Wednesday, December 24, 2014

THE MAN WHO DRESSED AS A POTATO


In a family teeming with colourful characters, one of my favourites was my uncle Buster. He was a Geordie who went to Japan and married my aunt. He was an enthusiastic social drinker, loved sports, parties and dancing. He once went to a fancy dress party dressed as a potato. If asked to say grace before dinner he would be likely to bellow: "Thank God! Food!"

Once in Kobe, after a boisterous party, he and my father stole a tram and drove it all round town before abandoning it. (I wish I’d known that while Dad was alive!) He raced motor cars. He was an excellent rugby player – he claimed to have taught the Japanese to play – and passable at other games, but he was a dud at tennis. One year he was one of two entrants in the lowest grade of a competition and Buster lost to the other guy – who had a wooden leg.

In New Zealand in retirement, Buster would dress up in a black outfit with long black gloves and straw plaits, and my aunt would darken his eyebrows and redden his cheeks and lips. Then Buster would play "Mary Christmas" for the neighbourhood children. One child, confused by the disguise, told her mother later that she had held hands with a horse.

Towards the end of his life Buster became frail but he never lost his sense of humour. He was cheeky, and once went to a liquor store, sat down on a crate of empties and crooked his finger at one of the women in the shop. He handed her his list, and she scurried round getting everything he wanted. Later, Buster was in hospital in intensive care. Friends visiting him for, as they thought, the last time, watched him heave at an oxygen mask with his eyes rolling. He lifted the mask and muttered, "Great gin!" Appalled glances were exchanged. There was another deep breath, then a huge smile: "Oxy-gin!" He came home black and blue because of several falls owing to his tottery condition and told a strait-laced neighbour that he had been booted out because he had tried to rape the matron.         

Buster had unusual solutions to small domestic problems, most of them involving a stapler, drawing pins or sellotape. If he lost a button off his shirt sleeve he stapled the cuff together. The indicator lever in his car broke off and was replaced with a pink toothbrush handle. Wallpaper peeling off the wall was fixed with drawing pins. Or sellotape: anything you can imagine could be mended with it, and a whole lot of things you would never imagine were wrapped or stuck together with sellotape, like the lock on the door between their unit and the garage.

Thanks for the memories, Bus!

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