We Loved the Effort

Or, how we once lived perambulatory for a year and learned to love the bus (and online grocery delivery).

So…  we’ve bought a car.

There. I said it.

I know this post is a while in coming – we bought the car a few weeks ago – but it’s been hard to figure out the right way to put it out there.  I hinted earlier that our wee experiment was coming to an end.  In our minds, somewhat prematurely, thanks to the small matter of a few major earthquakes – in all honesty I’ve been actively looking for another car since a few weeks after the major earthquake on February 22.  As it turned out, we managed to last until our 12 months was up but more through chance than design.  We had the ever-generous Uncle Puff living with us after leaving his place in hard-hit Redcliffs, and he placed his car at our disposal until we were able to get our own one again.

Even that was a good opportunity to reflect on the nature of car ownership.  Three adults and one Bobbin of 35 months and counting (not only that but talking back, negotiating and planning holidays away from us too) living together – we do not all need our own cars.  Even though the three of us live and work quite different schedules, only having one vehicle was more than enough to make our lives a little easier.  The loss of car-free credibility offset by the penitence of being seen in the street-cred-diminishing, lemon yellow, ‘flying custard square.’*

But nothing’s ever perfect or rather, things are perfectly imperfect and we should be proud of what we’ve achieved.  I know that I’m so proud of Lizzie and Seraphine for loving the effort, through gritted teeth sometimes.  (You really should come and do the incredibly steep walk that Lizzie would do morning and night, in all weather, with a 10kg bobbin in a backpack complete with lunch, spare clothes, nappies etc., her own lunch and laptop – all in her work (read: not great for walking in) gear.  Not only was she single-handedly defying convenience she was sending it to it’s room for Time Out and no supper.  I love you, Peedie Mitten.

Our year of living (solely) perambulatory has come to an end but I do love the bus.  And using Shanks Pony, and I’m not so scared of walking up hills.  Here we are, no longer car-free with child, but also no longer unthinkingly beholden to Convenience either.  At least we’d like to think so.  But reflecting on my first month with a new car – it’s been something of an orgy of convenience, albeit a mindful one – damn I’m loving having a car again!

And with that exclamation point, *poof* goes whatever remaining car-free credibility we had.

So is this the end of Tyranny of Convenience?  No way.  You’ll never guess what we’ve just gone and done.  Buying a car was only the tip of the iceberg.

Oh dearie me, we’ve gone and bought a house.

* Actually, in all honesty, we love the flying custard square.

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Needing Validation?

I know this is meant to be the blog about being a car-free family and thinking all about how convenience dictates our lives, but frankly, the earth is actually moving under our feet.  And it’s not nice.  And it keeps on coming – a couple of ‘5s’ and a 6.3 shake in the past week has set many people and the recovery backwards somewhat.  It’s hard to think about anythng else.  But as Moata says (or quotes, actually) we just gotta keep on swimming.

So, ToC has been a hell of a ride, even without wheels it seems.  We’ve made it through 12 months of (mostly) carlessness, some earthquakes and we’ve just turned ’70’ in posts – that honour goes to the formerly AWOL but now returned Lizzie with her reflective Matariki inspired post.  And in that spirit of reflection but also rebirth and new beginnings – we bring you a new look – we hope you like.  Matariki signifies a new year, a fresh start, a time for being together with family and whanau and a time for thanks-giving.  So despite, well, everything – or maybe because of it – let’s celebrate and we thank you for coming along with us, or stopping by or simply stumbling onto the blog.  Remember, you, each of you – You. Are. Great.

Make a cuppa, park yourself for free, kick off your silt-sodden shoes and let this gem of a short film light up your solstice.  And if this doesn’t make you smile, you have a heart of stone.  Arohanui.

Lyttelton – Do Something Beautiful

Well now, it’s June already which for those of us living in Aotearoa means we are entering into Matariki, sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year.   I might post more about Matariki shortly but for now I want to point out that it is a time for reflection, remembrance, connection with family/whanau and new beginnings.  We will make a couple of posts on this theme this month as those of you who have been following our trials and tribulations might have realised that we have passed our 12 month goal of being a car-free family during May.  More on that soon, as well as the end of the experiment… So in the spirit of Matariki I’m reprinting here the following article I wrote for the Lyttelton News – our local newspaper which comes monthly as part of the Akaroa Mail.  It appeared on the front page of the Friday 11th March edition.  Thank you to Margaret Jefferies for inviting me to submit.

Last year Margaret Jefferies of Project Lyttelton sent me a superbly eloquent definition of sustainability: the possibility of life flourishing forever.  In its simplicity it summed up perfectly for me, what I believe is a worthy aspiration for our community.  Inherent in the concept of flourishing are all the ingredients of a life well lived, and a strong community, such as: sustainability, engagement, inclusiveness, meaning,  resilience and well-being.  I like the definition also because there is room for doubt.  The possibility of flourishing.  It’s not a given, it suggests we must take responsibility and approach the goal of sustainability (flourishing) with purpose.  It is possible, there is hope.  How we do it is up to us.  It is in the act of seeking that we may indeed flourish.

Right now, as a community we have been faced with a crisis of major proportions.  We will move through the stages of emergency response, recovery and eventually, revitalisation.  It is how we approach these stages and frame our perspective that determines the quality of the experiences we will have.  You could say that this is the measure of our resilience.  To put it simply, we can choose to see the earthquake either as purely a catastrophe – the end of many things – rebuilding in haste, without vision, walking backwards into the future or we can acknowledge the tragedy and begin to approach it as an opportunity to re-imagine our community and work to create the flourishing Lyttelton of our dreams.  There is no right time for this to happen.  No rules or timeframes, it is up to us, together to work it out.

Lyttelton is resilient.  I know this because we have so far made it through two major earthquakes, the second a genuine disaster for our town, and still, here we are – working together, helping each other, asking questions, talking about the future.  If we are to not only endure and survive but to flourish, we must mix in the best of our resilience with a sustainable approach.  Moving forward in a considered way, with vision, be bold and with nothing less than flourishing as our goal.  And while we are waiting to get on that bus – let’s do something beautiful.

How to survive a natural disaster pt. 1: the loo with a view

If one must, one must in style.

If a person takes a dump in their back yard and everyone pretends not to notice, does it still make a stink?

Ah yes, the age old question.

We now know the answer to this and many other things we never thought about before.  Mercifully our water and sewerage is back on (although we’re still using both sparingly and boiling our drinking water).  But I did promise the obligatory photograph of our back yard ablution block so here you go.

Emergencies tend to do different things to different people.  It can bring out the good and the bad.  And no, that is not setting you up for some lame gag about cathartic motions.  Although I am about to show you a picture of a stool…

In the case of Uncle Puff, it brought out the pragmatic, DIY legend in him.  Admittedly it usually doesn’t take much under normal circumstances.

The question of a lack of facilities with a houseful of people was rapidly becoming an issue.  We had immediately started collecting rain water (just the excuse I needed to rip out the downpipe and set up a rain butt – should’ve done it years ago) with which we could flush the toilet once we got the all clear to do so but who knew when that was going to be?  We couldn’t keep filling it up.  Ahem.

Enter the Puff.  Why just dig a hole in the ground when you can create the Luxury Latrine.  First we identified the most private spot on the banked bit of land behind our house.  We considered the relative difficulties of squatting on a slope and looked around for something to sling our nether regions over (not to put too fine a point on it) when Uncle Puff had the first of his brainwaves.  All we needed was an old wooden chair that we could cut a hole in the seat.  It just so happened that we did have an old chair with a broken back and a solid wooden seat in the cellar (aka The Underworld).  A quick visit to our neighbour Merv (latterly dubbed The Mervinator by the neighbouring kids for his efforts during and after the earthquake) to borrow a jigsaw and Puff’s eyes were aglow with the vision of a back yard latrine of legend.

The throne was completed in no time and the final piece of the puzzle was completed with a stout harakeke branch and an old shower curtain for privacy.  It was only fitting that Puff performed the opening ceremony.

And now, the stool:

I'm going outside, I may be some time. Pass the newspaper.

Although the ‘loo with a view’ has now been retired, the stool remains as our own personal monument to survival.  And I’m still collecting rain water.

It’s the Little Things…

I remember the small stuff.

It’s funny what sticks in your mind after something like this.  Things in my office that I’ll never see again.  None of it is important really but it’s strange, I know exactly where it’s probably sitting (lying) in that room that I’ve spent a large part of my life for the past 3 years.  A room which will no longer exist in a matter of days or weeks when the wrecking ball comes.

The view from our 4th floor office to the east was amazing.  Madras St was the final strip of ‘skyscrapers’ in the central city east.  Beyond our building was just houses and suburbs to the sea.  Our shared kitchen and staff room was the scene of many great debates, conversations and delicious lunches.  Head-shaking over letters to the editor, discussions about the ‘correct’ way to load the dishwasher, backyard permaculture, recycling and generally putting the world to rights.

So many people lost so much more in buildings just a block away.  So many people didn’t get to walk out into the drizzle of a dreary Tuesday lunchtime and count themselves lucky.

I walked over papers, furniture, broken glass, out into the rest of my life.

But I remember the little things – an umbrella, a rain jacket, two photos of Seraphine, a box of chocolates I was saving for my colleagues, birthday cards, some books of poetry, a phone charger, my diary, a notebook from Bulgaria.

All so clear in my mind, lying there like lost toy soldiers in the garden.

Anything but convenient

I found out from my brother-in-law that their dog, Aslan, had become unwell and he took him to the vet on Tuesday.  They diagnosed him with cancer and he had to be put down yesterday.  When I rang, he’d just buried him.  My sister and their children are all in Wellington and so my brother-in-law had to deal with this all by himself and continue to do so for another two days until they return.

He loved that dog and sounded very far away yesterday.

And the aftershocks continue.

Far From Normal

Shaken to the Core: Blog | Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

The link above is to a brilliant post by one of my colleagues at the MHF that offers hope to anyone feeling like they are ‘not coping’* after the earthquake or finding they’re, by turns, angry, sad, vague, exhausted or maybe feeling ‘survivor guilt.’

These are all ‘normal’ or rather, to be expected responses to trauma.

*we all cope in different ways and have different levels of need at different times.  We can’t be all things to all people and it can be very hard if you have people depending on you.  It’s OK to ask for help and admit that we’re just not coping, in fact, it’s the best thing you can do in the long run.  We’re gonna need everyone in order to build the city of our dreams.

I’ve added a link in the Earthquake category below to a page with useful links, information and resources for coping in a disaster.

Grilly’s Story

Sometimes I wonder if you’re just better off not knowing.  At least at the time something happens.

As it turns out, Grilly had been in the central city when the proverbial balloon went up on Tuesday 22nd.

Having attended mass in the Holy Cross Chapel in Chancery Lane, just off Cathedral Square at 12.05pm, the service ended at approximately 12.35pm.  Shortly after that Grilly headed across Cathedral Square and past the Cathedral at about 12.40pm.  She was headed for the Bus Exchange and entered off Colombo St to wait at her platform in the main waiting area of the Exchange on Lichfield St.  She had enough time to note that her bus, the No. 5, was due in 9 minutes.  For some reason, unknown to her, she chose to sit near the door – something she doesn’t usually do.

In the 5 minutes before the earthquake struck, she spoke to one of the many uniformed school students heading home for a teacher-only day.  It was a busy lunchtime crowd inside the Exchange.  At 12.51pm violent shaking began, windows shattered and material started falling on everyone, possibly from the ceiling.  Grilly said it sounded like everyone screamed at once and begun pouring out onto Lichfield St.  The jolting threw her against the doorway on her way out.  The outside of the building started shedding chunks of masonry.  Within seconds it seemed, there were police telling everyone to get into the middle of the street away from the falling pieces of buildings all around them.  Bricks and tiles from the already damaged Dowsons building  and the Exchange itself were raining down.  Grilly saw some of the school children hit by masonry and bleeding and one girl slumped against the building was carried away by two men.

People stumbled down Lichfield St, picking their way over rubble and fallen blocks and bits of building.  She moved as if in a daze, unsure of where she was and what street she was on – so many familiar buildings were down that there were very few landmarks to get her bearings from.  Everything was covered by the hanging haze of dust.  It was then that this horrible moment that no child wishes to see their parent in was captured on film and shown around the world.  My sister saw it on TV first and prepared the rest of us for the shock of seeing her there (at 1.53 in the video below – thanks to Logan from Gorilla Pictures):

Like I said, sometimes maybe, you’re better off not knowing.  Here’s my sister’s story.

What Grilly recalls next is the kindness of a series of strangers.  A tiny episode of so many in the unfolding stories of this disaster.  First she was noticed, dazed and in shock, by a man who picked her up and sat her on a car bonnet until she was able to continue.  Next two young women looked after her and sent me a text saying my mother was OK and was with them.  In some amazing act of foresight Grilly was carrying a piece of paper in her bag with my mobile number on it.  I received these texts while desperately trying to get through traffic to her house.  I thought they were from neighbours in her street at the time.  These two wonderful young people managed to get another family of strangers to take Grilly in their car and drive her home.  They had only arrived in NZ two weeks earlier and were unsure of their way around, navigating by map, in a disaster zone.

Somehow, through this lack of familiarity with Christchurch they managed to take an unusual route to Grilly’s area, meaning they missed most of the log-jammed traffic.  The streets around Linwood and further east to Aranui and beyond were badly affected by subsidence, liquefaction and flooding.  The family were able to get Grilly close to her street and let her out.  The final amazing act in her incredible journey home – two men appeared out of houses and carried her across a severly flooded intersection to reach her house.

There are very few strangers in our city now.  Those of us who are fortunate, or blessed if you prefer, to be alive and able to tell their tale, are part of a stronger community now.  We, all of us, are survivors, not victims.  And we carry each other across the floods.