Friday, 30 March 2018

A night to remember - for some of us

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A phone call in the middle of the night can be quite scary; I was reluctant to pick up the receiver. I needn’t have been. On the other end of the line was a pleasant sounding American woman who told me she was the secretary of the NZ-US Council and was calling from Washington DC. It seems my invitation to the gala evening with President Obama in Auckland had got mislaid; she found it behind her desk and was distressed that I hadn’t received it.

Why on earth had I been chosen with the favoured one thousand when there were potentially four and a half million more estimable guests than me, I naturally asked. She said she understood that I was the President of the Independent Columnists Guild (ICG) and warranted being included.

She was right of course. I established the organisation and I am the President and the Patron - and the only member, though I’m pretty sure my subscription lapsed years ago.

The function was that night; “Can you get to Auckland in time to attend?” she wanted know. I replied in the positive and she said she would inform the officials that I would arrive without the paper credentials that would normally be required to get me in. She asked me to describe myself so her people could identify me. I wanted to say I looked like George Clooney, but opted for a more accurate response and said Marty Feldman.

“Best of luck getting there,” she said before hanging up.

I dived out of bed and rushed to the Masterton air terminal in Manaia Road forgetting that Air New Zealand had withdrawn services some years ago. I peered through the glass door at the empty interior and swear I saw a picture of Shane Jones hanging on the wall above the reception desk.

I headed to Wellington, but a truck and trailer had jack-knifed on the Hutt Road cutting off both sides of the highway. So I shot over the Haywards to Paraparaumu airport where the national carrier had abandoned all flights to Auckland.

There was a cardboard cut-out of Shane Jones on the forecourt.

Final option was Palmerston North and I got the last seat on the last plane headed for the city of sails. I got a Uber to the Viaduct Event Centre to find everyone was seated. The doormen recognised me instantly from the description I had given to the lady from Washington and I was taken to the only empty chair in the house - at the top table. Apparently John Key’s daughter Stephanie had missed her flight from Paris (where’s Shane Jones when you need him) and I had a seat between Mr Key and Sam Neill.

I was seated directly opposite Mr Obama himself who was sitting next to Bronagh Key and Sam’s wife Noriko Watanabe.

Conversation wasn’t easy. Key had played golf that day with Obama, “What’s your handicap?” I asked him. “Bronagh,” he said. She glared at him from across the table.

I told Sam Neill that I had enjoyed his performance in Hunt for the wilderpeople. He said most people hadn’t even noticed he was in it. Wherever they went to publicise the film young Julian Dennison got all the kudos.

So I finally turned to the guest of honour. “Barry” I said, “Were you really born in America?”

He glaringly ignored the question and asked: “Why are you here?” I told him I was President and Patron of an organisation called the ICG, but his eyes just clouded over.

Eventually he spoke to the madding crowd, talking at length about how they’d taken down Bin Laden and that they weren’t really sure if it was Osama in the compound or a Pakistani General. Fortunately he said it was Bin Laden though it occurred to me, do we really know that, given the body was disposed of quite quickly?

I have this abiding picture of a Pakistani General’s wife sitting at home wondering where her husband has got to.

My final conversation with Barack was when I told him that Osama and Obama are surprisingly similar names and about the trouble I’d had getting on an aircraft to get to the function. I was hoping he might offer me a ride back on his private Gulfstream jet, but his eyes just clouded over again.

I’m not quite sure how I got home. It all seemed like a dream.

“The crowds cheered me as I passed by, but they would just as noisy if they were going to see me hanged.” - Oliver Cromwell


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