Writing Wellington: Twenty Years of Victoria University Writing Fellows
1991 Barbara Anderson
1991 Barbara Anderson
Daniel Manders was not happy. Rage engulfed him, seared his ego like a naked flame. His ego, he was prepared to admit, was as big as the next man's, if not bigger. But even so, even so.
Not only had the Head turned down his request for Paris. The man had popped his arse against the window-sill, and, between the flick of the Bic and the first drag, had dropped his bombshell. Manders, DGR was to be seconded from Foreign Affairs to the Ministry of Cultural Links and Trade. Manders of all people; brilliant track record, bilingual and judgement to burn was to remain in Wellington to hold the hand of the Minister for CLAT. To make the path smooth for a man known to be an incompetent bumbler and disloyal to his staff. A Valley of the Bones type boss.
This was the fact that enraged Manders, not the job itself. He had nothing against Trade. Trade was essential and he could do it.
And he could certainly do Culture. Like any self-respecting thruster in Foreign Affairs, Manders collected New Zealand art. Or had. He read New Zealand literature, especially history, which was even more interesting nowadays. He had always been conversant with the customs and culture of its indigenous people. One or two of his friends were Maori.
And he loved his country, loved it dearly. There was nothing wrong with his homeland. Beautiful. Beautiful.
Or with its people.
Or was there?
He stared out the window at two large water tanks on the flat grey roof below, at air-conditioning ducts and a pigeon standing in a large and rippling puddle. Did he, in fact, like his fellow countrymen and women? Did he, in fact, like anyone? And this, this was the point. Did it show?
Manders was a reasonably honest man. If he didn't like his compatriots then it bloody well should show. Esse quam videre. To be rather than to seem. A good motto, he had always thought so. One that should be framed above the beds of leaders and force-fed to frauds.
The clerical-grey pigeon had been replaced by a streetkid sparrow. The reflections of surrounding high buildings, slabs of cream, brown and blue, shuddered about its feet in the chilly-looking puddle.
Manders pulled a yellow legal pad towards him and wrote.
Appreciation of Situation.
|I have become a supercilious shit.
|Is this why I have been seconded to a job in Cultural Links and Trade?
|Unlikely. Both CL and T need charm and bonhomie.page 64
|So does an overseas posting.
|An overseas posting at this stage is essential for my career, let alone vis-à-vis Caroline.
He made a new heading.
|Do the CLAT job superbly and get sent back to FA for overseas posting as soon as possible.
|How else to achieve desired posting?
He snatched the yellow page, screwed it up and threw it in the wastepaper bin. Then reconsidered and tore it into small pieces. No point in advertising angst at this stage.
The sparrow had disappeared. Cold feet perhaps.
The telephone rang. Daniel snatched it to him. 'Manders,' he barked.
'Is that Daniel Manders?'
'Yes.' Who else, chucky, who else.
'Daniel, this is Tania Webster, Mr Carew's personal assistant speaking. Mr Carew wants to see you as soon as possible about arrangements for the ASEAN trip.'
'After you join CLAT.'
Sweet Christ. One of those balls-aching chatting and shopping Ministerial swing arounds, dreaded by High Commissions, Embassies and handlers alike. And I'll be one of them, the Minister's bear leader, there to dance with the enemy and piss on my colleagues.
He drew a deep breath.
'Thank you, Ms Webster.'
'Mrs. Shall I come over forthwith?' (A bit much, forthwith, but let her swing.)
'No, no, the Minister is completely tied up till Thursday.'
The old game. I'll show you my diary if you show me yours and mine will be bigger and fatter and packed full of meaty interest because my boss is the biggest fucker in the forest and you're ground cover.
'Thursday,' he muttered, 'will be fine.' He put down the receiver with care. The future did not beckon.
He would go and see Steve Roper on the Asian desk. Steve might know something, some hidden and hopeful agenda, some gleam of light, page 65 some sense behind this grisly scenario, this deliberate seconding of brilliance.
He loped along the corridor in search of help he knew he was unlikely to receive.
Friends, even good friends like Steve, never get the consoling thing right. They listen for a few moments, tell you where you went wrong, tell you what intelligent action they would have taken in similar circumstances, which is usually the exact opposite of that taken by you, then slide gently into their problems which are invariably serious and far-reaching in their effects unlike your sweaty little quibbles against fate. Your bad luck, they intimate, lies within yourself. They are the ones whose misfortunes are determined by malevolent stars.
Steve, as expected, was useless, worse than useless. He said that you have to expect bum postings occasionally, and that Daniel's trouble was he'd always been so bloody brilliant he thought the department owed him a living which it didn't, and that Daniel should wait until he landed a really shitty job like Steve's, and a boss like Stormin' Norman. Then he would have something to moan about. Oh, and had he seen the photos of the shindig at the Mendezes the other night?
Steve produced an album with the word 'Photographs' embossed in gold letters on the cover and a handwritten inscription inside. 'With the compliments of Ambassador Constantine Mendeze and Mrs Mendeze on the occasion of the visit of General Alsarvo d'Riva.'
From the evidence of the photographs the party had been an outstanding success. Most of the participants appeared to have spent the evening shrieking with joy, except for one unfortunate shot of a saffron-suited Minister clutching his groin beside a vast floral arrangement of red Kniphofias, Birds of Paradise and giant Pampas Grass.
'Why've you got one?' said Daniel.
'Every desk has. Asian, French, the States. The lot.'
'They are very generous, the Peruvians. They gave Daphne and me a set of coasters when they came for a meal. Sort of mottled stone, brown and white like a cow.'
'As you say. Rather attractive in a weird sort of way.'
'Caroline and I got them too. God knows where they are now.'
'Well, you would, wouldn't you? Same seniority.'
'Seventy-seven, wasn't it?'
They stared at each other bleakly.
'Probably,' continued Daniel, 'she took them with her.'
Steve's head moved sadly from side to side.
'God, you're a supercilious bastard. What would Caroline, an independent front runner like Caroline, want with four joint matrimonial stone coasters in Paris?'
Barbara Anderson (b. 1926) gained her international standing as a novelist and short story writer in her sixties. Having already published stories, she included Victoria University's Creative Writing paper in her BA, completed in 1984, and published her first collection, I Think We Should Go Into the Jungle, in 1989. Successful subsequent titles include Girls High (1990), Portrait of the Artist's Wife (1992), which won the Wattie Book of the Year Award, The House Guest (1995) and Proud Garments (1996). Her new novel, Long Hot Summer, will be published this year.