Hang ‘em out to dry

TAKE (NZ Director’s Guild Magazine)  May 2010


I’ve planted a couple of hectares of maize on the lower paddock down by the lake – it sprouted beautifully within the required 10 days – then the local clan of pukekos started pulling it out, row upon row. To them it’s a game – they started at the end of the row and methodically pull out every plant – two steps – pull – leave discarded on the dry dirt – this is not food gathering but idle play and, to put it mildly, “Its bloody annoying”.

The local Stock and Station guy got straight to the point, “shoot two of them and hang ’em on the fence.”

I immediately saw a rural image – an etching I’d seen before.

“But isn’t it against the law?” I enquired.

He held my eye with a steely stare, “…and your point is?”

Apparently a farmer with sentimental leanings is frowned upon around here… we’ve got cows to fed and milk to make, this is commerce not conservation – and just as I was about to form the thought and articulate that they are ‘such a beautiful bird’ he saved me from myself and the indignity of liberal banality.

“They’re a pest!”

I knew the conversation was over.

I then realised I was in the company of men – rural men.

I thought this sort of stuff would be good content for a rural type TV programme – you know how it goes – a ‘fish out of water’ – man from the city discovers the rural world, a ‘man alone’ struggles with the land and the concept of ‘when you have live stock you also have dead stock’ as the ‘Cocky’ up the road pointed out to me one day as we gazed out over my distant paddocks “…and you seem to have one of the latter”.

I followed his stare to a bloated ewe. “She’ll be a bit whiffy,” he said as he fired up the quad and left me with it. And yes it was, you quickly learn to dig the hole up wind of the rotting carcass, but that usually dawns upon you only after the fifth or sixth gagging experience of down wind.

I wrote up the 57 page prop for a TV series and sent it around a few folk… I got a couple of nibbles and then I got a meeting.

I flew to Auckland and met with the Producer of TV programmes… I’ve known this guy for many years, a man from my side of the tracks. We greeted each other with a ‘man hug’ (as is your wont in AK) at the prearranged café, a fashionable brassiere in fact; sunglasses and latte, delicate and expensive food, under done with a ‘just so’ jus.

He liked the idea a lot… we talked more and with growing arm waving about the various episodes and the commercial potential, we even got thinking about the sequel – then he fell silent… and still – he held me with his steely eye. It cut through the enthusiasm.

“…um,” he started.

My heart raced.

And said, “Do you happen to have a really dumb version of this proposal?”

My eyes must have pleaded ‘why’ as I was lost for words.

“It’s just… well its just the programmers at TV will expect a…” his shoulders slumped forward as he couldn’t finish the sentence – he was momentarily choking on the self doubt.

I made to speak, but he quickly recovered and put me out of my misery.“…and while you’re at it you might want to see if there’s a part for a Blonde celebrity or some ‘sporty type guy’ with abs?” he held my eye, I could see the pain in his as he could probably see the hurt in mine, then he concluded without flinching. “No preferably both ‘Blonde’ and ‘Sporty’ and maybe some up-and-coming Comedian”.

I could see this man of past greatness and insight had been reduced to a beggar – He swiftly bought the meeting to a close by paying the bill and I made it back to the farm that night. Flying in above Feilding and into Palmerston North, over all that patch work of green. I gave the TV series little thought. Instead, the moment in a couple of weeks time, and how exciting my first harvest of maize was going to be, the machinery, the noise, the green prosperity flowing into the trucks – in the company of men – that’ll show those Pukeko who’s boss. When I do the figures later on I’ll work it out that I have earned less than minimum wage, but life could be worse.