Geoff Thomas
Geoff Thomas on fishing

Geoff Thomas: The turkeys had no chance

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A report in a women's magazine caught the eye. It said Larry Hagman, or JR Ewing in the soap Dallas, was having a liver transplant.

A small flash of guilt crossed the mind briefly. I did hope I hadn't contributed to the problem.

When we were involved in the tourist business in the 1980s, organising fishing and hunting trips for wealthy visitors, Larry and his wife Maj booked a trout fishing and pheasant shooting trip.

We met in Rotorua and drove to Waihau Bay where we spent a week in a home by the water. The plan was to keep away from people, as Larry did attract a fair bit of attention in the street, particularly from middle-aged ladies who wanted to peck him on the cheek. He was pretty good natured about it and passed out fake $10,000 notes with his image on the centre, which he signed. They looked like the real thing but said "In Hagman we Trust", which sort of gave the game away.

Snapper fishing and light tackle kahawai was on the agenda, plus pheasant and duck shooting.

After stowing the luggage in the house Larry appeared with a bottle in his hand. We had been warned that a bit of drinking might be involved in this holiday, and after advice from our North American office the house was well stocked with Moet & Chandon. But this was 11 o'clock in the morning, and here was Larry ready to go.

"Like a drink?" he asked. What do your say to your high paying guest? Get stuffed? Of course not.

The bottle was full of brown hooch - Mezcal, which is a sort of raw tequila. Made from the cactus plant but not as refined as tequila, it had the worm in the bottom. The empty bottle is still under the house somewhere, for Larry signed the label and wrote, "Geoff ate the worm." Well, drank actually.

It was a great week. Each day started with champagne and orange juice on the deck overlooking the crayfish pots in the bay. And the pots worked well. We got sick of crayfish. Then a walk around the maize fields for a pheasant. Then more drinks with lunch, then a sleep, maybe a fish, then a little party with the neighbours at night.

Larry had a lovely canvas shooting jacket decorated with hand-painted mallard ducks and cock pheasants. He was really proud of it: "My daughter painted these!"

One morning we saw turkey heads bobbing through the inkweed under a line of big macrocarpa trees and I said to Larry, "Want to shoot some turkeys?"

"Hell, yeah! Haven't hunted turkey since I was a youngster in Texas."

So we told him if he played his cards right he might get one or two, and we carefully stalked the bunch until we got within range and Larry let rip. Three fell over. He was ecstatic. "Never had three turkeys with one shot!"

Wild turkeys are the ultimate shotgun quarry in the States where they are extremely hard to hunt. They have to be ever on the alert as there are critters like wolves, cougars, bears, lynxes and wolverines which think every day is Christmas.

We didn't have the heart to tell him he could have herded them into a fence corner and wasted the lot.

Isn't much of life about illusion? He probably knows that better than anyone.

One night Larry was sprawled barefoot on the lounge floor when he produced a yellow plastic thing which he pronounced was his "smoke detector". It transpired that Larry was paranoid about smoking.

"If I am in a room where someone is smoking I go up to them and do this," he explained, squeezing it. A ring emerged from the top, dripping liquid. He blew on it and a stream of bubbles floated away.

"It's a kids' bubble toy! People say, 'Excuse me but your bubbles are getting in my drink.'

"I say, your smoke is getting in my lungs. You don't have to drink." He carries it everywhere.

"I was in a private jet flying somewhere once, when the owner said, 'Excuse me, I'll just go into another cabin and have a cigar.' I asked him to land at the nearest airport and I would get off. He said it would fine if he smoked in another cabin. I told him the air conditioning would circulate his cigar smoke, and to just let me off."

"What happened?" we asked.

"He didn't have the cigar."

I hope the new liver is working fine.

- Herald on Sunday

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