Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Spout. Rhymes with not moving out.

Today I spent the afternoon trapped in my house, not by any earthquake rubble, but because I was waiting for one of the most elusive men in town - the local plumber. I knew I'd only get one chance to make the rendezvous. I booked him three days ago and have been anxiously awaiting 'the call' to say he was on his way. Today it finally came, only it was from his harrassed admin person, asking me if I'd be home this afternoon. I was opening my mouth to ask if she could be more specific, time-wise, when she pre-emptively and bluntly put me straight on that. 'I can't tell you exactly when he will be there', she said, 'so don't ask'. I was too scared to say anything except 'thank you, thank you, oh great one'.

When mother earth threw that god awful tanty a week ago, it seems that she emphasised whatever the point was with some high pressure silt right up our spout - or whatever that bit is that feeds hot water into the cylinder. Something broke and when the water came back on, it didn't linger in the tank to get warm, but kept filling until it spurted out onto the roof. Hence yesterdays reference to invigorating cold showers. At about 4pm a young man turned up, with many manly tools. While he fiddled with my valve, I asked him if he moonlighted as a Chippendale dancer the usual questions about home and family. He told me that he no longer has a house, and that the receptionist was stressed to the max because she had been in their office, one street over from my house, when the quake hit, blowing out the entire wall on one side of their premises. And yet, these people are still at work, fixing up showers in houses that are really quite fine, for people that didn't experience anything more scary than the demise of a few appliances and kitchen doodads. By rights the entire Maxwell Plumbing team should have permanently left town for terra-more-firmer. Many people have. But not them, and not me either. Why is that?

The only time I seriously considered leaving Christchurch was right after Quake#1, when I imagined that one of two things might happen. I thought that the natural progression would be either a) a quick return to rock solid normality, in which case I could come back or b) that Quake#1 would be closely followed by a much bigger, apocalyptic quake. I was feeling distinctly doomsday, brooding over such concepts as 2012 and the seemingly imminent end of days. I fretted that one or more of the subterranean volcanoes that formed New Zealand might be about to blow their stack - in which case, as The Programmer reassuringly pointed out, at least half the country would be screwed.

After a few days it seemed that neither of these things was looking very likely. After a few weeks we settled into a frequently rattly, often stressful, but otherwise fairly normal existence. I listened to the experts and concluded that Christchurch is shaking because this is what the earth does. It might be the beginning of the end, but probably not. New Zealand is always shaking, somewhere. Fiordland has had some whopper quakes, but because it is mostly unpopulated nobody gives them a second thought. I realised that if I realistically intended to avoid quakes, I'd have to leave the country. Recently I went to Picton and did not feel any safer there. In fact I felt less safe because it was right by a harbour (Tsunami!) and the house we stayed in hadn't lived through 4000 quakes already. In my house, perhaps deludedly, I feel quite safe. I'm not sure I could feel safer anywhere else. I've traveled widely. There is evidence that natural disasters and inexplainable phenomena (e.g. dead fish washing up en-masse) have been happening at least since mankind felt the need to start recording the events of his or her life. Many ancient buildings have been destroyed at least once by an earthquake and rebuilt. Traumatic as it is; it's not a new thing.

Of course there is always the option of finding a traditionally less wobbly country. We could, for example, easily skip across the ditch to Aussie. Our large, red neighbour is undoubtedly stable and the economy doesn't look awful. I suppose, after a while, floods, droughts and poisonous animals might be ok.... :-/. The other country I could consider living in, Italy, is also rather quaky - parts of it being descriptively nickamed 'Terra Ballerina'. I have a friend in Palermo who has experienced some serious earthquakes that didn't make the news here. Not just a kiwi problem then. Not to mention that other countries may instead have hurricanes, bushfires, crazy levels of crime. We are now being told that the aftershocks could continue for a year or more and I'm not really willing to leave NZ for that long. We have lived in England before. It's not particularly quake prone, it's ok, but when it comes down to it, nowhere else will ever be home.

One of my friends once called NZ a young, fresh country without the social inertia of old, cynical Europe and the UK. It is. That's what is so cool about it, and what makes me want to stick around for the rebuilding of Christchurch, even if they start loading interest onto my student loan to finance it. The city planners will learn from what has happened. When the city is reborn, it will be different. In an ideal world it would be better, greener, even more beautiful. That is my hope, but one thing I'm sure of is that it will be is as quakeproof as it's possible to build a city. If I have to be anywhere in another earthquake, the place I want to be is Christchurch of the future. We still have a lot of healing to do before we get to that point, and there will always be a scar, but it's well worth remembering that this country didn't get to where it is now by people bailing when the outlook wasn't all blue skies with a chance of sunshine.

I am aware that in writing this, it may come across like I'm accusing those that have left town of exhibiting wussiness. Not so. Some of my nearest and dearest have run for the hills and, in many cases, I helped them get there. Remember, I am brain dumping from a sound house and I don't have any kids that might be mentally scarred by the near-constant aftershocks (my cats have been beyond help for a while now..). Those reasons, and the fact that I have relatives living close that I want to look out for, are why I am currently still in situ. If my house was collapsing, my family lived out of town or I had a child, I'd be finding somewhere quieter, for sure. I'm not talking about right now, in the first few weeks after the earthquake. I'm thinking about the months and years to come. My (somewhat rambling) point is that, long term, I don't think Christchurch is less safe than any other city, anywhere. If the rebuilding is done right, it could even be a more awesome and certainly more sturdy place than ever, and that can only happen if people stick around. Right?

Disclaimer: Should Lyttelton harbour start steaming and all politicians leave the country, please join me in abandoning all patriotism and head immediately for the airport. Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. You're right on all fronts, of course. We don't have rocking & rolling going on underfoot where I live, but along with the joys of living amongst kangaroos and kookaburras is the constant danger of bushfires. There's always some downside to paradise.

    And I'm sure the new Christchurch will be better than ever. :)


I love to hear from you! Tell me what's in your brain, your heart or your dinner plate :D.