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The Garden City - So Called

I've been in Christchurch, staying at the So Hotel again. You will be pleased to know that it has lost none of its eccentricity. Indeed, it has gained some. Being clean and green and proud of its image, the hotel now offers free charging for electric cars, and it has an electric car proudly on display in the foyer in order to demonstrate solidarity with the cause. The car itself is painted a delightful shade of pink (perhaps pink is the new green). Some days the car is parked by the lifts and some days it is parked in the entranceway. And doubtless it is always fully charged.

The rooms themselves are still an utter delight. Each evening as I went to bed I was soothed to sleep under the gentle glow of a coloured night light; red, yellow, green, blue, and purple. What a choice to be presented with! I experimented with them all, and all were equally beneficial.

The in-room compendium has been severely edited since last I stayed in the hotel. What used to be nearly 50 pages of new age waffle interspersed with technical instructions about how to use the console beside the bed has now been reduced to a mere 20 pages of new age waffle with very few technical instructions in it at all. Truly, it has become So Brief. As a consequence, the hi-tech control unit beside the bed is now an enormous mystery to each and every guest. It has four buttons engraved with kabbalistic runes, three switches, two rotating control knobs a digital display, a telephone handset, three more buttons that I've only just noticed, a partridge, a pear tree and a Sew Ing Machine. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that given the right combination of twists, pulls and pushes, the console would manufacture an electric car for me which I could then charge for free if only I could work out how to drive it down four flights of stairs to the reception desk. Like daleks, electric cars don't do stairs very well. So Sad.

The compendium also assured me that simulating the passing of an entire day by putting the light over the bed into sun mode would be an enormously therapeutic experience. Unfortunately the only remotely applicable instruction told me simply to press the up arrow key on the console. Since there was no up arrow key on the console, I was left helpless. I never did work out how to put my room into sun mode which is a shame – I'm sure that at the end of a tiring day I would have greatly benefited from a little blast of high energy gamma rays while I bathed in the jets of plasma emitted by the miniature nuclear fusion plant concealed in the bed head light fitting.

One page of the compendium was written in the enigmatic and So Secret alphabet of the planet Rot13. Upon reading this page I discovered that the area outside the hotel was colloquially known as Soho. People were encouraged to walk up and down by themselves so that they could claim they were walking Solo. In a small garden just by the hotel, guests could Sow Seeds. Fb Gurer!

Every day as I walked from the So Hotel to the office, I passed a shop called NOOD. The acronym stands for New Objects Of Desire. There's no doubt at all that the things the shop sells are objects, and I'm perfectly willing to believe that they are new. However they evoked no feelings of desire in my breast; quite the reverse in fact. I found them to be only So So.

NOOD, being trendy, obviously uses its position at the cutting edge of fashion and taste as an excuse to sell tat at exorbitant prices. On display in the window is a chair with a stainless steel frame and two red cushions that form the back and the seat. It is a bargain for only $699. A similar stainless steel chair frame has no cushions on it at all, just an animal pattern fabric stretched tightly over the frame. It looks extremely uncomfortable, and it could be yours for a mere $1199.

You could probably buy them both as kitsets from Ikea or the Warehouse for at least $50 without feeling too ripped off...

During the whole week that I stayed in Christchurch, NOOD remained entirely bereft of customers – or noodists as it So Coyly called its clientele in the advertising leaflets available from a small pouch stuck on the shop window. I found the daily emptiness of NOOD So Unsurprising.

Christchurch is a city of constant surprises. As I walked across the square on Sunday evening I was overtaken by a large striding man with his hair gathered into a pony tail that hung down below his waist. Perched on his shoulder was a cockatiel (Nymphicus Hollandicus) who was admiring the world and being admired in his turn by all the Japanese tourists who were thronging the square. There was much pointing, much camera clicking, much giggling, and a lot of oohing and ahhing. The cockatiel raised his crest and bowed to his subjects, accepting their praise as his just due. The man paid no attention to any of this and strode silently across the square. When he reached the other side he vanished from view down a small and narrow alley. I waved – So Long.

I had a clear view of the square from the window of my office, and on Wednesday the most perfect rainbow I've ever seen arched across the city. The colours were strong and well defined; it looked like all of the night lights in my hotel room had turned themselves on at once and smeared themselves over the sky. Distinct though the colours were, I still couldn't separate indigo from violet – I've never been able to do that; perhaps it's a myth that they both exist, or perhaps Isaac Newton just had funny eyes. Being hit on the head by an apple can do that to you, particularly if it's an iPad with sharp corners. So Juicy.

The rainbow was So Strong and So Perfect that I was absolutely certain I could see the pot of gold at the end of it. I went looking for the gold later, but it wasn't there any more. Obviously somebody else got there before me.

I love Christchurch; it's the oddest city I've ever seen. So To Speak.

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