Snapshots of strangeness: a collection of odd anecdotes

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Snapshots of strangeness: a collection of odd anecdotes

Walt Disney Regrets

Last week I spent a morning in the company of a woman who has a curious obsession: she collects soundtracks to those Walt Disney nature programmes which occasionally still appear on television. Or more correctly, she collects correspondence about those soundtracks.

I shall call her Sybil because that is what she calls herself. Her story goes something like this.

A few years ago she was watching a Disney programme about bobcats and the like, and she noticed that her own cat was paying particular attention to the screen. Nothing unusual in that -- but long after the bobcats had run off up into the timberline and their place had been taken by a selection of foxes, voles and seals, her cat continued being just as attentive.

Then Sybil noticed the soundtrack and how closely it paralleled the events on the screen. It was full of brooding cellos when danger was near, or frisky flutes when seals slid across sheets of ice into freezing Arctic waters.

Sybil became as fixated as her cat.

She speculated on who the musicians might be. Such talented people, she thought, to be able to replicate the mood of the animal frolics so exactly.

She also noted the narrator’s voice: calming and authoritative. She wrote down his name, Rex Allen, when the programme ended.

She felt that his accent indicated him to be from . . . Texas? No, Tennessee definitely.

Later she wrote to the Disney organisation to ask if the soundtrack to the programme was available. It was some time before she received a reply. Regrettably, it read, no such recording had been made. Then Sybil wrote back to enquire about Rex Allen and, after an anxious wait, she received a very nice typewritten letter from Rex.

She wrote back again and asked if he really was from Tennessee. He confirmed he was, and Sybil was delighted.

From then on she listened more closely for regional accents and fancied herself to be something of an expert on the matter.

And each time a Disney nature programme appeared she listened closely to the soundtrack, noted the narrator’s name, and entered again into a lengthy correspondence with the Disney organisation.

Last week Sybil showed me the scrapbooks of replies she had received over the years, and turned the pages carefully while I looked at increasingly terse, insistent replies, and pictures of Rex with his third wife Babs.

When she had finished Sybil sat back and smiled at me.

And I couldn’t think of anything that I could say to her. About that, or any other matter besides.

A light switches on

I have returned from visiting Ken, a lean and rangy fellow who wears checked shirts on weekends. He also smokes. Ken is married and has three sons, all adolescents who now fill his small sitting room with legs and hot rod magazines. They also smoke, after their father.

When Ken makes a family announcement, as he did this day in my presence, I have noticed he delivers it with a somewhat nasal twang and emphasises each syllable. It is authoritative yet always matey. Rather as if Rex Allen were the bunkhouse boss in that old television programme Bonanza and had to get the men out to the upper forty quickly because Adam and Little Joe were in a spot of trouble.

Sunday’s announcement from Ken was about flushing the toilet.

It seems his boys hadn’t bothered with this habit. So Ken would have to train them.

“Listen up all of you,” he began. “I just put a cork in the toilet so every time you see it you’ll remember to flush after you.”
It seemed clear enough.

Then the eldest boy, Ray, never known for his wit, added, “Why don’t you write ‘aim’ on one side and ‘flush’ on the other, then we could piss on it and spin it around.”

This joke was much enjoyed in the sitting room, the whole family laughing so loud that we could barely hear the television for a little while.

Ken and the boys all lit cigarettes in celebration of their camaraderie.

I recounted this incident later to my friend Les, an English teacher at a local high school.

Les is an interesting character incidentally: he was 10 years in the Canadian Navy before emigrating to New Zealand and still refers to his 16 years at the school as “shore leave”.

Les and I were speculating, as many do, on quick and legal ways of making money. We toyed with various schemes, projects and so on . . . And finally exhausted the topic. Les wrapped it up with the astute observation that “the best ideas are the most simple”.

I have thought of those wise words since.

And I can’t help thinking about that cork idea.

Truman Capote comes to Auckland

Many decades ago I remember reading that Truman Capote, even as an adult, couldn’t recite the alphabet. That seems unlikely, although not impossible.

As a child however he would sit underneath a tree in his back garden and read a huge dictionary. I am of a mind to think that not being able to recite the alphabet might have added a fascinating and somewhat random character to his study.

At that time also I remember picking up the Auckland telephone directory and as I thought about how Capote might have grappled with such a thing, I noted that it was not easy for those of us who could recite the alphabet.

The directory did not list first names alphabetically after the surname.

I take my own name as an example.

The first entry under Reid was, Reid, Graham. That was right above the Reids George, Gillian then another George.

Another George (of Papatoetoe, not he of Beachlands or Kingsland) appeared some seven entries further on. And twenty-two places below him yet another George (of Howick, not Papatoetoe, Beachlands or Kingsland) made a cameo appearance. Another Graham appeared five below that George, well below that first Graham (who incidentally had been deceased for over a year).

I mentioned this to my friend Les recently. He observed -- tersely I thought -- that this made a mockery of much of his junior school teaching. He was also annoyed that in this age of computers and data entry which can instantly put names in alphabetical order that this had not been done in something so useful as the telephone directory. He said something should be done about it, then finished his tea.

And I wondered how, if it was difficult for Les’ students and myself to use the Auckland telephone directory how impossible it would be for Truman Capote.

Imagine if he’d come to Auckland and tried to ring me.

Or maybe, by not knowing the alphabet, he would in fact have been at an advantage. I wonder.

Either way, I certainly didn’t receive his call.

An Idea

Just getting back to that cork caper for a moment.

I tried it myself, just something in the way of what Les might call “market research”.

And it worked.

I can’t help but think that Ken’s boy might just have been on to something there.

Whether

It was my exceeding bad fortune recently to be in the company of an elderly companion who insisted on watching a programme on the television, a practise which I rarely condone.

But I was quite taken by a small aside on the weather forecast when the person reading out the temperatures of the day said, “No report from Kaikohe today”.

I thought immediately, why is this? Why no report from Kaikohe today?

Did the person whose responsibility it was to report the weather from Kaikohe simply forget?

That seems unlikely since making this daily report would seem to be an essential part of whatever employment terms they must have.

Or were the phone lines down perhaps? Does that kind of thing still happen these days, and if so were they down all day? Are the telephone lines that unreliable . . . and wouldn’t that be life-endangering if it were so? Would that fact not have been reported as news?

Or was this simple neglect on someone’s part?

Perhaps there was an illness in the family? Or a death even?

“No report from Kaikohe today.”

The words were loaded with meaning.

Denouement.

Ken just called.

It didn’t work at his place.

“Lazy bastards!”

© Graham Reid (!)

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