Mr Dompling’s Secret


This story could start in a lot of places. I’m a little bit stage-frightened now that I am sitting down to write this, to tell the truth.

My grandmother wrote Mr Dompling’s Secret. It was published when I was three and was dedicated to me, as the first of her 14 grandchildren. Also there is a Katy in the story (a blonde-haired slip of a thing who bears more of a likeness to my younger sister than to me, as it transpires, but no one was to know that then, as my sister was only born the same year as Mr Dompling entered the world).

There’s a lot I could write about my grandmother, Didy, but not here. (Okay, well, just a little bit…) She is one ferociously wonderful, one-of-a-kind, totally unforgettable, light-up-a-room kind of woman. She is giving to a fault, passionate, attentive, acutely sensitive, always brimming with ideas, forever looking outside herself. 

Her elegance is of another era altogether. She is beautiful and bright, and a believer in magic.

She has always called me all the spring things. (I was a spring baby.)

But anyway, back to Mr Dompling.

Mr Dompling is a cellist, a lonely lover of music. He meets Katy and his life changes. [Well! Already I can sense you drawing the real-life parallels and I haven’t even hit publish or started to explain yet.]

When I met Simon (no, actually, when I knew Simon was the one for me, which was some years after I met him) I sometimes used to think of him as my Mr Dompling. It was sort of my own private joke. He was similarly sweet, similarly in love with music and similarly taken with a sweet young thing called Katy. Also he had a charming, shall we say, Domplingesque portliness about him.

So it’s fair to say that Mr Dompling became a part of our story in the very early days, at the turn of the century or thereabouts. Back in the days of Y2K and collapsing skies. Back in the days when we were eventually, finally, half-heartedly starting to grasp the idea of growing up.

Back then, in the early days, before we officially moved in together, we had a city house in Mt Cook where we lived during the week (my flat) and a beach house in Island Bay (his flat) where we went for the weekend. It was a pretty luxurious (but grossly impractical) way of living. But we were young and frivolous and hedonistic then, and… well, why the hell not?

[And – might I just point out – although we are older now, and still a bit frivolous, we do not have a beach residence any longer. We have a shed, and just the one mortgage.]

When we moved in together it was a logistical nightmare. Take two bookish clutter-lovers and try and condense every book and CD they ever owned (and refused to give away) into one, small, very motellish beige dwelling…. Everything got muddled. Things got shoved in boxes and carted around the country, finding refuge in reluctant family members’ garages.

Then one day, about a year or so ago, we were at Simon’s parents’ place in Hawkes Bay and we found Mr Dompling’s Secret on one of the bookshelves. I thought that, in all the mingling of our possessions into oneness, it was my copy. But there was something not quite right about it. It was softcovered, the Ashton Scholastic version. Mine was hardbacked, and pre the Ashton Scholastic edition. Simon’s mother knew better. When we presented the book to Simon he recognised it instantly. He had chosen the book and bought it through the Arrow Book Club, or whatever it was called. It was one of his favourite books. We had never discussed it before then.

It was one of those crazy moments. Little did he know, as he sat there as a child reading it, that in the future he was going to meet and marry the non-blonde Katy. It felt a little bit like fate. Like, quite unbeknownst to us, we had been moving all this time towards the Dompling Moment. I can’t really explain it, but it felt exactly right, and as it should be, if that makes sense. Simon really is my Mr Dompling, in more ways than I ever realised.

When we were in Christchurch last year, we told Didy and Robby, my grandfather, the story. Simon asked Didy to sign his 20+ year-old copy of the book. And here’s what she wrote.


2 Responses to “Mr Dompling’s Secret”

  1. 1 Simon Sweetman

    It’s a neat story.

  2. The more I look at the cover of this book the more I think I might have got it through the Arrow book club too. Next time I go home I’ll try and remember to check.

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