Imperial power sealed with golden hard hat
Last updated 08:31 30/03/2011
It was a lovely day for the coronation. The processional route, which had been designed to pass by all the most telegenic rubble, was lined with eager crowds. Many waved flags made in China, paid for by a foreign news corporation and distributed by the local professional rugby franchise. They featured a man on a horse waving a sword.
"It lifts the spirits, doesn't it?" said 61-year-old Daniella, a long-time fan of anyone in power. "In these dark times it's nice to have a bit of ceremony. And he seems a lovely man. What was his name again?"
"He's from the military," said her daughter, Emma, 36, a receptionist. "He reminds me a bit of George Clooney."
"Roger Moore," said her mother firmly, and on the summit of the little mound of masonry that had previously been a chemist's shop, mother and daughter had a happy little argument.
Meanwhile, back at the civic centre, council workers gave a final polish to the front- end loader that had been spray-painted gold for the occasion. It had been suggested that the coronee should drive the vehicle himself, symbolic of his practical, hands-on style, but the idea had been vetoed by health and safety.
Instead, he would clutch a dummy steering wheel, the real one being concealed in a makeshift cab where it would be controlled by an experienced council driver.
Behind a potted rubber plant the bishop and the dean were talking in whispers and casting nervous glances about, though no-one was paying them any attention. Their hands fluttered as they spoke, their sleeves of lawn billowing. They were not happy.
They had lobbied for the ceremony to be held in front of the cathedral but had been overridden, ostensibly for reasons of security. Nevertheless they had been offered reasonably prominent positions on the coronation stage, and had accepted grudgingly. What really irked them, however, was the bevy of representatives from alien faiths who had also been asked along.
"Honestly," said the bishop, looking with resentment at the archimandrites, mullahs, rabbis, lamas and scientologists all hovering near the refreshments.
"I know," sighed the dean, "I know . . ."
Then suddenly the front-end loader lurched forward and they were off. Dignitaries scurried to their appointed places in its wake, pinning solemn looks on their faces as they emerged from the shade of the council building into the afternoon sunshine and the gaze of the masses, and trying not to cough amid the diesel fumes.
The crowds cheered and waved their flags and in an hour or so everyone safely reached the makeshift stage in the park, bar the Coptic Archbishop who had lingered over the savouries, been obliged to run to catch up and had been arrested, much to his disgust, as an impostor.
When he loudly proclaimed his position the arresting officer was heard to reply,
"Yes, sir, and I'm Richie McCaw."
The ceremony kicked off with several popular musicians all playing their signature songs, none of which bore the least relevance to the occasion - indeed some of the lyrics were spectacularly inapposite - but the crowd recognised the tunes and sang along, feeling as they did so a gratifying sense of unity.
Then a symphony orchestra launched into the anthem made popular by the local rugby franchise, the door of the front-end loader opened and the coronee emerged, much to his relief because it had been getting hot. The crowd went commendably quietish.
A problem with the PA system meant that only one snatch of the oath-taking was audible to the crowd.
"I do solemnly swear," said the coronee, "to implement ongoing policy initiatives in accordance with" and then the crackling resumed.
But the crowd was less interested in words than in spectacle.
When the council's chief financial officer raised the robes of office and held them out for all to see there was a gasp. Solemnly he laid the hi- viz vest around the shoulders of the coronee, placed in the man's hand a highly polished clipboard and on his head planted a golden hard hat complete with little light.
"Hail Quake-tsar," he said.
"Hail Quake-tsar," repeated the crowd.
The Quake-tsar stood, caught the golden hard hat just before it toppled, waved once to the crowd then re- entered the cab of the front- end loader. Its giant engine fired into life and the great beast rumbled off across the park.
The crowd began to disperse, delighted at last to have a leader whom they could revere for a while but onto whom, rather more importantly in the months to come, they could pin blame.
"That was nice," said Daniella, 61, as she began the long trudge home, "but, ooh, I could use a portaloo."
- The Press