I’ve always loved having old men in my life, they tell such terrific stories, and even if the stories aren’t true, they are generally good for a hearty laugh.
In Christchurch, there were a few homeless guys that used to hang around a park pretty close to where I lived. The park they hung around was very close to the New World supermarket, and I had this little ritual, of always giving away the first cigarette out of a packet, so I used to go over there and talk to whoever was around, and have a ciggy with them. I was so juiced up on various medications then, that I never remembered their names, but there were 5 old coots, I would see there regularly.
They were always courteous to me, and we’d often have a good old laugh together, when they were together, which wasn’t often. They would always comment about my genuine belly laugh, and how it was very rear to hear a genuine laugh these days…
I would go to the supermarket on my mobility scooter, and one day when they were all there, sitting in the park, one guy asked if he could have a ride.
They all ended up having a ride that day, doing wheelies around the area just in front of where we were sitting. They put a bag down at each end of the strip and pretended they were barrel racing at the rodeo. More than once I would go home with sides aching with their shenanigans, they were characters…
I lived close to a Binn Inn there and started buying lentils and beans because they were cheap. The first time I cooked some, I didn’t realize how much dried grains would swell, so I have a whole crockpot full of pork bones and beans.
It was way too much for me, so I loaded up the scooter and took it down to the park, with some plates and spoons, and shared it with them. It was a darn good brew, very rich and flavourful, with some molasses in it and the old coots enjoyed it so much.
While I was sitting talking to them, one old coot Joel took the dishers away, and brought them back wet but clean, and said to me, “Hey Girlie, next Saturday when you bring some food down, bring a tea towel and a scrubber, I’ll do them properly” he gave be a wicked wink, and put the dishes in the bag on back of the scooter. I said, “Sure Next Saturday” and so started our little “Saturday Night Special”, we used to call it.
I’d cook something on a Friday, and take it down on a Saturday, or if it was wet or miserable weather they would come up and sit in the conservatory and eat. It didn’t cost me anything but a bit of power, and time to cook it, and maybe a cup or two of beans. Often on a Thursday or Friday when I went outside in the morning, there would be some vegetables from the local community garden. Another time there was some meaty beef bones, and puha, there was always free loaves of bread down at the local community centre, and they knew where there were fruit trees, and self-sown vegetables at the earthquake-damaged houses, and where the big supermarket rubbish bins were, what they brought around was on a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” bases, often a few weeks later they’d tell a story of their food dalliances for this or that meal.
When you have 5 people keeping an eye out for leftover food, it’s pretty easy to get enough for a big meal. One thing that was always there would be a big handful of herbs. There were always loads of herbs down at the abandoned red zone houses.
A couple of times on a bitterly cold night during the week, one of them would come around and stay talking, and stay the night, hell I had a massive big lounge I could have slept 10 people in quite easily, but they were very careful not to overstay their welcome.
I used to call them my old coots to their faces, and the odd time when they came around during the day, they would knock on the back door, and call out “One of Your Old Coots” I knew all the voices and I would call them in I was badly crippled up with pain then. Being one of my old coots was something special to us both.
I told them from the start, they couldn’t come around if they had been drinking, and they always respected that….
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I had food cooking all the time, or ran a shelter, it was just a pot of minestrone-like soup, a bit of meat stock, whatever vegetables were around, a couple of cupfuls of mixed dried beans. Pasta and or rice from the foodbank, thickened a little with some cornflour, flavoured with the herbs that were always there, and salt and pepper. And free bread from the community centre either by itself or made into croutons.
I always figured, these guys were all in the late 60’s and older, they all had kids, all grown now granted, but they had been someone’s dad at some stage, and even if they were lousy Dad’s they had the best intentions or did the best they could.
Although my Dad had been dead for several years by them, it was simply good luck he never ended up homeless with his drinking, I would hope that if he had ever ended up like my old coots, someone would help him with a warm feed now and again.
I miss my old coots, but I’m so pleased they will never know about what a hell of a year I had after I left Christchurch, and they would have been very pleased that Dan and the others looked after me in Hamilton, when I was homeless 7 or so months after I left Christchurch.
I was just watching the English TV series, “Last of the Summer Wine” the tails my old coots used to tell would make a funny program like that….
Gosh the character “Compo” reminds me of my Dad, a bloody little scallywag.