Friday, December 23, 2011

Here we go again.... my, my

So two days after I wrote "It does seem the aftershocks have gone away", we have another day of sizable shakes. 
Our only aftershock casualty today - a little crystal tree
fell over and lost all it's crystals. (a different story for those
on the other side of the city)
We'd not long been home from Tristan's preschool break up. I was sitting having a relax on the couch when the rumble and the shaking started. We waited to see what would happen. It kept building in strength and I got up, wondering what the best thing to do was - hold the pantry and cupboards shut or find the kids who were outside, so safe but possibly scared?
I ran down the hall as it was still shaking and finally located Lucy outside. She was really scared. She said she was worried our house would fall on her, like the broken houses on the other side of town. 
The aftershocks kept coming. We had one that even while it was shaking had extra little judders within it. I never knew there could be such a range of aftershocks until the past twelve months.
We filled pots with water just in case we lost it but it kept flowing.
I was supposed to be meeting up with friends for coffee. We didn't know how big the aftershock was but there was very little damage at our house so figured we would go anyway. I had decided to bike, I thought it would make finding a park easier but it turned out parking wasn't the problem. It was the traffic. Everyone was on the roads trying to get home. All the people I biked past were looking at cellphones or talking on them. 
The cafe was open and now mostly empty. We chose a table near the door and that was big enough for us to fit under should another one come. We did this half joking but then the aftershocks kept coming and another big one hit - 6.0. We didn't leave but finished our drinks and our conversation - once we were back sitting on our chairs.
When I got home I found the 6.0 had knocked over my precarious stack of board games in the cupboard, unfortunately I had been stacking all the Christmas presents on top the games too. Now they were all jammed between the wardrobe door and games. I carefully rescued them reattaching the gift cards - hopefully to right gifts.
I was supposed to be going out for tea. I began to wonder if it would still be on, now I knew the malls had shut and there was liquefaction and power issues over the other side of town.
We did go out for dinner but not everyone could come. The people in the damaged suburbs stayed away. On these days it really feels like a city split in half. Some keep suffering and the rest of us are okay.
As I drove home at 9pm - two days out from Christmas - past the mall carpark that was deserted because the mall had shut, past restaurants that should have been full but were shut. Hardly anyone was around. 
I felt so sorry for the business owners. It has been one hard year. But we keep going - some day, one day the shakes must stop. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Can we go a day without being reminded?

It's nearly Christmas! Tomorrow is the 22nd - ten months on from February 22nd.
If you ask a Christchurch person about aftershocks, we will tell you, we haven't felt any in ages. The point we might not make is that ages is probably different for you, than for us. We had a 5.5 only two months ago, but that is ages for the new Christchurch post Sept 4th 2010. It does seem the aftershocks have gone away. There is the odd teeny one, but they don't count.
The question we've been asking ourselves is can we go a day without being reminded about the quakes?
If it is a work day for Karl, then that is pretty hard because his workplace has still got fenced off areas where buildings are being repaired and some buildings have gone altogether. If it is a school day we can't help but notice that we are driving in the opposite direction to get Lucy to her school, rather than heading into the city.
At home life is normal because we have got used to living with taped up cracks in the floor and then sometimes I remember that we didn't used to live with things like that.
Thankfully our water is finally back to being delicious, Christchurch water so we don't need to use the filter jug anymore to get rid of the chlorine taste. Our tasty tap water has always been one of the things I loved about Christchurch and when it was gone, it was depressing.
A couple of days ago I went to get some things and I thought I knew where the shop was. But, of course, this is post quake Christchurch so when I got there, it wasn't there anymore. Fortunately because I live on the western side, another shop has ended up moving to our side of town and I could get what I was after.
But today we were driving over the other side of town and went passed a house that looked like it had been picked up and dumped off its piles. It still looked like a lovely house but it was on a huge angle. The yard was all overgrown. I couldn't help but think about the people who had lived here before. It looked like it used to be a well kept house. I wondered where they are this Christmas.
There are many things to be thankful for this Christmas but never before has it been the simple things of everyone in the family making it through to the end of the year and still having a house that keeps us warm and dry and has power and tasty water.
The one thing I will miss from 2011 was being helped and helping strangers. It was surprisingly fulfilling for differences to be cast aside, everyone being on the level and us all just being humans helping each other get through.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Red Zone Bus Tour - Beautiful Christchurch

I went on the Red Zone Bus Tour on Sunday. We had an awesome Red Cross lady, Audrey who was funny and made the whole trip very pleasant. I didn't know how I would react. But it turned out different to what I thought. It reminded me of when a German guy was at our place a few months ago and told us how he had been in NZ for some months on a working visa but then had a lot of his personal things stolen from his car and he stopped enjoying NZ, decided perhaps it was time to cut his trip short and go home. He then came to Christchurch and liked it so much he decided to stay and work. We made cynical comments about it not being a city but nice suburbs and he said no. He loved Hagley Park. He saw a busker playing "Amazing Grace" opposite the fenced off Arts Centre and he said it was really beautiful and decided to stay.
That is what I found on the red zone bus tour, the Christchurch I knew so well has gone, never to come back but a new city is here and it has beauty and interesting things of its own, if I care to take it as it is.
You can buy in the soon to be heart of a new city
 - even promises no camping will be required this time!

Nature has a go at its own mosaic on the footpath

The fan was swinging gently in the breeze

Only two panes smashed,
the rest look perfect

Newly exposed wall old wall

The carpark with the bit of wood on it was the carpark
I parked in 2 Tuesday's earlier, right at the front of CTV
to talk to people no longer here

I think this could be quite a popular bit
 in the new city - it looks pretty

Never has this sign been more truly obeyed,
the building in front has been demolished

St John's Latimer Square is gone but a lovely tree is still there

Roses keep flowering merrily

Would these wild flowers been allowed
to flourish pre Feb 22

Carnivores is gone :(

Other than the wonky light pole, this looks lovely,
a view blocked by buildings before

Victoria Square - overgrown but still pretty - lanterns from Feb

Needs a bit of weeding but still looks like a city :)

Looking like a little survivor, this shop is
red stickered but still there so far

If the quake had happened 20 mins later this is
where Tristan & Karl would have been heading up in the car

Red Heart still gently swinging

Backs of buildings - lovely red brick

Palm Tree still looking all good.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Out in the 'burbs

I hang around in the western side of Christchurch. All the things we do are either in the south west or the north west. We have got quite used to life here. The roads in some places are a bit bumpier than previously - it is harder to balance a plate of uncovered biscuits on your knee, over to someone's house. Houses are getting hazard management signs stuck to their fences as repairs get underway. Most of the commercial buildings that fell down have been removed. We are watching new ones go up and refurbishments happen for businesses from the inner city starting up in new premises.
We have also been watching the house down the road get lifted and repiled. It is into its fourth week of repairs but it is now back down on its foundations. It is all very much in recovery, getting on with life and looking to the future.
A few weeks ago for the fireworks we went over to Brighton. I hadn't been near there since February. We parked in a street which was now in the residential red zone. The grass was up to the windows of the houses. There was still dry, fine, liquefacton silt through the long grass on the side of the road. The street was really an unsealed road. We cross the bridge which has holes and broken concrete at each end, where the bridge had rammed into the banks in the shaking. Two plastic pipes snaked their way over the bridge that we climbed over several times in our crossing. Quite a few businesses were still stickered shut.
Last week I had to go up the back of Sumner. Once in Sumner, we drove up a narrow corridor of two storey shipping containers, that protected the road from the cliff and then we had to detour off as the road was closed. We were going up on the hill and we walked the last bit because again there were containers that made it too narrow to drive through. The Evans Pass road over the hill was still shut. A sewer pumping truck was at work down on the flat. It was just a different world. Designer houses were red stickered. Houses we would have lusted after, now we were very glad not to own but we felt so sorry for owners. Houses that were so well kept, now had overgrown grass and loose bits of tape across the driveway and labels of danger, do not enter.
The contrast was staggering. It can even be in one street. I went down Cambridge Terrace - the little piece that I seldom travel between Barbados and Fitzgerald. As I turned behind the Barbados Street cemetery I saw the back wall of the cemetery was lying on the footpath and the grassy bank was just tumbling down on top of it. The road was also bumpy, cracked and sliding towards the river. I had to drive carefully and as I went round the curves of the river, I saw a wooden seat on the river bank now at quite an angle towards the river - no longer a place to sit comfortably and enjoy the view. But at the end of the street, the road was fine, the houses looked perfect and they had a lovely view of the river. It feels a lottery who got badly hit and who got off comparatively lightly.
We've had Fletchers and our contract builder are here assessing the property for repair. Probably in April or March next year but now we have to be assessed by an engineer first to check our floor situation. The long tail of the disaster just keeps on going.
The aftershocks are pretty minor now, though we've had about 3 of around 3.4 in a few days last week (so enough to feel but not enough to really react to). One was in the evening and we could hear it coming, in the morning Lucy said she was lying in bed and heard it coming too and she wasn't sure if it was going to be a big one, so she hid under her duvet. When it arrived it wasn't very big so she didn't bother to come out, she just settled herself back down to go to sleep.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How Christchurch people spend a sunny, Sunday afternoon

This afternoon as a family we did the temporarily opened, public walk from Cashel Mall to Cathedral Square. We queued in an orderly line for two to three minutes and then we were past the official clicking off a counter and standing in Colombo Street looking up at Lucy's old school building on the corner of Cashel Street and Colombo. The walkway was lined with fences and busy with people. The crowd was quite chatty and all sorts of ages were there. Christmas Decorations were hanging from the lamp posts.
We walked past buildings that looked so familiar and then there would be a gap of nothing. As we approached the square, the crowd became quiet, I think we were all unsure how we would react.
We walked between the old familiar buildings of the ANZ and BNZ. Many of the glass verandah panes on the BNZ building were smashed and lying in tiny fragments on the ground. The whole building will be coming down in a few weeks.
Entering Colombo St
BNZ building still to be demolished
Then we were into the Square. The paving stones look so normal and the trees and the seats - exactly as they were the many times I had sat on them. But the Cathedral was so smashed. The old Regent Theatre building was completely gone. In the opposite corner I could see just the old wrought iron entrance way to the Warner's hotel - that was all that remained of it now -  behind the cenotaph. The cenotaph looked totally normal, apart from the unmown grass around it.

It was hard to get my head around what happened here, while I was in the suburbs. Lucy was okay about being back in the Square though she had moments of sadness but I think we all did. I ran my finger down the fence to make it feel real, that we were really here and this was what the Square looked like now.
Once in the Square the crowd was quite talkative and it was nice being back there with so many people. There were a couple of older people in wheelchairs, it was almost like the Square of last year on a Sunday.
During the week I saw a headline that read something like - "Familiar sounds return to the city centre". The cathedral bells jumped into my head but then I knew, it wasn't them, they were not coming back for a long time.
That is the thing-  it is so hard to relate the reality of the new Christchurch, with what is still in my head as Christchurch. It is difficult to believe my city has left me rather than me leaving it behind. 

Entering the Square and the
 familiar old Post Office Building
People in the Square - looks almost normal

A post no longer straight 
A view I have never seen 
before as  Chancery Lane
buildings used to be there

City Founding Father - absent
Cenotaph - looking as it 
always did

A Verandah has fallen to be held up a
light, I wondered how many injuries that
light saved
The city was suffering pre Feb 22
Closing down sale

A Summer Sale almost a year on

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sober reading

I know I haven't posted for a bit - life is quite busy :) I have a post compiled in my head - just need to get it down on the computer. Today though, I saw a message that I thought was exciting - they are opening up a public walkway to the Cathedral Square from Colombo Street in Cashel Mall. This is the route Lucy walked out of her school so I am quite keen to do this and see the cathedral and reenter the heart of our city.
I clicked onto the link for more details and was greeted with this as part of the information about the walk.
This is from CERA's website.

"It is your decision to enter the area. Read this first.
  1. This space is still dangerous.
  2. If there is an earthquake or other event you may be seriously injured or may not survive.
  3. This is CERA space, not public space. There are conditions you must meet:
  • maximum 300 visitors at any one time
  • stay within the fences
  • maximum visit duration 50 minutes - the walkway is cleared on the hour
  • leave when asked
  • no pets (guide dogs permitted)
  • carry personal ID on your body, not in a bag
  • wear sturdy shoes
  • carry a charged cellphone or tell someone where you are going.
If there is an earthquake or other significant event:
Drop. Cover. Hold
Always follow the instructions of security personnel.
An emergency evacuation will be signalled by the constant sound of horns or sirens."

Wow! I know it is also for legal reasons but that is pretty sobering reading. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What do I teach our son?

This week is a really busy week. After picking up Tristan from preschool today, I needed to get our weekly bread from the Coupland's bakery close to Tristan's preschool and I had forgotten a couple of items from the grocery shop, earlier in the week, so I thought we could nip into the supermarket at the same place.
The little problem was this was the supermarket Tristan and I were in, when both the June quakes hit. We have not been back to that supermarket since that day. I have been to this shopping centre a number of times since that day in June - just never to the supermarket. But I had decided that it was silly to make today even more busy. Today was to be the day to just "get over it".
As we drove into the carpark, I kept my own apprehension inside and casually told Tristan we were getting some bread and going to the supermarket to get a couple of things.
"No!" He was quite adamant. "I don't like this supermarket." He asked me to drive to our usual supermarket. I asked him why he didn't want to go to this one. He kept saying no and then he started crying and mentioned the quakes. The tears were running down his face and he was demanding we go to another supermarket.
I asked him if he was happy to go and get the bread from the bakery - we do this almost every week. He said yes he was quite happy about that. I told him, we would decide about the supermarket once we had the bread.
As we walked to the bakery, I thought about what I should do.
I was not keen to go to the supermarket either and it was heartbreaking seeing his face so sad and hearing the fear in his voice. It felt like the easy choice was to drive away. There are enough supermarkets to never have to visit this one again.
But I do want him to learn, that even if something feels scary we can still do it. I don't want him to be bound by anxiety.
After getting the bread he wanted to leave. But I picked him up and we chatted about it. I explained that I too was a little afraid. We talked about how even in both June quakes we were safe and nothing fell on us. We talked about how we only had to buy two things. We decided that if we could do this and face our fear and do it like normal shoppers, we could both have a wee reward.
I carried him for the first bit, but he walked into the supermarket by himself and he said. "We were here weren't we Mummy and everything shook about." I agreed. We found the things we needed, paid and left.
I hope I did the right thing and we have some soap and shampoo that are trophies of our continued return to a normal life.

Monday, October 31, 2011

We can go to town!

Typical Colombo Street -
a bit like pre February.
This week was a week of anticipation. We knew at the weekend we could go back into part of Cashel Mall. We took a walk to check it out on Thursday and it was busy with people and equipment frantically getting ready. I wondered how I would feel. Would it feel scary? Would it feel sad? Would I be prepared to sit in there and have a coffee?
We are now having aftershocks only rarely. Three weeks ago we had a 5.5 but there was not the cluster of a lot of larger shocks afterwards as we have had before. Since then I have felt one small one and heard one. It feels like the earth is going quiet again.
Sunday afternoon we drove into the city. It was surprisingly exciting, to be able even to say we were going to town. We walked in down Worcester Street, over the road and joined a steady stream of people walking down the path by the river to Hereford Street. The fences had moved back up Hereford Street. We could cross Oxford Terrace. It felt like we were stepping into a new future. 
On the corner was the Vero building with the Boulevard Cafe under it. The building stands alone, the two on either side have been demolished. Three bulldozers still sit on the remains of the old Viaduct and the Bangalore Polo Club or whatever the latest names of those bars were - now they are gone I can't remember. The Vero building appears to have a green sticker but the Boulevard is not open.
On the other corner of Oxford Terrace with Cashel Mall, is the Tap Room. We peer through the windows. There was a table sitting with a glass knocked over and a hat neatly folded opposite it. Another table has two wine glasses standing, stained with evaporated red wine. Everything is covered in dust. As we walk up the mall with many others, we walked past a large carpark where The Bog and Cafe Bleu and shops used to be. 
On the other side of the mall are still some yellow stickered shops like Dimitri's and Radar Records. Radar is still all boarded up. We then came to the new part. The brightly coloured containers were fantastic and they are arranged in squares so it is not just a dull strip. They were so packed with people we couldn't even get in them. There were queues for the coffee shops. With so much gone, it takes a bit of effort to stop, stand and remember what it used to look like. It is definitely a new place. 
We walked up to Colombo Street, where the new fence is. Some people were crying, many others were looking happy. 
It didn't feel scary and I didn't feel sad. It felt lovely to wander with so many other people back in our city.  I could see the inner city being, again. But it was also sobering. You can walk down Colombo Street to Lichfield Street but none of those shops were open, it was hard to tell if their stickers were faded green or yellow. They were partly tidied up but still with piles of stock and shop fittings inside them. 
It is going to be a difficult journey with different agendas fighting it out and I know some things will make me upset, I am already cross that Trade Aid wasn't there, seemingly not wanted.  But I left with a mostly happy heart and wearing my watch. I finally this week got my watch strap repaired (not in town, just round the road) - it broke a couple of days after the February quake and it has been sitting waiting for me to get around to getting it fixed all this time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

World Cup Parade

I like this picture I took at the parade. It looks like a normal city out enjoying the All Black's win.
You can't see that just below the frame are fences blocking off that building behind. You can't see the spire sitting down on the footpath.
What I really wanted to write today was, it was fabulous at the parade and everyone was the happiest I've seen them in ages and joy was back in the city, proper joy with nothing underneath it. I thought it would be like the Band Together concert on Labour Weekend after the September quake. I thought it would all just be lovely and I would come home with a very happy heart.
I thought this, because on Labour Day Monday when walking in the neighbourhood and meeting strangers, they had really happy smiles. Smiles, with eyes as well, of the quality I realised I hadn't seen here in awhile. So I thought the parade would feel like Wellington had before the All Blacks, Canada game.
Everyone was happy at the parade but yeah, it wasn't very deep. I didn't come home with a happy heart. I guess there is just too much history hanging around us.
I remember going to the America's Cup parade when we won that. It went through The Square. That is where most parades go here - of course this one didn't. Afterwards we walked into the new bus exchange and caught the bus home. This is the furtherest into the city we have been able to get. The bus turned out of Tuam Street, down Colombo Street and that stretch is now mostly an empty lot. It is not how I remember it and it is really hard to ignore.
The number of people at the parade was also not as many as I expected, we easily got to stand in the front row with an unhindered view. The America's Cup parade we were 6-7 people back from the front. That photo is taken on my phone, with no zoom.
I think we are trying to be happy and normal like everyone else in New Zealand. We don't want to be seen as down in the dumps, or ranting on about the quakes but it is just so ongoing. Yesterday talking with a person rushing home to make sure the demolition of a house next door doesn't affect their property or driving over roadworks and realising, while it is signposted as road works, there are many streets that are just the same - but are currently considered normal. Then we see Turkey at the beginning of their long journey like ours. I couldn't help but feel a more kindred spirit with them than the All Blacks. I know this city will feel that group jubilant feeling again but it is taking much longer than I had anticipated.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Changing Safety Announcements

There has been an interesting progression in safety announcements here in the, getting less shakey, city.
After September (we identify our quakes simply by month) at the beginning of an event, the organiser would say in a jovial, chatty type way what to do if there was another aftershock. They would mention the word aftershock and they would just very quickly point to the exits and say where the meeting point was. There would usually be a bit of laughter from the audience and we would all assume, it would be unlikely. Then everyone would move on.
After February there was no more joking about aftershocks. The announcement was given completely seriously, the word aftershock or earthquake was used but then the explanation was pretty simple "you know what to do" and we all did.
After June, it has changed again. Now we appear not to like calling them by name. Now the announcer says something like "If we have one of those..." or "If something beginning with 'e' should happen.." but while the first part is now very downplayed what follows seems to be an extensive explanation of just where the exits are, sometimes repeating this and what to do once you have reached outside. This part is quite serious now. There are no titters from the audience, but a careful note of where the exits are - just in case. There is never any mention of fire, which is what I always remember such announcements being for.
Maybe in the new year, it will change again.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Embracing Our Reality

As part of the Arts Festival I went to a panel discussion called "Imagined Futures" about art and urban planning. As part of Hugh Nicholson's talk he mentioned the wind sculptures in Wellington and how he felt they had changed Wellingtonians view of the wind and their city to a more positive outlook.
I thought perhaps we could embrace Christchurch's ongoing shakiness with art too. We are not accomplished artists but we are enthusiastic, so the kids and I put together a framed artwork, using what we had at hand (little toys) and left it to see what new art would appear with the next aftershock.
Original artwork
After a 3.5ish aftershock

After 4.8 aftershock on Sat
Note lego army man down
After 5.5 aftershock last night

It has turned out, that though quite precariously balanced, it takes quite a shake to change it. It has survived most three sized aftershocks. It is true that weebles wobble but they don't fall down. I think a proper artist could do something quite groovey with this idea on a larger scale. We have been thinking of hanging paint brushes or pens but our house has not got the space right now.
The kids have loved running to check it after the shakes. It gives a new perspective that the earth moving does not always have to be doom and gloom but can inject a bit of fun.
The 5.5 was quite a shake here but while it woke Lucy, she was still in her bed when we got to her room. It seems quite staggering that these days even a 5.5 doesn't send her running in fear to us, but rather waiting for it to finish and then snuggling back to sleep.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Where's an extreme makeover when you need one?

Old lease sign on the inside,
red sticker on the outside
It was a weekend of contrasting cities.
On Friday night I went to a parent get together for Lucy's homebase (class). At one point we talked about February 22nd. It was the first time we had talked about it as a group and with Lucy's learning advisor (teacher). I learnt a lot more about just what it was like for Lucy on that day and what was going on the minds of those right with her.
On Saturday we joined a big queue to go onboard the US Globemaster - an enormous plane, heading down to the ice on the Monday. The US army guys were amused about how many people turned up to view it. Apparently they have never had so many in Christchurch come to one of their open day events.
Later on Saturday I flew out to Wellington and Sunday I was down on the waterfront. That afternoon was the Canadian, All Black game and fans of both sides were decked out. It was busy, exciting and entirely different to the World Cup experience in Christchurch. Not because we cannot have fun down here; the arts festival events I have been to, have been well attended and everyone was in a happy mood at the globemaster open day.
But there is an underlying weariness in Christchurch. We do get up and go to work and school and preschool, each day like before. It is a busy place but it is definitely not the same Christchurch of fourteen months ago.
I am not the same. On the Wellington waterfront I went to the toilet in one of the public toilet trucks. While in the cubicle, the door started rattling. I can still see the lock banging against its holder. I wasn't afraid but I became aware, that I had completely frozen and was just staring at the lock, waiting to see what would happen next - would it get bigger? Should I prepare? Then my brain caught up with what my body was up to. It was just somebody walking up the outside steps onto the truck. My body reacted without any thought from me. It was a strange thing.
Back here, as we landed in the city of fences, shipping containers (I never knew they had so many uses) and cones, I felt the weight fall on all of us.
I have been thinking about one of those episodes of extreme makeover, where in two days they complete a rebuild. But even just starting would be difficult - insurance would be the first hurdle.
Insurance seems to be especially hard if you are building or renovating. The easiest way around the problem currently is just to steam ahead uninsured. After the September quake there was the opinion that not having your house insured was insanity and only for the foolish - the quake being the proof. Now it seems the most logical solution to the current problems. How quickly things change here.
Almost everyday there are new consequences of the quakes. We have water restrictions about to start this week, for the first time in thirteen years. People, near abandoned homes still deep in liquefaction, are worried about the ongoing dust and how bad it will get with nor'westers this summer.  Even though we are fortunate to be mostly back to normal life - it is still thing, upon thing that keeps pulling us back to being quake town residents.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


One of the things that I thought ghastly would be losing my memories, if I got something like alzheimer's when I was older.
I think of memories as a core benefit of life. Reliving funny events or even just tiny events that made up, my life. I love them and enjoy them in my head.
In Christchurch we have seen endless photographs and YouTube videos of the ever changing inner city landscape. I am a city person, I am not a mall person. Every day I was in the central city. Karl works there, we went there in the weekends to eat or shop or walk about.
I have been upset at the destruction of so many heritage buildings and concerned about what would rise in its place.  But I did keep telling myself they were just buildings. I started taking notice of buildings that would be repaired and thinking, it will be okay we will still have some old ones remaining.
But it was only last week as I drove past a part of the cordon again, that I realised quite what had happened.
This part of the cordon used to be a row of shops, half in collapse. Wood and bricks everywhere. Little bits of signage or a partial glimpse of a small section of still intact interior - a reminder of what used to be here. Now it is all gone. It is an empty piece of concrete stretching an entire two blocks.
I saw a clip on YouTube of a street I had been down many times but now one side is blank. Nothing remains. The other side is so familiar and though I try to dredge up what used to be opposite I can't.
I hadn't realised I had stored my memories in those facades. Now nothing is left, not a sign, not a piece of metal filigree, not a lump of stone or brick.
The memories are going too. There is nothing left to tease the thread to pull them back.
They are only stories from the past but people I have met starred in them and I had thought they were always safe inside my head.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kids are weird

Tristan on 22 Feb
Last week it was pleasant, having not felt an aftershock for seven days. The kids were sitting on the couch together and then Tristan said, "I hope we get more aftershocks because I like doing the turtle." It seemed an odd thing for him to say - the boy who took until November last year to be able to go to bed without having be reassured it was safe. We even did fake aftershocks, by rocking his bed, to show him he would be fine.
Lucy joined in, almost slightly guiltily, saying she hoped there would be too. This was from someone who was in the city centre in February and whose behaviour becomes terrible if she sees footage from that day.
They definitely get an adrenaline hit every time a decent shake wobbles us.
After the big ones, such as the ones in June, rules get relaxed, we usually have a random tea of something easy to cook (if we have power), and very tasty. If the water is off, they get to wee in the garden - which Tristan thinks is fantastic. They get to sleep in our room, if they are scared. We have treats and spend time with our neighbour.
They are kids from the southwest, so don't fear liquefaction and for Tristan, quakes have gone on for a quarter of his life.
The idea of the quakes stopping, for them, seems now as unbelievable as if feels for us that they started and are still going.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rugby World Cup Slight Cough

Bridge of Remembrance Fence
Rugby fever has hit the country and we in Christchurch have only managed a slight cough. We were watching the opening celebrations for the Rugby World Cup in Auckland and the mayor, Len Brown asked the crowd to cheer for Christchurch and they all did, very enthusiastically and I shed a tear.
It hit my heart, just how big this situation is. This is a party our city was to be part of. I care little these days for rugby, but the city would have been full of life. We were to have English and Argentinian supporters here for the first game. The atmosphere would have been great.
Instead I watch much of our city centre slowly being pulled down. Every time I drive past it, I see people standing at the fences looking in.
I think the rest of the country understands this was a big tragedy but I am not sure, in Christchurch, all of us quite get the scale yet. We are too busy dealing with the practicalities of it in our daily lives to sit back and take the big picture in. But despite the tragic big picture, all over, the city lives and works on - we are in the middle of an Arts Festival with a wonderful series of events. This is not a dead city at all.
When I hear support and sympathy from outside, the reality of just how big a recovery we have to make, starts to dawn. The officials are talking of a fifteen year strategy to rebuild the city. I love the new central city plan but I will be fifty three years old before it is complete. Lucy will be twenty one. If we stay here long term, her complete childhood will be in a city in transition and rebuild. I have to pause, - because I never added up the years before and it makes me very sad.
Yes, we are still going on about the quakes here more than the rugby, because it dominates our world. At least by talking about it, we keep moving on and it is easier to bear together.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Little Things

A few of the many hearts hanging in
the museum
While there are the big issues of insurance, reinsurance, red zone residents packages and land as yet waiting for a decision on zoning these are the little things that surprise me in their sadness and their happiness:

Things that make me sad:
- Watching the light turn green at what used to be a busy inner city intersection, but only my car goes through the intersection and the traffic waiting on the red are two huge trucks for carrying demolition material.
- The filter jug sitting on the bench. One of the things I have always loved about Christchurch was our beautiful water but now it tastes of chlorine and we use the filter jug to make it drinkable.
- Hearing on the news that of those hit by Hurricane Irene in the States only 17% have federal flood insurance. Living through Christchurch 2011 has made me feel much more for people in the aftermath of natural disasters. They linger in my heart instead of being replaced with the next headline. I now realise just how long and tragic recovery is.

Things that make me happy:
- Joining in the mass hug for Christchurch on Sunday September 4th - we talked freely with strangers and that lovely community spirit we felt after Sept 4th & Feb 22nd was right there again but without a shake.
- Laughing with a stranger in the supermarket at tall glass bottles of coffee flavouring on a top shelf. Had they learnt nothing in the previous twelve months?
- Slightly odd but thinking someone I haven't seen since just before Feb 22, was back in town. Are they really back? I am still not sure but as I try to find out - it makes me surprisingly happy to think they maybe.
- Seeing all the hearts, crafty people made for Christchurch, on display in the Museum. It is lovely being able to visit the Museum again. It is almost exactly as it was other times I have visited and that was so relaxing. Something that has remained the same in twelve months. The hearts almost made me cry. Someone had cared enough, from seeing our city on the news, that they had made a heart and bothered to send it over -it was quite overwhelming  and there wasn't just one, there were loads. Some had wee messages cards like, "thinking of you and praying for you all from Val, Oxfordshire" and the one from Pat in New Orleans. They may seem frivolous and not practical helping, but our spirits need help too. Since I saw them on Sunday, I keep thinking of them and that people cared when we were broken and it makes my spirit glad.

A week on from the start of the quakes - this was what I was thinking last year. It feels so long ago now and so innocent of just what we had ahead of us in February.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Almost one year on

It is hard to believe we are almost a year from September 4th 2010 when our region started its sporadic shaking. On the day the headline in the paper was about the increased cost to EQC we had our house assessment. We had heard so many stories of bad EQC assessments, so were quite nervous about what would happen. It was like our house was sitting an exam and we waited, hearing snippets of comments and answering questions. Our house will be repaired and the EQC guys were excellent. But we are also part of the increased amount EQC need to pay. We have gone from damage of around $1600 to damage over $10,000 from the February quake. We now join another queue for Fletchers to fix it back to how it was a year ago. It may be a year but we haven't got very far to being back where we were pre September 2010.
It is so very strange, I still find it hard to face what I lived through. I can't believe everything that has happened and how afraid I have felt in my own bed at times. I now understand just what aftershocks mean. I am disappointed that even as the aftershocks get smaller, my reaction to them as not grown smaller with them. We had two fours on Wednesday but they made me feel uneasy for a few minutes. Fours never used to worry me when we were having them all the time. I think as we get further and further out from the big shakes, the emotions come more to the surface. I haven't been dealing with those while busy dealing with getting on with normal life. Then last night we were woken at 3.30am by a 4.9. Long and rolling and we could hear a few things fall down. The kids didn't come running in like they used to in the early days, they are used to this new world we live in. They said on the news this morning we'd had twenty-five shakes in the last week but I felt three.
Christchurch is such an unusual place so much of the city is going as it always was, making it ridiculous for any suggestion the city should be completely abandoned. Other parts just aren't. Anyway insurance doesn't let you get out that easily and we have jobs and much of the city is busy like any other in New Zealand. Driving around I see restaurants or shops from the central city relocated and open, it is like visiting family and finding old friends are there already.
One good thing to come through this whole experience has been the community spirit. It is okay to help strangers and to ask strangers for help. But it is also sad to see the cracks start to appear and the media try to push us all apart. East verses West. We have enough issues without taking it out on each other. I really hope we can all keep caring for each other - not passing judgement on each other's experiences and thinking before we speak whether what we say will put others, already under stress, feel worse. It is hard to hold everyone's comments lightly. We are all tired and even it we don't admit it, emotionally affected, by the last twelve months. It is easy to say one thing now and feel different later. Things are constantly changing here.
I am glad for the lights they are putting up in the central city to mark the anniversary. It is so sad to look in at a desolate, dark central city when it should be alive and bright on a Friday or Saturday night. The light will stop that stomach clenching sadness.
On Sunday we will go and join in the hug Christchurch - the place definitely needs a hug but when you hug someone, it is in support and you do it because you know together you can pull through anything.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lucy's crazy school year

The snow shutting schools last week, I got to thinking over Lucy's school year so far.
Right from the beginning, things were a bit messy. Her school was on three floors above shops and a food court in the central city. The boxing day quake, that was centred very close to the central city, damaged the stairwell that is in the building attached to their school. This meant they had to build a temporary fire escape for the top two floors in order for them to use them. Lucy's home base (class) meets on the second floor, so plans were made to house them on the bottom floor until the right people had signed off the fire escape. I can't remember these days too clearly. The kids went swimming at Centennial pool and then on the Friday the whole school met in the gardens for the day. It was the first week of February. The next week school got underway properly, with everyone in the proper places and the fire drill using the new scaffold fire escape completed.
Then only a few weeks later it was Tuesday February 22nd. The rest of that week we were in Nelson, no school at all for Lucy. The following week she went to Tahunanui School in Nelson. By the end of the week we had power and water at home and we had the kids bought back by some wonderful friends. I thought if they stayed away any longer, they may have never wanted to return.
The following week we did home schooling with a meeting on the Wednesday at the new, temporary location at Halswell Residential. This was a welcome surprise for us as talk up until that week had been of a temporary location in the northwest part of the city.
The next week was more homeschooling while the staff worked quickly to set up rooms with the minimal resources they had (all the school's resources were still in town). Thursday 17th March, (four weeks after Feb 22), Lucy was back with her classmates that were still in Christchurch.
In the second term, they were moving to a new, more permanent, temporary site. She had a day off on May 23rd while again the staff set up a new school. This time at least they had most of their stuff from out of the city and the kids got their bags back. I remember at a parent's meeting about the new temporary school, someone asked about the safety of the prefabs in a large aftershock. I remember thinking, we'd had two, what were the chances of another large one? This was before June.
A few weeks later there was another day off on June 8th to allow all the staff to go in and get out more of their resources. A couple of weeks ago I saw the photos Lucy's learning advisor (teacher) took on this trip. The building was in relatively good shape but it was a mess. Bookcases, the kids had played next to, were lying on the ground and everything had been flung across the floor. The stairwell and lift shaft entrance was now badly damaged. There were holes in the walls and she had a photo of a gap between the school building and this stairwell. We used to walk in through this entrance every day.
Then came the June 13 quakes and school was shut for another two days while buildings were checked and signed off.
This term it has not been quakes but snow, with the three days off last week.
On Friday morning when I dropped Lucy off she said. "I'm scared Mummy we haven't felt an aftershock for ages." At six she may have missed a lot of school this year, but she knows the patterns of Christchurch aftershocks and if we haven't a decent one in awhile, it must be coming soon.
The aftershocks are back. Last week wasn't the new quiet normal, it was abnormal according to the experts. Since Saturday there have been three fairly sizable shakes (in the fours on the richter scale). The one on Saturday night was horrible. It kept building and I was watching the little electronic weather station on top of the television wobble. I could feel the fingers of dread start creeping into the pit of my stomach and then it stopped. I could relax. I could push back all those feelings that come from September, February and June. I went to check on the kids and tell Lucy she didn't need to be scared anymore her aftershock had arrived.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Another Unusual Week

The snow has been a fun distraction here and I haven't felt an aftershock all week. Is it really over now?
We stocked up in the weekend on food. The fruit and veggie shop was busy, Couplands the bakery was busy and the supermarket was crazy. It was like Christmas but people were not stressed and still friendly. We know how to handle these sorts of things now.
With the snow warnings, I knew we had ways to cook and stay warm, should the power go off. I don't totally trust our basic amenities anymore. But it has been fine - we haven't lost power at all.
We appreciated that on our side of town we have a sewerage system and don't have to venture out to use a portaloo or empty a chemical toilet. We're also still hooked into the stormwater drains, so as the snow melted it was just went away. In other parts of the city, with drains still blocked, it was a battle against the rising melt.
I've been thinking this week how the past year has changed me. Lucy goes across town for one day as part of her class activities and I find it a little difficult. I worry what if we get another large quake? I don't want to drive into liquefaction territory to get her back. It is a small risk and I let her go, but it still crosses my mind.
Talking to another mum, these days she has an adult babysitter rather than a teenager - she wants to make sure there is someone who will be calm should something happen.
I started this blog earlier in the week and yesterday, while sitting on the couch reading stories, we had an aftershock. It was only a 3.6 but it was centred not far from us and it made the pantry doors rattle. For a few seconds the heart rate increased as we tensed, waiting to see if it was going to ease again or whether the slow build up would continue. It stopped, Lucy moved closer and we kept reading.
The new city plan was released this week too and it was exciting to see plans for a great looking CBD. The time frames were sobering though.
Most days now we sail along with normal life but then I talk to someone from a more damaged area or see an empty space where a building used to be - my stomach tightens and my heart becomes heavy. This was a big thing and it is going to be a long time before we return to a time like February 21.
But despite those moments, through everything, I keep admiring how fantastic we humans are at adapting and getting on with living. We keep getting up and carrying on. People really are amazing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Build Christchurch Beautiful

It feels like it is a roller coaster ride in Christchurch at the moment. I hear exciting news like an art gallery opening up down the road so we can enjoy visiting a gallery again in this city, that the owners of the Dux are looking at opening up a new place for local bands to play at, also just down the road and the cardboard cathedral idea, I mentioned in the last blog post. Then there is the down news, more buildings being slated for demolition, people being very negative about the cardboard cathedral idea, and seeing photograghs of inside the CBD red zone with whole blocks just gone.
Tristan and I watched, with a small group of tourists and workers on lunch breaks, the wrecking ball smacking into the last of a multi-storey building at the end of Cashel mall. Next to it there is a big gap where other buildings used to be, including the pub we went to for dinner on the night I went into labour with Lucy. What is going to fill these empty spaces?
When we were in Melbourne we were talking with our friend, an ex Christchurch resident, who is looking to come back - but not to a boring city. I said, trying to be positive, they rebuilt Beirut three times and it is beautiful. Seven times she corrected me and then made a very wise point that I have been thinking about ever since. She said the Lebanese care for beauty and asthetics, while Kiwis are very practical. The more I have thought about that, the more it seems to be true and it worries me. As the aftershocks continue to only be small and relatively infrequent (I have felt only about three in the last week), I think about what will built in all those empty spaces.
If you don't think there is a problem being just practical you really need to listen to this talk by Grant Ryan on "The economic cost of being boring" from TedxEQCHCH.
I understand why people said they wanted working sewers and flat roads before they wanted a cardboard cathedral. But doing these ideas has no effect on sewers and roads being fixed any faster. It is a completely separate issue but it has a profound effect on the future of this city, my city, (listen to Grant Ryan - really if you haven't yet, you should). The cardboard cathedral, for example, is also to be used as public space and with the Town Hall and other usual venues still out of action we are going to need a venue in the city if we want to help support local bars, restaurants and cafes with reopening in our CBD.
I don't own any central city real estate and I keep wondering how as a resident I can encourage building owners to build Christchurch beautiful. I think we need to think carefully about support.
I have already decided we are going to dinner when Cafe Valentino is rebuilt because the owner said he intends the building to look 100 years old, the day it opens. He is doing something interesting. I think we really do need to strategically support these people - not just sit back and then be cross when we end up with a city that is practical but dull so visitors move quickly on and newcomers choose another place to live.
One thing Kiwis are good at is doing amazing things on small budgets. I don't think beautiful always has to be expensive, we need to be clever. Here are two examples of artworks that help make Melbourne the interesting place that it is - can we use ideas like this in our new buildings? Together - surely we can do it, if we don't give up because it is too hard, we're too busy trying to deal with EQC on getting our houses fixed or because we feel we have no voice. I think we all need to keep the pressure on those that do have the power either because they own the buildings or because we elected them to the council. Please Build Christchurch Beautiful, don't make me regret staying.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.