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.

A list of things we’ve learned

Ciaran just insisted, in a charming way, that I go and write a damn blog post.

“Even just a list of things we’ve learned,” he said plaintively.

That’s a tough ask for me, because I’m not very good at learning stuff.

I mean I am good at it, if an authoritative, interesting person tells me what I need to know, preferably with the assistance of books and visual aids. A situation otherwise known as school, I believe.

But learning from personal experience? Oh, that’s hard.

But just for him, because he asked so nicely, I’m going to make a big effort.

So what have we learned from a year of not having a car?

  • Contrary to my own expectations, it was actually harder not having a car in the summer months. I thought it would be tough on cold wet winter mornings, when I had to get up in the dark, wrangle a protesting toddler into her pantechnicon and push her to preschool in driving sleet. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff wasn’t exactly fun. But I’m pretty stoical when it comes to stomping around in unpleasant weather.
  • What was more of a bummer was when the weather got all nice and we wanted to go to the beach for a swim/go camping on the weekend/go for a picnic on the peninsula on a sunny Saturday and we couldn’t, because we didn’t have a car.
  • Even though you save money not having a car, who knows where that money goes? In hindsight, we should have been inspired by the quit smoking exercise, taken the money we would have spent on petrol every week and put it in a high interest savings account/sock under the mattress instead. We didn’t. Oh well!
  • Outings that require more than one bus trip become too hard. Although maybe that’s just us being lazy.
    You gain a new appreciation for your immediate surroundings, because you spend a lot more time there. Instead of driving into town to go out, we just walk down the road. Admittedly we pretty much always did that anyway, because we live in Lyttelton and it is frankly much much nicer than Christchurch, but without a car we became even more ferociously local in our focus.
  • Online supermarket shopping rocks. So fantastic. Quicker, easier and cheaper, even with delivery costs, because you don’t impulse buy. And let’s hear it for automated shopping lists! Unfortunately online shopping is currently not a happening thing in Christchurch post quake, but we want it back. Vehemently.  I should also note that it would be very nice if the supermarkets could sort out some form of recyclable delivery container, because it right gets on my tits when we have made an effort to take our canvas bags to the supermarket, and then I get my groceries delivery in about a bazillion plastic bags. Honestly chaps, you can pack more than two cans of tomatoes in a bag. No really you can. Try it. It will astonish you.  And while you are pondering this amazing revelation, how about considering some reusable, branded crates? Think about it, socially, ecologically and ethically responsible, miles of feel good press releases and happy customers. All for piss all effort. Sounds like a winner to me folks. Why thank you, I will take a small mention in your corporate eco-awards winner’s speech.
  • Major natural disasters are not good times to be without a car. When the earth roars under your feet, the buildings fall down, the roads buckle and all public transport has ground to a halt, it is nice to have the option of climbing in your car and getting the hell out of there.
  • It takes balls/stupidity to be car free with a small child, as there are times when they are sick, in the deepest darkest hour of the night before morning and you too are sick with fear, that you really would like to be able to just get in the car and drive somewhere where nice people in white coats will make it all better.
  • Our friends are the most generous people, and when we have really needed a set of wheels, they have given us theirs. Big thanks especially to the beautiful Kate, who lent us her car in that difficult, frightening post quake period, and made it possible for us to get around our broken town and also to get away to the mountains for a break. Thanks also to Lindon and the flying custard square, which he placed at our disposal as a ‘family car’ with his usual grace and generosity. And thank you to Lauren, Daniel and Clara, who lent us their Demio so we could go on dates, and babysat our little girl into the bargain. You guys are the business and we loves you.
  • I should have got a bike. Although, Lyttelton doesn’t have many down sides, but it’s a bit crap for bikes (assuming you want to just use your bike as a form of transport and not as some form of advanced downhill, off road, neon lycra clad insanity). It’s steep and hilly and the rest of the city is through a tunnel you cannot cycle through (although you can put the bike on the front of the buses and ride through the tunnel that way. Lots of people do). Also did I mention I am lazy? Also I’m too vain to wear a bike helmet. Maybe I will make an effort to get over some of these constraints as I actually really enjoy cycling places.
  • I passionately hate ‘cycling gear’. Really people, is it compulsory to look that bad just because you are riding your bike? In some cities people just wear their normal clothes, you know? Actually this is a total tangent and not something I have learnt as a result of being car free at all. But any excuse to air my utter intolerance for taut nylon bottoms is a good excuse.

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.

Paying for sex, Seinfeld and the tyranny of … Free Parking

 

Free Parking: sounds like some kind of recreational creative picnic sport

 

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!

In the ‘Good Living’ supplement as part of filthy Christchurch rag The Press the other week was an interesting article on international parking guru Donald Shoup.

Headlined, in one of those sub-editor pun wet dream moments, as ‘Free parking’s true toll’ (I can’t hyperlink to it as it’s pay-to-view only, courtesy of unFairfax so not much point and anyway I’m going to discuss the thing intelligently myself.  And you can visit Mr Shoup’s website above, which is far more useful) the article is reprinted from the Los Angeles Times.  Not sure why I’m telling you that but when I get my serious blog voice on it feels proper to start acknowledging sources.  Actually, one should always acknowledge sources.  Anyway…

Why I’m writing about this is that Donald Shoup struck me as someone who fully grasps the double-edged sword of convenience, right way round of course.  He also gets the counter-intuitive concept of how the most convenient option is often the least helpful.  He’s talking about car parking and the problems it presents to town planning and designing for urban revitalisation.

Now for those of you in danger of nodding off at this stage in a riveting post about parking cars and wondering when the hookers are getting here.  Stay with me.

I’m not sure what I like more about Mr Shoup – being 72 and still riding a bike everywhere or the fact he quotes Seinfeld to illustrate his ideas.  Here’s where we get to paying for sex.  Shoup quotes George Costanza from Seinfeld who likened using a car park building to “going to a prostitute”.

“Why should I pay when, if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?”

This line of thinking, in the context of parking, leads to people driving around the block several times waiting for that magical parking space right outside their destination, expending time and fuel in the process.  “Maybe if I go round once more there’ll be a free one this time!”  Shoup argues that when street parking is free or inexpensive as is the case in many towns and cities, that demand soon outstrips supply and people cruising for parks waste time and fuel polluting the air and congesting the streets.  My pet hate is the slow cruise along the line of parked cars, holding up the flow of traffic while searching for a space, usually without the use of indication.  Oh yeah, baby…

Is that one? No... Oh! There! No...

Efforts to revitalise town centres often focus on parking – more of it and cheaper please.  This is very pertinent in Christchurch, a car-centric city.  The central city is constantly under threat from the proliferation of suburban malls with their thousand free car parks above, below and around their monolithic edifices.  These places are veritable Cathedrals of Convenience.  Central city retailers and the City Council are forever racking their brains about how to stop things falling apart, the centre cannot hold etc. etc.  This inevitably rolls around to the retailers bleating at the Council about cars and parking i.e. more and cheaper please.  They even managed to convince the Council (despite international research and evidence to the contrary) to allow cars through previously pedestrian-only inner city malls.  S’funny really, when what the shops really want is more people inside them not cars cruising past looking for parks.

After ‘The Event’ of September 4th last year, there was a considerable drop in the numbers of people visiting the central city.  Not surprising really, even after the cordoned off ‘exclusion zone’ and curfew was lifted, every available space in the media was taken up with images of the ‘catastrophic destruction’ in the central city.  After all a fallen down old building makes for a better lead image or back-drop when doing a live news report than the 50 other ones and entire suburbs behind it that are untouched.  No wonder people were jittery about going there – everything was apt to fall on their heads.  Except for the 99.9% of buildings that were not.  Leading up to Christmas this had retailers crying into their lattes with expected crashing sales figures.  The City Council responded with making all street parking free for a couple of weeks following the major quake and then over the Christmas build-up giving the first 2 hours free in all buildings and street parking.  To me this didn’t seem to make much difference – I noted a lot less cars around and plenty of parking spaces.  I’d wager it wasn’t the cost of parking keeping people away from town.

Est celui-là là ? Non... Oh! La? Non...

Shoup’s work harmonises with plenty of international research that demonstrates the more spaces you open up to cars (either driving or parking) then cars just fill them up again.  It’s just like those ‘awesome’ tax cuts that bribed a change of government in NZ– how much are you noticing that extra $15 dollars per week even a month after you start getting it?  You simply expand your living to absorb the extra ‘dollarspace’.  Hopeless.  No disrespect to the many economist readers of ToC but tax cuts do NOT improve and enhance our quality of life.  Just as cars do not revitalise cities – people do.  He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!

Speaking as someone guilty (now reformed) of cruising around looking for free parking, hoping to hit that little jackpot, I get what Donald Shoup is talking about.  He advocates for ‘fair-market’ pricing on street parking and making Park & Ride and various other options cheaper and more attractive.  Then using the revenue from parking directly for enhancing and revitalising the public space of central cities.  Encourage more walking, cycling and other forms of Active Transport.

And I’d throw in to the mix perhaps not allowing any more soul-destroying suburban malls to be built.  The tyranny of convenience eh?  But that’s another post all in itself.

And by the way, there is no such thing as the Free Parking jackpot in Monopoly.  Look it up.

Tired Old Bastard Blues – A whinge.

Gee I bet that title really reeled you in.

I need a holiday, big time.  Energy levels nearing empty, the Tired Old Bastard gauge is reaching critical.  This was compounded last night during a slightly sad outing for the somewhat-less-than Mighty Lyttelton football team in our last game of the year for the Summer League.  Slightly sad in that our healthy looking squad from the start of the season only managed to turn out 9 players and we required the services of two backpackers who happened to be passing by.

Slightly sad also in that I spent most of my time in the game chasing after younger, fitter, faster guys who I had no hope of catching without resorting to bolas and generally finding the whole experience akin to one of those nightmares where you have to run to or from something and you can’t make your legs move.  This is what happens to you at 35 if you take a fortnight off to recover from the minor whiplash you incurred last time you played.

Remind we why we’re doing this again? I said to myself more than once as I watched the player I was supposed to be marking once again run past me and off into the open pastures of our exposed right flank.  That’s right, it’s meant to be fun.

Football really is a winter game and fun is relative in 28 degree heat on a pitch that’s magically metamorphosed from green grass to something resembling volcanic rock with all sorts of uneven divets, bumps, holes and thanks to the earthquake some actual sand bunkers.  Oh and losing 1-8.

Nothing like all that to make you feel old and tired.

Now the Tyranny of Convenience take on this would be I was out running around in beautiful Hagley Park on a beautiful summer night playing football (the beautiful game) with my beautiful friends, enjoying using my beautiful body and building health and flourishing. blah blah blah.

But sometimes the only thing that makes you feel better is a cold pint at the pub.  Which is where I took our goalkeeper afterwards – he’d had an even worse day at the ‘office’ than me.

For some reason I offered to take home the jerseys as well.  So, loaded as I was with 3 bags and most of the skin of the second toe of my right foot apparently missing, I was really looking forward to the walk to the bus stop and the slog up the hill to follow it all.*

I must say, The Idler is really catching my attention at the moment – I think Tom really is on to something there.  The whole ToC Loving the Effort idea is suddenly looking a bit… well, let’s just say that given the way I’m feeling right now,  a breath of fresh air on the whole subject of convenience might be just the tonic.

“I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”
– Pascal

* There is a happy ending!  I bumped into one of our neighbours on the bus who’d parked their car at the bus stop and drove me up the hill – how convenient – hooray!

How do I know I’m Flourishing?

At the regular spoken word & poetry open mic night that I host we have a kind of unwritten rule about disclaimers.  That is, we don’t have no truck with them.  The people don’t want to hear your excuses.

I wonder if the blogosphere has the same principle.  That is, it’s poor form to start off a post apologising for not posting lately.  I suppose it’s a pretty boring and obvious thing to say isn’t it?  And there’s nothing more tedious than telling people all about how busy you’ve been.  Especially when they didn’t ask.

Especially if there’s no one reading…

But then again isn’t the entire blogosphere all about telling you stuff you didn’t ask about?

I bet you didn’t know you wanted to know all about it.

Weeelll.  Enough said.  Here we are.

So how has our little battle with convenience been going?  Thank you for asking.  It’s been sick.  And I don’t mean in the Australian use of the word ‘seeck’.  Not even ‘fully seeck’.  I mean the kind of sick that sees you making your nostrils raw while simultaneously destroying every hanky in the house and resorting to toilet paper, scrap paper and old t-shirts if necessary.  Also the kind of sick that has you exploding out every orifice normally reserved for more genteel activities.

Think Neil from The Young Ones.

Such has been the stuff of our winter.  Seraphine’s first winter attending pre-school where they should advertise free immune system load testing.  We’re now deep into spring and staring down the barrel of a good, hot summer and still I seem to be battling sore throats and leaky noses.  Not all my hankies have survived.

In real life, I spend a lot of time thinking, talking about and promoting wellbeing.  In particular us mental health promoters are taken with this idea of flourishing. What does it look like?  What does it mean for us and our society?  And how do we get there?  How do I know I’m flourishing?

Despite what I was saying earlier, I think I’m the fittest I’ve been in years.  At least, before the last week or so of flu-imposed inactivity.  I also find it doesn’t take much to set me back a notch, having now not played football for a couple of weeks.  I put the fitness down not only to playing the beautiful game again but having the hill walking routine imposed everyday, commiting to using the stairs at work and cycling more.  In fact I was feeling so good I volunteered to participate in this.  A little bit of fitness going to my head.  Sheesh.  But it’s a clue.

The point is, I do feel good.  And lately being car-free has not been easy.  We’ve seen off the worst that winter could throw at us (although no snow this year) but now the weather is picking up rapidly and the great wide open is beckoning.  The far-off, secluded little bays on the peninsula; the wild West Coast; my sister’s little slice of Rohan in the mountains.  Easy to survive not having a car when the best activity is red wine and a DVD.

It’s peak season now for renting cars so it’s not so cheap to get one to travel in.  Even so, we’re planning on renting something for a couple of weeks over Christmas while nearly the entire House of Davidson visits us.  It’s going to be a BIG family Christmas, and I’m looking forward to that too.  There’s so much to look forward to actually.  And that’s another clue.

Seraphine is a rambunctious little toddler now.  The days are getting hot.  There’s family coming to stay.  Christmas is approaching.  I’ve got a NEW tent (more on that).  I’ve only used my hanky twice today.  Yip, I’m feeling pretty positive.  It seems like ages ago now but it’s not that long since we started this blog and I wrote optimistically about Loving The Effort.  And it’s become a sort of personal mantra for the tough times.  In fact it’s the second most common tag for our posts (after ‘Car-Free’) and it’s kind of the apotheosis of our thesis around defying convenience.

Earlier in the week I was lying in a hot bath trying to revive myself enough to go to work and facilitate a workshop on this whole darn flourishing idea.  I’d initially thought to cancel the workshop but as I lay soaking in the hot, deep bath (oh, thank you Elizabeth!) and even though I was quite ill I kept thinking about the 20 or so people who were coming to the workshop and all the challenges they’d faced to get to where they were.  I thought about loving the effort and how, despite currently feeling a bit crook, I was actually doing OK and I realised that our message about flourishing was about just this kind of thing – regardless of the times when we get sick or the other limitations we might face, and we all face these at some point in our lives, we can and sometimes do, flourish.  But not enough of us.

Anyway, whether it was the force of this idea or the restorative power of a hot bath, strong coffee and paracetamol, I made it to the workshop.  We talked all about it and what it meant for each of us and decided we thought it a pretty damn good goal for society.

I then went home again and collapsed.

So.  My thoughts on some of the ways I know personally I’m flourishing:

When loving the effort means you’re not just gritting your teeth through what you must get through but actually seeking out new challenges and enlarging your efforts.

When despite currently being unwell you see the bigger picture of your overall wellbeing and fitness and it’s good and getting better.

When you feel like there’s lots to look forward to.

When you’re sick as a dog but you feel compelled to go out and talk to people and hear their good ideas.

When you’ve got no car but you can’t resist buying a flash new tent! Which we got for a song.  Actually that’s not really about flourishing but I’m looking forward to using it!

So anyway, it’s good to be back.

Car-free in an earthquake?

Well, of the 25 days since ‘the big one’ we’ve had the use of a car for over 2 weeks, thanks to Kate Kate who has been away for most of the time and left us her car to use.

It’s HARD!  I’m finding all this cheating is making me weak.  Although I did really enjoy the walk up the hill last night in glorious setting sunshine with a warm nor’west breeze in my face.

I’m really missing having a car.  It made it much easier to visit Grilly after the earthquake to check on her instead of the epic bus journey involved.  But I suppose I’m just really appreciating having the use of one.  I’m still determined to be car-free for a year but it has certainly made me mindful of enjoying driving (and convenience) while I can.

Anyway, blah blah.  In the immortal words of Garfield “I’ll be funny again tomorrow, I promise.”

Shake n’ Bake

Everyone quite rattled today.  A big aftershock centred in the harbour knocked power out this morning.  Back on now but people really starting to want this all to end.  Pretty tough on the nerves.

I went for my first trip into the city today to drop a friend off.  Sad to see the damage to the beautiful older buildings and even just the ramshackle brick ones that no-one would claim are remarkable examples of architecture but nevertheless add to the character of the city.  It’s those ones that make me saddest – easy to mourn the churches and the heritage-listed ones but all those old factories and workshops, warehouses and back alleys – they’re the ones that really make a difference in your day to day city experience.

My brother coined the term ‘Shake n’ Bake Buildings’ for those horrible tilt-slab concrete developments that over the past 15 or so years have infested Christchurch.

Property developers love the technology.  Huge concrete slabs are prefabricated on or off-site and then ’tilted’ up into position and braced by large scaffolding like steel tubes while the building is somehow ‘stitched’ together, probably by chewing gum or something.  It’s super fast, cheap and manages to lend an air of strip-mall sameness to any development.  Just brilliant.

I always wondered about the wisdom of these buildings (let alone the asthetic value).  I mean, concrete has a finite lifespan (which I can’t be bothered to look up on t’interweb) but I’ll wager that it’s considerably longer than the veneer of ‘nice, clean newness’ takes to fade and taint as rain run-off stains the sides like tide marks on a sweaty middle-aged squash playing property developer’s armpits.  But I always wondered how they would stack up in an earthquake.

They kind of did the job of an earthquake themselves seeing that they served to wipe out large chunks of Christchurch’s dwindling heritage and other funky old buildings, replacing them with cheap, tacky little commercial developments that seem to spend half their time empty and for lease.  The other thing Christchurch seemed hell-bent on replacing it’s character buildings with were car yards.  But that’s a story for another day…

I always wondered if the people who thought these shake n’ bake buildings were a good idea had ever seen any Buster Keaton movies.  Or been to a movie studio and seen the great building facades which worked on the same principle but were never designed to be permanent.  They’re not real.

But they’re awfully convenient.

Well wouldn’t you know it.  The day has finally dawned where we got to test out how robust these houses of cards really are. 7.1 magnitude of Earth’s complete disregard for humanity’s baubles.

And at first glance it looks like: Shake n’ Bake 1, Lovely Old Character Buildings nil.

Yes, it’s a property developers wet dream cum true.  A lot less of those pesky old dames cluttering up the city with their character and their quiet dignity.  A lot more space for regurgitated tacky concrete.  (And why do they always have to be that washed out khaki colour?).  And a city desperate to get itself tarted up for an overpriced sporting event next year.  There’s already talk of central government contributing to the rebuild.  I can hear the rubbing of hands from here.

One friend quipped “Christchurch is going to look like even more of a Bunnings Warehouse than it already does.”

Maybe we’ll seize the opportunity to make something beautiful out of disaster, to build a city we can be proud of and live in.  To save the old buildings, to build stronger, beautiful new ones.  To realise that people love character more than they love convenience…

But just think about all the extra parking we can build in!

Now that’s convenient.

Adventures in Busland – The Quest for Grilly

OK, so the blog has been a bit bus-centric over the last few days but here’s one more little story about our latest experience.

You lovely regular readers might recall a post by Elizabeth about our progress so far and the potential stumbling blocks or issues that we were anticipating.  Some of them turned out to be mere paper tigers, one or two haven’t been encountered yet.  However one has been chipping away at our nerves like that dripping tap you’ve been meaning to do something about.  The visitation of ‘Grilly’.

Granny Lily is my mother.  She still lives in the family home and for all her 79 years she’s never learnt to drive.  That didn’t stop her raising four children though.  That should be all the inspiration we need – it was also pre- cell phones, microwaves, EFTPOS, the internet and people could actually smoke in hospitals.  But that’s another whole post in itself.  She was a gung-ho cyclist who taught me how to ride by taking me on long trips near our house around the oxidation ponds of the city seweridge plant.  Nice image.

She got everywhere on her trusty black, sit-up-and-beg bike that looked not a million miles away from this:

Thanks to Blue Earth

And boy, could she fly on that thing when she wanted to.

She had to give up on biking some years ago when she developed Meniere’s Disease which affects your balance and can cause black outs, which she discovered the hard way, while riding home one day.  Now she walks miles every week and is able to make use of the senior citizens’ gold card which gives her free bus rides in off-peak times.

Recently returned from an epic quest of her own into the depths of France, accompanied by my sister (now there’s a story), Grilly (also known as the Dowager Empress) had been suffering jet lag and the post travel blues and we were well overdue for a visit.  We’d put it off due to all of us having thick colds the week before (the last thing a 79 year old needs, jet-lagged, at the start of winter).  Now there was nothing for it, we had to embark on the two bus rides each way into the dark heart of Aranui, my ol’ stomping ground.

We hadn’t really done any family bus rides before.  Elizabeth buses with the Bobbin quite regularly but here we were, all three of us, bags and buggy and Bobbin.  The first stop was the Lyttelton Farmers’ Market for treats to bring Grilly.  Then down to the bus stop on Norwich Quay where freight trucks from the port thunder by in clouds of noise and fumes.  We were right on time for the 10.15 bus but it was nowhere in sight, in fact it never came at all so half an hour later we got on the next bus along with one of Lyttelton’s fearless hill skateboarders and a couple of soon to be disappointed Welsh rugby fans.  There are two spaces onboard the bus for buggies, prams and wheelchairs.  One has seats the other doesn’t.  On this first bus was a young fella with the biggest gear bag I’ve ever seen – he was on his way to play ice hockey and there was nowhere for his bag to fit except in one of the buggy spaces – unfortunately he chose the one with the seats so Elizabeth and I parked the Bobbin in the other space and sort of hovered around her.  Elizabeth doesn’t trust the buggy to stay put by itself, brakes or no brakes ever since she once saw it slide out around a corner, probably to the delight of Seraphine.  The journey passed without incident to the bus exchange in the central city.  We changed platforms and only had a 15 minute wait for the No. 5 to take us to Aranui.  Mid-morning on a Saturday the bus exchange wasn’t that busy.

The journey on the No.5 was only about half as long as the one from Lyttelton but had plenty of interest.  First off was a person reluctant to give up their seat in the buggy park for the second buggy that got on in the bus exchange.  This was soon sorted out.  Further along we encountered any number of surly individuals on what was my old bus route to and from town.  We had teenage girls at Eastgate Mall who were refused passage due to carrying huge milkshakes and armfuls of junk food.  They were vociferous in their displeasure with the driver, teaching Seraphine some choice new words in the process.

A few stops later was a woman who apparently wanted the bus but changed her mind after the driver stopped.  When he suggested to her that she should signal if she didn’t want the bus to stop she transformed into an Angry Person.  One of those that starts muttering abuse loudly but without making eye contact.  The driver appeared to think better of the whole encounter and closed the doors.  Just another day on the No. 5.

Getting off at my old stop we headed down the road to Grilly’s house where Seraphine gets to rowl around outside on some flat land for a change while we drink tea and eat gingerbread and Grilly’s famous bacon and egg pie.  Nom Nom.

After an hour or two we get to repeat the whole process to get home.  Joy.

When we finally reach the top of our not insubstantial hill in L-town it’s nearly 4pm and we’re shattered.

Inconvenient much?  Hmmm, I really did miss the car right then I must say.  What was that about effort?  At least it wasn’t raining.  And we did get to all have a big family lie down together in our bed.  All three of us snoozing happily for half an hour.  Now that’s what I call a successful quest.