot say I approve. In the secret hours of the night, when the moon hides her face in the sky's dappled darkness and we, you know, get it on, would not the proximity of your sister create some discomfort?

Flatmate: You need not trouble yourself with these worries. My sister shall share my room and you shall have your own.

Me: Alas! Is this then how you would destroy our love, by ripping us asunder and placing a cold, lifeless wall betwixt us? Ah! Such betrayal tears my heart in twain! Thou monster!

Flatmate: Call you me so? Hypocrite! Be aware that I know of your affection for that saucy wench Mary-Anne. I have seen the way she doth look at you, and of your looks in return.

Me: Your eyes have deceived you! Be assured there is nothing between us; only you occupy my heart!

Flatmate: Fie! Utter not such lies! I rejoice in the knowledge that you no longer share my bed; indeed I wish you were gone from my very house, for residing with you is anathema to me!

Me: Then I shall leave, if my presence inflicts such pain upon you! JUST GIVE ME BACK MY YELLOW PENGUIN!

Flatmate: Never! For I love the yellow penguin!

Me: Like how you once loved me?

Flatmate: Love? Ha! I laugh derisively at such drivel. How could I ever love you - a lying, betraying, disgusting, horrible, heartless bastard with as much of a concept of cleanliness as a crustacean!

Me: You fiend!

Flatmate: Bitch!

- And so on, with the fight descending into a screaming match and name calling and possible hair-pulling. This would continue until such time as we subsided into frosty silence, were told off by security, or succumbed to the compelling urge to giggle.

It would have been epic. It would have blown every other embarassing airport reception out of the water. In time to come, when the years had forever marred our flesh with the contours of age, we would have looked back at that night and marvelled, "Good Lord, how wild we were!"

It is a cruel universe sometimes. It transpired I was working that evening and couldn't get time off to go to the airport. The lesbian fight could not occur.

This called for the creation of a back-up plan.

We theorised that if I could not be at the airport to cause embarassment there, then a similar state of embarassment must be created at home. We decided to stick with the lesbian theme and turn the bedroom Flatmate and her sister would be sharing into a sex room.

A lesbian sex room.

We brainstormed all the many ways we could convey this idea: Neon lighting; lavishly draping velvet across the beds; hanging assorted chains and leather paraphenalia from the ceiling; strewing seductive underwear across the floor with reckless abandon; placing posters of scantily-clad women in compromising positions upon the walls.

Time and budget not being things we had great quantities of, we regretfully scaled back our creativity and decided to simply print out lewd photos and stick them on the wall.

Before we could get started, however, my father knocked on the door and asked if we'd like a cup of tea.
"Sure," we agreed, as we never pass up a chance to drink that most beloved of beverages.
The three of us, Father, Flatmate, and I, sat around the kitchen table sipping tea and chatting amiably.
"Have you ever seen Bend It Like Beckham?" my dad asked after a few minutes.
"Ah, yeah we -" I started to reply.
"Great movie!" my dad enthused. "I was thinking of watching it tonight on the upstairs TV. Big screen. Surround sound. Keen?" His face contorted with glee.
Flatmate and I looked significantly at each other.
"Um. We... had... plans..." Flatmate replied.
"Oh, cool! Doing what?" Dad asked.
"Just... stuff," I filled in, then decided "stuff" wasn't a decent enough answer. "We'd ask you for your help, but I don't think you'd be able to help that much."
This was a terrible, terrible thing to say.
"Really? Help doing what?" asked Dad, eagerness to be of assistance shining from his eyes.
I opened my mouth to reply. I was about to ask, "Well, how would you decorate a lesbian sex room?" - but I couldn't. The words froze on my tongue. There are some questions you should never ask a parent, particularly a conservative Christian parent like my father, and How would you decorate a lesbian sex room is one of them.
"Oh," I mumbled, desperately trying to come up with something sensible to say and fighting the panic that rose when I couldn't. "We - we were - just planning on decorating the bedroom for - for her sister's arrival."
"Fantastic!" cried my father. "That sounds like something Lorene would enjoy!" And before I could prevent him he turned and hollered upstairs to my stepmum, "HEY! LORENE!"
My panic turned to insanity. I shrieked, "I CAN'T COPE WITH THIS!", set down my tea, ran outside to the road and howled wordlessly at passing cars.*

According to my flatmate, my father stared after me in astonishment and asked, "Did I say something wrong?"
Flatmate, her voice fraught with forced calm, politely snickered and said, "That Zabinsky... she's a funny one, isn't she?" before attempting to drown herself in her cup of tea.


PART 2 coming shortly! I thought this story was getting a tad long, so I chose to split it into two. Like a couple of movie adaptations I could name.

*I'm not kidding. I actually did this.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Performing a Death Scene with Sir Ian McKellen

In the minutes leading up to the start of Sir Ian McKellen’s one-man show I was not filled with eager anticipation. No, I was running madly up Queen Street desperately trying to not be late. A last-minute, failed attempt at procuring coffee almost cost me the first, precious moments of his performance – much to the disgust of my Good friend, Phil, who’d been sending me desperate text messages for the last ten minutes telling me to hurry up and get to the theatre NOW.

I made it – just. Panting, gasping for breath, we hastened to our seats and sat just as the lights began to dim.

Out of the darkness music began to play. The tune was instantly recognizable – the Fellowship were about to cross the Bridge of Khazad Dum.

A light sprang from the shadows, illuminating the stage. A lectern and a director’s chair with a sword lying across it were the only things upon it; but as the music faded a man walked on. He wore a simple blue shirt, grey jeans, and rather snazzy heeled shoes. In a voice where every word was filled with meaning and power he recited one of the most stirring passages from the greatest work of fiction ever written: Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog.

I listened, agog, to Sir Ian shout “You shall not pass!” and “Fly, you fools!” in a voice weighty with expression. He raised his arms and brought them down to break the bridge asunder; and when the Balrog, falling into darkness, coiled its whip around his ankle, he fell to his knees – fell into the abyss – and was gone.

It was unutterably cool.

The rest of the first part of the performance was epically casual. Sir Ian showed off his sword, Glamdring, and allowed a few members of the audience to hold it and pretend to stab him with it. According to him, the show had only been put together very recently. He borrowed a program to find out what exactly he was expected to do.

He called on the audience to ask him questions: Which did he prefer, film or theatre? (Theatre, though he tries not to admit it.) Who would win in a fight – Gandalf or Magneto? (He made the audience vote: every single person voted Gandalf. “Well, there’s your answer, then,” he said.) What was his favourite part of New Zealand? (The Milford Sound. He’d been there four times.) Who was his favourite actor to work with? (Judi Dench. When on stage with her, he felt almost bad about breaking the connection she had with the audience by talking.) Were there any parts he really wanted to play? (Well, he didn’t really have a list, but he still thought he could get away by playing Mercutio. No reason why a man of his age couldn’t be hanging around with the lads. Hm…)

He asked a few random trivia questions of his own. “J.R.R. Tolkien – what does the ‘J’ stand for?” he asked the audience.
            “Jeremy,” someone called.
            “No, it wasn’t Jeremy,” said Sir Ian.
            A perplexed mumbling rumbled through the theatre.
            “John!” I cried out eventually.
            “Good!” Sir Ian said. “What does the first ‘R’ stand for?”
            Phil and I could not resist the opportunity to show off.
            “Ronald!” we shouted simultaneously.
            “Yes! And the second ‘R’?”
            “Raoul!” we cried, flushed with pride.
            “It’s pronounced ‘Roool,’ actually,” Sir Ian informed us.
            “ Roool? Weird,” I muttered.
He told stories about working of the Lord of the Rings. He explained why there was never any red blood shown in the movies – it’s to fool the censers. Apparently if there wasn’t any blood they wouldn’t notice the violence and therefore give it a rating suitable for kids to watch.

He talked about how the very first scene he ever filmed was in the Shire at the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring; he thought how it was great how Gandalf’s first scene was the very first he filmed. And then he talked about the very next scene he had to film – the Grey Havens, and he was now Gandalf the White, and he was saying farewell to his little Hobbit friends. He’d never met the actors before. He hadn’t read the book yet and only skimmed the script. He had no idea of the significance of what was happening.

“What am I feeling?” he asked Peter Jackson.
“Well, you’re pretty choked up,” he replied.
“Is a tear in the eye in order?” he asked.
“That’s probably taking it a bit far,” Peter admitted.

And so, as Sir Ian explained to us, if you watch that scene, his face is completely blank – because he hadn’t a clue what was going on. It’s one of the reasons why he prefers theatre acting to film acting.

He said he was trying to convince Peter Jackson to put a scene in the upcoming Hobbit movie of Gandalf taking a leak. (No luck, as yet…)

He told other stories, too, of the one time he’s ever suffered severe stage fright and how Judi Dench got him through it, and the story of his knighthood, and many others.

Then he read some Wordsworth, who is his favourite poet – and then suddenly it was the intermission.

Sir Ian spent the intermission casually wandering around the foyer chatting with people. Phil and I stared in awe.

The second half of the performance consisted entirely of Shakespeare. If you have ever watched the DVD “Acting Shakespeare”, which is a film of a previous one-man show Sir Ian has done, you will have some idea of what it was like. If you haven’t, you should. It’s amazing.

Sir Ian pulled out a list of all thirty-seven plays Shakespeare wrote and challenged the audience to name them all, crossing them off whenever they were called out. When some of the plays were called he acted out passages from them – Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Cymbeline, Richard III, Titus Andronicus, and others. I suspect he suffered from selective hearing, however, because Hamlet was inexplicably left until last – probably because his rendition of Hamlet was incredible and deserved to be saved till last.

After that, he answered a few more questions, sang a little song, and acted a scene written by Thomas Moore for a finale.

Of course, the audience demanded he come and perform an encore.

Sir Ian invited anyone who wished to act a scene with him to come down to the stage and join him. Phil and I were there in a trice, along with about two-dozen others. He shook our hands as we came up on stage. It was beyond thrilling.

As we huddled together on the stage he whispered what he wished us to do. We were, he said, to be dead French soldiers. When he snapped his fingers, we were to fall down dead. When he spoke a particular name, we were to stand up again, join hands, and take a bow. Easy.

We spread out across the stage. Sir Ian began to talk about how in Shakespeare it is always best to play Kings, partly because you get to wear the fanciest frocks, but mainly because quite often you were given messages to read out to the audience. Because the message was already pre-written, you don’t have to bother memorizing the script.

Which works perfectly, provided the props manager doesn’t stuff up and send out a blank piece of paper instead.

Sir Ian began to act out a scene from Henry V, where the King is given a list of the French dead.
            “This note doth tell me of ten thousand French that in the field lie slain.” Sir Ian snapped his fingers and two-dozen soldiers instantly fell down dead. “These, their names.” Sir Ian studied the note. He turned the blank page over. He glanced off-stage as if to ask, what is this? before steeling himself for ultimate embarrassment.
            He proceeded to read out a list of names that are almost, but not quite, vaguely unlike French.
            If at this point the two-dozen deceased French soldiers were caught twitching from suppressed laughter they should not be blamed.
            Sir Ian ‘read’ the final botched name. We arose, joined hands, and bowed – and everything was over.

Well, not quite. Sir Ian was standing outside the theatre with a collecting bucket. The purpose behind this performance was to raise funds to rebuild the theatre in Christchurch. If we donated money, we got to have a photo taken with him and have him sign things.

I was beside myself with glee. I had a ridiculous grin beaming across my face. Up close, Sir Ian was a lot less charismatic and engaging. Possibly it was because he wasn’t on stage, possibly because we were at the end of the line and was fed up with the whole thing.
            “I really enjoyed the show!” I squeaked in awe.
            “Oh, good,” replied Sir Ian unconcernedly as he signed my orange notebook.
            Phil handed his phone to an attendant whose job it was to take photos of people with Sir Ian. After giving her a brief run-down of how to use the camera, he joined Sir Ian and myself for our photo-op.
            “Where are you from?” Sir Ian asked Phil, evidently noting his unusual accent.
            “Um,” said Phil. “I’m from here, but I went to an American school in the Philippines.”
            “That must have been interesting for you,” commented Sir Ian.
            Looking back on it, I suppose it’s understandable Sir Ian would be more interested in Phil than myself. At the time I was so overawed I couldn’t think beyond, Yay! I’m standing next to Sir Ian McKellen!
            There was a brief, panicky moment when it appeared Phil’s phone was unable to take a proper photo.
            “What are you going to do about it?” asked Sir Ian, sounding mildly concerned.
            “Um….” said Phil. I shrugged, my brain still unable to function properly.
            Sir Ian raised a hand and summoned one of his minions, who immediately appeared as if by magic. “Talk to Ben, he’s good with things like this,” said Sir Ian, and he turned his attention to a new group of fans.
            Ben had a look at the photo and we collectively decided it was actually fairly satisfactory. Because Phil and I are shy, uncourageous individuals, we forsook the chance to say goodbye to Sir Ian and decided to just leave.

As we drove home listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, I thought, Wow. Today I performed a death scene on-stage with Sir Ian McKellen.

Life goal accomplished.


UPDATE: Check this out! See if you can spot Yours Truly.  Hint: I'm wearing glasses and a colourful skirt.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Awkward Conversation #2

The Flatmate and I were simultaneously overwhelmed by the desire to use the restroom at Denny’s. There were two cubicles, both conveniently unoccupied.
“Oh, that’s lucky,” said Flatmate happily.  “It would have been uncomfortable, otherwise.”
“Aw,” I said. “But I was looking forward to sharing…”
We both giggled and proceeded into the cubicles. As we went about our business, Flatmate said, “An amazing thing happened at work today. It involves a child.”
“A child!” I exclaimed. “Did you punch it in the face?” Flatmate’s hatred of children is legendary. The only reason she has not yet embarked upon the mass annihilation of children is because, in her words, “they are potential adults” and can therefore be tolerated.
            “No, I didn’t, believe it or not,” she replied.  “It’s an AWESOME story, but I won’t tell it to you in here because that’d be just a little bit weird.”
            From outside my cubicle came the sound of hands being washed. Evidently, Flatmate was much further ahead in the process than I was.
            I joked, “But look how much we’re bonding in here!”
            “We flat together, Zabinsky, how much more bonding to you need?”
            The dull roar of a hand drier reverberated throughout the room. I spoke louder to compensate.
            “True! We already share the same shower!” I shouted.
            “Hmm,” said Flatmate.
            “Obviously not at the same time, but –“
            “Is that you out there, Zabinsky?” she interrupted.
            I suffered a momentary inability to process the ramifications of her question.
            “No,” I replied. “I thought that was you.”
            We fell silent. The tension in the room was infinite. We listened to the sounds of the hand drier switching off, receding footsteps, and a door opening and closing.
            “Oh my,” I said.
            Typically, we giggled.