Through the cafe window

Sunday morning on Cuba Street, Wellington

Our friend was told he had five months to live. That was 24 years ago this week. I remember this detail because I was resting in hospital after the birth of my third child when his wife told me quietly. We cried.

This morning as I sat at Floriditas with my coffee, I saw six foot five inch Norbert scoot past on his little red Vespa, his bag of goodies from the Sunday vegetable market sitting in the rear basket. The green tops of two leeks flying with the wind …

Hold on – isn’t this the same guy given only months to live?

Norbert plays viola in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, has done so since coming to New Zealand from Germany in the 1970s. He’s a mountain of a man, tall and imposing, with a chiselled jawline and a twinkle in his eye. He wears red rimmed glasses and is known to colour his impressive head of hair from time to time.

I first met him when working for Television New Zealand in the late 70s and early 80s. I was a Producer’s Assistant and being the only one who could read music, I got all the plum jobs (I considered) working on operas and with orchestras. It was a wonderful time – I was really in my element.

I had to sit in front of the orchestra – facing them – to carry out my work. I often wondered how he managed to pour himself into his oh-so-tight jeans! An admirablel sense of style. Several years later, because we had babies the same age and lived in the same suburb, we met again and forged our lifelong friendship. So close is the relationship that his daughter feels quite at ease raiding our fridge – the ultimate compliment!

His quirkiness has seen him become reasonably well-known around the city. People might not necessarily know him personally, but he’s recognised. His escapades on roller-blades are legendary – the most notable ones being his free bus rides! I couldn’t believe it when one day, as I was driving home, I saw his long limbs skate down the centre of Lambton Quay, slow down as he reached a bus going in his direction, then hitch a ride on its back bumper! I followed him up the hill for about three kilometres and then, when we were nearing his stop, he neatly let go of the bumper and glided up onto the footpath.

He saw me, waved, smiled, laughed and then joined me in the car for the remainder of the journey. He admitted that it  was not an especially safe way to travel. But he was enjoying himself, protected from the wind, going at an exhilerating pace and saving himself a bus fare into the bargain.

All these thoughts passed through my mind as I was gazing through the cafe window this morning. He is such an amazing guy, he has touched so many with his infectious humour, his very sincere caring, his music and his other many talents.

The sight of him on his little red Vespa made me laugh …


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