Tag Archives: Town Crier of Christchurch

Christchurch Resurgent [10]

31st December 2011.

It is almost finished. I am writing this at 2:25 p.m. so we have only another nine hours and thirty-five minutes to go and 2011 will be over forever. What with earthquakes, snow and a heart valve replacement operation, this has been one of the most unpleasant years in my lifetime and, I daresay, in that of many others. The City of Christchurch as we knew it has gone, never to return. What will come to replace it no-body knows. We will cross that bridge as we come to it. Here in Canterbury we are getting very good at waiting, largely because there is nothing else we can do in the face of the glacial speed of the progress that we are making.

That progress, so painfully and slowly achieved, can be demolished in an instant. At the back of everyone’s mind is the niggling awareness that another Big One could strike at any moment. This is not a matter of paranoia. This is fact, but we tend to forget it. We all know intellectually that another major quake can hit at any time, but it is only human nature to become complacent. We had a seriously big one in June, then nothing for six months except for minor tremors. We began to suspect that it was all over and we could look forward to a bright new year. Then the day before Christmas Eve we were hit again with a quake that registered 7 on the Mercalli scale. And they have come thick and fast ever since. Less than an hour ago, at 1.44 p.m. we had a number 5. Less than a 7, perhaps, but significant, enough to set the kitchen floor to rocking, the pots and pans to clattering and to force me to grab the table for support. It was the 7,932nd quake to hit us since September last year. There had been three more previously today, and fourteen yesterday, of various strengths.

So the reminders that all is not over continue, and I no longer wish people a Happy New Year. On the face of it, that sounds a little too unlikely. Instead, I have taken to wishing people a boring New Year, an uneventful New Year in which nothing remarkable happens – no emergencies, no crises, no surprises – a year that is mundane from beginning to end, in which each day is calm, and serene and the same, a year in which people run out of things to say because nothing remarkable has happened.

And a very Boring New Year to you all!

Christchurch Resurgent [7].

Friday 9th December 2011.

Well, that was a new experience: 0920am this morning saw me waiting at the bus stop to catch a bus to take me on my way to the first part of the day’s business. I have not done that since I left school nearly half a century ago.

Luckily I do not have to go very far to reach the bus stop. The bus company has had to do some reorganising of routes perforce, one result of which is that a bus now runs along Barbadoes Street. And not one bus but two! Number 45 and 46 now pass right by our house every half hour. Even better, we now have a bus stop almost outside the front door. It sprang up a week or so ago at about where the side door of the Star and Garter used to be, which means that all I had to do was don my attire, lock up and toddle across the road to await my chariot.

The bus arrived in good time, and the ride itself was a pleasant enough experience. I sat at the front, overlooking the front door well, and watched the unfolding scenery from an entirely new perspective. We travelled down Barbadoes Street to St Asaph Street, to Montreal Street, to Cambridge Terrace, arriving at the bus exchange – sorry, Central Station – after about ten minutes of smooth riding. I alighted no more than a hundred metres from the back door of Ballantyne’s.

If anything positive has arisen out of the debris of the City it must be the new bus exchange. Only eighteen months ago the City Council was planning to build a new one on this site to replace the old one across the road, which was becoming too difficult, but the plan was to dig a huge hole and build it underground. The cost would have run into hundreds of millions of dollars, on top of the millions [tens of millions?] already paid out for the land. Now, for the cost of a bit of tarseal, some kerbing and signage, plus a series of portacoms for a ticket office, waiting rooms and a toilet, we have an excellently simple and outstandingly efficient bus exchange. Perhaps our City Planners would benefit from a course of instruction in basic economics.

Whilst the bus ride was an enjoyable novelty, and it was interesting to look at things from a different angle, the journey sparked in me a more sombre thread of thought as the journey to and from the City is – was, rather – a most important part of the day. One of the most enjoyable parts of the job of being Town Crier was that I was able to walk to and from Cathedral Square which was, for want of a better word, my office. I could leave home, walk past Piko’s Wholefoods and the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, then follow the river Avon along Poplar Crescent. From there I would turn into Manchester Street then into Armagh Street, along New Regent Street and Gloucester Street, then through Press Lane or Colonial Lane to the Square.

If I hurried, the expedition might take ten minutes or so, but there was  very rarely any need of urgency. Almost always I would meet people along the way, individuals, couples or little groups, mostly tourists coming from or going to the Holiday Inn in the Avon Loop. Many were Americans, walking towards the Fire Station to look at the Firefighters’ Memorial. We would talk, they would take photos and I would show them where to go on one of the maps that I hand out, and we would go our separate ways. Or I might stop for a minute of two and gaze at the majestic poplars along the river, and the various water fowl swimming or diving in the water, or waddling along the banks. It was a great pleasure and one of the highlights of my day.

No more.

Piko’s is broken in half, and the half that survives is a shell. The Baptist Church with its stately columns and classical Ionic façade has vanished. Where once the faithful sang praises to the Lord, sunflowers are bursting into bloom. The walls of the Holiday Inn lean drunkenly, surrounded by security fences, awaiting the Wreckers. The poplars are still there, as are the ducks and the eels, but what lies beyond the Madras Street bridge I do not know of at first hand, as I have not walked that way since the 22nd of February. Ruin and desolation lays there, I fear, and I shall not walk that way for a long time yet.

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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