They arrive, one tall and one short. Both wear flowing cloaks and face masks.
The Spiderman-like duo do not soar self-propelled to the heights of Mount Cavendish. They step aboard a Christchurch Gondola cabin and glide up the wire.
The taller one checks in as the mysterious Flat Man, and the small guy as five-year-old Phoenix. He might be Flat Man’s apprentice?
Flat Man, a University of Canterbury student, keeps his real identity secret even from his flatmates. Following the Christchurch earthquakes he promoted himself as Christchurch’s superhero, dressed for the role, and began distributing food parcels to those in need. He visited schools and families, spreading a philosophy of kindness and generosity.
His apprentice Phoenix is distinguished by his different mask. It is part of a bandage covering much of his body. He suffers from chronic eczema. Bandages help to eliminate itching and scratching.
It is Phoenix’s big day out. It began with a medal presentation by assistant Christchurch mayor, Vicki Buck. A visit to the Antarctic Centre followed.
They were heading up for lunch at the Red Rock Café when I spotted them. It is the perfect day.
“The Gondola is just an essential part of Christchurch,” Flat Man says. “The views are spectacular.”
Also spectacular is the table awaiting Flat Man, Phoenix, Grandma and one or two others. The centrepiece is a cake encircled with chocolate and iced with a Spiderman image.
Grandma is Phoenix’s guardian for his special day out. She says chronic eczema is a terrible condition too many children suffer from. Phoenix does not go to school, and is instead schooled at home.
She recalls the evening Flat Man appeared on TV 3 Campbell Live.
“Phoenix became an instant admirer. His eyes lit up. It was amazing. I started to dress him in a cloak to help take his attention away from his uncomfortable, painful condition. He is well known in the community. When we go shopping people will say, ‘Good morning Phoenix.’ Depending on his mood he will say, ‘No I am Spiderman,’ or, ‘I am Superman.’”
“A friend got onto a computer, found the Flat Man website, and sent a message. Flat Man got in touch and Phoenix found a friend and mentor. So here we are up here on this beautiful day. I cannot believe how kind the Gondola staff have been to us. Look at this wonderful cake.”
Phoenix is a likeable, lively kid. Rather than having him sit for a long time, Flat Man takes him for a run around the Gondola building balcony. A convenient circuit can be made with an occasional pause for the view. On one side of the hill a paraglider takes to the skies.
Meeting Flat Man, Phoenix and Grandma is an inspiration.
Inspired by emergence of the Student Volunteer Army following the Christchurch earthquakes, Flat Man says he is getting out there and helping others in any way he is able. His Flat Man costume has a distinctive lightning bolt logo. Initially he funded his philanthropy himself, but as his profile has grown he has been overwhelmed by donations and support.
“If I can do something to bring just a little joy to those in need, then why not?”