Monthly Archives: February 2011

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 6.

Sunday 27th February 2011 – Day 6.

We spent the day at home, cleaning, tidying, blogging, reading, pottering at this and that. There is, after all, no hurry. The power went out for a couple of hours around the middle of the day, which brought on a sudden rush of alarm and despondency as we contemplated a return to the Dark Ages, but we need not have worried. Power returned in good time and I was able to prepare tea.

Afterwards I rigged up my computer and my shiny new monitor into a little home theatre. We watched a movie on DVD, and for a little while we could pretend that all was well.

For a little while.

To be continued….

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 5.

Saturday 26th February 2011 – Day 5.

But it is not, of course. Normal, that is. Anything but. And you know it as soon as you look out the window. The only people around are those wearing reflective vests or orange overalls. The only traffic is the occasional service van or now and then a little column of heavy vehicles usually carrying or accompanying some huge earthmoving machine. And the helicopters. Every helicopter in New Zealand must be flying around, buzzing like a cloud of mosquitoes, and one is seldom far away, but when they are quiet descends like a dust cover floating over unused furniture.

There are several cars parked in the commuter parking area across the road beside the Star and Garter field. They have not moved all week. Who do they belong to? Are their owners somewhere outside, unable to get back inside the dreaded Christchurch Cordon to reclaim their vehicles? Or are they buried under the rubble somewhere, under the PGG building, or the CTV block, or the Cathedral tower? Workers have started the tricky job of removing the rubble from the Cathedral, I hear. Estimates are that up to two dozen people are still underneath it. The death toll is now over a hundred and counting.

I do not listen to the news anymore, not because it is too depressing but because there simply is no more news. There are progress reports, and interviews with senior police, fire, civil defence and other officials, not to mention the endless pompous pontifications of politicians, but nothing new. More bodies recovered. More buildings red stickered. More people living in misery in welfare centres. More people fleeing the City. And always the damage is greater than previously estimated. There is a continual stream of human-interest stories, tales of hardship, of courage, of endurance, of loss and even the occasional victory or defiance – a marriage celebrated despite the carnage, a baby born amid the ruin. But one can very quickly become saturated with such tales, and they evoke less and less emotional response.

And the aftershocks. Did I mention them? They just keep coming.

We had another trip over to Tower Junction this morning so that I could buy a new computer monitor to replace the one that fell over and broke in the quake. That cheered me up quite a bit. There is nothing like a new toy to cheer one up, but I confess that I am fed up with replacing broken computer monitors. This one replaces the replacement for the one that got broken in the 4th September event.

Any rise in spirits was quickly offset by a quick walk around the Avon Loop this afternoon. The Holiday Inn is no more, at least in its present form; so much for more evenings at ‘The Willows’ restaurant. Further along Oxford Terrace at Sunset Corner we had to start picking our way along the road with care. Great cracks had opened up, following the lines of water mains and underground services. The water mains themselves had burst, turning the cracks into rivulets of clean, clear water that gurgled happily down into the Avon. There are now several new eyots in the middle of the river where sludge has erupted from the depths. Colonised by ducks, they are accumulating debris at a great rate and will soon boast their own little ecosystems.

We met several people that we knew, but plainly they were the die-hards, determined to stay in their homes and stick it out regardless. Many more have obviously packed up and departed, many, perhaps, never to return. Many of the old homes were red stickered, and sludge lay in great drifts along streets and through gardens. The Avon Loop is changed forever.

We walked home and let the evening drift down around us. 

To be continued…..

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 4.

Friday 25th February 2011 – Day 4.

I was really starting to get worried about cooking, not to mention food to cook. I had been using the little one-burner, 4kg gas cylinder for four days and it had been nowhere near full to start with. It had to be getting very low, and what would I do when it ran out? It is quite old now and has an obsolete fitting that the Rockgas installation in Sydenham can cope with, but not your ordinary gas filling station. If I could not refill it I would be faced with the nightmare of having to cook over an open fire. I can do this. I have done this. I am a good boy scout and I still have the skills learned fifty years ago in the Edendale Boy Scout Troop. I can do this, sure enough.

But I shuddered at the thought of it. We would have to scrounge bricks from the ruins of Piko’s over the road and build a little fireplace in the back garden. There are bits of wood scattered around, trimmings from the walnut tree and apple tree, and an old willow had come down on the other side of the river, so we had plenty of fuel available if the need arose. But we would be regressing back to the Middle Ages.

But perhaps things were no quite that dire. We rang around and discovered that Bunning’s at Tower Junction was open for business. They had gas rings and full bottles in stock, so that was the answer. We got in the car and headed for Riccarton.

The policeman and soldiers at the roadblock at Bealey Avenue let use through without demur. Traffic along Bealey Avenue was surprisingly heavy, but flowing smoothly. Every road leading into or out of the CBD was blocked by police supported by troops and armoured vehicles, and wrecked buildings lined the way. The old brick block on the north-east corner of the Colombo Street – Bealey Avenue intersection was a total write-off. The Knox Church was a skeleton, although the Knox Centre next to it seemed to be intact. The block opposite, the one that once had been home to the Saggio de Vino restaurant was rubble, and the Carlton Hotel on the other side was heavily damaged. A large sign on the building declared ‘The Carlton is Open’ right next to a great hole in the Papanui Road frontage. The Hotel is open, but not in the way the hoteliers would want and the sturdy bracing on the Bealey Avenue frontage can only be a temporary measure to prevent it from falling onto passing traffic. It will surely be demolished in due time.

Driving through Hagley Park things appeared to be almost normal apart from the large number of camper vans parked in neat ranks next to the golf course. Accommodation for the huge numbers of Search and Rescue people and other emergency help who are pouring in from all points of the compass perhaps?

There were several deposits of liquefaction sludge along Kilmarnock Street, and the Riccarton Mall was closed, the huge car park empty, but damage seemed to be quite light. The Tower Junction complex appeared completely undamaged and the huge Bunning’s warehouse as well as several other retail outlets were open for business, although to judge by the number of cars in the car park, custom was light.

We made our purchases quickly; a new gas ring with regulator and hose, plus an adapter and two full 9kg gas bottles. Also two more plastic buckets. You can never have too many plastic buckets, especially when your only source of water is the next rainstorm. We called in to the greengrocer and bought a sack of potatoes and a few fresh greens, then went next door to Henry’s Liquor and bought some beer and cider. Having secured our essential supplies we headed for home by the simple expedient of returning exactly the way we had come.

We travelled without incident, passing through what we now think of as the Christchurch Cordon with no more than a wave. Back in the kitchen I noticed that a little water was seeping from under the freezer door; my carefully stored stock of food was beginning to thaw. I had perhaps fifteen or sixteen frozen meals in the freezer – steak and kidney, Mongolian lamb, Harira, Beef Korma, other stuff – packed neatly into pottles just right for a meal for two each. There was enough in there to provide dinners for at least two weeks, but if it all thawed out it would throw culinary planning into a tailspin. I would have to invite Carl and Mark, the neighbours, in for a big meal that evening, eating up as much as we could and dumping the rest. But if that was to be the case, there was nothing to be done about it.

I put the gas ring together – but could not find the little adapter that enables the  regulator to be fitted into the cylinder! I searched high and low. Ruth searched high and low. We could not find it anywhere. It must have fallen out of the car somewhere, perhaps when we were loading in the groceries or the grog. There was only one thing for it; we would have to go back and get another.

Back in the car once more we headed back to Tower Junction, passing through the Christchurch Cordon without comment but we got a severe frown from the Constable. Having made our purchase we made our way back and were let in again, but not before we had had a few stern words from the policeman about driving around too much, and an admonition to go home and stay there. We said nothing; yes-sir-no-sir-three-bags-full-sir is the best policy on such occasions, and I was in a hurry. In the kitchen once more I connected all the bits and fired up the gas ring. We had ignition.

Ten minutes later the power came back on.

Oh, the relief! And not just power. The cistern gurgled into life; we had water again. Our little store of frozen food was saved in the nick of time. The pottles had not quite started to thaw, although another couple of hours would have seen them lost. That evening we could have a real meal with potatoes and vegetables and stew cooked separately, and an Edith Piaf CD playing in the background. Afterwards we were able to wash up in hot, soapy water. We could look at our emails and start catching up on blogs, and later I was able to watch a DVD. It was almost like being back to normal.

To be continued.

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 3.

Thursday 24th February 2011 – Day 3.

We were up early. Washing is a splash of rain water from a bucket. Toilet facilities are another bucket in the bathroom and a hole in the back garden. The morning bracer is instant coffee for me and a cup of tea for Ruth, brewed up using rainwater boiled over our little gas ring. It is quite surprising how quickly one adapts to the situation, although I think that it would take me a little more than three days to get used to the bucket-and-spade dunny.

Having braced our backs and girded our loins, we ventured forth to Bealey Avenue to the dairy and managed to secure a copy of the Press as well as some bananas, toilet paper, a 4 litre container of water, and a loaf of bread. On the way we met a bloke that I know slightly. He works – or did work – as a cleaner in the Chancery Lane arcade and he said that he thought that at least two people, including Father Schmack the Priest, were caught inside the Roman Catholic chapel when it collapsed, one of many anecdotes that are flowing in via RNZ news, the Press and the occasional casual conversation. Everyone has a story to tell.

On the way back down Barbadoes Street we passed several people trudging along with backpacks and suitcases; refugees. People are leaving the City, or at least the CBD, in droves. Pretty much anyone who has somewhere to go is going there, to friends or family in Auckland or Dunedin or Wellington – or anywhere. Even the Wizard of Christchurch has announced that he is departing for Oamaru, never to return. We have heard this before, but this time it has the ring of finality. And who can blame them?

The impression accumulating is of profound and widespread devastation right across the CBD. The quake was centred somewhere near Heathcote in the lee of the Port Hills, it seems, and the shock wave was concentrated and amplified by a configuration of the basalt of the hills, directing it straight into the soupy substructure of the CBD. For this reason it seems that the destruction was largely confined to the CBD and the east of the central City – our side. West of Colombo Street – Riccarton, Ilam, Hornby and beyond – have escaped relatively lightly, although there has been very considerable damage over there. This is illustrated by the emerging information that power and water were restored almost immediately in the west while we on our side are still without it, and reports suggest that it could be days or even weeks before we get it back.

We gained a better impression of the damage a little later when Ruth and I went for a walk within the cordon. I wanted to check out the Asian Supermarket just around the corner to see it was open, or even if someone was there cleaning up who might sell us a few things. We have plenty of supplies, in fact, but another couple of extra bags of Garbanzo beans [or ‘Chic Peas’ as they are whimsically labelled], lentils or split peas would be a welcome addition to the larder.

No such luck. The building itself was cracked open like a dropped egg. I could not see inside but I could imagine the welter of sesame oil, tamarind paste, soy sauce and other stuff all mixed up with curry powder, couscous, cinnamon and God knows what else. A gastronomic tsunami. Salisbury Street looked like a rug that had been kicked about by unruly kids. Drifts of grey sand lay everywhere, hundreds of tonnes of it, where liquefaction below had squirted sludge upwards through cracks in the ground. Storm drains were especially vulnerable, it seems, most of them just holes in the ground. Every incipient weak spot in the tarseal had erupted upwards and burst like a squeezed pimple.

As we were out and about anyway we decided to explore a little further. We continued on across Manchester Street, noting that a whole stone wall of St Luke’s Church had vanished into the shrubbery below. It was eerily quiet. We glimpsed the occasional human being in the distance, and now and then an official-looking vehicle hummed, roared or clattered along somewhere down the road, but otherwise we were alone. Walking with care to avoid falling into holes we came to Colombo Street.

It was like a scene from a disaster movie.

There was hardly an intact building between us and the Colombo Street bridge. We could see right down to the sad stub of the Cathedral, but there was no-one else in sight save only a solitary elderly woman standing, bewildered, in the middle of the Colombo Street – Peterborough Street intersection. We said hello but she paid us little heed.

The whole front of Valentino’s Café had collapsed into the street. It was only a couple of weeks ago [Really? Only a couple of weeks? It feels more like a couple of years!] that Ruth and I and Louise and Garvin had enjoyed a pleasant meal there. Johnson’s Grocery had gone and with it a venerable and irreplaceable Canterbury institution. We walked down to Kilmore Street then back to Peterborough Street where a policeman gently suggested that we go home and stay there, which was precisely what we had in mind. I had had quite enough.

We headed home, past the skeletal remains of St Luke’s, past the broken houses. I spent much of the rest of the day reading my Heinlein novel and pausing somewhere along the way to make a dinner of pork fried rice. Then I went back to the novel; Heinlein’s imaginary world was a much better place to live in at the moment than the real one.

It was all getting a bit too much but some good news did surface during the evening. Lynne O’Keefe rang to see how I was and to say that while there had been some high drama at Bailies Bar when the earthquake struck at least everyone had been able to get out alive and unharmed. So that is a huge relief, but when will the next pint of Guinness be poured in Bailies Bar? From the sound of things the roof of the Scott Room has fallen in and there has been damage to the kitchen, so it may not be for some time to come. What hope for the next St Pat’s day celebration?

I closed down that line of thought and went back to my book.

To be continued.

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 2.

23rd February 2011. Day 2.

I slept like a log. Ruth did not, but then she worries about the world and all that is in it. I do not worry about things over which I have no control whatsoever. I do, however, have some control over our one-ring gas burner so I focussed on breakfast.

I boiled up coffee from the percolator and made a thermos of tea for Ruth then took the grille off the gas heater and made toast on a fork. I diced three rashers of bacon, beat four eggs in a bowl and made bacon and scrambled eggs over toast. Very sustaining. Afterwards we strolled up to the Kilmore Street corner and chatted with the people on duty there but they had nothing much to add to things. We were getting quite enough from our little wind-up radios.

The situation is several degrees worse that the September event or the Boxing Day event. We are not simply back at square one, we are at square minus twenty. The Cathedral Spire is a heap of rubble and the glorious Byzantine domes of the Basilica are down on the ground or even in the nave for all I know. The Arts Centre and the Provincial Council buildings have sustained severe, possibly terminal damage as have all of the old churches and historic buildings of the inner City. The Methodist Church in Durham Street, built in 1864, is a total loss, an unrecognizable pile of stones – at least two people are still underneath it. The Pine Gould Guinness building in Cambridge Terrace collapsed with dozens of people still inside. The seven storey CTV building on the corner of Madras and Cashel Streets likewise collapsed with perhaps as many as a hundred and fifty people still inside, including a whole lot of Japanese school kids attending an English language school. To add to their misery, the building is also on fire; a helicopter with a monsoon bucket is scooping water out of the River Avon just across the road even as I write.

Ruth and I went for a walk around Cambridge Terrace this morning, along the newly built section that took so long to finish, past the cemetery and around to Churchill Street. It was opened only a couple of weeks ago after long delays caused by the September quake. Now the surface is crumpled up like a piece of waste paper in a bin; there are enough cracks and deep ripples in it and on the grass verges to hide a whole pack of Wolf Cubs.

On the way through we spoke to a chap who owns a particularly large and elegant old two storey home on the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Churchill Street. He was outside by his car having a beer at 1000. He told us

LAV outside the Cottage, Barbadoes Street.

that he had just finished the long and painstaking task of renovating the ground floor and was about to start on the little turret room. Now the ceiling had fallen in and he would have to start all over again. He simply did not have the heart to do it. I admired his restraint in sticking to beer. If it had been me I suspect that I should have been at least half way through a bottle of brandy by that time.

The dairy in Bealey Avenue was open despite having no power, and we bought a Press, then were given two bottle of water at the checkpoint. I did not read the Press but the pictures were more than enough to be going on with, a litany of devastation.

Back at home we tidied up in a desultory manner, but neither of us had much energy. I made some tea; pork fried rice, which takes little time and effort and can be made in a single utensil without using too much gas, then we sat around for a while, listening to the radio. Ruth went to bed while I sat and read a novel by Robert Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land – which I have not looked at for thirty years but which I remembered would take my mind off things.

Good bloke, Heinlein and a slick story teller even if his writing seems a bit old-fashioned now. His yarns are fast-moving, light-weight and diverting. Just what I needed.

Oh, yes, and Molly came in at 1900 after some thirty hours cowering under the house. Oh, the relief to have our little friend back again!

To be continued.

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 1 [continued].

22nd February 2011 – Day 1 [continued].

Crowds milled around in the middle of Hereford Street. People were obviously deeply shocked, many terrified, but I saw no sign of panic, nor heard screaming. People were holding each other, comforting each other. Nobody was shouting or rushing about or having hysterics, although it was plain to all that this was far, far worse than either the September or Boxing Day events. People were surging out of buildings yet while it was far from calm, it was at least more or less orderly.

Most of the inhabitants of the Community House seemed to be out in the street, but I could not see Ruth. I did not stop to look around, but instead walked straight into the building and into the Volcan offices. She and her staff were still there but heading out, amongst the last to leave. We did not stop to talk. We got out as fast as we could.

Outside again we milled about with the rest of them for a few moments, trying to absorb the situation. I desperately wanted to see what had happened to Bailies Bar in Warners Hotel. I have a lot of friends in there. What had happened? I had seen the fall of the tower and for all I knew the rest of the Cathedral had come down as well. What about the old building that housed the bar? It was nearly eleven decades old and, sound though it was, that is a long time for any masonry building. We could have ducked down Westpac Lane towards the Hotel, but one glance along its narrow defile was enough. Rubble and debris was strewn along it and beneath the overhang of the Millennium Hotel. Swirling dust obscured the far end.

No way through there. All we wanted to do was to get home to our little cottage.

Hereford Street was strewn with rubble and fallen masonry, besides being clogged with people. Manchester Street was even more chaotic as there are – were – many more older brick buildings along it, but we managed to navigate our way down the middle of the road, along with scores of others. Everyone seemed to have the same idea; get out of the CBD.

The homeward trek was heartbreaking. The tower and much of the masonry of the State Trinity Centre, the old Congregational Church where Mother and Father-in-Law got married in the 1930s and the spot where for some years we have enjoyed Ruth’s birthday dinner, was down. That looks to be the end of that, and ditto for Greenwich House, the old brick-and-mortar block across the way. No more dinners at the Raj Mahal. The Civic of Canterbury, one of the prize heritage buildings of the City and home to so many memories, was broken beyond repair. That will not survive, nor will the Iconic building next to it on the corner of Gloucester and Manchester Streets, nor the brick-and-mortar block diametrically opposite.

A young man lay in the middle of the intersection, unmoving, surrounded by a group of others. A young woman, blood pouring from a head wound, knelt beside him. Across the road, outside what had once been the Youth Hostel Association backpackers’ hotel, another group of young men were frantically attacking the roof of a car, three-quarters buried in rubble, with levers and a hacksaw. Someone, obviously, was trapped inside. Everything was in motion, but still there was no sign of panic or hysteria.

Civic of Canterbury, Manchester Street.

Reaching the Manchester Street bridge we headed along Poplar Crescent towards home. If there was damage to the buildings along the way, the Luney Building, the ACC building, the Poplars building, I did not notice, although if there had been I would probably have taken it in. I was looking ahead towards the shell that had recently been the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church. Its roof had completely fallen in, the elaborate portico, so badly damaged in the September event, now completely demolished. The new part of the building, the annexe to the north-east, seemed to be intact but the main building was a pile of rubble. Much of the lovely old Piko Building was strewn across Kilmore Street. We later learned from Tineke that everyone had escaped, badly shocked but otherwise unhurt.

We approached our corner with caution, afraid of what we might see. The shop opposite on the northeast corner and the Herb Centre on the south-west corner were in ruins. To our vast relief our little cottage was still standing on its corner, as it has done for the last century and a half. My copy of the ‘Guardian’ was in the letter box.

Inside all was chaos. Jars of rice, lentils, couscous and other such were mixed with pomegranate molasses and balsamic vinegar. Pots and pans were strewn about, cupboards burst open. In the living room, the floors were covered with books, CDs and DVDs, not to mention china and glassware and the contents of the sideboard. The front room was buried under an avalanche of books, folders, filing cabinet drawers and stationary, while the bedroom was full of toppled stuff. Molly was nowhere to be seen. A quick inspection suggested that while the place was in a mess, the structural integrity of the building was unharmed; windows, cupboards and doors opened and shut easily, and there were no broken windows. We got changed and began to set about the long, long task of setting the place to rights.

Neither of us was in any tearing hurry, and, as neither of us seemed likely to be going anywhere any time soon, there was no need for haste. We slowly brought some sort of order to the kitchen, to get rid of the broken glass and to avoid trampling muck throughout the house. Outside, Barbadoes Street was solid with traffic as people desperately tried to get out of the City and head for home. Not for the first time we congratulated ourselves on our wisdom in buying a house near enough to the centre of everything to be able to walk to work.

We had no running water, no power, and no sewage, and are unlikely to have these amenities back in anything less than days. But in the meantime we had each other, and our little cottage safe and sound, and enough stuff to survive for a few days. I managed a dinner of thawed out steak and kidney, mixed with some cooked potatoes that I had, and some frozen peas. It looked more like a meat pie that has been denuded of its pastry case than anything else, but it was hot, filling, nourishing and tasty enough, and in all likelihood a great deal better than many another of our fellow citizens were enjoying that night. We washed up in cold water from the rain bucket.

We spent time listening to Radio New Zealand on our little wind-up radio-come-flashlight gadgets and the news was all bad. We went to bed early. I was exhausted. The day had begun at 0530 and had been nothing if not eventful.

But still there was no sign of Molly.

 To be continued:

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 1.

22nd February 2011 – Day 1.

It started out as a moderately miserable day, cold and wet with an easterly wind. I was up by 0530 anyway, as duty called me down to the Port of Lyttelton to greet the cruise ship MV Europa in my capacity as Town Crier.

The episode was less than an unqualified success. The ship had already tied up by the time I got there and it was raining steadily. There are normally a lot of people around when a cruise ship steams in, but today there were very few, just Sally Jones from the Information Centre, a couple of Customs people and a rather bedraggled-looking woman from the shore excursion people.

Passengers – there were only three hundred and fifty in total – began to stream off but they did not want to stand in the rain and talk and who would blame them? They walked briskly into their buses and sped away. I could only admire the determination and optimism of a busload who were heading out for a day’s golfing. In this weather? Go for it! There was very little for Sally or I to do, especially as all the passengers were German, most with little or no English. At 0930 we decided to call it a day so I left Sally to shut up shop while I headed back to the City.

By 1030 I was in Cathedral Square, chatting to tourists, giving directions, posing for photos. Doing, generally speaking, what a Town Crier does. Midday approached as I chatted to a group of buskers who were preparing to do a show by Four Ships Court. The bell on the Clocktower struck midday. I rang my own bell on the tenth stroke as per usual, doing my full ‘oyez, oyez’ piece before handing over to a busker who immediately began his pitch.

Just another day at the office.

I watched for a few minutes, but the busker was not one of the better ones. There were few people in the Square anyway. The morning rain and a forecast of more to come had deterred the craft market so there was little to attract people, and this busker was clearly not going to pull a crowd. I wandered down to the Worcester Street Bridge, chatting with the customers as I went. It was quiet even there, one of the main pedestrian gateways, so I strolled up Hereford Street and south along Colombo Street to look at a new low-cost DVD shop that had just opened a few yards past Litchfield Street. Since the Cashel Street Branch of Whitcoulls was permanently closed thanks to the effects of the Boxing Day earthquakes, and Marbecks in the Triangle Centre had only days before pulled up stumps, there are virtually no DVD shops in the central City. A new selection is most welcome.

I browsed for a little and purchased a $5 copy of ‘White Noise – the Light’ which I have been seeking for some time. Feeling rather pleased with myself I headed back to the Square. It was 1240pm.

My objective was ultimately Bailies Bar, where a pint of Guinness would be waiting. I would pay a visit to the Cathedral first, I reflected, as it was not yet time to partake of the divine Ruby Brew. I would chat with those going in and out for a time, then retire to the calm of Bailies before heading for home. Half way across the Square I saw the buskers in a little group, so I detoured over to them to see how they had fared. Not well, it seemed. As I had rather expected, they had failed to conjure up a crowd so they were packing it in for the day.

It was 1251.

The ground began to shake. Violently. If I had not put my hands on a busker’s conveniently placed suitcase to steady myself I might well have fallen flat on my face. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Sevicke-Jones building disappear in a cloud of dust. I turned towards the Cathedral but all I could see was a vast creamy-brown cloud. My ears were full of a deep rumbling.

No, that is not quite right. It was not so much my ears that heard the sound as my feet and chest. Nor was it so much a noise as pressure and vibration, the result of many tonnes of masonry falling. I could not even make out Godley’s statue, just some sky above it where the dust had not yet risen. Something was wrong with that view. I knew at once what it was; the tower of the Christ Church Cathedral should have been there. But it was not. Often I had looked up at the cathedral spire and wondered which way it would topple if it fell. When the time came, it did not topple. It simply crumbled in on itself into a great heap of rubble.

There were lots of people in the Square now, looking dazed and confused and covered with dust. Without consciously thinking about it, I headed across the Square towards Hereford Street and the Community House. I did not look back at the Cathedral, nor even glance across at the Clocktower on the old Chief Post Office. What was I thinking?

I really do not know. I was not frightened – falling masonry does not frighten me. I was not confused – I knew full well what was happening. I was not dazed – I was quite clear-headed. The only time that I get nervous is when I do not know what is happening or what I am supposed to do. In this particular instance, I knew exactly what was going on and what I had to do. I was totally focussed on finding Ruth.

T0 be continued.

Eating out in Christchurch 05.

Victoria Street Cafe, Crown Plaza Hotel.

The appearance of the Victoria Street Café in the Crown Plaza Hotel has changed little over the nearly quarter of a century of its existence. Which is a really good thing. Many in the hospitality industry advocate changing the theme of a restaurant or bar every few years [in fact that is, or was, a policy of at least one major breweries], but it would not be a realistic one for the Victoria Street Café.

For one thing, the architects got it right the first time. The ambience below its lofty roof is unique in Christchurch. The glass-covered expanse gives a feeling of being outside without being out in the elements, while the greenery-draped balconies of the upper floors that overlook the Atrium recall the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. For another thing, to redecorate something that is as big as and reminiscent of a cathedral would be staggeringly expensive. If it works, don’t try to fix it.

It being something of an anniversary, Ruth and I decided to celebrate with a dinner out and the Victoria Street Café offers a three course dinner for $54 a head. The price includes one item each from the entrée list [except for a special seafood dish], one from the main course list, and one from the dessert list. The lists are not long, but they offer the usual fare. The entrée list includes eight or nine items, all about $15 [except the special], there are a dozen mains at about $35 each and four desserts at about $10 each, so the $54 option is good value.

We each had a delicious rabbit and pork pâté beautifully arranged with slices of dark bread, chutney and garnish, while to follow Ruth had a pan-fried Terakihi topped with pesto and I had sirloin with French fries [steak and chips]. Unimaginative, perhaps, but that is what we like. We finished off with desserts of chocolate nougat with raspberry sorbet which was quite a delight, combining contrasting temperatures, tastes and textures.

This may not go down in my memory as one of life’s gourmet delights, but it was a very pleasant meal, beautifully prepared and presented, and served by friendly, capable and competent staff in wonderful surroundings. For $54 a head plus drinks, you are going to be hard-pressed to find better than that.

The Café and its attached Atrium Lounge is not the place for an intimate dinner for two. There is lots of bustle and activity, a hearty hum of conversation, people coming and going, and a grand piano providing background accompaniment. This is the place to go for a meal before the show, or for a pleasant family dinner, or a meal out with a convivial group of friends. We shall be back.

Eating out in Christchurch 04

BelowZero, Warners Hotel, Cathedral Square, Christchurch.

They do not serve food [that I am aware of], but BelowZero, the new ice bar in Warner’s Hotel in central Christchurch deserves special mention. I was invited to have a look this afternoon and I was greatly impressed. This is something very, very different. I am not about to become a regular feature at the bar here, I must hasten to add, but this is something that everyone should experience at least once.

BelowZero is a large refrigerated room on the ground floor of the newly rebuilt section of Warner’s Hotel. Until quite recently it was a corner of the old Garden Bar. Prior to that it was part of the foyer of the Savoy Theatre. Prior to that again it was the public bar of Warner’s Hotel from the 1870s to 1917.

Admission is $31 per adult [discounts may apply, and there are also children’s prices] which gives you entrance and one of a large and enticing range of vodka-based cocktails. Donning a parka, one enters through an airlock-type arrangement to find oneself in a truly magical space set at about -5°C. The walls are solid ice as is the bar, the seats, the furniture, the sculptures, the fittings, and the cocktail ‘glasses’. The slabs of ice of which all this is made are of truly amazing clarity, being perhaps 20 centimetres or more thick, but as transparent as the waters of a mountain stream.

Various sculptures adorn the room, ferns and seals and koru, all of quite masterful execution, and the benches are strewn with deerskins. This is very sensible as the presence of warm bottoms on slabs of ice can be quickly detrimental to both bench and bottom. There is a specially insulated window where one can sip one’s drink, muffled in one’s furs, to gaze out over the Square, and even a couple of little milled ice leaners.

I sampled a concoction of vodka and a kiwifruit liqueur from one of the ice ‘glasses’. I am not particularly a vodka fan – I tend to stick to Guinness – but this potion was indeed delicious and dangerously more-ish. Not that this is the place to engage in heavy drinking. For obvious reasons no-body is going to spend an evening drinking in BelowZero, but it is a very desirable place to spend half an hour or so on a hot afternoon.

As the official historian of Warner’s Hotel I always appraise any additions or alterations with one question in mind – would William Warner approve of this? As far as BelowZero is concerned, the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes!’.

Eating out in Christchurch 03

The Burrito Company, Armagh Street. 

More like a tunnel than a real café, The Burrito Company runs from Armagh Street through to Oxford Terrace. Having a meal here is more like eating outside than actually eating out as the people here have pared things down to the barest minimum. There is a list of what is on offer written up on the wall at the Armagh Street end. You make your decision then go to the deli-bar where various goodies sit in bains-marie.

You have a choice of beans – black, pinto or refried – and meats – pork, beef and chicken. There is also rice, salsas, guacamole [optional extra], cheese [optional], lettuce and other bits and pieces. We chose burritos with pork and pinto beans, plus rice,  cheese, lettuce and yoghurt. The ingredients were wrapped in a tortilla, which was in turn wrapped in aluminium foil, the resultant neat little parcel being placed in a small plastic basket. I also had a bottle of Sol Mexican beer while Ruth had a fruit juice.

Clutching our baskets, bottles, glasses and plastic cutlery we made our way down the narrow, dim way, past the kitchen and into the dining area. We could have sat inside but instead we chose to sit at a table on the deck at the back overlooking the river, where we could watch the trees and parklike vista along Oxford Terrace.

My burrito was very tasty, the pork cooked with a little chilli and a lot of cumin in true Mexican fashion. Even the beer was cold enough to be palatable. Having finished our food, we dropped bottles, wrappers, cutlery and napkins in the waste bins, put the glasses and the plastic baskets on the sideboard and made our way back to the car.

It was all very simple, very tasty, and very cheap as well as being very quick. If you prefer fine dining this may not be your first choice, but for a fast and tasty meal eaten on a deck overlooking a first-class view, the Burrito Company is the place to be.

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