The Beloved of the River Goddess.

At long last The Beloved of the River Goddess, the sequel to my first novel, The Amulet of the Hunter God, has appeared on the cyber-shelves. It is available from the publishers, Writers’ Exchange, http://www.writers-exchange.com or from http://www.amazon.com for the very affordable sum of $3.99. The Beloved of the River Goddess continues the adventures of Edrun Jaranacad and Jina Kadicath as they struggle though the tortuous intrigues and machinations of the Noble Clans and Temples of the Islands of the Sixteen Gods.

Beloved cover art 2

Thanks to Hazel

My sincerest thanks to Hazel Ashton, who has written the first ever review of my novel The Amulet of the Hunter God. If anyone who would like to read it, check it out on Amazon.com. It might even inspire you to write a review of your own! For those who may object on principal to engaging with Amazon, the publisher’s website is http://www.writers-exchange.com.

What dream will you choose?

Human sacrifice? Maidens in distress? Drunken brawls? Cavalry charges across blood-stained rivers? Divination in the misty light of ancient temples?

The Islands of the Sixteen Gods Book 1: The Amulet of the Hunter God by Stephen Symons (Fantasy)

Blood on the sand? Little birds twittering in the dawn? Avalanches? Skinny dipping in secluded springs?

Do any of these sound like you? In that case you would probably enjoy The Amulet of the Hunter God, a new novel by Stephen Symons and the first in the series The Islands of the Sixteen Gods. Available from http://www.writers@writers-exchange.com and also from Amazon online bookstores [I think].

Dreams Can Come True.

I have often thought about what I want to be when I grow up: space ship captain, multi-media mega star, king of the world, all the ususal unoriginal things. My secret desire, that I shared with very few, was to be a published author. That dream has now come true, and my first novel, ‘The Amulet of the Hunter God’ is now available for downloading from http://www.writers@writers-exchange.com and from Amazon online bookstores for the piffling sum of $US3.99. Welcome to my dream.

Reality is for those who can’t cope with Fantasy

If you are deeply grounded in reality “The Amulet of the Hunter God” is not for you. If you enjoy travelling to worlds beyond the edge of time, adventure in lands fantastical, romance such as exists only in such legends as those of Arthur and Guienevere or Tristan and Isolde then this latest novel from the quill of Stephen Symons may just be the escape that you need. Available online only  from Writers Exchange for the pitiful sum of $3.99. http://www.writers-exchange.com.

 

Happy St Pat’s.

Caed Mide Failche!

The top o’ the mornin’ to you all. Here’s a toast to many fond memories and to absent friends. I shall be thinking of you all. Just as well I have a big head, because that’s a lot of thinks.

One Year On.

To Cathryn and Louise and Anne and Fi and Hazel and Jockey and Smurf and Chris and Spike and everyone else who sent me birthday wishes; thank you. I had a lovely day doing very little. I spent much of it doing nothing, sitting under the walnut tree in the back garden, which is something that I do very well. My friend Bentley, who is also expert at doing nothing, and, indeed, does it with much more style and aplomb than I can muster, joined me and sat on my lap. We sat together for a long time, companionably doing nothing in our own individual ways. Then I went to the pub, and later Ruth and I had a marvellous dinner at Tiffany’s courtesy of Louise. It was indeed a most happy birthday.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, the natives are restless. A large demonstration had been planned for today outside the Christchurch City Council offices to protest, ostensibly, at the pay rise given to the Town Clerk, Tony Marriot. Many of the good citizens of Christchurch feel aggrieved that Mr Marriot has received a very large increase in pay at a time when may of said citizens are without homes, living in rented accommodation that they cannot afford, or in Aunt Mary’s garage. Many point out that Mr Marriot’s rise of $K65 [give or take] is more that most people earn in a year and he does not even live in Christchurch [he lives in Hamilton and commutes]. Mr Marriot has offered to return the sum, provided that the Council toe the line, but many have said that this is unacceptable as the servant does not hold the master to ransom, and it is too late for that anyway.

Protesters outside the City Council, Hereford Street.

They are right, of course. As far as the matter of being too late is concerned, anyway, because the demonstration that was held today was not really about Mr Marriot’s rise. That had become a catalyst, a last straw, if you like, in a litany of woes that would take thousands of words to fully catalogue.

It has been, in short, a shit of a year. Homes have been destroyed, jobs have disappeared, businesses have vanished, many people have been ruined financially. There is a lot of anger, frustration, and bitterness in the air, and people want someone to string up from a lamp-post. Mr Marriot is a convenient butt for this concerted anger, but anger is misleading guide and a terrible master. Angry people do not think clearly, and I would bet money that many of the people demonstrating today would have trouble fully and clearly articulating their reasons for demonstrating, let alone forming those reasons into any sort of manifesto. They want new elections, they want to run the Town Clerk out of town on rail. As if that would make any difference.

But they are barking up the wrong tree. The concerns that most people have are not with the Council at all, but with insurance companies, the Earthquake Commission, and a central government that quite clearly has an agenda of reducing the powers of local governments. Local politicians have made some wrong calls, and there have been some appalling public relations blunders, but what of that? We all make mistakes, particularly in difficult situations such as that in which we have found ourselves. Arrogance and muddle-headedness are reprehensible but they should not be hanging offences.

I had grave doubts about going into the City today. I avoid demonstrations like the plague, because as Town Crier I cannot be seen to be partisan in any way, and I did not want to get mixed up in this confrontation. I went in anyway, to see what I could see from a safe distance, and indeed to see if there was anything to see. Everyone has been predicting a large turnout, but knowing the weight of societal inertia as I do I would not have been much surprised if no-body turned up. As it happened, there were lots of people in town when I arrived. By about 1030 there was a steady little stream of people working their was from wherever along Oxford Terrace an over the Hereford Street Bridge. Numbers started to accumulate.

Mostly, the people gathering were middle aged and elderly, not the sort who usually go to demonstrations. There were younger ones, of course, and a few placards, but everyone was pleasant. It was, withal, a lovely day, warm with a pleasant breeze, an excellent day for a stroll through the town.

The numbers continued to swell and by midday the police had closed Hereford Street to vehicular traffic. There was a large crowd outside the Council offices, completely blocking the road and jamming the empty site of St Elmo’s Courts just to the west of the municipal building. There was a lot of good-natured-sounding noise and the occasional burst of applause, so obviously someone was saying something that people liked, but I approached no closer that Oxford Terrace. The last thing I need is a TV news shot of the Christchurch Town Crier at a protest march.

If nothing else the demonstration managed to severely disrupt traffic in the central City, as I found

Protesters in Montreal Street.

as soon as I sought to drive home. The Police had closed Hereford Street between Cambridge Terrace and Montreal Street, and Montreal Street between Cashel Street and Gloucester Street, which meant that traffic quickly locked up and what is normally a journey of less than ten minutes took almost half an hour. But that is a small price to pay if something is achieved, and I think something will have been achieved, even if it is only the letting off of steam.

No, more than that. The elected members of the Council have been given a message that they will ignore at the peril of their public careers. The people who came to the demonstration are not wild-eyed fanatics, nor a rent-a-mob, nor are they the often fuzzy-edged young rebels of the Occupy movement. Mostly, they are older people, many of them retired professionals, people who know what they are looking at and can understand what they are hearing, people with very deep and very immediate grievances.

The people of Canterbury are, in my experience, very generous, and very forgiving. But they have very long memories.

Christchurch Resurgent [10]

31st December 2011.

It is almost finished. I am writing this at 2:25 p.m. so we have only another nine hours and thirty-five minutes to go and 2011 will be over forever. What with earthquakes, snow and a heart valve replacement operation, this has been one of the most unpleasant years in my lifetime and, I daresay, in that of many others. The City of Christchurch as we knew it has gone, never to return. What will come to replace it no-body knows. We will cross that bridge as we come to it. Here in Canterbury we are getting very good at waiting, largely because there is nothing else we can do in the face of the glacial speed of the progress that we are making.

That progress, so painfully and slowly achieved, can be demolished in an instant. At the back of everyone’s mind is the niggling awareness that another Big One could strike at any moment. This is not a matter of paranoia. This is fact, but we tend to forget it. We all know intellectually that another major quake can hit at any time, but it is only human nature to become complacent. We had a seriously big one in June, then nothing for six months except for minor tremors. We began to suspect that it was all over and we could look forward to a bright new year. Then the day before Christmas Eve we were hit again with a quake that registered 7 on the Mercalli scale. And they have come thick and fast ever since. Less than an hour ago, at 1.44 p.m. we had a number 5. Less than a 7, perhaps, but significant, enough to set the kitchen floor to rocking, the pots and pans to clattering and to force me to grab the table for support. It was the 7,932nd quake to hit us since September last year. There had been three more previously today, and fourteen yesterday, of various strengths.

So the reminders that all is not over continue, and I no longer wish people a Happy New Year. On the face of it, that sounds a little too unlikely. Instead, I have taken to wishing people a boring New Year, an uneventful New Year in which nothing remarkable happens – no emergencies, no crises, no surprises – a year that is mundane from beginning to end, in which each day is calm, and serene and the same, a year in which people run out of things to say because nothing remarkable has happened.

And a very Boring New Year to you all!

Christchurch Resurgent [9]

24 December 2011.

So what lies ahead for the City of Christchurch? Buildings are going down all over the place at an ever-increasing rate. We are fast approaching a point in the road at which a decision on the shape of things to come must be made. We are now at a stage where an overall plan must be presented, but despite the Herculean efforts of many, all we have are vague pronouncements and piecemeal draughts of assorted visions that look very pretty on paper but that is as far as they go. None, so far, have the stamp of consensus. All are shallow, the work of technicians, not visionaries.

Christchurch’s beginnings lie clearly and firmly within a fully enunciated and finely detailed ideology. The Victorians were dedicated to imposing imperial order on the benighted chaos of Terra Nullia. Within that order, everything had to have meaning, and a meaning that was blindingly apparent to all [of that era] who saw it. That meaning was the divinely mandated mission of the Empire to bring the glory of Christian enlightenment and English law to the very ends of the earth. The builders of Christchurch were doing God’s Work, building a British Utopia in this, the farthest reach of Empire.

Were they right or wrong? I have absolutely no idea. To judge the purposes of imperial ideology in the light of post-modern political correctness is both vain and meaningless – not to mention quite beside the point here. I do know that the Victorians had a unified vision of what their bright new City should look like, how it would operate, and what symbols it would present to an admiring world. They argued fiercely amongst themselves about ways and means, but they were totally unified in their understanding of the underlying ideology, and in the ultimate source and inspiration of that ideology, lending a fine sense of eurhythmy to the emergent City.

We have two huge barriers to a repeat performance of such unanimity, the first being that the City is now wholly owned by a very large and disparate number of title-holders, many of them not Christchurch or even New Zealand residents, and all of whom have their own ideas about what should be built on their land, and how to go about building it. They will get about their rebuilding in their own good time, in their own individual ways, according to their own visions, needs and finances, and bugger eurhythmy.

Secondly, this firmly secular and staunchly individualistic society no longer has such a universally recognised ideology. In its place we have a hodgepodge of visions, mostly conflicting, the result of that religion of individualism that has undermined any earlier sense of cohesion. Pervading this is the barely bridled capitalism that is the outgrowth of unadulterated materialism, a capitalist ethic that demands that maximum profits be extracted from the minimum outlay in the shortest possible time. Much as I would love to see a new City of high quality and coherent planning, a City that will be a foundation for the next five hundred years, grow out of the rubble, I fear that weak and divided leadership and ad hoc, unco-ordinated decision-making shall leave us with a shambles and dreams of what might have been.

I believe that the new City of Christchurch shall in time emerge as a tourist precinct, not as a commercial centre.

The solicitors, the chartered accountants, the architects, the stockbrokers and the rest shall stay in their suburban communities. The City – what is left of it – shall draw in around Cathedral Square. It is noteworthy that of all the high-rise inner City buildings that are likely to remain are hotels: Ridges, the Millennium, the Heritage, Novotel, the Quest and the Marque. Close to four thousand beds lie within a couple of hundred metres of the Christ Church Cathedral.

I can see a much smaller City Centre evolving into a tourist hub, with bars and cafés, souvenir shops and ‘craft’ markets springing up to service a core made up of the main hotels. There shall be banks and Bureaux de Change, but these shall be branches rather than primary sites, and there shall be little commercial activity beyond that required to cater to the day to day needs of the tourist industry. The primary banks shall establish themselves outside the City proper, alongside the other financial houses. The once-burgeoning English-language trade will resurface in time, but it will probably be centred on Riccarton with its large shopping mall, and Ilam, where it can bask in the reflected academic glow of the University. Most of the land in the central City, particularly in the south-east quadrant, the area between Manchester Street and Fitzgerald Avenue, and north of Peterborough Street, will be given over to warehousing or bulk barns like Briscoe’s and Bunnings’.

What was the City could well become a back-water for tourists, with its restaurant-lined river, its botanic gardens, Museum and Art Gallery. Small shops in low-rise buildings would gradually open, with most development taking place along the route of a restored tramline. Gardens, lawns and flower-beds would be planted to cover a much wider riverine reserve extending from the heart of the City right along to New Brighton.

As visions go, maybe that is not such a bad one after all.

Christchurch Resurgent [8].

Thursday 22 December 2011.

Activity continues relentlessly inside the Red Zone cordon, some of it constructive but most of it destructive, to judge from what can be seen from the barriers at the end of Cashel Street. A pile of rubble is building up across from Colombo Street, where Kivers Lane used to be. The grand old DIC building is rapidly being reduced to a series of truck-loads of rubbish. I can only hope that the fine stained glass windows that used to adorn the stairwells have been saved. Looted or salvaged, it hardly matters so long as they have been removed unharmed and are in a safe place. I imagine that they might appear soon on E-bay; a very large quantity of ‘salvaged’ items has been put up for sale on the internet. In this way items do not have to be put on public display and no-one but the ‘salvors’ need see the piles of loot, which are kept from the prying eyes of the rightful owners.

At ninety degrees to that said sad site, on the south-west corner of the Colombo Street – Hereford Street intersection, there is further destruction. There was a camera shop on that corner, with Dimitri’s Souvlaki shop on the Colombo Street side and the optician’s on the Hereford Street side. Upstairs there was a jeweller’s shop where Ruth got bits and pieces repaired from time to time. No more.

Diametrically opposite that corner lies the monolithic bulk of the Bank of New Zealand, whose demolition began a few days ago. Cera [the Christchurch Earthquake Remediation Authority] had permitted people to enter the Square for the past few weekends to allow them to view the ruination, but, ominously, signs at the entry point advise that this is not public space but ‘Cera Space’, a firm reminder that Cera is not answerable to anyone, and all things now are done only by grace of the Authority. Nowhere does the word ‘please’ appear on the notices; autocracy does not request, it requires. The signs warn those who would enter that it is Very Dangerous, and in the event of an earthquake they might be Seriously Injured, or even that they Might Not Survive. Wear stout shoes, and carry identification, presumably to save Cera the trouble and expense of having to carry out tedious and time-consuming identification from dental records. The wording has that slightly hysterical undertone that is so common in official pronouncements these days. People are terrified that if something goes wrong they Might Get the Blame, so instead of trying to manage risk they attempt the impossible task of eliminating it entirely.

The culture of risk aversion runs deep and strong, and it is strangling recovery. The Cordon, that most visible manifestation of the risk aversion syndrome, is the garrotte that is strangling the life out of the City. “Ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant”, said Tacitus. He was writing about the destruction wrought on native societies by Roman imperialism, but the words might well sit under Cera’s escutcheon; “Where they make a desert, they call it peace.”

By denying access to the central City, Cera is destroying the heart of the community. The longer it maintains that exclusion, the more certain the destruction, but Cera seems to be unaware that a City is more than a collection of buildings, more than the sum of its parts, and it needs to have people in it. But no-one permitted inside the City and Cera will not admit anyone except the demolition crews. Ergo, all the businesses that employed tens of thousands, that were the City’s lifeblood, have gone; bankrupted, working from garages at home, relocated to the malls and the suburbs.

All these people have set themselves up at Riccarton or Hornby or Northlands. The airport end of Waimairi Road, around the intersection of Roydvale Avenue, is humming with activity. In this process business houses and professional people have set up shop, signing five and ten year leases, and spending a lot of money getting the new premises up to scratch. As time goes on they will become more and more entrenched. Their clients will become accustomed to the new positions, all of which will be thankfully low-rise and have ample free parking. Service providers, retailers, cafés and bars will spring up around them, new communities will coalesce. In five or ten years time, when the leases are up for renewal and expensive premises again become available in the City, will they pull up stakes and head back to Cathedral square?

I don’t think so.

 

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