13 Oct 2017
Fancy meeting you here!
“I’m staying at the backpackers,” he said.
“Rightoh, I’ll be catching the bus there in an hour. See you then!”
We were both on our way to Bluff, to catch the ferry across Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island, where the BookCrossing Un-convention was being held.
BookCrossing is a crazy American idea of releasing books “into the wild” and tracking their progress on an internet site. There was a dozen of us meeting up for our annual get-together, and some lunatic had selected Stewart Island for this year’s venue, possibly the most remote location served by public transport.
That’s the way it goes. A quirky lot, we BookCrossers!
On the bus
An hour later, I’d packed up, checked out, and made my way to the backpackers where I’d catch the bus to the ferry terminal at Bluff.
No bus waiting outside, but that was okay. I went inside, ordered a mango smoothie, admired the ceiling painted in a more or less precise facsimile of the Sistine Chapel, and watched as a pair of backpackers – with serious backpacks – sat down beside me, obviously waiting on the same bus.
Dave hadn’t appeared by the time the bus pulled up, ten minutes past the scheduled time. The backpackers hopped on, I hoisted my bags of books aboard, sat down and off we went. No name-checking, no tickets. No Dave.
Oh well, perhaps he’d chosen a different way of getting to the island. There was a plane across, and normally I’d take the plane as being more convenient, but I heard the weather was often too bad to fly and the plane passengers took the ferry anyway.
We pulled up at the next pickup, the town visitor centre, and a young lady swung aboard.
“Hello, Fee!” I said. “The last time I saw you was in the British Museum!”
And so it was. After the 2015 BookCrossing convention in Oxford, I’d escorted fellow BookCrosser Jay through the British Museum, and we’d run into Fiona there. As one does.
The half-hour ride down to Bluff was spent in pleasant conversation, catching up on our various adventures since then. Fiona is as keen a traveller as I, and we reminisced about the best bits of the planet, where we’d left books for strangers to find. As one does.
And Albert, Lesley’s travelling companion. Did I mention it was Friday the Thirteenth? Lesley had decided on a stunt to mark the occasion, and Albert was part of it.
A plastic skeleton, I was glad to see, rather than the real ones medical students have.
No sign of Dave. I learnt later that he had returned to his hostel, saw the bus waiting outside, got on and been taken down to Bluff where he’d been put aboard the earlier ferry. He’d bought a ferry ticket, what did it matter which bus or boat he went on?
A remarkably flexible outfit. And no, they weren’t asking Albert to pay for his ride.
I love my BookCrossing buddies. Well-read (that’s a given), generous (another given), a little bit mad, full of fun, and avid adventurers all. I could write a book about them.
In fact, I had, kind of. I once wrote a book called BookCrossing Through Middle-Earth, where I described meeting Jennifer and Lesley in Christchurch in 2003. The years since have not diminished my affection and awe of their accomplishments. Fiona and Jennifer had both been to Iran, years before I had, for example.
So we sat and chatted together and waited for the boarding announcement, and the backpackers looked at us, and they looked at Albert the skeleton, and we didn’t care at all.