Friday, December 17, 2010

Ted Jenner's waterborne monsters

I have to apologise for not responding to e mails and for not making a comment on this blog for several days - I've been suffering from what is either the flu or else an obscure, and possibly exotic, bacterial infection. I blame this man for my woes:

As well as being a writer whose work inhabits the strange borderlands between prose and poetry, Ted Jenner is perhaps New Zealand's foremost scholar of the fragmetary textual remains of the pre-Socratic philosophers. Jenner is particularly fond of Heraclitus, author of the famous formulation 'one does not step twice into the same river', and Thales, the philosopher who believed that all material objects were ultimately composed of water; it is perhaps not surprising, then, that he has an intense, undiscriminating love of creeks, rivers, estuaries, ponds, lagoons, swamps and other bodies of water.

Ted has never met a waterway he didn't want to bathe in twice, so when we came upon a modestly-sized creek in the lower Kaipara in the middle of a boozy afternoon last Sunday he didn't hesitate. When I mentioned that a taniwha was reputed to live under a waterfall a little way upstream, Ted insisted that I help him search for it. He explained that, like the sprites which the ancient Greeks imagined into even their humblest streams, taniwha are 'harmless, not really proprietory' creatures, which would never think of attacking well-intentioned visitors like us. After a few splashes, we found ourselves in a pool which had been shallowed by a month of dry weather, underneath a waterfall that burbled with all the ferocity of one of the weed-clogged fountains in the Auckland Domain. As we slopped and sloshed back downstream, cracking open a couple more bottles of the exquisitely sour homebrew Brett Cross had made using the manuka-heavy recipe Captain Cook devised during his second visit to New Zealand, Ted began to repeat some of his favourite stories about the maladies he has seen unlucky swimmers and bathers suffer over the years. Ted has no fear of taniwha, but he does have an anxious reverence for the various snakes, lizards, bugs and bacterial potions which can make the water a dangerous place in Malawi, the country where he spent many years earning a living as a lecturer in Classics. Last year I published a poem which was based on one of Ted's dubious yet terrifying anecdotes about the waterborne hazards of Malawi:

The Worm (for Ted Jenner)

I feel stupid, cooking a feast like this, even after fasting for a week. A whole chook, caked in gravy thick as farmyard mud. Cobs of corn the size of forearms. Potatoes as big as fists. Perhaps I should set a place for another diner?

I pissed the worm out of Lake Malawi. I remember stumbling out of my tent and down a clay bank, then aiming the yellow stream into dark water beside a big rippling moon. ‘It was at the embryonic stage, then’ the specialist explained, scratching his second chin. Small enough to shimmy up a jet of piss, all the way into my bladder, my stomach. ‘It’s a little bigger now.’ Agreed. The thing looked like an extra intestine. I pushed back the X-ray and retched into an imaginary bucket beside the door. ‘You needed to see. It’s feeding off you. There’s only one way - ’. I retched again.

I fill my plate, sit down, open my mouth. Perhaps I should say grace? What harm would it do? Dear Lord, I thank thee, I think to myself. Not quite right. Dear Lord, we thank thee. I can feel it now, uncoiling, loosening its grip on the lower intestines. Smelling the hot chook, the gravy, the buttered cobs, remembering the taste of food after seven days’ famine, sliding through my stomach, into my oesophagus. For what we are about to receive. Filling my throat, pushing greedily between my jawbones, filling my mouth, sliding over my trembling tongue toward the table and its mountainous plate. Suddenly I close my mouth, and cough, and retch. In a second the worm recoils, sliding backwards down my throat and through my empty stomach, until it sits still again in my intestines, an indigestible meal.

I stop retching, and part my lips again, but before the worm can respond my right hand begins to move by itself, picking up a fork and shovelling a potato into my mouth.


Lying in an accident and emergency room, feeling a doctor sticking damp, pointed things into my ears and hearing him ask me 'Have you been swimming in any creeks lately, drinking creekwater perhaps?', I thought of Ted Jenner's story about the worm. Perhaps the tale had more truth to it than I had wanted to believe? The worm Ted described had reputedly emerged from Lake Malawi, in the middle of faraway Africa, but what was to stop its genus migrating, in this age of global warming and porous borders, to New Zealand's subtropical north? Would I be instructed to go home, to cook a sumptuous meal, and to open my mouth and wait for the worm to emerge?

Happily, I feel much better today, and I've been assured by people who seem like reputable medical professionals that the worm-monster of Lake Malawi owes more to the singularly strange imagination of Ted Jenner than it does to biology. The results from the blood test haven't come back yet, but my body has probably been hosting the 'flu, rather than anything more exotic. All the same, I might think twice before taking a swim with Ted Jenner again.

26 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How disgraceful that people of mature years should be behaving in this immature way.

Do you think drinking and swimming is clever?

It is not only stupid but illegal.

6:37 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Hee hee hee Anonymous!
Really -erm, erm - silly retort
Just show me the bit in the ANZ Legal Code that says " drinking & swimming is illegal" please.
I will copy & frame it, and piss on it as necessary.

7:42 pm  
Anonymous KR said...

Captain Cook brewed beer?

How did he find the time?

7:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenner, he done gone wild man

7:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?

Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher's wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.

9:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://timespanner.blogspot.com/2010/12/convoluted-versions-of-history-from.html

WHO DID THIS?
AN AUCKLANDER???

10:28 am  
Blogger Mad Bush Farm said...

http://timespanner.blogspot.com/2010/12/convoluted-versions-of-history-from.html

WHO DID THIS?
AN AUCKLANDER???


If you look at the profile you might find where it's done. And the cartoon drawer came from the Kaipara. I did it.

Great Post Scott interesting reading about the creek. Just wondering where. I know the South End of the Kaipara well enough.
Keri H. I think someone is having a growly Saturday. Way to go

1:53 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Liz,

it was Omeru Stream, close to the spot where Omeru and Waitangi come together. Do you know anything about the taniwha legend? It reminded me a bit of the story Pat Hohepa told of how every tributary stream to the Hokianga harbour has a taniwha on patrol.

My apologies folks for not taking a more active part in these threads - I'm still a little under the weather (or under the water?). I've e mailed Ted to ask him how he is, and have gotten no response...

7:15 pm  
Blogger Mad Bush Farm said...

I know exactly where you are talking about Scott. Yes I have heard mention of a Taniwha legend as in the Taniwha living at the waterfall but like many things details were thin on the ground. This post jogged my memory of recalling a mention of the Taniwha living there. After living in that general area for nearly 19 years you would think I would have known more but sadly not enough on the legend side of things.

Hope Ted will be okay. Let's hope he surfaces soon and answers your email. Homebrew...is deadly stuff. I'm still recounting the hangovers I had in my younger days. Not anymore I behave myself.

7:42 pm  
Blogger Timespanner said...

Timespanner link

"WHO DID THIS?
AN AUCKLANDER???"

There, there, Anon, I've fixed it up for you, seeing as you're obviously so overwrought that you couldn't find the clear and present link on the front page of my blog to my profile. Have you had a bit of a sit down with a cool drink of water, now? I hope so. Doesn't do to get too uptight with this heat, dear.

8:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS WHAT'S WITH ALL THESE CAPS?

CAN'T HEAR MYSELF THINK

MUST BE AN AUCKLAND THING!ha ha

1:09 am  
Blogger Mad Bush Farm said...

Anonymous said...

PS WHAT'S WITH ALL THESE CAPS?

CAN'T HEAR MYSELF THINK

MUST BE AN AUCKLAND THING!ha ha

No I'd say it's the homebrew talking in your case. Hope it's worth the hang over

6:12 am  
Blogger Timespanner said...

@Mad Bush Farm:

Heh, heh!

12:19 pm  
Anonymous Ted Jenner said...

Scott, i'm afraid you've caught my bilharzia; i'd heard it's transferable but had no idea it could act so quickly. Many thanks for hosting those nasty little transparent and microscopic flukes and ridding me of them because i am feeling as fit as a fiddle!!

5:03 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - did you know Pat Hohepa? I met him once in about 1970? He supported a group of young Maori radicals and the PYM (more or less unofficially) had a meeting with him...I don't really know what we were talking about exactly but he was a very nice fellow. Is he still alive?

That takes me back recalling hat.

Ted's doing well! But swimming in creeks and rivers is not for me! I don't really like swimming...in especially in rivers or creeks.

But Ted is an intellectual savage!

12:09 am  
Blogger Richard said...

A powerful poem by Yeats. He rarely wrote a bad line.

12:12 am  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Richard,

I only know Hohepa's book A Maori Community in Northland, which I included on my list of 20 NZ non-fiction classics:
http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2009/06/twenty-of-best-or-bibliography-for.html

Sounds like you met him the year that book came out!

I once spent an evening in an old hydro town called Tuai in the eastern foothills of the Ureweras. The locals there told me that a taniwha lived in their lake, even though the lake had only existed since the '20s. The creature, which was apparently a very large eel, acted as a sort of guardian and kept an eye on the kids who went swimming. Shades of the (Greco-?)Roman belief that a minor deity did not have to have been born in the mists of time, but could come into existence when (say) a building was being raised?

12:32 am  
Blogger maps said...

Btw, Richard, what's up with your blog?
No updates for ages!

12:35 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - Hohepa. A small world. I was in Ponsonby then: it was a working class area at that time.

Yes, I've been putating or gestating over it. Not sure what "direction" to take it or indeed what I will do if anything in a creative and / or literary sense in the future. (I have toyed for some time with the idea of writing short stories or novel).

I read a lot and write things down from books I read (not just literature) but hard to think of something no one else has done. My feeling is that it has all been done before! But perhaps that shouldn't stop one... There is always the "signature" that each of us brings to anything we do.

See what happens in the New Year.

I am also now busy preparing for The New Zealand Chess Championships stating on the 2nd of Jan 2011. It's like preparing for 8 or more University Exams !

2:30 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - I'm sending something to you you will appreciate - nothing dodgy though!!

I sent a book of Reading's poems to Michael Steven. (I had double of it).

BTW if I can come up with duplicates In can send (for free, or swap) to people who want them certain poetry or classics, novels, even science and art, etc...as you know I have a lot of books. Some are for sale, others are mine but I do have some duplicates etc

These I would like to see go to people interested in writing (or whatever is relevant) get.

To students, and interested others. young and old.

Other things I would have to sell (or swap).

It is hard to get good AND interesting books.

3:04 pm  
Anonymous Ted Jenner said...

Hey, a little more respect there from the likes of SH and RT for the writer described as 'the best in NZ that nobody has ever heard of'. Especially unjust when, in overseas journals, i've referred to RT as the Hovermatic of NZ Literature, and praised the esteemed Mr Hamilton as the brightest young writer in NZ lit with the initials SH living in Te Atatu, a writer who has the uncanny ability to make the work of Ellen Portch and Kendrick Smithyman his own.

5:18 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Jenner the writer I esteem, but as for Jenner the spreader of waterborne disease, well...

3:25 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Ted - The

HOVERMATIC?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fair enough.

Bilharzia is serious shit though...

Leicester Kyle might have genetically transformed his snail into a Bilharzia bearing snail...
or some one may have.

6:42 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - did you get the photo?

6:42 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Didn't get it, mate: d'ya wanna try again? Btw: I enjoyed your 'infinite museums' piece in the new brief. I'll post on that issue at some more sensible time...

1:07 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - perhaps you have new address - can you send me your postal address? The pic is to do with Smithyman.

I'd forgotten that thing in Brief.

It is a recent poem.

I actually had a few versions of it... one had a lot of "nesting" (using brackets) and then the whole was 'turned around' and contradicts itself and so on...hmmm

One version had a quote from the start of a book by Pynchon in it...I think it was 'Gravity;s Rainbow' but I never actually read much the book! I have only read 'The Crying of Lot 49' (sorry Ted, haven't seemed to get time yet..). But it doesn't really have anything to do with the book!! (more Pynchon's "tone" or his general ideas,ways of seeing or saying) I just liked the sound or implication of the sentence. I was also thinking of museums and (more) libraries (I much prefer libraries and book shops almost to being "in nature"!) and (how they are metaphors for things (and alternatives and how we...hmm.. for the libidinal I suppose; knowledge and so on and space etc) of course) and Perec's 'Species of Spaces and other Places' again mainly the resonations (to me) of the title as forget what it was about, although I recall parts of it were interesting....

The confessions of a Poetical Divagator!

8:05 pm  

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