Schoolies at a Funeral in New Zealand
By Bruce Bobtrotter, Dictated to Alistair Johnston, but not Read
Most Australian kids go to Schoolies after high school, where they wobble around for a week and drink hard liquor and smoke crack and rap NWA songs and hurl Nazi salutes at the police and break windows and come back after that week as full-blown outlaw bikers. At least that’s what they think. The reality is that everyone goes up to the Gold Coast, drinks a couple of alcopops each, pukes off a balcony, gets a unicorn tattoo on their bum and passes out in a hallway. This was precisely my idea of the perfect holiday.
I was all ready to go to Schoolies and then my grandma died. We had to go to New Zealand for the funeral. This was rubbish, but at least I was already packed.
It was a sad time for the family and also for the shareholders of Arnotts New Zealand. We flew to Auckland early one wet morning in November. We were all lined up at the front door when the taxi arrived.
“We should get going now, Shirley.”
“Yes, I agree, Frank,” Mama said as she tottered off to the bathroom.
The house filled with all the usual sounds of Mama getting ready: plop of eyeliner dropped into the toilet, poof of a bucketful of powder administered partly to the face but mostly to the front of the dress, plonk of a tub of rouge dropped on the floor, spluttering as Mama tried to navigate a way through the rouge and find the sink. Her profanities were directed at deities, social minorities and Frank when she banged her knee on the bathtub and then the ZZZZZAP of a tap turned on over the top of haircurlers. Mama emerged a couple of minutes later, looking like Heath Ledger as The Joker, and scurried out the front door.
We rushed out after her – me with my bag, Denise with hers, Frank with his and one of Mama’s, and Ahmed the Pakistani taxi driver with Mama’s other three bags. Mama, delighted as usual to carry nothing, bowled straight into the drivers’ seat.
“Hurry up, Frank. We’re going to be late.”
“Shirley, you can’t sit there.”
“I called shotgun.”
“But Ahmed has to sit there. To drive.”
We heaped into the taxi. Ahmed assumed his rightful position in the driver’s seat. Mama relocated to the passenger’s seat, where she shouted “mush!” at Ahmed as he started the car. We pulled out of the driveway. Just like Dean Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes, the Bobtrotter family was on the road.
I’d gotten lost on the way home from the Chinese buffet the night before and plugged my home address into Google maps. My phone talked from inside my Wiggles backpack.
“Make a U-turn when safe.” Ahmed pulled into the right lane.
“Not you, you stupid idiot!” Mama shrieked. “That’s my son’s phone. Have you ever heard a real human speak like that? Keep going to the airport!”
My phone beseeched us to turn around the whole way to the airport. Denise spoke over the top of it, explaining why Niall was the hottest member of One Direction (incorrectly, as usual: Louis is clearly the hottest member of One Direction, not to mention having the best voice and the best smile). Ahmed spoke over the top of Denise, describing his violent upbringing in Karachi. Mama spoke over the top of Ahmed, explaining how she would side with the Pakistanis if they ever had a war with India, as she had personal experience of India’s nuclear programme, having once eaten a dodgy Rogan Josh and blown a considerable hole in a petrol station toilet. I spoke over the top of Mama, explaining how a Pakistani penpal I had met on a Far-Right internet forum had tried to blow up a girls’ school, although with less success than Mama had with the BP toilet. Frank, thank goodness, was silent.
Mama unleashed one of her cataclysmic farts as we pulled into the airport. A puff of rouge went up in the front seat and my bucket hat blew off my head and out the window. Ahmed ducked. He thought he’d been shot. It was like being in Karachi all over again.
“THAT WAS YOU, AHMED!” Mama screamed over the top of all the alarms she had set off.
We eventually revived Ahmed from the smell and he dropped us at the departures terminal. Mama’s eruption had rest the meter to $0 so Ahmed had to estimate the fair. I am certain he overcharged us. Yet more evidence that we should stop the boats.
There was a screeching sound as my disaster aunt Big Bev’s taxi pulled into the airport behind us. Big Bev, that ornament to her sex, flopped out of the back seat onto the footpath, belching loudly.
The taxi driver lent out the window. “That’s $50, ma’am.”
“WHERE?” Big Bev’s eyes shot around manically.
“No, the fare is $50.”
“That will have to be on the house. I am currently without funds.”
Big Bev waddled away, the wheels of her bag spinning idly in the air as she dragged it on the wrong side. Frank was left to pay her fare. We went through customs as a family: first Big Bev and Denise, then Frank and me, all without issue. Mama scampered up last and emptied her handbag into a tray.
Three decades’ worth of McDonald’s condiments came pouring out. First one tray was filled, then a second and finally a third. The entire Customs Department took a step back as Mama tried to pack half the Red Sea into a couple of security trays. Then she put a pair of flippers in the fourth tray and scuttled through the barriers, pushing a security guard out of the way to make sure no one misappropriated her flippers.
We went to the boarding lounge after waiting ten minutes for Mama to pack the condiments back into her handbag. The plane ride was uneventful, apart from Mama loudly berating Frank the whole way because the air hostess was taking too long with her coffee. Despite being on airplane mode, my phone pleaded with me to perform a U-turn the whole way across the Tasman Sea. We arrived in Auckland at 10 and went straight to Pop’s apartment. He greeted us in his socks and sandals and his speedos and we settled in for the day.
We woke up the next morning to the sound of the phone ringing. Mama answered it. She did not put it on speaker, but you could nevertheless hear my slightly less disastrous aunt Myrtle shouting from the other end of the line:
“WHERE ARE YOU GUYS? YOU’RE GOING TO MISS THE FUNERAL! I’M WITH BIG BEV AND WE’RE HERE WITH A LOT OF MAMA’S FRIENDS WE’VE NEVER MET BEFORE AND WE TOLD THEM TO HOLD UP THE FUNERAL SO YOU DON’T MISS THE START AND NOW THEY’RE ALL ANGRY AT US AND WE’RE GETTING EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE!”
Mama shuffled through the funeral papers on the kitchen counter. She shook her head knowingly, shifted from foot to foot because her Crocs were giving her blisters and told Myrtle that the funeral was tomorrow and that she was holding up the wrong funeral.
Myrtle shouted from the other end of the phone that what a disaster this is and then shouted at Big Bev that this wasn’t Grandma’s funeral and they would be going to Burger King instead. Big Bev was obviously happy about this, and you could hear her footsteps through the phone and feel them through the tectonic plates as she thundered to the car. Myrtle hung up.
I am banned from ever singing again in the churches of several denominations throughout continental Australia, ever since my solo rendition of Amazing Grace caused significant fallout that was only remediable by counselling, victim seminars, multiple exorcisms, etcetcetc. But there is no need to go into that. What is salient is that New Zealand is not part of continental Australia and thus I was permitted to sing at Grandmama’s funeral when the correct day did come around.
The minister only allotted five minutes to my rendition of Ave Maria, expecting me to perform only the Disney rendition, unaware that I am a dedicated Schumann scholar and had designs on performing the whole of his Opus 52, which I always thought was an energy drink but turns out after extensive research to be a roughly bath-length operetta.
It has since been made clear to me that my singing was not the undisputed highlight of everyone’s day. Several people had to exit the church, although I thought at the time that they were just overcome with emotion about their loss. Likewise with Mama, who I thought was having a religious experience in the disabled row that had originally been set aside for Big Bev, but who later told me that she was praying to God that I please shut and/or blow up. Most of the crowd started screaming in agony when I showed off with my upper register, but this was roughly the same volume and pitch as said upper register, so I could not hear them. I could hear people scratching at the side doors and trying to escape, but I just assumed that my singing had woken the dead again and that Grandmama was trying to break out of her coffin. I was universally booed off the stage after my performance, but I misinterpreted this and took it as a call for an encore, and I was just pondering what I would sing (leaning towards Born this Way by Lady Gaga) when the priest came charging up onstage and cracked me over the temple with the collection tin. But what can I say? Some crowds react well to my performance, some are permanently and profoundly disturbed. Nothing to be done.
The rest of the funeral was predictably boring. Grandmama was incinerated like a pile of autumn leaves, then we left to the wake (a terrible word to use when I’m singing near a graveyard), where Big Bev spear-tackled a waiter who was carrying a tray of very appetising-looking drumsticks; Frank talked about international taxation law to anyone who could not run faster than him (i.e. Big Bev); Mama got swooped by several bird species, which is understandably since Mama looks roughly like a field mouse in a gigantic wig (Mama being the only Caucasian owner of a truly permanent perm, the result of a protracted personal history of electrocution); Pop got confused by all the movement and took his pants off; Denise commandeered the iPod and forced us all to listen to One Direction for an hour, until I threatened to sing along and someone cut the mains switch in dread; Myrtle got extremely drunk on fluorescent drinks with umbrellas and recounted her most recent sadomasochistic love affair which sounded suspiciously like the plot of that terrifying Grey’s Anatomy book they’ve just made a movie out of; and meanwhile I was just overcome the pleasantly surprising quality of the local ice-cream.
Pop and Myrtle waved us goodbye at the airport the next morning, Myrtle bent over double in a state of severe alcohol withdrawal and Pop waving the wrong direction and boisterously calling out the wrong names. I had hidden my phone in Big Bev’s diabetes kit so she would be the one that got arrested if it started back-seat driving across the Tasman again.
Which it did. Non-stop. Also uninterrupted, since none of the air hostesses were game enough to enter within paw-span of Big Bev, who was splayed across three seats in the exit row and had threatened to “fucking de-bone someone like a Portuguese chicken” when they informed her that she had not been allocated a corresponding quantity of in-flight meals. My phone gave bossy directions from Auckland to Sydney, even providing instructions regarding altitude and crosswinds and guiding the descent into Kingsford-Smith.
Death affects different people in different ways. My floppy-haired-and-poofy-shirt-wearing friend AJ says that a fear of death is nothing more than a fear of life, that mourning others is a way of mourning ourselves, and that only by finding meaning in life can we accept death. This of course makes no fucking sense to anyone, since I think the only reason life is scary is because death happens at the end of it and up until then there is nothing really worth worrying about.
Someone who might disagree with me on that matter is Ahmed . He was the first cab in the cab rank when Mama’s perm burst out of the arrivals lounge like the muzzleloader accidentally shot out of a cannon, and he was in fifth gear before Mama could even say, “Is that a turban or a bandage you’re wearing on your forehead, Ahmed?”
Cover by Daisy Memories