A memory about Christchurch, New Zealand
she prepared to stamp our passports, the girl behind the immigration desk
noticed the head of the small teddy bear my wife was carrying in her bag.
bear had been our travelling companion ever since Sheila had spotted her in the
duty-free shop at Brunei airport. She
was named – naturally – 'Brunei Bear', had come with us all the way to
Brisbane, and was with us now on another leg of our long-distance journey.
you got a passport for the bear?” asked the girl behind the desk.
was not a question we had expected. But
the answer was, of course, that we had not.
back our passports, the immigration girl gave us a broad smile and said there
was a shop in the city that specialised in selling teddy bears and bear
accessories. Including passports.
should go there,” she added. “My
daughter and I have bought all sorts of good stuff for her bears. And if your little one is going to be
travelling with you, she’ll need a passport, won’t she?”
morning we followed her advice to locate the teddy bear shop, as we took in the
city’s sights. But couldn’t find it.
lunchtime, we went into the Cathedral, joining other tourists and those who had
slipped into its cool silence for a moment of contemplation and prayer.
paused in the tiny gift shop to buy a couple of postcards. As I handed over the coins, I asked the
lady at the cash register if she knew the location of 'the Teddy Bear shop'.
didn’t, but asked the same question of a man walking through the shop. Wearing a scruffy work shirt, shorts and
flip-flops, he carried a pail of water and a squeegee. It didn’t take a genius to work out that he
was cleaning windows.
“I can’t help,” he replied. “But I think my wife will know.”
produced a mobile phone from a pocket in his shorts, hit a few buttons and,
within seconds, was asking his wife for the location of the shop. She gave it to him. He, and the lady at the cash register,
showed us where it was on our map of the city centre. Luckily, not far from the Cathedral.
we went. We found the shop, dived
inside, and spent a pleasurable time considering our purchases. Obviously, a passport for Brunei Bear, but
also a tiny pair of glasses (she did a lot of reading during flights) and an
equally tiny back pack for the essential things a lady bear needs on an
our way back, passing the Cathedral, we popped inside to thank the lady in the
gift shop, asking her to pass on our thanks to the window cleaner.
she said, with a wide grin. “That
wasn’t a window cleaner, that was The Dean.
We all muck in together here.”
was our first day in a delightful city, with its easygoing, friendly
inhabitants. The first day of an
all-too-short interlude before a week-long tour, during which we discovered
that same welcoming attitude from folk who were, as Sheila put it: “comfortable
in their skin”.
there you have a slight story. An
inconsequential event, which over several subsequent years gave a lot of joy to
passport officers all over the world, when we produced a teddy bear’s passport
along with our own.
a smile. Sometimes outright
laughter. Often a comment to colleagues,
who would take an interest in an unusual passport and debate with mock
seriousness which stamp should be used in its already well-stamped pages.
you come to think about it, passport people do an important, but essentially
boring, job. So a bear with a passport
cheers them up.
I type this, Brunei’s passport is in a drawer upstairs. Brunei herself went with Sheila on her last
have been thinking a lot about that incident lately.
city in which it happened was Christchurch, New Zealand.