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One Year On.

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

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

Protesters outside the City Council, Hereford Street.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protesters in Montreal Street.

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

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

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

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