Wellington is quite a nice place, Ron the taxi driver tells me. Well, at least it was the last time he went there – which was in the ’80s, when he was in the circus. Though, he says, he did have trouble finding a hotel that would serve him a drink.
The pressure of conversation is weighing on me. It’s a long way from Dunedin city to the airport. I know what I’m supposed to say – “The circus, Ron! You were in the circus? How does a bloke like you end up in the circus?”
But I couldn’t. I was too tired. It was too early in the morning and I was fighting off a cold that had emerged a couple of days earlier. All I wanted to do was get on the plane and fly back to Wellington, with all its bars and circuses.
The last time I’d been in the south of the South Island was on a family holiday in 1993, which I like to remember as being full of majestic scenery, with REM’s “Automatic For the People” playing on my Walkman, but yet my diary insists that it was the most boring holiday ever and that I listened to that new Nirvana “Incesticide” album.
So, the South Island held a strange allure. It was big, empty, full of tourists and I was going to go there on holiday some day. No. We were going to go there on holiday some day. No. I was going to go there on holiday some day.
Then Megan and Ned in Christchurch announced they were getting married on Labour weekend, so there was my motivation to finally get down to that part of the country – four days in Christchurch, four days in Dunedin.
I climbed to the top of the Christchurch Cathedral tower to orientate myself with the city. After being shamed out fitness-wise by an old lady, I discovered that Cathedral Square is essentially hemmed in by tall buildings, obscuring any panoramas that may have previously existed.
But maybe the cathedral itself would offer some sort of insight into the Christchurch character. In the sacred space of the cathedral, a talkative fellow observed, “People kept asking, ‘Who are you?’ And John Lennon said, ‘I am the walrus. I am the egg man.’ Yeah, well, what is the egg man?” Hey, maybe John Lennon was right about the whole “bigger than Jesus” thing.
I stumbled across a little area by a pedestrian mall. Loud classical music was being piped out into the space – youth repellant! Because classical music is so naff, drunken youths won’t loiter around that little area. They won’t sit around drinking cans of cheap beer and yelling “Are you drunk yet! Are you drunk yet! Oh, get some more inside you!” They won’t scare off the tourists.
I found the Whitcoulls that I’d last visited in 1993. Back then, I bought an issue of Film Threat magazine, which introduced me to the radical idea that there are good films that never make it to your local multiplex, and the even more radical idea that if you don’t like the films out there, you can make your own.
So I checked out the magazine rack, wondering if I’d have a similar inspirational experience. But the only magazine that caught my eye was “Ponies!” magazine, and that was for all the wrong reasons.
Back in the Square, some tourists were talking to a local (or was he talking to them?). “If you’re serious about seeing Christchurch, you need five, six days minimum. You can’t do it in four.”
But I only had a total four days to see Christchurch. What if I missed out on some vital Cantabrian experience because I was selfishly flying on to Dunedin? What if I never experienced the real Christchurch and was left with a false impression of the flat city?
Well, I had three more days to find out.