Epilogue: Oh, that’ll do

Things from my notebook that I couldn’t wrangle into any sort of narrative

Heroin capital of NZ

After I’d checked in at the hotel in Christchurch, I went up to my room, swiped my room card and opened what I thought was my hotel room. Instead I found myself in a small space, faced with three doors. I felt like a character in an adventure video game.
You are in a corridor. In front of you are three doors.
> Turn RIGHT.
> Use CARD on DOOR.
> Open DOOR.
> Walk into ROOM.
You are standing in your hotel room. It is quite nice.

Christchurch smells like cigarettes, like the late ’70s, like an small European city that’s on a budget airline route.

All the nighties in Ballantyne’s seemed to be those neck-to-ankle jobs. Not many people know this, but these nighties are actually classed as a contraceptive device under the Medicines Act (1981).

Frump!

I was on the free bus, sitting on a seat that faced into the bus. A man across the aisle kept giving me the finger. I was about to flip him off back, when I realised he was doing it to his friend who was jogging alongside the bus, giving bus guy the finger. That’s true friendship.

At the museum, a group of schoolboys observed a mannequin representing a forefather of Christchurch with a hearty beard. “There’s George Bush,” one of them remarked.

George, bush, in happier times.

I had a really good latte at C1 Espresso. It tasted like honey – not sweet but mellifluous.

The central Christchurch bus exchange is right fancy. It’s like a domestic airport terminal, with waiting areas, seats, screens full of departure times, and sliding doors that open when a bus is ready to be boarded.

I went to the local Regent cinema and was greeted with, “Hi! Are you here for the Taste of Italy evening?!” No. “Oh. That’s all right.” The cinema I ended up in had its main entrance below the screen. Whoever designed it like that obviously hates movies.

Q. What would you do if you suddenly found $20,000 in your bank account?
A. Big OE! You can get to Sydney for, like, $100 and I’d go there and stay with my sister and have girls over all the time and heaps of parties and stuff.

Music

“He owes me. He owes me $25.”

A half-arsed idea about the cone being a recurring shape in Canterbury – the Chalice sculpture, the airport control tower, souvlaki. And what is a cone but a rollled up plain?

Discussed with Pauline the concept of a “bad coffee town”.

I thought I saw a light on in an upstairs window at the old Post Office, but it turns out to be a window boarded up with plywood.

The old Post Office looks like it would have been the envy of New Zealand back in the day. At the annual Postmaster’s conference, did the Dunedin Postmaster General say, “Gosh, it’s so hard getting the windows cleaned all the way up on the sixth floor of the GPO.” And the Tauranga Postmaster would be like “Yeah, woteva.”

A lot of women in Southland have the same haircut. It’s short and very functional. Possibly a bit spiky on top, with some lady-burns down by the ears. Maybe gelled out the back like a gunshot exit wound. And usually with some sort of concession to femininity, like stripy ’90s-style DIY highlights.

The Otago Settlers Museum has a video reenacting what seasickness would have been like for the first European migrants. This was a popular viewing choice among the museum visitors. Yarrr! Oi be sick!

Three pears were arranged on a windowsill at the Dunedin Airport. Oh, sorry – the still-life fruit models convention was last week, etc.

Pairs

Part 10: The case of the exploding bear

There comes a time in the life of any New Zealander from the generation known as “X”, when one must look back and wonder what happened to the Play School toys.

Big Ted, Manu and Humpty now live at Te Papa, the sign at the Otago Settlers Museum says. The bear, the wahine and the curious round gent are most likely enjoying life in the lush, climate-controlled national museum. “Aw yee-yah,” Big Ted no doubt exclaims to Buzzy Bee. “We had a TV show. We were all famous ‘n’ shit. It was platinum, baby. VIP.”

Jemima, the sign also notes, is awol. Is it true that she went to Sydney in the late-80s in order to further her career in television, only to find life in a new country harder than she expected? And is it true there’s crazy old junkie lady staggering around Kings Cross, with dyed ginger hair, muttering to herself about something called “the round window”?

Little Ted, however, can be found at the Otago Settlers Museum. But paying a visit to him will not result in a warm fuzzy wash of Generation X nostalgia, suitable for turning into a Mr Vintage T-shirt design.

This is because Little Ted ain’t got no head. He was ritually decapitated on the last day of filming in Dunedin. “Nya ha ha!” the production crew no doubt evilly cackled as the explosives were detonated, resulting in a cascade of yellow fur and kapok. “Who’s the pretty boy TV star now, eh?”

While the headless corpse of Little Ted is on display at the Otago Settlers Museum, it’s certainly not in a prominent spot. Ted lurks down a dark alcove, well away from the more glamorous parts of the museum. If you want to visit him, you have to seek him out, past the exhibited bucket of KFC, through the eerie hall of portraits of Dunedin’s settlers, and down a narrow corridor that was possibly a route to a fire exit in a former life. Or perhaps you’ll just stumble across him and find yourself a little shocked to see his remains.

Little Ted is a reminder of what can happen to those who are drawn into the appealing world of showbiz. One day you can be starring in a daily television programme; the next you’ve had your head blown up (for a laugh!) by your (former) colleagues.

It’s a cruel world.

Little Ted ain't got no head

Part 9: Pleasantly weary

I didn’t meant to go to the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. It was an accident, I swear.

See, I’d been basing my travels on my 1969 edition of the Shell Guide to New Zealand (edited by Maurice Shadbolt, cover by Colin McCahon), so anything opened in the last 40 years was off my radar.

But the Dunedin Railway Station came highly recommended. “Its opulence recalls great days of rail travel,” extolled Mau-Mau. I explored the magnificence of the Flemmish Renaissance style station buildings and the lonely platform.

Continuing my appreciation, I wandered upstairs, and there I found the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. I didn’t even know it existed, and yet there it was. Lured in by sheet of A4 paper promising “163 athletes” and “35 sports”, I paid my $5 admission and entered, not really sure what to expect other than something involving sports, fame and… a hall.

Straight away I was in the rugby section. A small box tempted me: “Press the white button for a whiff of the odour of New Zealand rugby.” Feeling like Alice in Rugbyland, I pressed the button and the faint whirr of an electric motor started. What olfactory awfulness was this strange box unleashing? Soon an odor reached my nostrils. Deep Heat.

The box kept whirring and the Deep Heat odour kept spreading. I was trying to appreciate the impact that Wilson Whineray had on the game of rugby union, but the Deep Heat kept getting all up in my nose. I had to get out of the rugby area.

Boxes

Most of the people or teams being honoured by the Hall of Fame had a glass case dedicated to them. Cases would usually include such items as trophies, certificates, books, uniforms, photos and yellowing newspaper clippings. Lots of yellowing newspaper clippings.

Strangest of all was a 1983 Auckland Star front page celebrating the New Zealand rowing team’s gold medal victory at the World Champs in Duisberg. But just under the glorious headline is the latest story on the disapperance of schoolgirl Kirsa Jensen: “Police believe girl kidnapped or killed”.

The most interesting item the Hall had to offer was Richard Hadlee’s list of “motivation” taped inside his case. It had short phrases such as “Visualise – dream and know you can do it”, “Robot – record and replay the good times”, “Enjoyment” and “Never get tired – just pleasantly weary”.

Motivation!

And that says more about the greatest New Zealand cricketers ever than an old cricket bat or photo ever could.

I realised there was something missing from the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame – video footage of sports. Glass boxes full of memorabilia don’t quite capture the appeal of sport. A signed photo of a yacht is not the same as commentator Peter Montgomery annoyingly shrieking “The America’s Cup is now New Zealand’s cup!”

Television has brought sporting events to so many people, and yet there was no ability to view these monumental sporting moments that athletes were being honoured for. The only video footage I can remember seeing was what appeared to be a real-time film of a man swimming the Cook Strait.

The Hall of Fame should have a think about selling some of the crappier items of memorabilia on Trade Me (Chris Lewis’ biography will get you $10 on Buy Now), and work with NZ On Screen to get a really good website with more information on the inductees than just a brief bio. Get some video clips of significant sporting events, some interviews and make it more interesting than a box of yellowing newspaper clippings.

Although, you can’t quite convey the odour of New Zealand rugby on the web.

On my way out, two British tourists were dithering as to whether they should go in. “It’ll mostly be rugby, cricket and athletics,” one said.

But wait, chaps, there’s also Ned Shewry, the 1912 wood chopping champion.

Part 6: Pinned and mounted like a butterfly

If I ran a museum, it would not have a mannequin of an historic person, such as a miner, a blacksmith or a fisherman. And it would not have a motion-triggered recording of said character talking about what life is like in his historical time, voiced by a New Zealand actor struggling with an accent wavering between Irish, Scottish and Cornish.

“Oh, I didn’t see ye there! Heh! Now, now, sit yeself down. Arthur is me name, but ye can call me Pegknob O’Hooligan. I’m just making some new boots for my fair Tess. Aye, she’s a bonnie lass. I came to Crappeville three years ago in search of work. Where I came from, well, let’s just say things were tough. It’s still hard work here, but the local hoo-ers, well, they make things easy for a fella, if you know what I mean. My Tess, she’s the barmaid down at the King’s Arse. Says I should leave ‘er alone and stop bothering ‘er, but I know she’s just playing hard to get. She’ll make a fine wife for me as soon as she stops playing with them other menfolk. And I hope her eye clears up and her teeth grow back soon. Aye. Well, been nice chatting with ye. I’d better get these boots finished. Cheerio.”

Otago Museum (which had one of these) is a decent museum, but it seems to be torn between being a traditional, old-fashioned museum and a cool modern museum. Exhibit A: butterflies.

Fruit again?

The Discovery World Tropical Rainforest is a three-storey hothouse full of tropical plants and lots of butterflies. For $9.50 you can escape the cold south and enjoy the warmth and lushness and pretty butterflies. Sometimes the cheeky butterflies might even land on you!

On the top floor of the oldest part of the museum is the Animal Attic. It sounds like a “Hey kids! Science is fun!” kind of area, but it’s a classic Victorian museum collection of insects with pins through them, animal bones, taxidermied critters. And a case full of dead butterflies, carefully pinned in place to ensure they could never move, even in death.

So did the huge collection of dead butterflies somehow inspire the small collection of living butterflies? Did someone have a peyote dream where all the butterflies in the cases came to live, leading to a grand vision of living butterflies in the museum?

Dead butterflies

But perhaps there’s a place for both living and dead butterflies. Maybe it’s like the Mexican Day of the Dead, where we remember those who have gone before us, those who have died so that we may flutter as free as a… butterfly?

Or maybe it’s just the result of an aging museum trying to stay relevant in today’s modern digital age.

Meanwhile, I’m hearing the Southland R all over Dunedin. The normally silent R in the “ur” sound, suddenly comes out of hiding. (This is called a partially-rhotic accent, as opposed to standard New Zealand English which is non-rhotic.)

“Look at the tuRtles on the eaRth.”
“We had to move fuRther into the subuRbs.”
“A buRgeR would be peRfect.”

The amateur linguist in me wants to embrace this as part of what makes New Zealand English what it is. I want to celebrate this for the colour it gives to speech. But I can’t quite get there. Because to my lazy North Island ears, people with the Southland R sound like pirates.

Part 5: Holiday makers

“Hagley Park is the second-largest manicured park in the world. It’s the largest in the southern hemisphere.” The airport shuttle driver provided a commentary for the English tourists in the van. “It’s a real asset for the city. I always love seeing people walk along the river, jog along it.”

It was a cheerful, sunny Sunday morning. My four days in Christchurch were up and my itinerant itinerary was demanding that I jump on an aeroplane and fly to Dunedin. But it was such a nice day it seemed like it would have been more enjoyable to make the five-hour journey on the ground, listening to good road-trip music.

But I saved my road trip tunes and instead got on a plane and journeyed into the gothic world of green, purple, gold and grey, grey, grey Dunedin.

By the time I had checked into my hotel, it was late in the afternoon. I was hungry so I stopped off at a kebab shop for a felafel. Now, I’ve had a fair few felafels and I know the basic felafel-making process – it doesn’t take long.

But somehow the lady in this kebaberie took a really really long time to warm up the pita bread. She stood by the hot plate and slowly moved the pita around with some tongs. While she did this, the Holiday Makers’ 1988 hit “Sweet Lovers” played in its entirety (3:51) on the radio. The kebab lady had a frozen look on her face, as if she had recently realised that none of her dreams had ever come true.

Was there anything I could do? I thought about telling her some fun facts about the song.

“Hey, kebab lady! “Sweet Lovers” is a cover version of an obscure Bill Withers song called “We Could be Sweet Lovers”, from his final studio album, 1985’s “Watching You Watching Me”. Wellington covers band Holiday Makers faithfully covered it, but innovatively turned it into a duet.”

By this stage, the kebab lady would have started considering if there was life outside the kebab shop, and what it would be like to not have to work on a Sunday.

I would continue with more music trivia.

“It was a number-one hit single, and earned the Holiday Makers a fistful of awards at the 1988 New Zealand Music Awards, including Single of the Year, Best Video, Best Producer, Best Engineer, Most Promising Male Vocalist, Most Promising Female Vocalist, and Most Promising Group.”

This would inspire the kebab lady, making her wonder if such success would come to her one day if she set a goal and went after it.

“Sadly that promise was not to be realised. The ‘Makers fell victim to the curse of being a band whose first single was a cover version. Their follow-up single, “Waiting in the Sunshine”, flopped and they eventually took their place in New Zealand music history as beloved one-hit wonders.”

But, the kebab lady would realise, sometimes even something as glorious as a number one single can end up amounting to little if you don’t follow through on it. But at least you will have tried and enjoyed it. Yeah, we could be sweet lovers.

Finally my felafel was ready. It was cold.

Fornlorn