Driving to Picton, bike on rack, is a lot easier than biking, although, because I’ve biked it several times, I know the road and the landscape intimately. I park the car, $6 a day is very reasonable. The ferry is late so I take the bike into town and pop into the library, but the populist selection of books is somehow terrifying. I delve into the latest version of Mills and Boon, printed on the thinnest of paper and wonder if I could write such stuff if paid enough to do so. Probably not, so I head to Waikawa Bay, getting a look at the back streets of Picton. Pretty flash. Only a couple of remnants of the old days.
Back at the terminal a group of middle aged bikies talk rough, in contrast to a bevy of the performative Nelson middle class in loose garments and designer hats. Trucks get bigger by the year, become terrifying, in a different way from the Picton Library. Maybe terror is the characteristic of the modern age. I read Portugese author, Jose Saramajo for the first time. He writes a working class stream of consciousness – a potter, his daughter, a dog and a security guard son in law who works in a massive mall complex live in a village on the outskirts of an industrial slum. The relationship with the dog is beautifully described and there is a delicate humanism to his work.
On the ferry I become aware of the retired gentleman’s uniform of short sleeve chequered shirt, shorts and neat socks, in contrast to the billowing hair and tee shirt of a Chinese lass at the prow recording a video. People settle, the truck drivers have gone to their cabins, a man studies sheets of technical data, someone talks loudly about their trip to Queenstown, two toddlers move around with the intentness of maintaining balance, a little like hyper old men. As I get something to eat I am still shocked at waving my card at a screen and somehow, magically and instantly, money is transferred. It feels like it will lead to no good. What happens if you lose your card or it’s stolen? In an era of security it feels ridiculously insecure.
The previous day’s Covid announcement means no one’s wearing a mask, yet I thought wearing masks on public transport was mandatory? Not on ferries it seems. It’s been reviewed and changed? Our being in the world is being regulated minutely. Yesterday, perhaps everyone was masked, but then cabinet decided. I get an email message. The PSA where we are having the seminar to which I’m going have decided to be sterner than cabinet and won’t let us use the venue. Panic. But then the Anglicans will provide. It’s all a bit nuts.
The rocky hills float past and it’s easy to imagine a whaling station. There seem to be a number of marriages of convenience on board, the Pakeha men always older, the wives contained. The technical manual has sent the reader to sleep. He sits, hands together as if praying. An elderly couple say the obvious. Perhaps that’s what happens, like children you end up saying the obvious : dog, cat, moo cow. I try and assess which of the blokes are in their eighties as opposed to the seventies. Is there a difference? Something in the legs perhaps?
A ferry passes, going to Picton. Heads crane. An event. Look, there’s a ferry. Rest homes must be hellish. Although most likely, consciousness is reduced. We reach the open sea, another event, but it is exquisitely calm, Te Ika a Maui a sliver of land, like a drawing on an old fashioned map. An old man in a cap reminds me of another old man−a certain irascible quality…who is it I’m reminded of? Tip of the tongue… it doesn’t matter. All is calm. A woman walks past in a green tee shirt with Huffer Huffer Huffer written on the back. What on earth does it mean? And then a man with the biggest beer belly I’ve ever seen. The young staff seem genuinely happy in their work. Another elderly gentleman reads a book called The Compassion Project .Tell that to Samuel Beckett. Although there was a line in Endgame: A sort of compassion. It comes to me. The irascible one: one of our councillors. Spagnum Moss grower.
People go out to stare at the approaching city, the bare hills of southern Eastbourne on the right, the perched houses of Seatoun on the left. Memories of the Wahine disaster. There’s a sense of anticipation now. The drivers will be waking up and getting ready to fire up their rigs and drive through the night. My daughter sends me pictures of the Sydney park where she walks her dog and a photo of her growing puku. She’s blooming. A heavily built man in shorts sits, massive legs vibrating, first one, then the other, then both, a stern expression, a sergeant major type. Worried about something. I’m glad I don’t live with him.
A ship is pretty amazing, able to carry all those trucks and cars, all these people, all these stories, simply because it’s a container of air. I eat the last of my bag of chips, read the final pages of my book. The Portugese family go to live in the mall, but it doesn’t work out. Accepting precariousness, they head for the road. The final sentence: Coming soon, public opening of Plato’s cave, an exclusive attraction, unique in the world. Buy your ticket now. I don my pack and head for the lower deck.