Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hustle here, bustle there

For the more than 200,000 people who descended on the waterfront/down-town Auckland for the opening of the Rugby World Cup, this track may resonate; especially for those who were stuck on the trains and ferries that simply stopped running - overloaded and overwhelmed.

I had to forgo seeing New Zealand's Electric Wire Hustle live on Friday at Hagley Park as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival because he who is living dangerously decided he had to be in Dunedin the night before the England/Argentina game rather than grooving out to these guys with me.

And then there was the not inconsequential matter of the tickets selling out while we were debating the aforementioned arrangements.

One of the limitations of having a central city that is cordoned off while crews demolish up to 1,000 earthquake damaged buildings, is that there are basically no performance venues left.  EWH played in one of the several temporary spaces (various tents/yurts and domes) erected in the park.  I think this is the dome below.

Consequently, gigs are small.

I recently went to Bernard Slade's 1973 comedy play Same Time, Next Year by the seriously displaced but not disheartened Court Theatre.  (The Court and Forge Theatres were tenants of the much loved, neo-gothic Arts Centre - originally Canterbury College - that sustained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage during the September, February and June earthquakes.  It may be ten years or more before we can again wander its cloistered grounds.)

It did look rather magical; in a carnival-esque way.  But it was quite cold, despite the heaters (and the wine), and the canvas did little to repel the sirens as emergency vehicles zapped around the North Hagley perimeter.

I thought the Court Theatre actors did so well considering back-to-back performances were scheduled with barely enough time to change in to Act One, Scene One garb.  The tent holds approximately 150 people, so turnover becomes everything, aided by the sale of delicious platters and extortionate prices per glass of freezing reds and iced whites.  (Note the coats and scarves my friends are wearing above - they didn't come off once inside!)

After being ushered out at speed, it was nice to amble through the park and admire the lights.

A little unsteady with the phone cam, but you get the idea.  We are improvising where we can in our beleaguered city.  And it's not all bad.

PS It's Monday 12 September here in NZ.  But I am very aware that for millions of people, 9/11 and the dreadful significance of the day, is unfolding.  Peace be with you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Postcard, postscript

Here's the sound of love misplaced.

The soft awakening to love.  The yearning to be seen; to be seen.  The knowing you'll never be enough.  The why, why, WHY NOT ME?  The resignation of loss.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bring change

I have blogged before, using a different name and exploring ideas and themes that lit the idealistic rage within.   I used to connect it with Twitter even.  I thought I was stroking the thwarted journalist within - that self-same media junkie who bowed out of the post graduate programme because I was sick of having no bloody money.  (And then, to douse irony with cliche, went in to PR.)

But I stopped.  It was partly to do with the spooky attention I attracted from various members of the dairy cow conversion lobby (for and against).  And partly to do with my own desperate attempts to stand up for something or hide behind nothing, which, let's face it, a non de plume blog with two followers (one of whom is family) is not.

Truth be told, 'free-ranged' is much the same.  It turns out my blog evolution is microscopic in two very pertinent ways: I'm still hiding; I'm still lounging.

I began 'free-ranged' because I thought that if I spent my evenings on the laptop too, it would ease the resentment of watching him tap away night after night. It doesn't.  Anymore.

Also, my summer read was Backwards in High Heels.  I enjoyed the writing 'voice' so much I Googled the authors and discovered Tania Kindersley's blog, which I liked very much and very much wanted to emulate in a muddled sort of a way.

Of course, the blindingly obvious problem is, I'm not her.  I'm me.

I haven't got anything to say that excites me or anyone else.  I've forgotten half the vocabulary I once knew and used fluently.    And if I reveal the real me, this blog will be even more bleak and self-indulgent than it has become since February.

I don't really do anything, and I day-dream my way through the rest - mothering my children, keeping house.  I know mothering your children is important, I just happen to be one of those people who gets a bit lost in the process, especially when there is no respite, especially when how unlikeable you have become is etched into the faces of the people you live with.

I saw my mother almost daily since she was first diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour four years ago, until she died last month.  (She lived with us for nearly a year.)  She needed me and I wanted to be there for her, but sometimes I was just so freakin' tired; so over being needed for anything.  And now, of course, my time with her has ended, and even though I knew it wasn't forever, I didn't always do my best by her.

I need to be able to put that somewhere, to process it, but my three children are like newly hatched starlings bobbing in the nest.  They want, want, want what I can't seem to give.

It's a recurring theme.

Recently, a supportive friend said, "But you have your blog."  But if this is my value-based redemption, I am in  serious trouble.  This pish-pash of trying to be engaging and interesting, while channelling someone with an extremely dull life, is worse than a diary because I cannot bring myself to say all the truly awful things that need to be said, on record.

How's that for ducking and weaving?  How's that for obfuscation?

When I dream of respite, I dream of being alone, and very, very still.

At other times, I picture myself driving a ridiculously expensive car far, far away from here, way too fast and listening to something like this, really LOUD.

Monday, August 15, 2011

August Snow

And again Christchurch city has closed - snowbound for the second time in a month. It's day two and counting.

We are very grateful for our one remaining wood fire.  The heat pump the Government kindly installed as compensation for having lost three fires (earthquake damaged chimneys) keeps icing over.

Not looking the gift horse in the mouth though...

No al fresco breakfast 

Serious dumping on the rocking horse

New patio in the making - half laid with
salvaged bricks from our chimney stacks

From our bedroom through the
french doors to the veranda

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Baja sessions

There's a small tamper-proof plastic box under my mother's pillow containing a loaded syringe and a 9V battery-operated pump to infuse the mixture of morphine, a mind-altering sedative and an anti-nausea drug through a narrow white flexi-tube to a catheter port in her abdomen.

This is palliative care.  Or, 'comfort cares' as nurse B calls it as she fusses with the blankets and strokes my mother's forehead.

Hospital entrance at the Cashmere View Rest Home and  Retirement Village.

I like nurse B very much, and nurse G.  They are wonderfully caring and gentle even though I sometimes feel their ministrations leave me awkwardly outside the loop; like my mother is somehow theirs.

I find myself apologising for taking up the already cramped space around my mother's bed as they manoeuvre the 'slippery Sam' to help turn her two-hourly.

And whenever they tentatively knock, I always seem to be eating and reading magazines, or eating and playing solitaire on my phone.  I feel like a slack employee; jumping to my feet justifying my seeming inability to keep vigil by my mother's bed in a more productive, nurturing kind of way.

They're not around when I flounder with words and tears.  They weren't in the room when I vowed I would stop watching for every breath.  And they didn't see my face flush with guilt as I pondered which day this week she would die.

Tonight, we watched the Bee Gees 'One Night Only' on television.  At least, I hope she was aware of it.  She loves that particular concert and had the CD in her car, along with several others that are now rotated on the portable player by her bed.

She also has the Three Tenors, which I confiscated after arriving to find, "Time to say goodbye" playing during the weekend.  I am coping better with Chris Isaak's Baja Sessions.  It has a sameness that is easier to block than those tenors belting out "Nessun dorma" etc.

But then, it's not meant to be about me.

I have received several texts asking how long do I think?  I'm thinking: if that's your question, you probably already know the answer.

My brother sent a text from Sydney asking me to let him know when she was a day or two away.  What do you do with that?

Meanwhile, yesterday was the official start to the school holidays, with a two-week term break ahead.  The girls are desperate to get away to the snow - anywhere really, as long as it's not Christchurch.

But I can't leave.  We can't leave.  Not yet.

Miss 7 is diverted with retro fizz and an afghan biscuit - for now.  

Monday, July 4, 2011


It was my mother's 71st birthday today.  She is dying.  On June 13, I was told it was a matter of weeks.  She has survived precisely three weeks.

We gathered at her hospital for afternoon tea.

I choked on the "happy" of the birthday song and lip-synch'd the rest. No-one was up for 'hip-hoorays'.   I arranged a cake (among other savoury and sugary treats).  No-one appeared to notice the missing third 'e' of Beverley.  Mum was always a stickler for that. Her sisters too.  Its significance paled by the fragile retreat of the person we have loved in to and then out of a body given over to cancer.

My brother called from Sydney.  It didn't go well.  He spent the next half-hour dispatching distressed texts.  He couldn't understand a word she'd said (of which there were very few), except for, "Is that you, Kevin?"

Not his name.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

On the fringes and okay

I had the great pleasure of attending my second cousin's twenty-first birthday party last night and a.) getting to bed well before midnight and b.) feeling absolutely perfectly well in the morning after just one celebratory glass of wine.

This is not as I remember twenty-firsts.  Not at all.

I could blame the fact I drove the 40 minutes to her family's country house and was the responsible driver for the evening.  But the real reason has more to do with the fact I am exactly double my lovely second-cousin's age and my hot date was my eighty-year old Aunt, who also happens to be the birthday girl's grandmother.

I sat on the fringes with several silvered dames and had loads of fun, savoured the dinner and remembered it the next day, and found myself comfortably passe as troops of twenty-somethings filed through the sitting room and living room en route to... well, I don't know exactly.

We had a bit of a giggle about some of the boys, who were seriously out of their depth with the bevy of sophisticated beauties that barely concealed their disdain for said boys' ill-chosen quips.  They were trying so hard to be COOL and the girls were merciless.

There were some interesting moments when my cousin, the birthday girl's father, introduced me as his niece, and the birthday girl introduced me to another as her aunt.

I wonder, does my cousin think I'm immature?  Does my second cousin find me ancient?  What happened to 'cousin'?  Is the whole cousins thing really so fraught they both shied away from it, even though first and second cousins are relatively easy to identify, surely?  It's the extended mess of third and fourth cousins, and beyond, that confounds me.

Does anyone know?  Should we care? (I barely know my first cousins!)

Here's the lovely birthday girl as I think of her most, with her beloved horses - Danny above and Zorro below.

I am completely at the mercy of the old nag who walks me around on the very occasional horse-trek, so I find Miss D's horse-riding acumen seriously impressive.

Mr T used to ride, and quite well, but time and opportunity are against him.  And then there's the slight problem that he tends to over-excite them unintentionally. He has a similar effect on dog and cats.  Now that really doesn't bear thinking about.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I left the building.  Wasn't sure about coming back.  But here I am.  Not much has changed and yet, everything has changed.

Firstly, we have endured more than 7,000 aftershocks since 4 September 2010.  You become so used to them in a way, you don't always take the time to be good to yourself - to acknowledge the enormous impact it has had on our lives, that it continues to have on our lives.

On Monday 13 June we experienced a M5.7 aftershock around 1pm.  I rang the girls' school.  All fine.  More breakages, but everyone safe.  One hour later, a terrifying 6.3 hit - just like February 22.

Master S was asleep in his cot.  I could not run the short distance from the kitchen to his room without bouncing off the walls of the hallway and dodging flying objects.

You see the thing about all these damn quakes is, because we are on a bed of volcanic rock interspersed with marshland, when the ground breaks and rorts, it explodes with tremendous force.  So a relatively medium quake on the Richter scale (a 5 to a 6) is experienced as something much larger.  Ground acceleration is the key.  When the quakes come, the ground is moving at 2 x gravity both vertically and horizontally at the same time.  Depending on the expert quoted, this is globally unprecedented in terms of recorded data.  All I know is it makes for one hell of a ride.

And this one tapped into everyone's primal fear - that they get bigger.  

Miss E, our little five-year old, who is struggling with the aftershocks, was so scared by the 6.3, she wet herself at school, while assembled with the other children like sardines on the astro-turf evacuation point after the first jolt.  She was completely beside herself with fear and humiliation by the time Mr T arrived to sweep them up and home.

Although it has to be said, the school (all schools) are doing a magnificent job of caring for our children.  And of course many teachers have school-aged children of their own.  That they continue to put your child first in moments of absolute chaos is nothing short of amazing.  Gratitude seems entirely inadequate.

Unbelievably, our 100-year old house takes the strain, although the tell-tale signs are everywhere; like ladder-runs in a stocking, the ceiling and wall cracks have gone viral.  In some places, the house has shaken so violently, exterior paint has simply fallen off.

On the small side-board in the dining room is a collection of all the ornaments and photos etc. we have left.

This cupboard was (rather stupidly, as it happens) in the dining-room filled with stem-ware: champagne flutes, red and white wine glasses, shot glasses, sherry and port glasses - even amazing martini glasses gifted to my parents on their wedding day.  It fell over in February, smashing into the dining table.  Every single piece broke.  It has since been moved to the hallway and filled with the children's games and puzzles.

In some sort of desperate attempt to put things right, I have been working on the garden; re-landscaping an area off the front veranda to accommodate the bricks from our dismantled chimneys, and to create a new courtyard space for the family to enjoy.

Here's an indication of the new planting.  (The bricklaying is not finished, so I've concentrated on the new garden bed that went in Thursday.)  The buxus cones are surrounded by buxus hedging plants to make squares, and on the veranda side of the tucreum too.  The roses and lavendar in front of the bay window have just been pruned for winter. 

I cannot recommend Debbie Rimmer Landscape Design and Linda and Matt of Sprout Garden Services highly enough.  They understand the need to tend what you can, while the glaringly obvious waits for another day, when the shocks have abated.
There was other, more devastating news on Monday 13.  But that's for another post.  Tonight I'm off to my second cousin's 21st party.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bed 'n breakfast

Stylist Charlotte Rust keeps it simple at her Auckland home with a loft bedroom over her kitchen.

Photo: Todd Selby, The Selby via Isaac Likes

With some sort of pulley system, she could raise the bar on lazy Sundays.  Love the light.  Love the ladder.

I bought an antique library ladder near Lumsden (south of Queenstown) once.  It was a fabulous and thrifty find.  Unfortunately, I left it behind in one of my flats because I was too disorganised to rescue it.  Even more unfortunately, the list of belongings sacrificed to disorganisation is very long.

There is something to be said for having left that phase.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No, no, no

The time has come when I find such god-awful phrases as "end-of-life care" rolling off my tongue in hushed tones during conversations with too many of them and not enough of me.

I don't want to be here: watching another parent succumb to bloody cancer.  Not now.  Not again.  Not ever.  No.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Zambesi girl

The closest I've come to a sartorial love affair is with New Zealand's established designer label, Zambesi.

There was a time in the mid to late 1990s - a period that looks increasingly as if it might have been my hedonistic zenith - when Zambesi pieces were my staples.  I was single, on a career track, and financially independent.

I was so devoted to one particular boutique that carried Zambesi and other favourites Helen Cherry, Marilyn Sainty and NOMd, the owner would buy with me in mind.

It astonishes me now.

On a whim - it's been a while - I viewed Zambesi's  A/W 2011 collection online.  If I was in my 90s phase, I would have snapped these three up, no question. Zambesi has always had a distinctive look and collections flow into one another, but these pieces could almost have been plucked from my wardrobe back then.

(Photos: Zambesi, a/w 2011 runway via

The New Zealand design aesthetic has long been synonymous with a dark, utilitarian mood.  Edgy black and loads of it.   It's no longer the case, with a blossoming, diverse design scene, but I have struggled to broaden my palette - colour and direction - even if circumstances and desire dictate I no longer fill my wardrobe with Zambesi and NOMd etc. 

I still tend to look for clothes that best reflect (on my pared down budget) designer influences from fifteen years ago.  I think it's partly because it represents a time when I felt I had it going on.

But my tastes have evolved; a little less uncompromising, softer, more inclusive.  I adore Richard Moore's draped, feminine dress below.  (He showed at iD Dunedin Fashion Week earlier this month.)

                      Photo: Richard Moore dress via
                     iD Dunedin Fashion Week
Frankly, though, as much as I admire it, I simply couldn't wear it well for many reasons; not least of which, it's white.

Perhaps I should just embrace my anxiety about wearing colour or block white and the post-children fear of svelte clothes, and explode into a new style direction.  I'm thinking vintage Zandra Rhodes, seen here at iD Dunedin Fashion Week 2011 (private collection).

Photo: Vintage Zandra Rhodes via iD Dunedin Fashion Week

Then again, if I focus on confidence, maybe my lack of imagination will be considered a signature rather than a style rut.  Here's hoping.  

In the meantime, I think I will follow up on Zambesi's Shooboot.  Winter is coming.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April sun

The Avon River in the late afternoon, autumn light.  Ten metres to the left, six-foot aluminium fences ford the river, river banks and Cambridge Terrace.  But to the the right there is this.

Punts outside the Antigua Boat Sheds (since 1882)
on the Avon River, Christchurch

The punts have just begun operating again on a reduced river loop.

Looking up towards the Antigua Boat Sheds
from the Hospital Bridge, Riverside 

The bridge is impassable, dressed with the ubiquitous fluorescent orange cones and temporary fencing.  But you would never know from here.

Looking from the Hospital Bridge off
Rolleston Avenue up-river through the
Botanical Gardens, Hagley Park

My mother's room in Christchurch Public Hospital's aptly named Riverside Block overlooks the Avon and Botanical Gardens; north-facing for all day sun.  

Fortunately, I had my phone with me to capture these, but it does have its limits.  I hope you get the idea.  Easter Sunday in Christchurch was a thing of beauty, with the promise of renewal.

(Although we have just had yet another aftershock - best not get ahead of myself!)

Happy Easter x

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cut and paste

Bottom lips began to tremble at the supermarket check-out as the Misses T were told to return the TV Guide.  I have never bought one.  And I never will.

"But she's a Princess!"

Not yet.  Another week.  The manipulative mileage I have made out of the Royal Wedding is alarming.  

If the girls are exceptionally good, at everything, all week, then we will go to Grandma's and watch the televised wedding coverage live.  This is huge.  Not only for the obvious reasons, but because it involves staying up very late.  The prospect of late night gallivanting is almost overwhelming.  And then there is the dressing up (for them).

Eldest Miss T is working up a mood board.  I succumbed to the the pull of the corner dairy's cheap magazine titles for more material.  There was frantic cutting and pasting all afternoon.

While she monopolised all things Royal and Wedding, I rediscovered the joys of creating my own mood board, exploring rather different themes.

I have to say, there is something enormously therapeutic about cutting and pasting, and all without one keystroke or mouse click.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Adults - Nothing To Lose

Like a GOOD girl, I have been silent.  I have had nothing pleasant or engaging to say, and so I have said nothing.  Swallowed it all down.

Swallowed away the anger; the fear; the dark things we shouldn't bore others with let alone reveal about ourselves.

I have been pacing about the house; a short-tempered yo-yo.  Truth is, there is a lot about which I am not happy.

I read the blogs of so many wonderful women living lives I covet, and I have been inspired by them.  But I am so very far away from those lives.  However much they may have put a spring in my step; my world is small and closing in.

The world has moved on.  There was Japan.  Then Libya and the Ivory Coast, and twisters in the US.  But I can't move on.  I have nothing specific to complain about. I'm not grieving a death.  Our home is standing.  But there is loss - all around, tremendous loss.

And the reality is, we have years of such hideousness before us.  Everything that made this such a great place to live has gone, or is denied us.   Christchurch is one big suburb, with its ruptured streets, patched pipes and sewers, and precarious power supply; and no heart.

I lurch from hopelessness to illuminating the many, significant opportunities that a razed city presents.  I know it's manic.

And I'm aware I shouldn't bore people on my blog with my lamentations.  Who, really, wants to know?  I don't want to know.

But I need to.  I need to say what needs to be said.  It might get a little dark, a little strident.  I will have to throw off the shackles of my marketing mind that is screaming "blog suicide", and just get on with it.

I would like to say a special thank you to one of my followers, Tattieweasel. Tattie happened to read and comment on my March 19 blog.  It wasn't a post of note.  But it was the departure point for my dive into melancholy.  Somehow, the fact that Tattie commented was enough to pull me out of my self-imposed, turbulent silence.  

There's a newly released NZ song by Jon Toogood's collaboration The Adults that captures my mood perfectly with its slightly ominous, repressed tension.  It's got a punk vibe with the two-chord thing, but Ladi6 is no punk - she's pure Pacific hip-hop funskster - rockin'  it here with Shihad frontman Jon, and the distinctive Shane Carter.

It's definitely not everyone's cup of tea.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Moon Man: or portent of doom

Auckland based Ken Ring, the Moon Man,  uses astrology - the moon, tidal movements and the sun - to predict weather patterns.  More than 5,000 farmers and other weather watchers around New Zealand subscribe to his site Predict Weather.  They swear by him.

He also predicts earthquakes.  He has been sometimes lauded but mainly vilified  for claiming to have predicted the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that hit Christchurch 22 February.

On his website he posted a warning in February that conditions were 'potent' for a significant earthquake in Christchurch during 15-25 February.  He also tweeted on Valentine's Day that Christchurch would be especially vulnerable on the 18th - give or take three days.

Of course we now know that on February 22nd at 12.51pm a newly identified fault-line ruptured under the Port Hills at a depth less than 10 kilometres, and less than 10ks away from Christchurch city.

A confluence of factors dictate an earthquake experience - magnitude is but one of them.  At various times during the 30 second quake, peak ground acceleration levels were recorded of more than 2G - or twice gravity - levels four times more than those experienced during Japan's enormous magnitude 9 earthquake this month.  Cantabrians are now beginning to understand that ground acceleration and soil resonance - whether a building is moving/shaking at the same frequency as the ground below - are critical components of whether your city stands or falls. Combine that with our soil type - basically the city is built on old river beds and swamps -  and you get the trampolining effect, whereby the ground layers effectively split and crash (vertically) into each other.  Liquefaction is one of the results - and  toppled buildings, and cracked pipes and roads and other infrastructure, too.

I am not convinced there's a point to my quake rambling here, but that's what I do. I read and research, and find the recitation of facts, albeit inexpertly recounted, calming.

I'm struggling to bring the same process to the vexed issue of Ken Ring's predictions of yet more earthquake activity in and around Christchurch on 20 March and 18 April.  Here's what he has to say about 20 March, or, tomorrow.
... the morning of 20 March 2011 sees the South island again in a big earthquake risk for all the same reasons. This date is the closest fly-past the moon does in all of 2011. The node arrives on the 20th at 9.44am. As that date coincides with lunar equinox this will probably be an east/west faultline event this time, and therefore should be more confined to a narrower band of latitude. The only east/west fault lines in NZ are in Marlborough and N Canterbury. All factors should come together for a moon-shot straight through the centre of the earth and targeting NZ. The time will be just before noon. It could be another for the history books.

He has advised us to stock up on basics and help others do the same.  He has also said that if he lived in Christchurch, well, he'd be staying close to a strong safe structure or getting out altogether.

Many quake weary Cantabrians have done just that, with thousands taking advantage of the public memorial on Friday to make a long weekend of it - anywhere but here.  Small towns and holiday attractions within 200 kilometres are booming.

The vast majority of broadcast and social media comments suggest Ken Ring is a crackpot and worse, a scare-monger preying on a devastated community, shamelessly self-promoting.

I think he truly believes his theories are valid and genuinely wants to warn people for the common good.  As to the validity of his theories, I don't want to dismiss them out of hand because I do not know enough to critically evaluate his system. Besides, history is punctuated by societies that have practically lynched proponents of alternative ideologies.  But I am tending towards the sceptical.  (How else will I sleep?)

Suffice it to say, with a 'bob-each-way', I am staying in Christchurch, but have not re-hung mirrors, paintings or generally righted what's left of our ornaments, photos and other bits that could fall and smash.  I have also ensured our water containers are full to overflowing and there's enough chocolate stored to last three days.

The Moon Man, Ken Ring

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When excitement comes to you

I am not an earth mother.  I struggle at the best of times to be truly in the child-moment.  I am easily distracted by my own thoughts and preferences.  It has been a long haul; all of us, at home, every day from 22 February until Monday.

With our CBD in ruins and under cordon, there are no galleries or museums to visit. Public pools are closed.  You cannot visit the beaches or rivers - contaminated with raw sewage, they are a health hazard. Some public parks, if accessible, are unsafe due to the risk of falling trees.  Parks and reserves in the Port Hills are closed due to instability.  The hills have risen 40 centimetres from sea-level as a result of the February 22 quake.  Rock fall and land-slides now pose significant risk. Organised or formal child-centric activities are like hens teeth.  Besides, who wants to brave the roads to get across the other side of town?

But for the boy-child, there is an upside.  The amount of trucks, diggers, rollers and other heavy machinery in the suburbs has him in raptures.  Workmen in fluoro vests and steel capped boots are everywhere.  He says, 'Hi-ee' to every one.

Yesterday, screams of delight as a Kenworth truck pulled up right outside our gate. Men with socks and shorts tan-lines disembarked and put orange cones about. And then, as if that wasn't beyond excitement, the digger rolled up, and began breaking up the unbroken bits of road.

I am standing behind our main gate.
We were this close to the action!

Needless to say, I tired of the spectacle before the boy-child.  Not only is he heavy, but I felt uncomfortable in such proximity to the three guys standing around watching the one guy in the digger.  (I love that they have such defined rolls: truck driver, cone guy, sweeper.)  There's a point where you feel you need to make conversation or flee.

I left the boy-child hanging off the gate, emitting a different kind of scream. Sweets, chocolate, biscuits - I tried them all.  But he was adamant.  Road works or bust.  I returned to the house, hoping separation anxiety would get the best of him. After some minutes of SILENCE, I high-tailed it back outside.

He had devised a novel solution: using our Council issued recycling bin to ram the gate.

Of course, there were some technical difficulties...

...which he and the Burmese turned into opportunities.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mixed bag

It's been a mixed bag today.  Nuances of normality interspersed with the crushing reality that I don't actually like the new 'normal'.  Wave the wand.  I want our city back.  I don't want to see another pint-sized coffin; I'm over entry after entry in the death notices starting: Tragically taken 22 February...  I want the alternative ending.

Instead, I drive as close as I dare to the cordon's perimeter.  It's one thing to see images of the fallen CBD on the screen or in print, but I feel the need to experience the loss to begin to reconcile the new normal.  Of course, I haven't  a show.  Less than three kilometres from our house there's an army watch - nine uniformed guys ensuring no-one breaches the cordon at the Colombo/Brougham intersection.

At another intersection, an army tank is parked across the road flanked by more army and police uniforms.  Temporary fencing is everywhere, as are sand-bagged neon orange signs: Danger; Keep Out; Road Closed.

Scenes that are repeated over and over, creating a new walled city within city.  It doesn't feel like New Zealand, much less our provincial, parochial little city.

I turn back to Beckenham - our patch of Christchurch.  One side of the village is a dust-bowl after several old brick buildings were razed following the September earthquake.  Two more have succumbed to the February quake.  Opposite, the new shopping centre is relatively unscathed - liquefaction in the car park and some damaged stock.  The 1930s Spanish-styled Baptist church next door, lies in a heap. I almost took a photo of it for my 'Looping the Heathcote' post, but turned left instead of right at my front gate.  The next day, it was obliterated.

I call into one of the local cafes and perch at a reading table with the latest magazines.  Nothing like a bit of escapism.  Asprey's Notting Hill bag catches my eye, pretty in berry ostrich and crocodile trim.

I check the price for no good reason other than it's listed. 7,900 pounds (can't find the symbol). As lovely as it is, the idea of a NZ$15,000 handbag seems especially grotesque right now.

Getting the girls back to school has been a huge relief - for everyone.  Don't be deceived by the feigned indifference and contorted face; they have had a great day.

It's been 21 long days at home.  Littlest Miss T only started school 31 January 2011 following six weeks of summer holiday. She's excited by the prospect of this three weeks on, three weeks off thing.  (In another three weeks, it's end of term.)  Term 2 will herald the harsh reality.

Little Miss T is enjoying spelling homework.  Enough said.

The school's library and hall are off limits but otherwise, it has come through relatively well.  (Nine schools in Christchurch will have to be demolished and rebuilt; closed for up to two years.)  Unfortunately the Monarch butterflies, snails and various assorted insects in jars - gems of newsworthiness - did not.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The dreaded red sticker

The boy-child and I watched an enormous digger on metal tracks rumble past our house, take a wide left at the intersection 20 metres down the road, and manoeuvre itself into the driveway of the lovely triple brick house two from the corner.

Within minutes the sound of twisted iron, shattered glass and crashing bricks as the huge toothed-bucket on a mechanical arm nudged and prodded and raked the house into submission.  One man, three levers and a red sticker - all you need to raze a 100 year old home to the ground.  (The structural integrity of the house was compromised after the 6.3 'aftershock' on February 22.)

The beautiful old brick villa with the deep veranda sold last year after an extensive renovation.  All that money spent on rejuvenating it, all that money paid for it, all that vision, and all those dreams invested in it - gone.

It's such a waste.  And all over Christchurch, there are similar stories.  I know of several properties that were damaged during the September quake and have undergone or were undergoing repairs, only to be flattened in February.  It seems so futile.

My husband's parent's house was damaged by a falling chimney stack during the September quake.  It crashed through the roof into one of the back bedrooms, narrowly missing Great Uncle H, 99 and visiting from Australia.  The crane operator who removed the toppled section of chimney said it weighed 1.5 tonnes.

As a precaution, they removed the remaining two chimney stacks to just below the roof-line.  Each chimney stack housed three flues, one flue for an upstairs fire and two for downstairs.  They were fairly substantial.

Mr T's parents' house minus three chimneys after the 7.1 earthquake, September 2010.

On 4 September at 4.35am the third or back chimney stack fell through the roof
into a back bedroom that was occupied at the time.  The tarp covers the hole. 

During the February 22 quake, the chimneys collapsed internally.   On the right hand side (as you look at the house from the road) the chimney sheered off about one metre from the floor of the first story almost up to the ceiling in one slab, crashing and smashing into a living area that Mr T's sister and her two-year old daughter had left just seconds before the quake.  The other chimneys crumbled at the base, too.

It means the three chimneys running through the second story up to the roof line are unsupported.  Apparently, during aftershocks, you can see the house sway; top-heavy, precarious.  When settled, it lists to the left.

The engineer's report said that if were not for the chimneys, the house would be structurally fine.  It has been 'red stickered' - part of the new lexicon for condemned.  'Munted' is another.

Mr T's parents' house at Peterborough Street, Christchurch
has been  condemned  after  February's quake.
The George Hotel is to the right, and across Park Terrace, Hagley Park.
Fortunately, Philip Trusttum's studio at the rear of the house has been spared.

Because the house is within the CBD - the red zone - it is cordoned off under armed guard.  They cannot go back into the house; it is too unsafe.  And while they took immediate refuge in the garage and studio at the rear of the house, before moving out of the cordon to family and friends, they were told that once they left the red zone there was no going back (in the interim).

Everything they own - the art, books, treasures, clothes, furniture, the things that make a household, EVERYTHING - will go with the house under the wrecker's ball. They have the clothes they were wearing on the day; their cars.  (Although I understand there may have been an adrenalin-fuelled, timed dash for art works, papers, photos and a few, very few, personal effects. But I could be mistaken.)

By comparison, we lost 12 champagne flutes, 12 wine glasses, six tumblers, two high ball glasses, three vases, one jug, two platters, one cake stand, two soup plates, and a standard lamp - give or take.  We dismantled both chimneys after one cracked at the roof-line but did not topple.  (Having bricks and old mortar anywhere above your head is just asking for trouble in this town.)  There are several new dents and hairline cracks about the place - nothing the painters and decorators can't fix.  We are ridiculously lucky.

I don't know how you're meant to watch the demolition gang finish what nature began.  I don't know how you're meant to start again.  But I do know that so many people here in Christchurch (and in Chile, and China, and Japan...) will do just that. They will look around, grieve for what they have lost, give thanks for what they have left, and get on with it.

Photo credits: Hot Wookie, Kete Christchurch: Canterbury Earthquakes 2010 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Flying home to chaos

The Japanese Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team departed Christchurch today for their homeland.  For team members anxious for news of family and friends, it will be the longest flight.

Sixty-six Japanese USAR crew with three specialist dogs were working the rubble in Christchurch's central business district just two days after the February 22 quake reduced our inner city to a third of its original building footprint.  The initial Japanese response team was followed by two 29-crew rotations.

The Japanese teams worked one of the most devastated sites; the six-storied CTV building, home to an English language school (among several other businesses), where up to 30 Japanese students were believed to have been at the time of the quake.  One exceptionally brave and collected young Japanese man guided rescuers to others from where he lay trapped beneath concrete and steel, before undergoing a field-amputation to be freed himself.  All this while the building burned, then smouldered and while the pancaked remains sifted with each aftershock.

Working together at the CTV building site, Christchurch, NZ
Photo via

One hundred people representing many nationalities are believed to have lost their lives in the collapsed CTV building; the greatest loss of life in one place.

And now those incredible Japanese teams that helped pick through the ruins until the CTV site was all but cleared are faced with the resulting horror of an earthquake that was 1,000 times more powerful than the 6.3 magnitude quake that struck Christchurch.

What can you do but wish them well?  They go with our immense gratitude, heartfelt thanks and prayers.

New Zealand's 48-crew USAR team will reach Japan on Sunday.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan's quake

I have been sitting here wracking my brain for something, anything that is not earthquake related which is, undeniably, the new reality here in Christchurch.  I flicked the TV on for a bit of mindless company and saw an enormous fire engulfing an oil refinery in eastern Japan following a massive 8.9 magnitude tsunami-triggering earthquake.

I cannot believe my eyes.

Just as I'm calling Mr T through to watch Japan's state television coverage live, another window-rattling, crockery-chipping aftershock hits here.  What's going on? Seriously!

My thoughts turn to the wonderful Japanese USAR (Urban Search and Rescue) team assisting us in our wasteland of a CBD, right now, combing through rubble looking for the missing.  They must be beside themselves to hear the news.

I imagine that many of the USAR teams that came to our aide, and have only just left, are on high alert, ready to mobilise again.  Amazing teams from Australia, the UK, the USA, China, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand - I hope I haven't missed any - joined our fabulous New Zealand crews.  It is exhausting, painstaking, dangerous work.  They are incredible and, unfortunately, they are needed again.

I am overwhelmed by the amount of seismic activity around the world in the past six months.  No wonder some cultures believe we have displeased the gods.  The world over, the earth is bringing us to our knees.

Oh and here's a kicker, I've just heard that one of Japan's nuclear reactors is experiencing problems with the cooling system that is supposed to activate when there's an emergency shut-down.  It's not working.

I think I'll tackle those mouldy school lunch-boxes after all.  We were allowed back into our girls' school this afternoon for the first time since the February 22 quake to collect their belongings.  It turns out neither daughter had eaten those lovingly packed lunch goodies.  That, at least, I can deal with.

Cherry Blossom, Nagoya, Japan
Photo: Achim Runnebaum

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hunters & Collectors

Here's the post I intended to publish Tuesday 22 February, before we were side-swiped by the earthquake.  It seems beyond shallow after such enormous loss in our city, and I have toyed with the idea of deleting it altogether.  But today, I feel shallow has it place.
Certain songs are as close as you can get to time-travel.  If you are an Australian or New Zealander of a certain age, chances are, 'Throw your arms around me' by Hunters and Collectors might be one of them.

I saw them play in Sydney in '87, and again at the University of Canterbury's Orientation Week ('88 or '89 maybe).  The song was never a commercial hit but it is regarded as a classic down-under.  It has been covered by Pearl Jam, our own Neil Finn, and numerous garage guitar bands in Australasia.

I used to think only an Aussie guy would write a love-song about a one-night stand. All I know is that when I first heard it, I only heard the love bit.  I guess that says something about me.

It's one of the unifying songs for forty-something antipodeans, where-ever they find themselves in the world: 'Throw your arms around me' is a call to anthem.  And I guess that begs further analysis, but far be it from me to ruin a good thing.

Early Hunters & Collectors was a little grunge-y; this was their ballad.  But the version I've chosen here is laid-back live in Sydney, with lead singer and song writer Mark Seymour on acoustic guitar.  It's not the best clip in terms of the audio or the styling, and I use that word very loosely (it is pretty old now ), but it's got the feeling.

If you haven't heard it before, give it a chance. Besides, I especially like the end, where band-member Barry wants to take a photo of the audience before the encore.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Baby steps

On Tuesday 22 February at 12.51pm I was leaning into the back of my car unbuckling my darling Sam, when the car rocked and bucked so violently, and with such gathering speed, I was thrown back onto our driveway.  Sam fell, freed from his harness, into the floor well of the car.  Instinctively I prevented the door from slamming on his tiny hand with my head.

I looked up at our house and heard the smashing and crashing, and saw the light in the sitting room swing on its metre long chain up to the ceiling and back, an unlikely pendulum.  The painting over the mantle turned 90 degrees and then jumped off the wall.  Bookcases on either side of the fireplace emptied their contents, top shelf down. The amplifier and dvd player hung over the shelf by their cords.  The speakers broken on the floor.  

At the same time, the earth opened up and starting gushing silt and sand and water at an astonishing speed down our side path.  I could not see how it would stop. Water flowed until the following morning.

Inside was completely tipped up - like a tornado had torn through.  The bedroom doors were jammed closed by the fallen furniture behind.  A double-sash window in our kitchen was shaken so violently, the top sash pulled away from the lock and fell down.  The down-light in the kitchen snug fell from the ceiling.  A free-standing dresser in our kitchen, laden with crockery, jumped across the floor an entire metre, likewise a sideboard.  Miraculously, nothing broke within.

The fridge spewed its contents onto the floor. In the dining room, the floor was strewn with broken glass - every item of stem-ware smashed.  

And while I desperately tried my husband's cell phone, people in our CBD were dying or were already dead. More than 700 buildings fell, another 900 plus have been deemed unsafe.  And in every building there were people, and every person has a story.

I don't know what to say.  I don't know how to find a way back into blogging that isn't obsessed with this tragedy.

The very first funeral of the quake victims was for little Baxtor Gowland - 5 months old.  He was born 13 days after September 4, the day of our magnitude 7.1 earthquake.  He lived through more than 2,500 aftershocks of note and died in the biggest.

While I was hugging my neighbour and reassuring her it was ok, that I had seen one of her middle sons, little Baxtor's body was being rushed by builders towards the hospital, in a city now gridlocked by devastation.  The police took over and then the ED staff, but he was gone.

And as if his death is not so heartbreaking in and of itself, Baxtor was the surviving twin, born prematurely.  Somehow, that completely undoes me.  

So I thought if I got this post out, if I uncorked just a little of the sadness, I would find a way to move forward.

New Zealand's incredible light 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christchurch in ruins

We have been hit by another horrifying earthquake.  The aftershocks continue and it is terrifying.

I cannot tell you how unbelievably scary it is in Christchurch right now.  People have died - I have heard unconfirmed reports of hundreds of deaths. So many are trapped in multi-story buildings.

The 6.3 magnitude quake was far more intense that September's 7.1 quake - just 5 kilometres underground, with an epicentre 10ks away from the CBD, at our port, Lyttleton.

We live between the CBD and Lyttleton.

The aftershocks are severe.  They are coming at a rate of 2 -3 per minute in this last hour.  I am undone.  I do not know how I will get through the night.

And we, again, are some of the lucky ones - with moderate damage to our property and effects, and no injuries.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Looping the Heathcote

When I was a child, slide projectors were the iPads of the day.  Friends of my parents would host evenings with cheese fondue, "medium" white wine, and three or four slide carousels of their family holidays.

The oohing and aahing subsided in direct correlation to the host's increasing enthusiasm as slides were paused for full effect.

I am a little bit conscious that this is precisely what I am doing here, sharing my photos from the day's walk around the Heathcote River loop.  Only, I haven't gone to any trouble whatsoever - no little hors d'oeuvres to help you through, or a lovely tipple of your choice.

So please feel free to indulge while I get a little bit carried with my snaps and the accompanying commentary.

If I go out my gate, turn left and walk a few hundred metres, then turn right, I arrive at my local florist.  Before the recession hit, I would visit weekly and choose flowers for the house: two or three vases worth of seasonal, cut flowers.  Now it's a special occasion kind of thing.  I do miss that.

Here, I am standing on Colombo St looking down Fisher Ave with its glorious Plane Trees.  The florist is on the corner of Colombo and Fisher, just to the left, out of view.

A little further down Colombo Street (about 100 metres) is the lovely art school and artist supply shop, 'Passion for Painting'.  Owned and run by two women, who live at the back with their two bichon-frise, the school runs small group and private art classes for children and adults.  Our eldest daughter is desperate to go but must wait another three months until she is seven; the recommended minimum age.

One house down from the art school, across a side road and over a small bridge, is South Public Library, nestled among the Dutch Elms.  It's a magnificent eco-building that has won numerous awards for being clever with grey water, climate control and such.  It's also very high tech (which I guess is now averagely spec'd given it was built several years ago).   The library has a great little cafe, and you can eat and drink anywhere in the library.  This is fantastic because there are so many lovely chairs and sofas to curl up with stacks of magazines and books.  A rill runs right around the west and north faces, and part of the east.  It's very calming.

The river runs along the left of the library (as you look at it) and curves around behind, meandering south.

I followed the river along the north face and looked back on the library's east face. The children's library is through the large doors.  The rocket is for when you, or they, have had ENOUGH.

The boy-child and I headed south, behind the library until Malcolm Ave.  Once you've crossed Malcolm Ave the riverbank becomes known as the Donkey Trail, after a former circus donkey called Jenny.  She was taken in by a local family in 1962 after she became too tame (bored) with her circus act. She was a gift to the family's nine year-old son, Ray.  Each morning, they would walk Jenny down to the river to graze along the bank while Ray and his brother were at Thorrington School, which borders the river.  The children would ply her with carrots and apples.  Ray would then ride her home via Remuera Ave and Colombo St, back to his house in Malcolm Ave.  She died a happy old girl at 18 years.

Apparently, Ray still lives in Malcolm Ave.

To save you endless river shots: I have crossed back across Colombo St and followed the Heathcote River along Ashgrove Tce to the Barrington St bridge, where I double-backed along the other side to the 'Narnia' bridge, upon which I'm standing here.  So called by my friends and I because of the distinctive lamp-post at the foot of the bridge on the forest side.

I followed the river along the forest trail, which is to the right of the river looking at it from Narnia bridge.  Our girls believe Pooh Bear lives in this particular tree.

The forest trail ends at Swan Lake (seriously).  The lake and surrounding gardens used to be part of a private residence, which has since been bought by a Thai family and developed into the Lotus Spa, and Lotus Spa Tea House and Restaurant. Kindly, they allow the public to wander the grounds.

Loving the swans - they have lived here for decades, despite the ownership change.

Continuing along the riverbank, you can see the Colombo St bridge in the background.  To the left, across the road, is 'Passion for Painting'.  The library is directly across the bridge.  And to the left on this side of the bridge, is the Malthouse.  We have looped.

The Malthouse is home to Canterbury Children's Theatre, which stages two to three productions per year.  It's a cushion theatre, so you bring your plumpest feather and down to last the hour.  It can get rather hot.  Note the small windows.

Fortunately, the building was earth-quake strengthened in the twelve months preceding September's  7.1 magnitude earthquake last year.  Christchurch's stone and brick heritage buildings did not fare well during the quake, and I'm sure the Malthouse would have been damaged beyond repair had it not been for loads of steel rivets and bracing (rivet above right, downpipe to the left).

The Malthouse is also home to 'Malthouse Costumes' - theatre costumes for hire.  It can be quite fun watching sheepish work-attired people return outlandish outfits, and wondering just what sort of party they enjoyed at the weekend.  (Sad, I know.)

And then it's home, to the charmingly dishevelled Lucy, a Schnauzer/Fox Terrier cross.  Actually, she came with the boy-child and I on the walk, but I asked her to pose behind the side gate for the welcoming effect.

She was, as ever, very obliging.