Monthly Archives: September 2010

Christchurch Earthquake 2010 – 10

Miraculously the new Art Gallery was apparently unharmed. Its vast glass façade had withstood the onslaught without harm. It had, I learned, been used as a temporary Civil Defence headquarters while damage to the new Civic Building across the road was being assessed, although why this should be I could not work out. Environment Canterbury has a well equipped, purpose built Civil Defence Centre for just this purpose. Why not move everything over there instead of into a building with a monumental glass wall? Oh, yes. I forgot. Politics overrides earthquakes.

A little further along Worcester Boulevard the Arts Centre had clearly suffered damage, although how much was hard to say. The finial on the tower of Old Boys’ High had fallen off, the second time in my memory, and there were some gable-ends and stonework missing, but it did not look too bad. The Galleria shops were open and people were coming and going. As I walked further down, however, I saw that pretty much everything else had been roped off. The towers of the Clocktower and of the Great Hall were braced up with timber, and Rolleston Avenue was completely cordoned off from Worcester Street to Hereford Street.

The museum had a notice saying that it was safe to go in, but it was shut up; I hate to think of the damage to fragile collections. The Antarctic display in the old McDougal Gallery was open for visitors, it seemed, so any injury to the buildings will, thankfully, be minimal. On the street there were still quite a lot of people meandering about and gazing up at the buildings, although most of them seemed to have clipboards and reflective jackets. I left them to it and heading back towards the City Centre.

By Wednesday things were starting to feel even more normal. It was a wonderful warm spring day such as only Christchurch can put on, and the State of Emergency had finally been lifted although what difference that made on the ground is hard to tell. There were still large numbers of police walking and standing around, as well as many soldiers. The Square was humming – only a very gentle hum, of course, nothing too obtrusive or un-Cantabrian – and the craft market had set up camp in the middle once more. Elle was playing her saxophone as usual and Kelvin the blind busker was belting out Irish ballads.

High Street was open once again and I was able to explore in that direction for a change. The refurbishment of Hereford Street from Colombo Street to the River was in full swing once more, with curbs being built and paving being laid at a great rate, although the Colombo-Hereford intersection is still a complete shambles. Along High Street the Westpac building on the corner of Cashel Street appeared to have suffered damage, unlike most of the other modern high-rises who seem to be uniformly unscathed. Workmen were coming out of the building and loading debris into skips, which was a worrying sign, and the bank, the main Canterbury Branch of Westpac, was closed.

Further down Manchester Street the damage was extensive amongst the many old and primarily brick commercial buildings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The block of shops that had until recently housed Smith’s Bookshop looked to be an almost certain write-off from the lane to Tuam Street. The Excelsior Hotel itself was intact, but there appears to have been damage to the ANZ Chambers on the corner of Lichfield Street, and a crane was demolishing the little old two storey building that had once been home to Michael’s Restaurant. More damage was evident further down towards the Polytechnic, but on the bright side lots of cafés were open, Alice’s Video Rentals in the magnificent Art Deco Post Office building was open for business, and the stretch of old buildings from Tuam Street to the Polytechnic seemed to be largely unharmed.

Despite all the attempts by the media to dramatise the situation, everything seemed remarkably calm. People were positive and while everyone seemed to know of some tale of tragic loss to someone else, most commonly people reported that nothing untoward had happened to them. A couple of plates or an ornament broken, perhaps, but little more. There is much evidence of damage all around, and will be for a long, long time to come, but considering the scale of what happened we have escaped very lightly, and mostly people recognize that.

I think of the recent disaster in Haiti, when a quake of similar intensity struck there some months ago. Port-au-Prince and neighbouring towns were virtually flattened, and there were something like a quarter of a million dead. Even now, six or eight months after the event the towns are still in rubble, sewage is flowing through streets, and they are still digging bodies out. Here in Christchurch one man died of a heart attack, and some other poor bloke got severely banged on the head by a falling chimney. Apart from that all that we suffered were a few cut and bruises. If indeed Christchurch was founded in God’s name, then She is looking after it. We should count our blessings. Even the Cathedral, although shut as a precaution to asses possible damage, is completely intact, not a gable-end nor finial nor turret tip lost.

There is a lot of talk about widespread fear, and without doubt a lot of people are nervous, and a few are quite severely traumatised, but I suspect that this is more of a media beat-up than anything else. Both the media and the political establishment have a vested interest in exaggerating matters, or focussing on a few examples while ignoring the larger picture. Such things sell newspapers, improve ratings for the  6 o’clock news, and heightens the profile of politicians who have god-sent opportunities for melodramatic and pompous sound-bites. It is instructive to note the backgrounds to the reports of on-the-spot television reporters; they use the same sites over and over for dramatic effect. The intersection of Worcester and Manchester Streets, with its demolished restaurant and jewellers shop on one corner, burnt-out massage parlour on the other, and damaged old church on a third, is rapidly becoming the definitive image of the 2010 Christchurch Earthquake.

I would not dismiss the extensive damage, structural and human, that has been caused by this event, nor do I doubt that it will be many, many years before that damage is put right. Conversely I would not underestimate the determination and resilience of Christchurch and its people. The City is crawling with workers busily setting things to rights. There is an intense desire for normality, and a relentless will to achieve it. There have been other events to distract to media; blizzards in Southland causing damage in Invercargill and misery across Southland farms, flooding in the Wairarapa, cyclones in Auckland.

It has been a difficult winter, but spring is in the air. The magnolia tree in the Arts Centre’s market square is resplendent with huge purple and white blooms, while the flowering fruit trees along the Avon are clouds of shimmering petals. There will be a few more chilly nights yet, but warm summer days are just around the corner.

Christchurch Earthquake 09.

It is now two weeks since the Big One hit us, and the true extent of the damage is only just beginning to become apparent. It was easy at first to look around the Square, for example, and, seeing everything still standing and seemingly in order, believe that the damage had been relatively slight. It is not that simple, as I found as I walked through the City over the course of the week.

Monday was bleak and overcast but I nevertheless sallied forth in my regalia to see what, in any, tourists and visitors might be wandering about the town. The barriers were up around the Barbadoes Street frontage of Piko’s Wholefoods, and the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church was unchanged. St Luke’s Church on the corner of Manchester and Kilmore Streets had lost some stonework, particularly finials and gable ends, and there was exclusion tape around much of it, but it was open for business all the same. The Repertory Theatre was looking very sad, but as workmen were carefully boarding up the gaps instead of pulling down the brickwork it would appear that restoration is at least being contemplated.

I suspect that this is a hope that few of the damaged old buildings can look to, particularly the ones still in commercial use. High-profile sites such as the Arts Centre, or Our City – Otautahi will have great care and a lot of money lavished on the because of their visibility and public ownership, but other, lesser known but equally important buildings such as the old NZ Express building or the ANZ Chambers a little further down Manchester Street may not fare as well. As they are in private hands their preservation becomes a much more complex question.

Old buildings are notoriously expensive to maintain. Repairs will be difficult and costly, doubly so because any such repairs will now have to conform to modern, quake-resistant building standards, which will render many of them financially non-viable. Owners will not be allowed to rebuild and replace  according to the original specifications. Building owners, while perhaps publicly deploring the loss of heritage, will be privately rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of insurance pay-outs and the prospect of being able to demolish an elderly white elephant, all the while planning new developments on freshly available bare land. They will no longer have to accommodate to heritage orders, public submissions, environmental hearings and other such impediments to profitability.

I had to renew the registration of the car, a little job to be done at the Post Office, but when I arrived at the Victoria Square branch I found it to be closed, as was the one by the bus terminus. They were still closed on the Wednesday. So much for the resilience of the Postal Service who are supposed to provide so many vital services to the community. At least those of us who rely on Westpac know that we can depend on banking services to be available in good order. Those who depend on KiwiBank may not be able to say the same.

The main body of the Cathedral was closed to the public. Little bits of falling debris  have made the nave and transept a little suspect, so it had been closed pending closer examination. Core services were still being offered in the new annex, which was built to modern specifications, so people can at least take communion and receive pastoral assistance. The Post Office could learn something from the Anglican Church, it would seem. Outside in the Square there were considerable numbers of people walking back and forth, coming from wherever it is people come from, and going to wherever it is they go. The atmosphere was not exactly humming, and mostly people seemed a little subdued, but everyone was talkative, wanting to tell their little story – everyone has one – and there were plenty of tourists mooching around. I did a brisk trade in photo opportunities.

There was a lot of foot traffic across the Worcester Street Bridge, which is one of my primary tourist catchment areas. There I met Wesley who, after bending my ear with his complaints, told me that the large crack in the old Clarendon Building that I had noted with some dismay last week, is quite in order. It would seem that when they built the new Clarendon Tower, the engineers made some structural alterations to the old hotel building in the course of earthquake strengthening. One of the measures was to cut the stone façade vertically from top to bottom in that place then fill the gap with mastic. In that way should an earthquake jolt things about, it would simply come part at that seam instead of crumbling into a mass of masonry. It did exactly what it was designed to do and now all the engineers will have to do is tighten up a few bolts, replace the mastic, and give it a coat of paint. No-body will ever know the difference. Clever blokes, engineers.

Wesley’s complaints were both more serious and indicative of the consequences of an over-zealous bureaucracy. His punt landing had been open last week and struggling back to life. The damaged Our City building had been roped off with exclusion tape, but the punting was still up and running. By Monday, however, someone had run the exclusion tape right around the steps from the bridge and around the punt landing so Wesley cannot do any business. Like so many enterprises of similar size, the punting operation has been running reasonably happily, but profitability depends on continuity of trade, and the business will not be able to run for long without income. Who extended the exclusion tape? Why was it alright where it was last week but not now? How long would it be in place? Could it be moved back to its original position so that he could start trading again? The poor chap was being run ragged trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get answers to these questions from Council staff who are also run ragged trying to field half a dozen queries all at the same time. There does seem to have been a bit of a breakdown in co-ordination, which is understandable given the circumstances.

Reflecting on the joys and miseries of running a business, and saying a prayer of thanks that I no longer had such pressures, I walked on down Worcester Boulevard.

To be continued:

Review of Prince of Persia – Sands of Time

Originally submitted at

Magic Lives!
By Stephen Symons from Christchurch New Zealand on 9/15/2010
4out of 5

Pros: Engaging Characters, Entertaining, Ostriches

Best Uses: Adult Viewers, Perfect Gift, Younger Viewers, At Home

Scheherazade would be proud of the Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time. This is a tale that is worthy of the 1001 Arabian Nights; simple, clear, lots of action and sword-craft, a love interest [without being too graphic], and plenty of swashes being buckled. There are no hidden layers of meaning, no subtleties, and no deep moral messages other than the obvious ones; truth will out, loyalty is true strength, and love conquers all. There is sorcery, ancient legend, and a magical device that must be returned to its home or terrible events will overwhelm the world.

The setting is Magical Persia. This is a land of sorcery and wonders, of genies and ifrits, of demons and angels. It is a world of powerful wizards and wise kings, of evil viziers and mighty warriors, of beautiful princesses and rascally brigands. It is the world of Scheherazade and Haroun Al-Rashid, a mythical, fantastical land that has been part of story telling for at least a thousand years and bears as much relationship to the real world as Camelot or Atlantis.

Prince Dastan [Jake Gyllenhaal] is an orphan adopted into the King’s house as a boy and brought up as a brother to the two Princes of the Blood, Tas [Richard Coyle] and Garsiv [Toby Kebbell]. Their Father, the wise and beloved Emperor Sharaman [Pickup, Ronald], rules the Empire with a stern but just hand. The King’s brother and Vizier, Nizam [Kingsley, Ben], brings news that rebels to the east are being armed by the Holy City of Alamut, an independent realm. It is determined that the three brothers shall lead an army against the City.

Tus, the senior man, shall lead the attack followed by Garsiv. Dastan is told to bring up the rear, but instead launches an independent and successful attack elsewhere, breaking into the City and capturing a mysterious knife that is being taken to the Temple. Princess Tamina [Gemma Arterton] is captured and taken to the Capital, but not before she notices that Dastan has the knife. Tas gives Dastan the captured mantle of the High Priest to give to the Emperor as a gift.

In the Capital, Dastan is hailed as a hero and the hand of Tamina is promised him in marriage. The Emperor Sharaman accepts the mantle of the High Priest but as soon as he puts it on hidden poison does its work. Within moments he is dead in a horrible manner. Pandaemonium erupts and Dastan is accused of murder. He and Tamina escape in the confusion, shortly afterwards finding themselves on the run in the desert. Camping in the dunes that night, Tamina tries to kill Dastan, who draws the knife, accidentally pressing the jewelled pommel with his thumb.

A very strange thing happens; time is reversed and he is able to seize Tamina before she can draw the sword with which she would attack him. She explains that the knife is a powerful magical tool which must be returned to the Temple at all costs or the whole world could be destroyed, and the significance of the subtitle – The Sands of Time – is revealed. Dastan has other plans for the knife, however. The next day Tamina knocks him out and runs off with the knife, but they are captured by bandits and taken to their stronghold.

They escape from the bandits, but are recaptured, in the course of which they reveal the power of the knife. The bandits are awe-struck and agree to help Dastan, who wants to return to the Capital to attend the funeral of his father, the Emperor, thus showing his respect and proving that he was not the killer. Meanwhile the other two Princes are in pursuit and coming close, but Dastan and his party have doubled back to the Capital. Here he seeks the advice of Nizam, the vizier and his adoptive uncle, but he is betrayed and Nizam is revealed as the true villain of the piece.

Dastan, Tamina and their bandit friends flee, pursued by the other Princes and a large company of Imperial troops who want to bring back Dastan alive. Also in pursuit are a band of Hassansin, professional assassins hired by Nizam to destroy Dastan and his party and secure the knife at any cost. We now realise that the matter of the supply of weapons to rebels was but a fabrication put about by Nizam to attack a peaceful and friendly realm, the Holy City of Alamut. His real target was the magic knife, which he intends to use to turn back time so that he can become the Emperor himself.

It transpires that in their youth, when they were Princes of the Blood, Nizam and his older brother Sharaman were hunting gazelle. They were attacked by a lion, which Nizam fought off, thus saving his brother’s life. If he was to turn back time and allow the lion to kill Sharaman, Nizam would become Emperor! He thus desires the magic knife above all else.

Dastan and his people reach the Temple and try to replace the knife in its proper setting, where it will do no harm, but the assassins attack. The knife is taken and given to Nizam, who prepares to perform the ritual that he thinks will turn back time, but will, in fact, cause time itself to collapse, leading to the total destruction of the world. There is much dashing about, with battles and duels between Princes and soldiers, bandits and assassins, and tumult as doom approaches. Time is indeed turned back, but not to the place we expect.

Dastan and Tamina find true love at last, honour and brotherly loyalty shine through, and wickedness is punished, as it must be.

Prince of Persia – The Sands Of Time is a cracker of a movie. It is not one for the thoughtful, and it does not pose questions about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Having started life as a video game, that is not what it was made for and it does not pretend to be anything else. It is the first truly successful adaptation of a video game to the big screen.

Prince of Persia is pure entertainment, a journey into a wonderful, magical world where all things are possible, where honour and integrity win through, where wickedness gets its just desserts, and the hero and heroine can ride off into the sunset [literally], arms about each other as they sit astride their camel. Great stuff.


Christchurch Earthquake 2010 – Day 08.

Friday 10th. Cold, wet and dreary to begin with, the day slowly grew warmer, the skies clearer until by mid-morning I felt it about time that I wandered into the City to see just what had occurred since last we looked there. I had not been into town since last Sunday morning, and a lot had happened in that time. 

At about 1030 I strolled into the City via Kilmore Street, Oxford Terrace, Armagh Street, New Regent Street and Gloucester Street. The Oxford Terrace Baptist Church was as sad-looking as ever, but nothing seemed to have changed since last we saw it. Oxford Terrace by the Swimming Pool was normal and it was only when I turned into Manchester Street that there were more signs of damage; the Manchester – Worcester intersection was still closed with roadblocks manned by Police and Army. Verkerk’s Butchery on the corner of Armagh and Manchester Streets was open for business, God bless them, and I purchased a few items. New Regent Street likewise appeared to be unharmed with those shops that are tenanted – there are at least four that are unoccupied at the moment – open for trade. 

Construction work was in full swing on the Gloucester Street building site between Press Lane and Cathedral Junction, the great crane lifting building materials overhead. It is a real tribute to the engineers who designed, built and erected this behemoth that not only did it resist a force 7.1 earthquake but continued unscathed through all the aftershocks. It is as well that the big one came at 0430 in the morning as if the machine had been manned at the time the operator would have had a really, really nasty experience. The carnage that could have resulted had it toppled at, say 1100 on a busy weekday does not bear thinking about. 

Press Lane itself was closed off, as was Colonial Lane, but I was relieved to see that the Coachman building and the Lyttelton Times building were both intact. Cathedral Square seemed more or less normal, although the Cathedral doors were shut and there was no craft market running. On the other hand the giant chess was out with a small crowd of aficionados in attendance, and the Information Centre in the old Chief Post Office building was operating. The trams were running, and shops and businesses around the Square were open for trade. 

Around the corner at the Colombo Street – Hereford Street intersection things were more grim. Hereford Street was still cordoned off from Colombo Street to Madras Street, as was High Street as far as I could see. Police Officers and soldiers patrolled just inside the lines. Shops in Colombo Street were open, with Kentucky Fry, McDonalds and Burger King doing a steady trade. Marbecks Records was open and I stopped for a few moments to browse amongst the DVDs. Cashel Mall east of Colombo Street was closed, but open to the west down to the Bridge of Remembrance, although foot traffic was light. Ballantynes, Whitcoulls, and most of the shops further down were also open, and while Shades Arcade was also accessible, there was little activity as the many English language schools that provide the bulk of the business within it were all closed. 

Hereford Street from Colombo Street to the River was like a battlefield, but that was nothing to do with the earthquake. Extensive remodelling of that stretch of streetscape over the last few weeks means that it is still a maze of holes, shingle and earthworks. Along the Strip most of the bars and eateries seemed to be open, but there was very little trade being done. Down by the river things were more normal although my heart sank to see the old City Council Building [now Our City-Otautahi] ringed with tape. Walking around it, the damage seemed to be restricted to some lost tiles and a couple of broken windows, but who knows what might lie underneath, waiting to be exposed by the next tremor? 

Of real concern was the Worcester Street façade of the old Clarendon building, which appeared to have come completely detached from the main building. It looked as if it was being held in place simply by the iron balcony in front of it, and could crash down at any moment. I gave it a wide berth as I made my way back to the Square, a pint of Guinness at Bailies Bar in Warners Hotel, and then home. 

That evening Ruth and I walked back into town for a meal at Bailies Bar, passing many cafés and bars on the way. The Bohemian in Oxford Terrace was enjoying a steady trade, although there was not much doing in the various Armagh Street places. Little India was shut, but from there on into the Square most places seemed to be quite busy. We were hardly having to fight our way through the throngs, but there was nevertheless a considerable foot traffic and all the tourist shops seemed to be open. Bailies was doing an excellent trade and we enjoyed a very pleasant dinner overlooking the Square. 

Despite the week’s events, the piles of debris and the continuing aftershocks, life is definitely returning to normal. They say that the cordons will all be removed by tomorrow, so, barring something really unpleasant, I think I can say that the Town Crier will be back on his beat on Monday morning.

Christchurch Earthquake 07.

Thursday 9th. There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that the water supply has been declared safe so we do not have to drink gin instead, or boil water for brushing our teeth. The bad news is that the State of Emergency has been extended to next Wednesday. This problem is obviously not going to go away any time soon.

Ruth remained at her telephone, which was running hot all day, with barely a respite. I went out once to go to the movies. Or so I thought. I should explain.

My friend Hans Petrovic rang to see if I wanted to go to see the new movie ‘Centurion’, which was to open at the Rialto today. Hans is a movie critic, and does reviews on Plains FM. He has a variety of contacts, one doing comedies, another doing musicals and so forth, whom he interviews on Radio every week, which programme is aired every Wednesday [and is available on podcast for those who might be interested]. I do Historical, Science Fiction, Fantasy,  and Weird Stuff, so ‘Centurion’, which is about a Roman Officer lost in northern Britannia during the Brigantian rebellion of the early second century AD fell squarely within my purview. We agreed to go to the 1330 screening.

Hans arrived at about 1315 [‘Take your time. No hurry’]. I suggested that we go down Kilmore and Durham Streets, as there was some sort of blockage on Moorhouse Avenue, but Hans wanted to go that way to get access to some car parking that he knew. Sure enough, we ran into trouble as soon as we turned from Barbadoes Street into Moorhouse Avenue where traffic was backed up into Ferry Road and thoroughly snarled up. The old Christchurch Railway Station had been declared unsafe, as I had said – there are some quite serious cracks in the great tower, I understand – and all but one of the five western-bound lanes had been blocked off. Hans, as usual, was in the wrong lane, so we had some trouble getting around the corner. He was impatient to get to the theatre on time, so he decided to take a short cut behind the Railway Station – which was blocked.

We ended up going around and around the mulberry bush for a while, up Madras Street, through Southwark Street, into Manchester Street and back to Moorhouse. All along the way there were signs of devastation, walls toppled, roofs collapsed, poles and posts at rakish angles, but all the bad stuff seemed to have been at least fenced off and, apart from the tangle in Moorhouse avenue, road traffic was moving steadily if slowly. We reached the parking area in behind Harvey Norman only to find a man with a safety helmet behind the ticket desk of the Rialto. The cinema was closed until further notice. It had been open on Tuesday evening, apparently, but the heavy aftershocks of Wednesday morning had pulled something loose and it was no longer safe. So much for ‘Centurion’.

We made our way slowly back to the Cottage via Madras Street and Salisbury Street. High Street and Tuam Street were still fenced off and the roadblocks manned by soldiers. A huge container truck was planting what appeared to be empty containers end to end along Madras Street between High and Cashel Streets, creating some sort of barricade but against what I could not see. The Blues Bar may well be a write off, as well as the lovely little old Nurse Maude building, which would be very sad. It is [was?] a real little gem. Cashel Street and Hereford Streets were still cordoned off, with rubble in the streets and giant road cranes working in the near distance, and I saw minor damage to St. John’s Church and to Charley Brown’s Backpackers, as well as other buildings around Latimer Square, but nothing too serious.

The situation is dire, beyond any doubt, but from the very cursory glimpse that I had it would seem that things are being brought under control quickly and efficiently. There is even talk of lifting the cordons in the inner City by 0500 on Friday. We shall see.

To be continued:

Christchurch Earthquake 2010 – Day 06.

Tremors continued throughout the day and the next night into the morning of Wednesday 9th September. There was a strong one at 0030 or thereabouts. I woke up in time to see a small grey shape streaking across the dining room floor; Molly heading for the cat door. No plaster fell from the ceiling, and there was no sound of falling books or breaking crockery. I went back to sleep and slept soundly until about 0600.

We were up early, breakfasted and hopeful of a return to normal. Ruth was getting ready to head into the Volunteer Centre and I was thinking that I might get into uniform and head back out into the world. Then at about 0750, as we were standing in the dining room by my computer, there came another tremor. This one was different from the previous ones. It was brief, but it was very sharp, as if it was very close, very shallow. I grabbed my brand-new computer monitor in one hand and Ruth with the other. We clung together of the duration of the shaking.

Then everything was quiet. The power was out again. We looked around. Once again, everything seemed to be intact; no cracks, no breaks. We cautiously opened the front door and looked up and down the street; the traffic lights were out all the way down the line. I sighed resignedly and went out to the shed to retrieve the gas hob with which I made a cup of coffee. Ruth had just made tea, which she now very frugally poured into a thermos flask.

I looked around for Molly, who had been nearby when the quake struck. She could not have got outside as the dining room door had been shut. She had to be somewhere. I looked under the skirts of her/my armchair. A pair of very large, very worried eyes stared back at me. I stroked her and the worried look faded, but she did not want to stay. She quickly headed outside.

The tremor put paid to any thought of going into town again, and we resigned ourselves to another day at home. Ruth set up the Canterbury Volunteer Centre Avon Loop Branch in the front room and for the rest of the day the phone was ringing almost continuously as she fielded calls from people either wanting or offering help. Another sharp shock at 0939 and another at 1450 confirmed our suspicion that seismic activity was continuing unabated, and news broadcasts added further evidence.

The power cut lasted for no more than a half an hour, so we were soon back up and running, but there was now no question of a return to work. It was not long before we heard that the State of Emergency, which the authorities had hoped would be lifted by Wednesday, had been extended. I did not catch whether it was ‘to a week’ which would have it continue it until Sunday, or whether it was ‘for a week’, which would drag things on until the middle of next week. Whatever it was, I was not going anywhere that day, so I spent the time watching DVDs and planning dinner; our old friend Jenny Gavin and her companion Graham were holidaying in Christchurch and we were going to have them around for tea.

They arrived in due time, having had their trip on the Tranzalpine Express cancelled [surprise, surprise!], and we had a very pleasant evening, all the more so because we could enjoy some normal social activity in normal circumstances despite all the upheaval around us. As someone once said, ‘there is always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area’.

To be continued:

Christchurch Earthquake 2010 – Day 05.

By Tuesday morning the spring weather had lost some of its lustre. There had been a little light rain overnight, not enough to cause hardship but enough to settle the dust somewhat. And it was cooler, a reminder that summer is not here yet and winter can still bite even when spring tweaks its tail. The State of Emergency was still in place, so the Town Crier could not be about his lawful occasions, which gave me the opportunity to think about procuring a replacement computer monitor.

Although the Police cordon had been reduced in the CBD it was still in place and the prospect of having to negotiate Police lines, not to mention piles of rubble, did not appeal to me. And there is another aspect of the cordon that worries me; the presence of soldiers. Yes, they are all pleasant young people. No, they are not armed. Yes, they are under the command of Police officers. No, they are not abrupt or rude. Yes, they are fulfilling a very real need for manpower at a crucial time.

But the presence of the military serves as a grim warning of what might have been, of might yet be. The purpose of the Police is to protect the people from criminals in their midst. The purpose of the military is to protect the state from its enemies. This is a fundamental tenet of a modern democratic society, in place since Sir Robert Peel founded the London Metropolitan Police Force. The presence of the military, despite being very polite and despite that they are unarmed and assisting during a civil emergency, suggests to me that the people are the enemy. This impression is, I know, completely wrong, but it is underneath my consciousness nevertheless. I am reminded of Heathrow Airport, and the sight of heavily armed Police, wearing flack jackets and carrying automatic weapons, and the reasons why they are there. I feel a abiding sense of horror at the merging and blurring of roles between Police/Military and People/Enemy that has become one of the hallmarks of our times, and I did not need a further reminder of this fall from Grace.

The central City was no place for me at that time. I went through the yellow pages looking for alternative suppliers of electronic goods. The Dick Smith shop at the Palms Shopping Mall was open and they had monitors for sale.

Feeling less than footloose and fancy free I set off for the Palms on the corner of Marshlands and New Brighton Roads at about 1000. Traffic seemed normal along Kilmore Street, Fitzgerald Avenue and Hills Road. A block wall in front of someone’s garden was down, and I could see the occasional collapsed chimney. There were a few grey piles of silt squirted up by liquefaction of the ground, but otherwise all appeared to be in order. The Palms was open for business and, while not exactly humming, was nevertheless doing a steady trade. All the shops were open, lots of cars were in the carpark, and the only sign of anything untoward was the tape across the immobile escalators to the cinema complex on the upper floor. All theatres were closed, said the sign, until further notice.

I purchased my monitor and headed for home along New Brighton Road, turning into Barbadoes Street by the park. Traffic was flowing, people were walking around, or sitting outside coffee bars, children were playing in the park. Earthquake? What earthquake? Then I came to the intersection of Barbadoes Street and Edgeware Road. The long row of five or six shops that occupied an old two-storey building on the south-west corner of the intersection was almost completely demolished, while shops opposite were badly damaged.

Grimly I continued on, wanting nothing more than to get back to our little cottage and shut it all out for while. Then, passing over the Bealey Avenue intersection I came to the stretch of road that passes through Barbadoes Street Cemetery. Great swathes of daffodils were in full bloom, pools of brilliant golden light on either side of the road, a reminder that spring really is here and the good days are just around the corner.

To be continued.

Christchurch Earthquake 04.

Monday dawned clear and warm, as perfect a spring morning as you could ask for. For our part the only sign that anything was at all unusual was the quiet. Barbadoes Street is a major north-south thoroughfare and on a Monday morning from about 0700 on is busy. This morning there was almost no traffic, and the vacant ground on the site of the old Star and Garter Hotel between us and the River Avon, normally rapidly filling with commuter parking at that time of day, was almost deserted. But it was a wonderful morning and we enjoyed breakfast outside on our little back patio. Molly dozed in amongst the snowdrops beneath the apple tree as is her wont.

I decided to see if I could replace my computer monitor, so rang around and found that Dick Smith Electronics on the corner of St Asaph’s Street and Colombo Street was open for business, which they were, and yes, they had some monitors in stock. At about 0930 I drove down Barbadoes Street and reality clicked back into place. Every street leading into the CBD – Kilmore, Armagh, Gloucester, Worcester and so on – was cordoned off as the central City had been shut down under State of Emergency provisions.

Traffic was building up rapidly as everyone who would normally pass through the City was being rerouted around it via Barbadoes Street and Fitzgerald Avenue. By the time I got to the Convent of the Sacred Name it was nose to tail. The century-old brick Convent buildings had suffered some minor damage, I could see, but I was intent on getting into Dick Smith’s.

St Asaph’s Street was cordoned off, but I thought that perhaps I could park inside the Polytechnic and walk the remaining couple of blocks. Small chance. A policeman told me politely but very firmly that no-one except residents and business owners were being allowed in. All along St Asaph’s Street I could see little heaps of rubble and plastic police tapes, but hardly a soul in sight. Perforce I drove home, pondering that eternal mystery; exactly who was St Asaph anyway?

As I had suspected, the pleas to restrict water usage were prompted more by fears of contamination than by actual lack of water, although some areas are still without it. Water tankers are making deliveries to affected areas, and people living by the river are drawing buckets to flush their toilets. We, however, suffered no such constraints, and I was able to do two loads of washing which dried well under the warm breeze. Ruth and I spent the rest of the day at home; there was, after all, no point in going anywhere.

To be continued:

Christchurch Earthquake 03.

Tremors, some barely noticeable, others quite strong, continued from time to time throughout the night and into the next day. The Met Service had forecast high winds and rain for Sunday but fortunately they got it wrong, as they so often do, and the day was perfect. The sky was clear, temperatures were into the high teens, and there was a gentle breeze, which was a real bonus. After the carnage of the earthquake the last thing anyone needed was rain and cold winds.

I checked that Brumby’s Bakery at Edgeware was open, which it was, so Ruth and I drove up to the Edgeware shops. Driving along Madras Street from Kilmore Street all seemed normal until we crossed Bealey Avenue, heading north. There the road was corrugated like a slightly rumpled carpet. Cracks ran all along the footpath on the western side and holes the size of bathtubs had appeared in the road surface. Turning into Edgeware Road, more damage to homes became apparent. It appears that the worst harm has been to brick buildings of the pre-war period, of which St Albans boasts many. Did boast, rather.

The entire façade of the little Coptic Church had crumpled into the road, and around the corner in Colombo Street the elegant Carnegie Library building had lost most of its southern wall, which is a particular tragedy as not only was it a beautiful little building it is also the local community centre. If any buildings are needed right now they are churches and community centres. Tumbled chimneys and block walls were visible right along the road, but thankfully the Rose Chapel appeared to be intact.

Throughout the day and into the evening we listened to the radio and watched television as the litany of disaster unfolded more and more. Over three hundred breaches have been detected in the sewage lines, possibly contaminating water supplies, and various spokespeople exhorted us to conserve water and to boil any for drinking.

A leading proponent of the water-boiling message has been Mayor Bob Parker. He has been popping up in sound bites throughout the period, speaking at length and clearly relishing his role as leader in a time of major disaster. Often the interviewer has had to cut him off abruptly, so enthusiastic has been his rhetoric. He has certainly been highly visible, and to give him his due he has risen nobly to the occasion, turning up all over the place, reassuring people, being decisive, being the visible face of the City Council. This event could well ensure that he is re-elected next month, rather than becoming the one-hit-wonder that many thought would be his fate. He has, quite rightly, received huge and very positive coverage which will surely endear him to the huge mass of Christchurch’s politically numb voters. One can only imagine Jim Anderton, gnashing his teeth with impotent rage as he waits at Wellington Airport for a return flight to Christchurch.

Here in Christchurch no-body was interested in politics. Everyone’s attention has been focussed entirely on getting by, on clearing up, on making arrangements for the next few days, on just getting by for the moment. And there are plenty of these. There are many, many people who have lost everything. The authorities are saying that more than 100,000 homes are damaged, and there is a lot of misery. 

To be continued.

Clash Of The Titans [2010] movie review

Originally submitted at

Clash of the Titans is set in the Greek city of Argos, where a war is about to explode between man and the gods. A narration introduces the three Olympians who battled the Titans long ago: the brothers Zeus (Liam Neeson), Poseidon (Danny Huston), and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Hades provided the means …

Power to the serpent-locked

By Stephen Symons from Christchurch NZ on 9/6/2010
4out of 5

Pros: Entertaining, Neat special effects

Best Uses: At Home, Adult Viewers

Describe Yourself: Movie Buff

The are two points of discussion regarding this movie; the movie itself and the legend upon which it is based. The former bears little relationship to the latter, but that is not so say it is a bad movie. Far from it. It is great fun and a wonderful way to waste a couple of hours on an otherwise boring day.
The hero of the piece is the demi-god Perseus [Sam Worthington], son of Zeus and Danaë. According to the legend, Danaë was the wife of the King of Argos. The King heard an oracle saying that the son of Danaë would grow up to kill him, so he locked his wife up to prevent her getting pregnant. Zeus managed to get at her anyway and the King then cast her and the baby Perseus into the sea in a chest. The baby was picked up by a fisherman from one of the Greek islands and raised as his own.
Thus far so good; the movie and the legend tally. Then they begin to separate. In the legend Perseus, fully grown, is invited by the local King to a feast to which he must bring a horse as a gift. Perseus has no horse [as the King well knows – he wants to get rid of Perseus], so asks if there is something else he can bring. The King asked him to bring the head of the Gorgon, Medusa, whose slightest glance turns men to stone.
The hero agrees but first he must find her. He seeks out the Graeae, the three weird sisters who have only one eye and one tooth between them, who know where she is. They refuse to tell him the whereabouts of Medusa, but he steals their eye and refuses to give it back until they tell him. They lead him to the Hesperides, the groves of Hera, where he gives them back their eye. He learns the whereabouts of the Gorgons and is given further assistance to help him on his way; Hermes lends him his winged sandals so that he can get there in time, Hades lends him his invisibility helmet, Athene lends him her shiny bronze shield so he can see what he is doing without looking directly at her, and he also gets a special bag to wrap the head in. Perseus finds the sleeping Medusa and beheads her. He then heads back to the feast.
Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, Queen Cassiopeia has angered Poseidon by saying that she is more beautiful than the Nereids, the daughters of Nereus. In revenge he sends a sea monster, Cetus, to ravage the shores. The only way to stop the attacks is to sacrifice the Queen’s daughter, Andromeda, to the monster. Accordingly the Princess is tied naked to a rock on the seashore [why naked, I am not sure – perhaps garments catch in the monster’s teeth, which would only enrage it further] and left to her fate. Perseus arrives in the nick of time, turns the monster into stone with the help of Medusa’s head, and frees Andromeda. He carries her back to the Greek mainland where they are married and Perseus becomes King of Mycenae. They have many children who form the Perseid dynasty, and live happily ever after.
Now to the film. The problem is that men are in rebellion against the Gods, something that never happened in Greek legend. Men disobeyed the Gods, and individuals challenged them, but men as a group never rebelled against the gods. But the movie charges on. Perseus’ foster-parents are killed by Hades [Ralph Fiennes], brother of Zeus [a rather wimpy Liam Neeson] and Lord of the Underworld. The hero seeks revenge – unlike his legendary counterpart, however, he wants nothing to do with the Gods for fear that he might become like them. He travels to Argos, where Cassiopeia [the gorgeous Polly Walker of ‘Rome’ fame] is said to be more beautiful than a goddess. Hades strikes her down and demands that the people sacrifice Andromeda [Alexa Davalos] to the Kraken [which has nothing to do with Greek legend – it is a monster of the northern seas whose tales began to emerge in the Norwegian middle ages].
Perseus sets off to find the head of Medusa, which will destroy the monster, in the company of a group of heroes which includes Io [Gemma Arterton], a Priestess of Hera whom Zeus once lusted after and whom he turned into a heifer [this has nothing whatsoever to do with the legend of Perseus]. On the way they meet the old King, the husband of Danaë, who has become an agent of Hades and has been ordered to destroy Perseus. The old king is maimed and he bleeds into the sand [we are no longer in Greece, but in a desert]. The blood becomes monstrous scorpions, which pursue Perseus and his companions, who are in danger of complete destruction until they are saved by a band of Djinn [Arabian demons out of the Arabian Nights and nothing to do with Greece]. Perseus and his companions plus the Djinn travel through the deserts, riding on giant scorpions [who the Djinn have managed to tame and on whose backs they have built comfortable little howdahs]. The arrive at a barren place, full of deep, fiery holes; the lair of Medusa. She is subdued and beheaded.
Perseus is the only survivor. Time is running out so he hitches a ride on Pegasus, the winged horse, which flies him back to Argos. Pegasus, by the way, has nothing to do with the legend of Perseus [Hermes lent Perseus his winged sandals, remember?]. He was the steed of the hero Bellerophon who rode him to slay the Chimera, the fire-breathing monster of Lycia, a story that later evolved, in a Christian world, into the story of St George and the Dragon. But I digress.
Perseus arrives in the nick of time. Andromeda has been tied to a wooden frame [not to a rock, nor, unfortunately, naked], and the monster is ravaging the town. Perseus saves the day, destroying the monster and rescuing the fair Princess. She offers herself to him but he, the plonker, spurns the gorgeous Andromeda and the promise of wealth and power, saying he wants to be an ordinary man and return to life as a fisherman. He returns to the seashore, where Zeus appears and restores Io to life so that they can live happily ever after in a hut by the seaside.
The Clash of the Titans is a good, fun movie, a bubblegum epic that is well worth the entry fee. The effects are amazing, although at the expense of dialogue and characterisation. But, hey, who needs character development or plot cohesion when you can have monster scorpions, or a medieval Norwegian sea-monster destroying an ancient Greek town? I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and would not hesitate to recommend it anyone with an intellectual age of fifteen or less.


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