Though she was an Ulster woman through and through, my mother was in the habit of using that lovely Yorkshire expression of surprised disapproval, ‘There’s nowt so queer as folk.’ I was reminded of this yesterday during the Auckland City Mission’s Christmas Lunch. In order not to take the gilt off the gingerbread, I should begin by saying that the lunch was a fabulous occasion. Some 2800 needy and/or solitary people of all ages were fed, watered and entertained in a mammoth effort that ran, as the Herald reported this morning, ‘like a well-oiled machine’. This is the second occasion that Judy and I have had the privilege of being ‘Santa’s Little Helpers’. Our job, along with around a hundred other of Mr Claus’s staff, was to discover the gender and age of each of the diners at one or perhaps two tables before lunch was served, return to Santa’s Cave, fill our sacks with the age/gender appropriate presents – all beautifully wrapped – and deliver them at the end of lunch to the delighted diners. Joy unconfined!
It isn’t of course possible for the City Mission also to feed the 500 odd volunteers who help to make the lunch run like that well-oiled machine. But a limitless selection of Christmas mince pies and lollies is available to stave off hunger over the three or four hours required. Trouble is, as you know, I’m a Type 2 diabetic and though I might crave a diet of mince pies and lollies, it just isn’t on the prescribed diabetic menu. No problem – I made some cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwiches which Judy carefully wrapped in greaseproof paper and popped in a small green plastic bag with our fold-up umbrellas. Now Judy is one of those people who prepares for every eventuality – in this case the possibility that, amid all the frenzied activity, the bag with the umbrellas and sammies might get misplaced. So she wrote on the greaseproof paper: BRIAN’S DIABETIC SANDWICHES.
After checking on the genders and ages of the people at our allocated tables and stuffing our sacks with presents, we sat down to eat our sammies. The green bag was where we’d left it, complete with umbrellas and… nothing else! The sandwiches were gone. Viewing our distress, neighbouring SLHs asked what was wrong and, when we told them, expressed appropriate amazement, quickly followed by outrage. ‘What sort of mongrel would do something like that?!’ The thing is, it didn’t make sense. The very idea that someone who volunteers to help at the City Mission’s Christmas Lunch would be capable of stealing and eating someone else’s food, least of all when the owner was clearly identified as a diabetic, seemed beyond belief. There must be some other explanation; The sandwiches must have fallen out of the bag; someone must have found them and handed them in or set them down somewhere else.
It was then that Judy spotted a piece of paper scrunched up in a glass on a table just next where we were sitting. The ‘What sort of mongrel?’ lady pulled the paper out and began to unfold it. And there was Judy’s inscription: BRIAN’S DIABETIC SANDWICHES. Here’s what I’d like. I’d like the person who stole and ate my sandwiches to ring or write to me at and fess up and apologise. I’d like to know what explanation they have for behaving in such an inappropriate way on such a giving occasion. I won’t publish their name and I’ll accept their apology. Did it spoil the day? No, it was a wonderful occasion which, as it did last year, could only serve to affirm one’s belief in the goodness and generosity of most Kiwis. But sometimes you just have to say, ‘There’s nowt so queer as folk!’ Oh, I forgot to mention. I was loitering with other SLHs around the dining tables as we were being given our running orders when an extremely attractive, long-legged young woman approached me, handed me her card and asked if she could have a photograph taken of the two of us.
The card was headed ‘Miss World, New Zealand’. Now you’ll understand that a youthful 75-year-old with the sexual magnetism, not to mention the body, of a David Beckham, and the intellectual pulling power of a Descartes, is unsurprised by approaches from beautiful women of all ages. So I naturally agreed. Judy, seemingly unperturbed, took the photo on her cell phone. As I was preening myself in front of the bathroom mirror later that afternoon, she was kind enough to point out that the card almost certainly belonged to the promoters of Miss World 2012 New Zealand, and that, without their prompting, the beautiful young woman would almost certainly not have known me from a bar of soap. Well, you be the judge. Isn’t the photograph of the two of us at the top of this post exactly the sort of picture of a glamour couple you’d find in a Hollywood fan magazine or Vanity Fair? Isn’t it? [Not everyone agreed with the last paragraph of this post. This is because the elf hat is flattering to the beauty queen but unflattering to me.