Looking back: a self-portrait

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  • Published 20110906
  • ISBN: 9781921758225
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

I HAVE STEPPED inside a replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s cabinet of mirrors, and here I am, as I have never before seen myself. The back of me, the sides, as well as the usual frontal perspective – in other words, the whole of me. I am delighted. I am vainly fascinated. Then, just as quickly, the excitement of discovery subsides. I don’t look as I have always thought I did or, more to the point, as I feel I should. I quite like the reflected image at forty-five degrees, where I look like the start of something promising, and therefore its appeal lies in its incompleteness. But then I notice the back view of my head and that is very disappointing: all that grey hair, and it isn’t just the grey but its fringe which, after a long and critical investigation, I am forced to concede is less the start than the end of something. I look very much like my father, whose side I had stuck to all those years ago on our ritual Saturday afternoon walk from Wellington’s Petone Railway Station to the Petone Recreation Ground to watch his beloved Petone play, and there is nothing quite as dismal as the realisation that you aren’t quite your own work.

On the walk from the station to the Udy Street entrance, little was ever said. Apparently there was nothing to say to a nine-year-old. But there was the smell of his overcoat, of ash and smoke from his rollies; a butt always stuck cartoonishly to his lower lip, even when he spoke. Little was said, but I felt connected by our common destination. We were off to watch Petone, as we did every Saturday afternoon through winter. As more and more people arrived out of side streets, I drew closer to his coat. I didn’t want to lose him in the crowd. All I could see were coated men to the front and the back of me. Little was said, that’s true. But things were still passed down. Things were absorbed. Either you got it or you didn’t, and I got it.

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