He’s the author of the lauded and prize-winning novel Mister Pip, but Lloyd Jones is even prouder of his son Avi, who this week was crowned winner of Survivor NZ.
Until the age of nine or ten, he was a fat little bugger. When he was seven he asked to do the fun run around the bays. As we crossed the line together he raised his arms. We were last. But that didn’t matter. He was after the triumphant moment. The muscle burn would come later. At high school he got into running, and did well. But surfing would become his passion.
It was no surprise when he decided to finish his degree at the University of Hawaii. He surfed at most of the powerhouse breaks, then took off for Central America and Mexico from where he sent me a clip of him surfing a hellishly large wave. It made me half-sick to look at it.
There is a moment in seriously big surf when apprehension, sickening panic, and recklessness come together – and I have seen all those expressions on Avi’s face.
I know that feeling of recklessness, but this is where we part – I know I haven’t pushed myself over the edge as many times as he has.
Another facial expression on his face is fixation. I first saw it on him when as a small boy he sat on the floor in front of the TV totally engrossed by American Survivor.
What can I say? Our children are, as they should ne, a mystery to us.
As the episodes of NZ Survivor wore on and the social graces fell away under the pressure of difficult conditions – little food, heat, uncomfortable living arrangements, and contestability, there wasn’t much there that Avi hadn’t already experienced, and to a much greater degree, elsewhere. A lack of comfort would not have made a dent in him.
He spent a year at a very remote place on the Ghanaian coast running a school for students who required a gap year between high school and tertiary education.
These kids would walk considerable distances to get to school in order to have the chance that many kids growing up in New Zealand take for granted.
Avi organised a fundraiser and through his family and mates and raised enough dosh to buy 20 bikes. After that, there was no more excuses for being late to school.
For all his traveling, he is appallingly ignorant on current affairs. Massive earthquakes occur, governments are toppled, all without his notice. His sister Sophia was astonished to learn that he didn’t know the name of the NZ PM from a few years ago.
But he does know that Calvino is the author of The Baron of the Trees and that the late Ryzard Kapucinski was the reporter with a poet’s eye.
When he was born, I took one look at that rubbery face, and I said this kid, with his grandfather’s Tatar complexion, has to be called ‘Max.’ Joellen called him ‘Avi’, a very popular name in Israel.
His Jewish mum would say he is a mensch.
Some things come remarkably easy to him. He’s one of those people who, like his equally clever brother, Sam, can pick up a guitar and sing a Ben Harper song as easily as breathing. He writes plays. He is a good actor, especially character roles, just like his grandfather, the late Jerry Duckor, who would have exchanged his judge’s robes for the boards in a jiff.
He’s as smart as a tack. Unlike his old man who, at university, was about as clever as a sack of spuds. He can do that stuff in his sleep. A law degree followed an arts degree, then a masters in creative writing from the IIML at Victoria University. Although, thank God, he says writing is the hardest thing he’s ever done, he’s a born writer.
He’s kept a journal since he was a boy.
I’ve never seen him in a suit. I don’t think I ever will. If I did, I would assume it was an imposter.
He has some annoying traits. Like he’ll look up and go hmm as if he hasn’t properly heard what was said to him.
Hasn’t properly heard – like bullshit. He persists in using my coffee mug – no matter how many times I tell him, Listen, it’s part of my writing gear. It’s as if he is suddenly deaf. Gets a look on him as if he’s getting ready to run a police roadblock.
Still, we forgive and forget, don’t we. I was as proud as I have ever been to hear his fellow contestants shower him with praise in the final episode of Survivor the other night. Friendship has always sat at the core of who he is. When he told Sala, one of the show’s more charismatic players, what he’d been up to in his time out of the country, Sala apparently said to him, We need you here, bro.
Indeed we do.
And now that he is, and one hundred grand richer, at last I can invoice him.
The Spinoff Review of Books is brought to you by Unity Books.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.