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This article is taken from PN Review 113, Volume 23 Number 3, January - February 1997.

Theory: In Search of my Hero John Needham

When the soldiers drinking at the bar ask me where I'm from, I hesitate. Here in the United States my dual nationality - New Zealand and British - serves as a minor instrument of social research.

'New Zealand,' I reply in a moment.

'You don't sound like a New Zealander,' rejoins a man wearing sergeant's stripes.

I didn't think backwoods Americans were supposed to know so much about the non-American world. I explain that I'm a migrant. The sergeant - lean-faced, with bushy eyebrows and hard brown eyes - laughs drily and launches into an account of a Kiwi (he gives the word an ironic emphasis) who passed through here about a year ago; he stayed long enough, it seems, to take on a fence-building contract, then left just after it was completed - and just before all the fences collapsed. I smile; the story rings half-true perhaps. The lean features sharpen, and their owner progresses, naturally enough, from fencing to sheep - New Zealand's fifty million sheep and its three million human beings. Another dry laugh. I'm surprised again by his knowledge (his figures are accurate enough), but not by his tone; citizens of great powers tend to find small countries amusing simply on principle. I almost wish I'd tested his reaction to 'Britain' instead; being a soldier he might have recalled 'our' Argentinian expedition. Old and deracine as I think I am, I'm still prey to this sort of impulse.

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