Monthly Archives: November 2011

Christchurch Resurgent [5].

Sunday 6th November 2011.

Friday was a typical Canterbury spring day, warm and sunny at first then half an hour later a bitterly cold southerly would sweep icy rain across the City, leaving folk wondering if winter had suddenly returned. This after weather forecasts had predicted clear skies and 16-18°C all day. When I grow up, I am going to become a meteorologist, that being the only job that I can think of where you can get it wrong every time and they still do not sack you!

The Arts Centre Clocktower - a long way to go yet.

I had a walk beyond the Mall this time, looking at a rather wider field than just the newly opened-up part of town, and the news is good and bad. The Botanical Gardens are at their floribundent finest right now, as you would expect. The Caterpillar, the little green buggy with all the seats that chugs tourists and visitors around the gardens is running, every hour on the hour. The chap who drives it and gives a commentary is as cheerful and engaging as his little machine is green. Little groups of tourists drifted past the front of the museum, which is also open and fully operational, and into and out of the gardens. Most seem to want to take photographs of the Great Hall of the Arts Centre, with its fallen gable-ends, and bracing, and its turret sitting carefully placed on the ground, or the ruinous Clocktower.

The Arts Centre market was two stalls in their new position on the north side of the Worcester Boulevard, and its Heart of the City Market rival was half a dozen stalls outside the YMCA in Hereford Street. By the time I reached the latter icy rain was driving even those plucky few back into their vans. I walked back down the road, past the sad expanse that used to be the elegant St Elmo’s Courts, now a gravel parking area, to the City Mall.

The problem is that, attractive as the Mall is now on a warm and sunny day, in the cold and the wet

The Artisans' Market opposite Old Boys' High - the determined few.

it is truly miserable. Once upon a time there were verandahs, as well as places like the Shades and Guthrey Arcades, and the Cathedral, where people could shelter. Now there are only the occasional overhanging upper containers, and the insides of pop-up shops. Walking around them and watching the little rivulets running streaming down the fronts and the sides, one cannot but reflect on the basic engineering fact that roofs have slopes and eaves for a purpose other than simple decoration.

Luckily the rain did not last for long, perhaps half an hour at most. Then the clouds blew away, brilliant sunshine flooded down, and smiling crowds began to reappear. Soon Cashel Village was bustling once more, people walking, people dawdling, people standing around, people sitting. Trucks and commercial vehicles huffling and snuffling up and down did not appear to disturb the shoppers, who good-naturedly made way for them without breaking stride. Little gaggles of slack-jawed labourers sat together on benches, ogling the passing women, giggling and nudging each other, flicking their cigarette butts into the flowers in the planter boxes, but nobody seemed to mind them, or even notice them particularly. Everyone seemed cheerful.

There was something invigoratingly symbolic in the day; the forces of nature drove people away, and when they abated people returned, busy, smiling, positive, determined to get on with the never-ending business of getting on. No matter how hard it rains, the sun will come out eventually.

Christchurch Resurgent [4]

Wednesday 2nd November 2011.

The traffic was difficult along St Asaph Street, most of its length between Madras and Montreal Streets reduced to one lane. But all streets, it seems, are difficult to negotiate these days, sometimes wide open, sometimes down to one or two lanes, sometimes closed entirely, and changing from day to day. Salisbury Street, which is now the main west-east route, has been like a slalom course these last couple of weeks, and Edgeware Road is still closed at the Barbadoes Street end. I managed to get a car park in the Wilson’s park on the corner of Cashel Mall and Oxford Terrace, despite the streams of traffic. This was because I was there by 1000am. Another half an hour and it was full up.

Simply New Zealand's pop-up shop, Cashel Mall.

Looking around, I tried to work out where I was parked; I think that I was over what had been the toilets of The Bog, the very popular Irish Bar at the bottom of Cashel Mall. What sort of an idiot would call his pub The Bog, I ask you? “I’m going for a couple of pints at The Bog” is like saying “I’m off for beer in The Kharzi”, or “I’m off for a drink in The Dunny.” It did not seem to put people off, however. People must be getting more and more desensitised to the finer feelings.

Not that people were being put of from coming to the Mall, it seems, despite the weather. After several days of warm spring sunshine and balmy breezes we had rain over night, with more impending, and a cold southerly breeze was blowing by the time I got to the Mall. Not only that, according to the Press, the conditions were right for a tornado! A tornado, if you please! Earthquakes! Snow storms! Now a tornado! Whatever next? Do you ever get the feeling that Someone is pissed off with you? Not that it happened, of course, the weather man being wrong again, as usual, and the weather picked up as midday approached. It was not that busy when I arrived, and people were walking purposefully, not dawdling, but by noon it was warm and sunny, people were thronging in and it was smiles all round. The shops were busy, the cafes doing a roaring trade.

Lavender plants enjoying the sun.

Even the plants seemed to be cheerful. The Horticultural Society had organised planter boxes up and down the Mall, and along Oxford and Cambridge Terraces, bring colour to a once-drab area. The lavender is looking particularly healthy, and the bedding plants that a couple of days ago were lying down, collapsing in the heat, had stiffened up, leaves firm and happily absorbing the warm sun. Thanks to the overnight rain, the new flower beds were well soaked. These have been dug out at a number of spots around what we now think of as Cashel Village, and there is something deeply symbolic in the sprouting of little plants in such sere and forgotten soil.

Cashel Street was the first City street in Christchurch to be fully built-up. By 1860, its course from the River to Tattersall’s Hotel [about where the Cashel Street Car Park building is now] being completely covered with shops, offices, pubs and the like. The flowers now springing up in beds on ground once occupied by Whitcoulls [formerly Whitcombe and Tombs] on one side and the Guthrey Centre on the other are in soil that has not seen the sun for over one and a half centuries. Life returns anew, despite everything outside forces do to suppress it. Everything seems positive and dynamic, and wandering around the Village, one’s spirits lift into the warm spring sunshine. But at the ends, things are still as they were; debris and destruction, and long stretches of eerie nothingness.

Visions of solid progress and returning vitality are inspiring, but the occasional glance beyond the

Manchester Street looking north from St Asaph Street.

ever-present barrier fences serves to remind us that we have a very long way to go yet. Gloucester Street, Hereford Street, Armagh Street, Litchfield Street, all visible along their stretches from the Mall or Cambridge Terrace, extend into the distance, devoid of any life except the occasional figure in reflective jacket and yellow hat, and the grinding and grumpling of the machines that devour the carcases of the buildings on either side. Whatever is coming, it is going to be a very long time before it arrives, but one virtue that Cantabrians are cultivating is that of patience.

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