The man who wore out five hips

22:29, Jul 23 2014
Harry Marquet
ACTION MAN: Harry Marquet says keeping active is what has kept him happy.

Keep active to have a healthy life, they say. But can you be too active? Christchurch man Harry Marquet sails close to that edge.

"I can't sit still," says Harry Marquet, 79. "Never could. Mind you I've slowed up a bit now. I've had to. I've got a bow saw in the car. When you've gone, I'll go down the road and see if I can find a bit of wood."

His sentences are short and to the point - not spat out like the bullets he'd have fired in Malaya with the army, more just simple statements of a person who left school at 14 and has spent a lifetime doing rather than elaborating.

Harry Marquet
JUNGLE FIGHTING: Harry Marquet as a 50kg, 158cm soldier in Malaya.

He's sitting in an armchair in his small Halswell flat. The log burner is pumping out heat (free thanks to that bow saw) and his second wife, Rosalina, is busy in the kitchen.

Harry wrote to The Press to offer his story as a motivational piece for other elderly people. He'd kept active all his life and was continuing to do so.

He wrote: "I go out nearly every day and find firewood somewhere and bring it home and stack it. Two to three hours every day. Where my wife works I am known as the disco legend. When I am dancing my life is full of joy."


But the big eye-opener was that he'd had five hip replacements since 1991.

They just wore out, he says bluntly from his chair. His fifth hip replacement was last year.

"He [the doctor] told me that's the last one. He said 'You've got to slow down. You've had your share'."

Harry's story is as much a glimpse of the past as a lesson for the present. He was born and raised in Christchurch, worked and raised a family here, and will no doubt die here.

The story unfolds in stops and starts, a tale of short comments, the occasional snort of derision and of gruff, gentle pride.

At age 8 he was playing in the yard and ripped a hole in the back of his leg. Instead of getting it patched up he went swimming with two friends in the Avon River near Fitzgerald St. The day ended with him in hospital with tuberculosis and he stayed 11 and a half months but that slow-down was only temporary.

A few years later he was playing rugby league in the morning for the Christchurch club and turning up muddy to play rugby in the afternoon for the Linwood club. He's 1.58m (5' 2") and was a skinny, quick wing.

At 14 he left school and went deep south to work in a sawmill. One day, for something to do, he took his single gear bike and cycled 180km into a headwind to Dunedin. He was too tired to go back so got the train back.

Back in Christchurch at 16, he worked at a grocers before trying to get into the army to fight in Korea. His parents refused to sign to let the 18-year-old fight, but he had another successful go for the Malaya conflict and fought the communist rebels.

The other major jobs in a hard-working life were as a commercial cleaner and at the Post Office.

Commercial cleaning was exhausting work. It gave him the scariest moment of his life one windy day outside the Sign of the Takahe.

"I was cleaning the windows and a storm blew up. It took the ladder out from underneath me. Luckily I landed on my feet. That was two storeys up. It was the last time I ever cleaned their windows."

It wouldn't have done his hips much good? He shrugs.

He loved running and took it up again at 40 with a city-to-surf run. But he took it to the extreme. At one time he was running 160km a week training on top of a 60-hour week commercial cleaning.

He ran 17 marathons, however even that wasn't enough. In 1979 and 1980 he won long distance 24 hour races organised by "the Yanks" at Operation Deep Freeze. The first year he covered 183km in the day and the second year he did 196km.

But a year later he stopped running because his hips began to hurt.

By 1991 he was having his first hip replacement. One operation became two because the doctors discovered both "were shot", Harry says.

"They didn't say what it was. Just said it was wear and tear. It could be arthritis because I've got that in my hands, but they didn't say it was arthritis."

In 1999, he needed his third new hip, again on the left, and he retired. But Harry's "retirement" meant working up to 30 hours a week gardening "for old people", half of them, he says younger than him.

Did he enjoy gardening? "Nah, gardening . . . I hate it. But I wanted the money and it kept me busy."

He weeded and mowed lawns but stopped mowing because it became too hard. The left hip was worn out again by 2011 and needed replacing and the right hip was replaced last year.

Each time there was the wearying pain like someone sticking a knife in his hip and the wait for surgery.

Now he keeps busy hunting, sawing up and stacking that wood. And the occasional fling on the dance floor.

One sore point remains with the army. He claims he is the only one alive from his regiment in Malaya who doesn't get a disability pension "because they say I am too fit".

His advice to retired people is to keep active.

"You have to keep busy or else you will end up sitting in a home and you'll die. Sitting still is helping you put yourself in the box."

But he is also content in his twilight years.

"I've had a good life. I've had two good wives. If I was to drop dead now, I'd be happy."

The Press