That dedicated bunch of writers who pen the clues to crossword puzzles – they do like their anagrams. Some years ago a simple clue in the weekly cryptic crossword in the Listener magazine got Timaru a-buzzing.
The rather innocent clue simply asked "Is it a rum sort of town?" Nationwide publicity followed as the town governors sought to correct the impression that was created. Yes Timaru has a colourful port and a rich maritime history, with ships from all nations visiting the ever growing waterfront. But perhaps this crossword clue conjured up images of loose-living sailors swigging rum as they staggered along the main street. And perhaps it hit a raw nerve in a town with – yes, no doubt – a generous collection of hotels.
Some of the hotels had been built in the hectic rush for accommodation in the period 1900-15 following the establishment of Caroline Bay as a summer holiday venue. Others were more focussed on their bar trade. A drink with a regular mate in your choice of the many bars on offer, was the common end to the day for a working man.
A glance now at the busy port would suggest that today's sailor is likely to be expert in technical areas such as engineering, navigation, logistics, and business management. That person is not likely to be compared with the sailor of years past, and there's no sign of any rum.
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