It seemed fitting that upon arrival in Christchurch, we were met with a torrential downpour. Four weeks ago, in this very city, and fresh off the plane we had been pelted by the elements.
We made straight for our hostel, The Jailhouse, through road-spray and the smudge of brake lights. The Jailhouse, as the name suggests, is a converted jail; the structure minimally altered, the rooms preserved, the modern concessions (internet/DVD lounge) hidden away.
Naturally, the rooms are former cells: whitewashed with a high-arched ceilings and a huge cast iron door which close with a jarring clunkthunk. Look down from the gantry and you'll see a long row of of dining tables deep in the bowels of the building. "Norman Stanley Fletcher...You are an habitual criminal, who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner"
Actually, though the Jailhouse was immaculate, well-maintained and, indeed, a novelty, it was a bit depressing: Cold and functional. It was an involving experience, but ultimately I wouldn't have fancied spending too much time there.
Later as I was packing the car to leave, an Maori bloke cutting the grass wandered over. "Is it still a prison" he asked "Er...no" I replied. "Oh" he continued "Only I used to live in that house there" he said pointing to a nearby estate ".... and prisoners who had escaped used to jump into my back garden".
I recounted this story to the guy on reception as I was checking out "Oh that's nothing" he added "We sometimes get former inmates back here, asking if they can have a reminisce. They wander round going 'Aaah, I was beaten senseless by a guard just where you're standing.....them were the days'"