Category Archives: Earthquake 2011

Farewell Piko

There’s a grinding just outside the window,

A rumbling just beyond the door.

Crashing, heavy, blow by blow,

Timbers breaking,

Rippers raking,

Shuddering up beneath the floor.


I had to walk up to the crossroad

To witness what I knew to be;

Heavy trucks that, load by load,

Iron crumbling,

Bricks a-tumbling,

Were breaking Piko’s; I had to see.


It always had to come, I guess.

Nothing could delay the end.

That elegance reduced to mess,

Grandeur falling

Down, appalling,

Before my eyes; good-bye old friend.

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 30.

Wednesday 23rd March 2011 – Day 30.

Thirty days. One calendar month, or near enough, since the Second Big One hit. For some reason, time passes quite quickly. There are always things to do; cooking, dishes, making the bed, tidying, washing, shredding paper for His Lordship’s kitty litter. Emptying His Lordship’s kitty litter tray into the compost. A new routine is forming. Every day we hear more snippets of news that suggest that more and more of the central City will have to be pulled down, which means that any return to the old normality is receding further and further from view.

But there is nothing really new happening, and I see, looking back over the last few entries, that I am starting to talk about the wider picture, the longer term, the greater implications. That is not and never was my intention. I began writing this series of daily notes to record day to day events as they unfolded on the ground around me, a sort of hedgehog’s-eye view, assessing those things that I saw and heard and felt. It is not my part to take a broader view. There are plenty of commentators and self-styled experts to do that. I shall stick to the minutiae of day to day existence, and the gradual unfolding of the new reality as I experience it, which would suggest that, for the time being at least, I have said all that I have to say. More would inevitably become repetitive.

I now have to focus more on my own emergent reality, and, like everyone else in Christchurch, I must ask questions of and about myself. For example: what of a Town Crier without a town to cry in, or indeed an audience to cry out to? Without a fully functioning and populous City Centre there are no tourists. Without tourists, my clientele disappears. Town Crying is pre-eminently a social vocation; it is not something that you can do working from home. There is much else that I can do, and much to be done. I can resume my studies in Old Babylonian, or perhaps start to research the next few chapters of Britannia Capta, looking at those years between the departure of Gnaeus Julius Agricola and the rise of Clodius Albinus. But that is not what this series of notes is about.

So I will stop the regular note-taking henceforth. I shall certainly comment from time to time, as events arise, but not on a daily basis. For now, however, I am off to Pomeroy’s Public House, a fine place to enjoy a pint or two Just one more thing, though, a thought for the day that occurred to me a little while ago:

The motto on the City’s coat-of-arms in ‘Fide Condita, Beata Fructu, Spem Fortis’, ‘Founded on faith, blessed with fertility, with the strength of hope.’ Turgid, verbose, and so long that almost nobody can remember it, let alone what it means. Very Victorian. I would suggest that the City scrap that one and replace it with a new one [Latin, of course]; ‘Resurgamus’ – ‘We shall rise again’. It has a certain ring to it, I think.

To be continued [or not]….

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 29.

Tuesday 22nd March 2011 – Day 29.

Ruth had to go to a meeting in Merivale at midday. I drove her over and, as she was going to take two hours, I had the opportunity to do a few things by myself. I drove down to the Verkerk’s Factory Shop and bought a few packets of their excellent bacon, then made my way around to the Northlands Mall.

It was huge, and bustling with shoppers and children in school uniforms. I had to drive around a while just to find a car park. The shops were doing a good trade, mostly. A place that offered shiatsu massage was not exactly bursting at the seams, but most of the others – Warehouse, Pak’n’Save, Whitcoulls, various chain stores – were humming. Outside, while there was considerable damage to shops in the wider shopping area, and whole rows of premises were fenced off, there seemed to be plenty of life. Traffic along Papanui road was bumper to bumper, and I carefully planned my route so as to take right hand turns at controlled intersections otherwise I would have been experiencing long delays. There was no gridlock, and traffic was moving continually, but it was very busy on the road.

Merivale Mall, likewise, was alive with shoppers, with the supermarket and associated shops trading steadily. The shops along Papanui Road, as I have said elsewhere, had sustained heavy damage, but there were plenty of others still operating. Even the Brewer’s Arms, where I stopped for pint before collecting Ruth at 2:00 p.m. had a healthy little crop of loungers. The car park behind the Mall was almost full, and as at Northlands, I had some difficulty in even finding a space.

The moral of all this? The Christchurch economy is alive and well and living in the suburbs. The newer shopping malls are going to thrive, and any new shopping precincts will be built in such a way as to ride on their success. Is anyone going to go into the central City to shop? I doubt it, and the longer the Civil Defence Controller keeps people out of the City, the less likely will it be that ordinary trade will resume there. People will quickly become more and more used to shopping and doing business in the suburbs, and new routines will be built up around suburban shopping and activity as opposed to that of the central City.

The main hotels are in the centre, and the main banks and business houses, as well as Government departments, will likewise remain there, so there will always be people there. A concentration of pubs and cafés will quickly return to cater to the civil servants, bankers, solicitors and others, and to the tourists staying at the main hotels, but normal retail trading? I really do not know. Ballantynes, God Bless them, have vowed to rebuild and return to central City trading, and they will. They may well provide a core about which a new retail area can coalesce, but this is going to have to be very, very carefully thought through, and will require very careful nurturing. Can it be done? I do not know, but if it is done, it is going to take a very long time, and whatever it is when it finally comes it is going to be nothing like it was before.

To be continued….

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 28.

Monday 21st March – Day 28.

Very little has happened here inside the cordon. Nothing has changed since yesterday. The police and soldiers are still at their checkpoint on the bridge, the armoured car appears from time to time, and the police caravan is still in place. There is no sign whatsoever of the cordon being pulled back towards the City centre. It is wet and miserable and cold, conditions that match my mood entirely.

Grand Chancellor Hotel from the intersection of Fitzgerald Avenue and Cashel Street.

I managed to make it to the mail centre without incident, and I was able to stop on the way to take a photograph of the Grand Chancellor Hotel. Even from the very considerable distance of at least a kilometre from the intersection of Fitzgerald Avenue and Cashel Street, the damage is apparent. The eastern wall with its great windows now askew looks for all the world like some vast doleful face with a droopy eyelid. Impressive, but depressing at the same time. I did not linger.

If there is little new doing within the cordon, there is certainly a lot of controversy looming about it and its possible effects. A revolt by business owners who have been forced to remain outside while their businesses, together with records and chattels, are summarily and often without consultation demolished and hauled off to the tip, is gaining momentum and there is talk of demonstrations, even of storming the checkpoints. The Tory government, known for its preference for autocracy over democracy, is talking of a State of Emergency for months to come. This will allow it to virtually rule by decree, possibly installing all sorts of social and economic changes that it would never ordinarily be able to initiate.

Memories of the arrogant and autocratic dismissal of ECan, the Canterbury Regional Council, because it was taking too long to make a decision and was, moreover, veering towards a decision favourable to the environmental lobby, will long remain in memory. We can only wonder what decisions will be imposed on us, decisions that can be effected with the wave of a ministerial hand but may take years of legislative wrangling to unravel. Meanwhile, the Civil Defence National Controller is El Supremo, capable of overriding the elected governing bodies of Canterbury, a position that surely will be deeply satisfying to a group in Wellington who see in our present pass fertile ground for the creation of a whole new world in their ideological image.

We live in interesting times indeed.

To be continued…

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 27.

Sunday 20th March 2011 – Day 27.

As with all post-quake Sundays, the day was very quiet here inside the cordon. It was grey and wet and chilly, so we could not do much outside – not that there is anywhere much to go, of course. We had, however, heard that Pomeroy’s Pub in Kilmore Street had reopened so we joined our friends Hazel and John from next door and set out to find out what was happening around the corner.

We walked around the devastation that used to be the Kilmore Street – Barbadoes Street intersection, through the checkpoint which was being manned by two very bored-looking young squaddies, and along the middle of Kilmore Street. There was a little activity, people passing to and fro, or doing things about damaged roofs and toppled walls, but mostly it was quiet.

Pomeroy’s was open and welcoming, its usual range of excellent real ales available in all their malty multiplicity. I stuck to the Whole Malt Dark, a good, hoppy, cask-drawn beer with plenty of smack. We chatted, and more people came in out of the cold. A healthy hum of conversation permeated the bar. Time passed quickly, and we were painfully aware that we are still under curfew, so we headed home as the hour approached 6:00p.m.

For me, Pomeroy’s is definitely the better choice for a quiet pint or two. Speight’s Alehouse up the road is fine if there is nothing else doing, but it is much larger and has very much the feel of what it is – a franchise, like a McDonald’s or the old Cobb & Co chain. It has no real personality of its own. Pomeroy’s is smaller, more organic, with much more of a local feel to it, and there are familiar faces there even if I cannot always put names to them. A real pub, in fact, and an ideal place to waste a couple of hours on a wet Sunday afternoon.

Just in case we were about to get too complacent, however, we were jolted by a sharp and quite prolonged tremor at 10:45 p.m. or thereabouts. It registered 5.1 on the Richter scale and was centred close at hand at Wainoni, an emphatic reminder that it is not over yet.

To be continued….

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 26.

Saturday 19th March 2011 – Day 26.

When Ruth returned from her morning jaunt to get the ‘Press’ from the dairy, she had to pass, perforce, through the checkpoint on the Barbadoes Street bridge. The soldiers on duty, recognizing her, passed her through but she was told by the WPC in command that she had to show her red sheet of paper. On querying this, she was told that ‘they’ had changed the rules and things were being tightened up, which meant that if I wanted to pass through the checkpoint I would have to have a red sheet of paper as well.

Later that morning as we drove out to do some shopping, we stopped on the bridge just to double check, and it was just as well. Apologetically, the WPC explained the edict had been countermanded half an hour later, as I rather expected it would be, and all that was needed was the usual photo identification and proof of residence. It seems that she had sent several people up to civil defence, and I suspect that they had experienced what we experienced a couple of weeks ago. When they got there, they were told that bona fide residents did not need red sheets of paper, and CD officials had passed the word down the line to rescind the order to insist on them. As if we have not enough stress without this bureaucratic hopping from foot to foot. I sometimes think that progress is being made in the City not so much because of the bureaucracy but in spite of it.

Greatly relieved, we continued on with our chores, first to Merivale to the optician to repair Ruth’s glasses and go to the Supermarket, then on to the shopping centre at the top of Marshlands Road where there is a Bunnings, a Henry’s, a GlobalPC, a Payless Plastics, even an Asian supermarket of sorts, as well as several other standard chain stores which, bland and totally lacking in flavour or local content, can supply the goods that we need. The place was packed. Whatever is happening in the City, suburban Christchurch is seething with activity and all the neighbourhood Blokes are doing their handymanly projects with vigour and determination.

Bentley has come out of hiding and is gradually taking command of the household. Not only does he accept homage, he is beginning to demand it, vocally. The master and servant relationship that is at the basis of all cat and human interaction is falling into place easily and naturally.

To be continued….

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 25.

Friday 18th March 2011 – Day 25.

A memorial service was held in Hagley park this afternoon, and today was ordained a public holiday. Ruth and I, along with many others, did not attend. It is much too soon for a memorial service. The dust is still in the air, there may even be bodies still in the rubble; a lot of people are still missing, and although it is a while since any have been found, yet they may still lay there. It is indecent and premature to hold mass memorial services now. Many will have attended, of course, as HRH Prince William is here to have a look at things, and Hayley Westenra has come home to sing. Perhaps a concert in the park is timely, but not a mass memorial service.

Ask me again on the 22nd February 2012.

I spent the day talking to Bentley and trying to coax him out. He took refuge under the bed as soon as we got him home and out of his bag. He came out during the night for a drink and some bikkies, and I was able to scoop him up and put him on the bed. He very much enjoyed cuddling with us, and stayed, dozing, for a long time, but eventually he returned to the safety of his hidey-hole. He is still there, just within arm’s reach. I can stroke him and he purrs and obviously enjoys the attention, but he does not want to come out yet. He will, in time. And we have plenty of time.

To be continued…

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 24

Thursday 17th March 2011 – Day 24.

A golden beginning to St Pats Day

So much for rumour. The cordon is still in place, exactly where it was yesterday. The armoured car is still across the road, and the police and soldiers are still lounging around their check-point on the bridge. On the other hand, it was a gorgeous daybreak; as often happens when we have low cloud, the light of the sun breaking through above the eastern horizon is reflected across, suffusing everything with a soft golden light. The trees in particular are washed with a lustrous glow, reflecting out from countless moist leaves. The effect is but brief, and it fades swiftly into gloom again, yet it is a harbinger of hope, an omen of what may come.

And this dawn breaks upon no ordinary day but upon that of the blesséd St. Patrick, a day of especial importance in Christchurch, a day that is normally marked by a celebration of all things Hibernian.

For many years past Bailies Bar in Warner’s Hotel has been the focus of St Pat’s celebrations, beginning with a breakfast hosted by Stan and Lynne O’Keefe. There is much conviviality, a gathering of old friends who chat and discuss the world and its problems. Dancers kick up their legs to a clattering of hard shoes and the singing of the fiddle, Irish Stew and soda bread are served all day, and the Guinness flows freely. For more than a quarter of a century now, St Pat has been honoured at Bailies behind the Cathedral. Others have taken up the festivities, and it has become a City-wide event, but Bailies has always been it heart and its home.

Not today. There would no doubt be something happening at the Speight’s

St Pats Day breakfast

 Ale House up the road, but it would not be the same. Just an excuse to drink a lot of Guinness – and I do not need an excuse for that. I can do that any time. Instead I had a Guinness by myself on my back patio. I cooked myself a nice breakfast and had another Guinness, and sat and looked back on happier times and forward to St Pats Day 2012. Then I got on with the business of the day, the primary event of which was the arrival of a refugee.

We have taken in Bentley, a large brown cat whose home on Mt Pleasant is abandoned and in a poor state. Our friend Denny has been travelling up to an hour each way every day to feed him and keep him company for a while, which is a severe burden for her, so we offered to take Bentley in for the duration, and he arrived in the afternoon. He was not very happy about the transition, but we will make him very welcome, and he shall have lots of company from now on.

To be continued….

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 23.

Wednesday 16th March – Day 23.

Rumour has it that the cordon is going to be drawn in a little further as of tomorrow. A Red Cross worker came to the door to check if everything was in order here, and he produced a map that would indicate that the cordon is to be withdrawn back to Kilmore Street and Madras Street. Freedom! I must admit to a sense of lightness at the thought of impending liberty, but a countervailing caution imposes a caveat. We have known plans to change. What is true at midday is not necessarily true at mid-afternoon.

Being at something of a loose end after lunch, I decided to walk up to Speight’s Ale House in Bealey Avenue for a pint. I asked the soldiers on duty at the checkpoint on the bridge if they had heard of a change to the cordon, but they had heard nothing. So they said. There was no point in asking the policeman on duty there. Policemen are trained to say absolutely nothing of any use whatsoever to civilians unless under direct orders to do so. None of them would have given any information even if they had any, which they quite probably did not. If anything is becoming clearer in the organization of this disaster is that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, and neither would tell the other if they did know.

Leaving them to their duties, I strolled on up to the Alehouse and enjoyed a couple of pints of Old Dark. There were perhaps a dozen or fifteen people there, no-one that I knew of course, but the point of going to a pub in not so much to drink beer as to be with people. It was very pleasant to spend an hour looking out over the trees of the avenue and the passing parade of traffic, and to be amongst people. I very much miss Bailies Bar and all that it afforded me. It was the centre of my social world, and the chances that it has gone forever are high. Such is the face of our changing reality.

 To be continued….

Christchurch Earthquake 2011 – Day 22.

Tuesday 15th March 2011 – Day 22.

Three weeks. It seems more like three years, and such changes as have come we never saw even in thirty years before. A drive around to the Postal Centre in St Asaph Street clearly showed that. To drive from home to the intersection of Bealey Avenue and Barbadoes Street took a matter of seconds. The drive from there to the intersection of Fitzgerald Avenue and Kilmore Street, not a great deal greater in distance, took over twenty minutes thanks to the subsidence of the broad six-lane sweep of roadway. The damage there is going to make that a bottle-neck for a long time to come.

Down the road a bit further I turned into Tuam Street by mistake and had to drive around and around for a while before I was able to get to the St Asaph Street [who was St Asaph, anyway?] and the Postal Centre. This area, bounded by Fitzgerald Avenue, Hereford Street, Stanmore Road and the railway lines is all low-rise light industrial and was bustling with activity. There are a lot of places like light engineering works, bakeries, automotive repair shops, hospitality industry wholesalers, garment factories, and electrical supply companies, and life is rapidly returning but with a difference. Commercial buildings were alive with people doing busy things, but many were shut up. Roads were uneven and rutted, some blocked completely. A supermarket in Stanmore Road was open for business, while the block of shops next to it was being demolished.

Everything has changed. Everything is still changing, metamorphosing into – what? There are many directions in which Christchurch could go from here, and no-body really knows what that direction will be, the directors not the least. Whatever direction is taken, it will not be the one that we have previously travelled. It is a very different and unknown world up ahead. But we should not, must not complain.

The recent cataclysm in Japan clearly proves the old adage that no matter how bad it gets for you, there is always someone worse off than you. We can take a certain grim comfort in that we number our dead in the scores, they in the thousands, the tens of thousands. We have hundreds of homeless, they have millions, and a scale of destruction that beggars superlatives. Let us not rail against the Gods for the hurt we have received, but instead thank them for the lightness of our injury, and pray that they may show mercy to those more afflicted than we.

To be continued….

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