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Sport 22: Autumn 1999

Guy Allan — Ten Encounters with the Famous

page 61

Guy Allan

Ten Encounters with the Famous

Matu had reached New York on someone else's air ticket. A long story. He attended a jazz concert in the daytime. Don Cherry, great trumpeter who had played in New Zealand and was not far off his death, was the star. At the end, Matu left the concert hall, walked along the street and was surprised to see Cherry ahead of him with a small entourage. He had to say something. They all stopped at pedestrain traffic lights and he composed his speech. They crossed the road and Cherry's group moved towards a parked car. This was it. ‘Er, Mr Cherry… I just wanted to say that I'm a big fan of your music and was really glad to hear you today. You've been to my country but I didn't hear you there … New Zealand …’ Cherry turned, looked at Matu and was silent for four seconds. Then, turning to the car, he said, ‘Christchurch.’

1998, a warm Easter at Karekare. A few swimmers, most people—like us—just strolling about. More were swimming in the lagoonish part of the stream than in the surf. We watched them as we walked back to the car. Two women handed a man things to look after while they went in. He held them and looked about at the hills, the people, the water. Allen Curnow. He wore the bottoms of his trousers rolled.

I was in London in the early 70s, hanging around Shaftesbury Ave, feeling the life. Tom Courtney got out of a cab, ducked down an alley and disappeared. I followed and got to an entrance way. It said ‘Stage Door’.

My mother-in-law is on a Greek island. She goes up the steps of an old tower and admires the view. A man joins her and looks around. They are the only ones there. She knows who he is, of course. They exchange pleasantries about how beautiful it is, how quiet it is, the page 62 weather. She says, ‘I'm Joan McCaull. I'm a farmer's wife from Drury in New Zealand.’ He says, ‘I'm Anthony Hopkins. I'm an actor.’

In those civilised days, university fees were almost totally subsidised and so was the food in the cafeteria. It was awful, though. The mashed potato was dished out with an ice-cream scoop. The meat was dead grey. Every now and then, I treated myself to a lone meal at the Peking in Wellesley Street. You could sit along a wall and watch everyone else. The waitresses would bring slices of bread and butter and then stand in a line by the kitchen door while the chow mein was cooking. You could say that it looked over-staffed. Sometimes Frank Sargeson would have a lone meal at a table by the opposite wall. His eyes darted around at the other diners but never me, or perhaps only when my eyes were down concentrating on getting my next mouthful together. I used to think that he was gathering material.

On the top of Highgate Hill, near the Flask pub which Dick Turpin had frequented, was Coleridge's house. I was told that Yehudi Menuhin now lived there. I went for a look, saw the Historic Places plaque and a hand moving a front room curtain.

John's friend told John and John told me of the time the friend met Guy Davenport, classical scholar and writer. He knocked on the door, heard ‘Come in’, went in and stood awkwardly, deferentially. He started to say something but Davenport, trying to look around him at the TV, said, ‘Get out of the fucking way. I can't see the fucking baseball.’

My wife—I was not married to her then—was sitting on a seat in Holland Park, London. Along came a bag lady, who said in a loud voice, ‘That is not your coat. You got that coat by foul means.’ My (future) wife did not know what to do. She got no help from John Le Mesurier who was sitting on a nearby seat, chuckling to himself.

Her husband at the time was walking along Charing Cross Road without a watch and without a clock in sight. He needed to know the time and asked the first person coming along the footpath. ‘Excuse page 63 me.’ Peter Ustinov looked up and then moved on when his caller seemed to have nothing else to say.

Ronnie Scott's Club in London. Packed house. The only seats we can get are on the stage! Sonny Rollins, saxophone colossus, is playing. He and the rest of his group have to walk across our legs to get to and from the dressing room. On and on he plays, wonderful music, into the early morning. After the final encore, he nods and waves to the wild applause as he walks off. He picks his way over our legs. My friend Tony from Hawke's Bay says, ‘Sonny, you little beauty!’ I am in the last seat before the dressing room door. Opening it, he turns to acknowledge the last claps and whoops. But with the angle, I am really the only person he can see. He looks straight at me and says, ‘All RIGHT!’