Leah McFall: A shortcut to friendship

Leah McFall's son is talking almost entirely in quotes.
Alistair Hughes/Fairfax NZ

Leah McFall's son is talking almost entirely in quotes.

OPINION: The phone rang, and George got there first.

"Hello?" he said – though, because he's 4, and his tongue hasn't yet mastered the l sound, it came out as: "Hey yo?"

I could hear the faraway, musical sound of a cold caller from, I don't know, Manila, beginning a prepared speech.

"Yes-yes-yes," George replied, impatiently.

"My name is George. I am a crime-fighter."

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I heard the sound of a faraway click, and then a dial tone. Everybody congratulated George and we got on with our lives, but it did occur to me that lately, George was often getting there first.

Earlier that week I'd introduced him to Ness' kids, 12-year-old Isabel and 9-year-old William, as they were all in Wellington for the holidays. George had just watched The Lego Batman Movie for the seventh time. In it, Batman is a misanthrope who doesn't want friends.

This explains why, instead of greeting Isy and Will, George said: "There is no us; you mean nothing to me."

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Thank God they like us! Ness laughed and Will, luckily, thought it was cool. He had also seen the Batman movie but George's Plunket nurse hadn't, so didn't recognise the dialogue. When we arrived for his preschool health examination, she kindly explained to George precisely what was about to happen.

"Now George, first I'm going to check your teeth with my wee torch. Then I'm going to weigh you, and then I'm going to measure how tall you are."

George gazed at her. Then he replied: "I hate everything you just said."

You can tell a lot from someone by the movies they quote. These offer you a shortcut, a kind of doodle of their personality, instead of your having to invest time waiting for the whole oil painting to emerge. The person quoting the movie offers this insight freely because they want you to recognise their quotation; this quote will either bond the two of you, or set you free from a potential bond.

For example, if anyone quotes a Nora Ephron film, I'll have what they're having. I will instantly know When Harry Met Sally is their true north, the blueprint of all their relationships, they secretly wish they were New Yorkers, they are neurotic, fast-talking, charismatic and original, and the only obstacle which lies in their path is their own personality. They will be my friend for life.

If they quote Monty Python, I'm afraid it's over. Yes, I know Life of Brian is a comic masterpiece. I've met Michael Palin, you know; he actually kissed my hand.

I have nothing against the Pythons, or their fan-base. But I know this about them, just like I know this of people who make their own pesto from scratch: it can never happen between us.

You know who else leave me cold? People who quote Shakespeare, unless they're at a wedding. Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments is stone cold boring but everybody's happy to hear it at a wedding, because in 40 minutes you'll be out of the pew and drinking cold champagne. Fill your boots!

But I can't think of a single moment where someone quoting Shakespeare in regular life would bring me comfort or consolation. This is because Shakespeare stated the bleeding obvious, but as he did it in Tudor language, everybody falls over themselves at his genius. Trust me, his best work is the 16th-century equivalent of saying: "The jug's just boiled." We know it has! We heard it click!

For example, of course when you fancy someone who doesn't fancy you back you're going to agree that yes, love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs. But you'd keep it to yourself. You'd say it in your head while you're in a heap at the bar, mainlining vodka shots. You don't need the bartender, or any other numb-nuts with a literature degree, to quote it at you.

Kahlil Gibran is another one to watch for. Some of his stuff is quite good, like the one about kids being arrows, and their parents being bows. I just wish he wasn't stitched on quite so many cushions, and that these weren't scattered in quite so many natural healing centres. People who quote Kahlil Gibran will almost certainly have a fabric picture of a snow wolf in the lounge, and spell the word fairy like this: FAERY.

Now I think about it, George is talking almost entirely in quotes. At least, I hope they're quotes because soon after rejecting most of his breakfast this morning, he said to me: "I hate the menu."

However, because wise men ne'er sit and wail their loss but cheerily seek how to redress their harms, he got over it, and we went to kindy.

 - Sunday Magazine

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