The Northern Advocate
COMMENT We’re steering cruisers towards life’s simple pleasures
Iknow there are many demands on your purse and times are tough. But if you can afford to give, however small the sum, you won’t find a better cause. We have set up a mission to cruise ship passengers.
I say a mission but we preach no gospel. Our only aim is to relieve suffering. And there is so much suffering. Were you here with us in Lyttelton, you’d do as we have done.
The earthquake of 2011 did us few favours. But it did destroy a wharf and put an end to the cruise ship business. The ships went elsewhere and, well, out of sight out of mind. Then came Covid and the cruel trade ceased in its entirety. The nightmare, it seemed, was over.
But no. The pandemic receded, wharves were rebuilt, and seemingly overnight the ships came back. And they are bigger than ever, floating apartment blocks, crammed with four, five, six thousand souls, reminiscent of nothing so much as those vertical pig farms now springing up in China.
Each morning I draw the curtain and there’s another one tied up and my heart sinks. Such floating misery. I snatch a bite of breakfast then head down the hill to do my charitable duty, collecting a gaggle of the kind-hearted and like-minded on the way. But however early we reach the wharf, it is already too late for some. Buses are lined up to collect them. The doors whoosh shut with pneumatic finality and they are whisked away for the day across the Canterbury plain, and up into the foothills of the Southern Alps, until they reach the hallowed place where Bog the Morphon, a computer-animated character by Jackson out of Tolkien, drew his magic sword and slew Clamidia, Queen of the Elfish people.
The bus disgorges them. They poke about, take photographs, eat lunch, ask questions of the guide, and then lumber back aboard. And if, on the long drive back as the sun sinks, they do not sit and wonder whether they have made most of this day that will not come again, and if they do not feel that somehow they’ve been duped, and that the sands of life are sifting through their fingers, well, I don’t know.
But for them, we can do nothing. We work with those who looked at Lyttelton from their cabin windows and saw the sheltered shady bay, the serried streets, the wooden bungalows and thought, seduced by quaintness, that here they’d spend the day. These are our mission.
We find them in the streets. They are unmistakable — the pastel shorts, the plump waists, the bright-white running shoes that never run — but far more telling is the way they glance at watches at 9.30 in the morning and realise with a lurch of dread that there is still so much day to fill.
They breakfasted on board, of course, at one of half a dozen feeding stations where the eggs and bacon, coffee and croissants never look like running out, an endless river of food, a three-times daily gorging. But it has robbed them of the need to eat, the one unfailing standby of the tourist. The sole alternative activity is shopping, and Lyttelton has just the single shopping street, and its few shops are strictly practical for local needs: dairy, chemist, supermarket, plus assorted bars.
When the cruisers realise that Lyttelton has nothing for them, it’s then that a sense of futility strikes. You can see it doing so. They literally stagger. And that’s when we step in.
We’ve commandeered a storage shed and scattered it with furniture in kitset form, not yet made up. If the cruisers want to sit they have to assemble their chairs. ‘What?’ they say. We shrug, apologise we haven’t had the time ourselves. Reluctantly, they go to it. We encourage them to work in little teams, perhaps to make a competition of it.
They soon become engrossed. They think. They act. They work. And quite remarkably, they smile. It’s lovely to behold.
The furniture assembled, we offer them a cup of tea. Some always wonder whether there’s perhaps a biscuit to go with it. No, no biscuit, sorry, but there are eggs and flour and oats and butter and that oven there and surely one of you . . . within minutes the mixing bowls are out and the little storage shed is ringing with happy laughter. And they are so proud of the biscuits they bake they take them out onto the street to give away.
To do, to make, to love, to laugh, to give, that is our creed and motto. We do not claim to cure. But we like to think we start them on a journey. And if you’d like to join us you are welcome.