Tea with the Wizard

Took the day off yesterday, partly because I’d volunteered to help out with the Red Cross street appeal, and partly just because my annual leave is starting to build up again and HR are making noises that I really should be using it.  The trouble is there’s always something interesting going on at work, so I never want to miss anything (ok, so the real trouble is I’m too nosy 🙂 )
Anyway, I took the day off, and let the Red Cross know I could help out for the whole afternoon rather than just in my lunchbreak as I’d originally planned.  So after a lazy morning I went over to Merivale (one of the wealthier parts of Christchurch – very much old money) where I met up with the other volunteers who’d been assigned to that area and got my official bib and bucket.  The organiser told us there were quite strict rules about where we were allowed to collect (only along a short stretch of the main shopping street, and definitely not inside the mall or any shops), and we weren’t allowed to actually accost anyone, just smile and make eye contact, and maybe rattle the bucket a little to attract attention.
We quickly discovered that the best strategy was to stand on opposite sides of the street near the only pedestrian crossing.  That meant you could make eye contact with people on the other side of the street waiting to cross and give them a big smile, which of course they’d return (it’s very hard not to smile back if someone smiles at you), so by the time they crossed they’d feel obliged to give you something (although of course there were always the ones who would do anything to avoid making eye contact with you – it was quite amusing to watch them look anywhere but straight ahead!).  And even the ones who didn’t donate the first time they crossed the street would obviously feel guilty when they crossed back over again, because almost all of them would end up giving something (or at least acknowledge our presence and apologise because they had no spare change).
I entertained myself as I stood there by figuring out patterns in who donated and how much.  I thought at first that there was a gendered division, but then I realised it was actually age (which looked at first like gender because there were more older women out shopping than older men) – older people were much more likely to donate than younger, and were donating more, too.  Most retirement-aged people would empty all of the loose change out of their purse or pockets and dump the whole handful in the bucket, while people in their 40s-50s would carefully select a couple of coins – $2 seemed to be the amount most settled on as the minimum they could give without looking stingy.  The 20-30 year olds were most likely to pretend they hadn’t seen you, and the high school kids (who were travelling in packs) generally would be so caught up in their conversations or phones they genuinely didn’t notice, but every so often would surprise us by one of them darting out of the bunch to drop a few coins in the bucket.  There was the odd note (including one woman who put in a $20 note!), but most of the donations were coins.
Anyway, an interesting way to spend the afternoon, and it felt good to give something back to the Red Cross, who did so much for Christchurch during the earthquakes.
Once my shift was over, I just had time to race home before heading into town to meet Lytteltonwitch for dinner at the food carts which have become a regular fixture in the Square on Friday nights.  There’s a really varied selection of foods, and it looks like they’re rotating which carts are there each week, to keep it interesting.  I’m not sure whether they’ll keep going over the winter, but for now it’s a fun place to eat on a Friday night.
Jan was there with her pop-up tearooms, offering traditional British puddings, so we stopped off there for tea and apple crumble.  Just as we were ordering, the rain came down, so Jan invited all her customers inside her little caravan to shelter while a couple of helpers put up a gazebo to keep the rain off.  It was pretty crowded in there (and the food production had to come to a halt because there was no room for Jan to move around), but it was fun – we all ended up chatting in a way we probably wouldn’t have if we’d still been sitting at the tables outside.
At one point one of the tourists, who had a British accent, peered out the window and said “There’s a wizard out there”.  All of the Christchurch people just said, “Yeah, there would be” and carried on – we forget that to tourists the sight of our Wizard can come as a bit of a surprise!  When I realised how confused she was, I explained that the Wizard has been a fixture in Christchurch since the 1970s, that yes, he sometimes does spells but mostly just rants about stuff, and that he has the official status of “a living work of art”, which I think just confused her even more 😉  (good thing I didn’t confuse things even more by telling her we actually have half a dozen Wizards these days, because he’s taken on a few apprentices, who will eventually take over from him as he’s in his 80s now…).
Once the gazebo was up we went back outside to sit, and it was a pity the two English tourists left then, because they missed the chance to actually meet the Wizard.  Jan mentioned he’s a regular at her tearooms, and sure enough, not long after that he appeared.  He and his partner ended up sharing a table with Lytteltonwitch and I, so we had a good (though at times a bit weird) chat with them.  He’s definitely got some “interesting” views on life 🙂
So yeah, I can now say I’ve had tea with the Wizard.  Life certainly isn’t boring!

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  1. It will be his age but he is rather sexist, still it was fun to listen to him. I liked Alice his partner. I walked home rather slowly as I was cloud watching.

  2. Note about an article in The Press on 25/02/2011 in which there is a comment about the Wizard taking his 91 year old mother to Oamaru to live. This would make her born in 1920 and if he was born in 1932 then she was only 12 years old when he was born.

    1. Yeah, I suspect he isn’t always accurate in the stories he tells about his life – building a mythology is more interesting than facts…

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