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 8: Everyone’s talking about it

The road to Bluff is desolate and beautiful. But it’s also so isolated. It seems like the sort of place where people would only willingly live if they had a really good reason, like running away from extreme levels of parking fines.

The sky was grey, but the landscape had a strange brightness to it. It was like someone who was trying to be a goth, but had a naturally cheery disposition.

So what do you do when you’re in Bluff? You drive down to the end of Marine Parade and you pretend you’re at the actual bottom of New Zealand take a photo of the signs. New York 15008km! London 18958km! Dog Island 6km! It’s a helpful sign. I mean, once you get to Bluff, the only thing you can really do is leave.

A tourist family took turns at glumly having their photo taken by a sign for a B&B called Lands End, as if they needed some sort of written proof that they were at the end of the land in New Zealand. Scenic Foveau Strait was not enough.

Pull the chain

Also along Marine Parade is the former paua house. After Fred and Myrtle were mortally disestablished, the house was sold to private owners who appear to be in the process of painting the previously aqua green house a sedate grey-blue. It was a eerie seeing the exterior of the lounge that I had previously visited in its Canterbury replica form.

But maybe that’s for the best. When we’re in Bluff, we can pretend the paua house never existed. We can pretend there’s always been an ordinary bungalow at that address.

And when we’re not in Bluff, we can pretend it’s 1995 and the paua house is open for visitors, and you can come in and have a cup of tea with Myrtle and admire Fred’s shell collection. And we can smile and be glad that New Zealand still has such wonderful people.

Heading back through Invercargill, I found my escape route was blocked. State Highway 1 had been cordoned off for some sort of celebration. Strangely, there didn’t seem to be a detour route marked out. Well, why would you want to leave Invercargill? What, do you not like it or something?

I decided to investigate on foot, and discovered there was going to be a parade in honour of the Southland Stags rugby team having won the Ranfurly Shield. The last time Southland had won the hallowed Log o’ Wood was 1959, so this was a pretty big deal for the area.

Soon the parade started, including the Stags and some special VIP guests: Mayor Tim, local MP Bill and the head of the Invercargill Licensing Trust. The crowd was ecstatic.

Bill and Tim

The Southland R was all around me, but sadly no one thought of emphasising this in the name of southern pride and yelling “The Stags reveRsed the cuRse!”

Mayor Tim gave a speech. “Isn’t it a great day to be a Southlander?” The crowd roared in agreement. Yes, it was a great day. Now, today, Southland was the absolute centre of the universe.

Mayor Tim said the whole country was talking about Southland. They were even talking about Southland in Mongolia, such was the awesome achievement of the Stags. The reaction from the crowd suggested that everyone believed this.

One of the Stags got the crowd to do the Southland rugby chant. It goes like this: “South-land. South-land.” It’s shouted in a slow monotone, like you were searching the park for your lost dog and had got a bit tired of calling his name.

I began to wonder what would have happened if someone had engaged me in conversation and made a comment to me about the Wellington Lions. Would I say, “Oh, well, you’d just better watch out because the next time you play the Lions, they will smash you!!!!!”? Or would my response be more like, “Uh, yes, good old rugby football game. With the ball on the field and through the hoop, I mean, over the net? Wait, what?”

Of course, by the time there’s a fired-up crowd lining the streets, it’s not really about rugby. It’s about a fruity little town at the bottom of the country enjoying a bit of fun and attention, and feeling like they still do properly matter.

From the Bluff bluff

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

Part 4: White rental car blues

I rented a car ($20, cheap) and was upgraded from a Corolla to a Camry. Not that it made any difference from the driver’s seat, but perhaps people would gaze at me and think, “Oh, she’s a driving Camry – a sensible family sedan. Good choice.”

My aim was to head for Akaroa, and I managed to get on the right road using both road signs and the knowledge that I was heading for the only non-flat land for miles around.

The landscape is somewhat startling. It’s flat, flat, flat, flat, then suddenly twisting, winding hills. And I drove along these roads, avoiding the tourist spots and enjoying not getting carsick. It had been about 18 months since I’d last driven, and it was fun.

Finally I turned a corner and there was the harbour. It was a brilliant blue, almost milky, and the bright sunshine bedazzled the landscape. And you know what? It was at that moment that my road trip mix CD played Rufus Wainwright’s “Oh What a World”. It’s hard not to feel in love with the world at a time like that.

I parked, and set off exploring New Zealand’s French village on foot.

O sleepy town of Akaroa

At Akaroa museum, it was strongly suggested that I start my experience by watching a short film about Akaroa. The film dated from the late ’90s and had a slightly dark tone. Recounting the geological history of Akaroa, the narrator almost sounded saddened that the original volcanic islands had eventually become joined to the mainland. But – sigh – I suppose you can’t fight progress, even if it takes thousands of years to happen.

The museum also had a small display on the changing attitudes towards sunbathing, from woolen bathers to skimpy bikinis and our modern use of sunscreen. This outraged a pink man who ranted, “It’s bullshit. Black people don’t get melanoma because they’re used to the sun. The same thing will happen to us – we’ll get used to the sun and stop getting skin cancer. And it doesn’t help when the government tells us to stay out of the sun.”

Akaroa prides itself on being a bit French, but its Frenchness is really only obvious in that some of the streets have French names. It’s hard to buy into the French thing when there are people playing cricket on the village green and the local fish ‘n’ chip shop is doing a roaring trade.

If you want French life in the South Pacific, go to New Caledonia or Tahiti. If you want a lovely volcanic harbourside village, go to Akaroa.

Chips

I jumped back in the Camry and journeyed over hilly Banks Peninsula to Lyttelton. Lyttelton exists as the port for Canterbury. The harbourside area is full of shipping containers and other side effects of modern life, which leaves town’s main street halfway up a steep hill.

I stopped for a coffee, but ended up cutting my visit short as I was forced to flee a drunken bachelor party making their way down the street. The sight of a cheap nylon Afro wig on a whitey is nature’s way of telling you to stay away. (See also: Wellington Sevens weekend).

My escape route was Sumner Road, a meandering hillside road that is but a barrier away from being the sort of road that buses plunge off. It was at this point that I threw caution to the wind and put on REM’s “Out of Time”, one of the four CDs I’d taken with me.

But a huge discrepancy between my memory of the opening track, “Radio Song”, and how it sounds today. Michael Stipe’s comedy complaints about bad radio became the unintended soundtrack as I undulated along Bus Plunge Boulevard. (Oh, why couldn’t it have been “Near Wild Heaven”?)

It was getting late. I had to return the car to the airport and go to the wedding reception (which I did, and it was lovely in all the best ways).

One of the easiest places to find in an unfamiliar city is the airport. You don’t even need to navigate – just follow the aeroplane symbols.

But sometimes it’s more satisfying to go somewhere you’ve never been before.

Part 3: B-Right-On

New Brighton, or Brighton, or B-Right-On is a seaside suburb. So is Sumner, but the difference is that while Sumner is quite nice, Brighton is a bit shit.

Bedposts

The trouble with New Brighton is that it used to be a boom town. For a couple of decades, it was the only place in New Zealand with Saturday morning trading. People would flock there, and it got to the point that the main street was pedestrianised to cope with the weekend swell.

But now it feels almost like a ghost town. The main street stretches out long with ’70s era retail buildings, but they are now occupied by discount shops, second-hand shops or just empty.

Though there is a glimmer of the new and the lively. At the end of the main street stands the new library building. (It has a bar attached, which is a nice consideration.) And jutting out from the library is the New Brighton pier, because if a place is called Brighton, then it must have a pier.

But this ain’t no English-style pleasure pier. It’s a fishing pier. It’s like a long pedestrian motorway out to the middle of the ocean, where all you can do is sit and admire the expanse of sea, or fish.

After walking the 300 metres to the end, I found a bogan fisherman giving some Chinese fishermen tips in a strange mock broken English. “I buy bucket from North Island,” he explained. “Cheap. Courier them. Only 25 dollar. Engineering shop. Hardened steel.”

Suddenly excitement erupted. One of the fishermen had caught a kawahai. It flipped and flopped and bled all over the pier. Fortunately clean-up hoses have been provided for dealing with such bloody messes.

Bay watch

The pier lead me back to the library, where I found myself just in time for a presentation on the history of the Edmonds Cookery Book. “Did you win a prize,” an old lady sitting next to me asked. Well, no, but it turns out she had won something for writing a short story about the Edmonds cookbook.

We watched a 1955 short Edmonds promotional film called “Cookery Nook”. It’s a pro-Edmonds propaganda comedy, showing a bumbling dad’s baking attempts being sorted out by his resourceful daughter and her home economics class school pals. You see, being a good cook is as much about planning and saving time as it is about making delicious food. But maybe this love of time-saving has mutated into our modern love of takeaway joints.

A guest chef revealed to the audience that a lot of cafes will use recipes from the Edmonds Cookery Book. Those Afghans, the ginger crunch, the Louise cake – it’s all Edmonds, baby.

So why bother baking ginger crunch at home when you can go to a cafe and get a nice slice of it made from exactly the same recipe as the Edmonds one? Oh, I suppose there’s the joy of cooking; the togetherness of eating.

But there was to be no togetherness with my lunch. I found a cafe and ordered a relatively harmless looking item of food called a “Mexi-bean burrito”. While this was doing a few ceremonial laps in the microwave, a staff member sprayed my table with something called Revive. It had the opposite effect on my spirits.

Is this the future that 1950s home economics teachers prepared us for?

Part 2: The house that wasn’t there

Simon and David were two businessmen in their mid 40s. David was visiting Christchurch and it was Simon’s job to give his colleague a tour of the city. Today they were visiting the Canterbury Museum and had stumbled across the Bluff Paua House exhibit around the same time I did.

But before we were allowed into the replica of Bluff couple Fred and Myrtle Flutey’s front room, we were first ushered into an anteroom and were required to watch a context-setting audio-visual presentation to help explain why there was half a seaside house filled with paua shells inside a museum in urban Canterbury.

“It’s Kiwiana, David,” Simon explained as the video started. “I thought it was just a house with a few pauas,” David said.

I’m suspicious of anything described as Kiwiana, because it all seems to just be things from the collective childhood of Baby Boomers. The video name-checked all the usual suspects – Jandals, pavlova, Buzzy Bee and, of course, paua shells. David was suspicious too, so Simon further explained, “It’s part of our heritage – Lemon & Paeroa, tomato sauce, fish and chips.”

The video over, we made our way into the replica house. It smelt clean, un-lived-in. “It’s quite a small lounge, isn’t it,” Simon observed. Well, it’s not like anyone actually lives there.

Simon and David didn’t take long to see the paua room and they soon headed for the exit. Taking one final look around, David said, “It’s ‘Fred’ and it’s ‘Myrtle’ but it’s just a bunch of paua shells.” And I realised this was true.

When the Fluteys were alive, to visit their crazy paua-shell house you had to travel all the way to the bottom of the country – the bottom of the world! – and then go inside this eccentric old couple’s actual house, with the knowledge that this wasn’t just a museum space; it was their real living room.

Reconstructed as a museum exhibit, it comes across more as a memorial to both the Fluteys and to Kiwiana. It’s a crazy frozen moment of something that doesn’t actually exist any more.

But in the absence of the Fluteys, has Canterbury Museum now taken on the role of the eccentric collector/hoarder?

Here’s this serious museum with its dioramas of pre-European Maori, collection of taxidermied birds and hall of Antarctic exploration, and yet there, lurking in a corner, is a pretend house filled with paua shells and other kitsch objects. (Even Te Papa at its most manic was never like this.)

And like the Fluteys, it almost seems that it’s something the museum hasn’t set out to do deliberately. It’s just found itself with a big collection of shells and done the museum world equivalent of opening your seaside home to busloads of tourists.

So let’s stop pretending that the paua house at Canterbury museum belongs to Fred and Myrtle. No, Canterbury Museum is your great-uncle who has built a replica house in his shed and is arranging shells on the wall for the tourists.

Shrine

Part 1: Four days, maximum

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.