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Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée, car chacun pense en être bien pourvu.

Common sense is the best distributed thing in the world : everyone thinks they have plenty.

René Descartes, Le Discours de la méthode, 1639


New Zealanders are to Australians as Canadians are to Americans, but less aggressively; they normally rank with the Dutch for all-round multinational sympathetic behavior. They also tend to get lumped in with their more strident neighbors, which they always resent.

The Brisbane boy scouts who had taken the same bus to Herat as Blackie and Whitey had showed up with a pair of Kiwis who, it transpired, had no desire to be viewed as part of an Antipodean quartet. Ed and Barb, the couple from New Zealand, were very healthy, quite sharp and extremely polite, so they adroitly manœuvred the Okkers into committing to a departure date in time to discover a pressing need to, ah, spend some time contemplating the famous tiles on the fifteenth-century mosque. Barb was a blonde abstainer who looked like an angel and took on all comers at chess; Ed was a friendly type who accepted the occasional toke to be sociable and after a couple of days shocked the assembled company by saying – not announcing, admitting, apologizing or even bragging, just stating because it happened to come up – that he was coming off a stint in the British army.

"Not much on the politics," he elaborated, "But you got a lot of time off and the skiing was great. That's how I met Barb."

"In the army?" puzzled Blackie.


"Check," interjected the cherub in question, with a practised lack of obvious devilry. Whitey was bent over the board in deep concentration and flicked his hair behind his right ear to clear his view and discourage an importunate fly. "I was an instructor," she continued, "and they assigned me all the English-speaking guys."

"I'd done a little back home," he said, "In the South Island ..."

"That's where I learned too ..."

"But I thought I'd play it down a bit ..."

"Ed needed extra attention, that was obvious ..."

"At the start. And she was a professional ..."

"Ski instructor."

"What else?"

The angel blushed and made as if to fling a pawn in his direction, but restrained herself. Everyone laughed except Whitey, who reached forward and took her Bishop with his Rook, promoting a losing exchange that only postponed the inevitable. Barb turned her attention back to the game. She knew exactly how she was going to wind it down but she knew that Whitey didn't and she gave him a chance to catch up by going over the position one more time before taking the Rook with her Knight.

"So anyway," continued Ed, "I made her a better offer."

"Oh yes?" countered Barb. "Where's my paycheck, then?"

"The pay's not so good," he admitted, "But the benefits are excellent and there's no taxes."

"But the working conditions," she laughed. "Anyway I didn't pay taxes in Austria. We left before they caught up with me." She looked half-proud at her outlaw credentials.

"Ah, yeah, but the company's all right though, isn't it?"


They were waiting to get home before they got married and figured this was their big chance to see everything before they got tied down to the farm – her parents ran a country store and his family mostly raised sheep – and the mortgage and the business of raising kids. How level-headed can you get? They were not reflective types, just well-brought-up young people who believed deeply in doing unto others pretty much the way you'd like them to do unto you and found that in their experience it worked quite well. How were they supposed to know that all the different cultures they'd visited and all the nice people they'd run into along the way would leave them feeling just the slightest bit empty when they returned to the, so to speak, green green grass of home? Their folks thought they were nuts when they took their two kids with them to teach agriculture in the Philippines, and when they came back the press wrote them up as half-saints or something. This staggered them. They were just Ed and Barb, they explained.

They never did figure out this was anything special.