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.

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.

My Story

I remember thinking that I’d left it too late to go and get some lunch before a 1pm meeting via skype.

I’d been in another one all morning which had left me feeling somehow, a little flat.  I was currently immersed in configuring my brand spanking new and grunty as hell PC which had arrived after months of concerted lobbying (read: whinging) by yours truly.

I looked up at the clock, prompted by some rude grumblings in my belly only to be dismayed by the news it told me: 12.45pm – not enough time to obtain and devour a sandwich before the meeting.  Oh for the days before webcams when you could sneak a bite or two around the edges of a conversation and no-one was any the wiser.  My heart fell even further when I realised I wouldn’t be free until 2.30-3pm by which time all convenient eateries would be closed, or picked clean by the vultures from the surrounding office buildings.  Such are the trials of an inner city worker.

I don’t remember what I did next exactly, probably consoled myself with how wonderful, gorgeous and silent my new computer was, but about 5 minutes later, my agenda for the afternoon and the course of our lives was changed irrevocably.

Agenda for afternoon of Tuesday 22nd February (updated)

  1. 12.51pm: get under desk (much, much harder than it sounded to do).
  2. 12.51and-a-bit: attempt to stay covered by now alarmingly mobile desk – try to avoid glass from shattering windows.
  3. 12.51and-a-bit-more: shout to colleagues to get under cover and keep away from windows – opportunity to consider present situation re. being four storeys off the ground with a further 3 storeys of concrete above my head (but mind kept wandering off-task to how Wiz and Seraphine were).
  4. 12.52pm: decide whether to get out from under now thankfully, stationary desk (tough decision).

My 1pm meeting was now so far from my mind as to be in another country, one where the ground doesn’t rear up and swerve like some drunken bus driver from hell.  My agenda was suddenly, second to second and minute to minute, about survival.

In that first minute I recall so many noises and sensations, none of them good.  I couldn’t believe how hard it was to negotiate the small distance off my chair and under the desk.  I just kept getting biffed around and slammed into my desk a couple of times before I managed to get under it.  I could hear screaming, both inside and outside my building – as the windows broke, the outside was suddenly a lot louder and I could hear the screams of people pouring into Latimer Square outside my window.  I remember wondering, stupidly, how they got there so quickly.  There was some other incredibly loud noise which I would find out about later.

I remember marvelling at how lightly and matter-of-factly the office immediately turned itself upside down and threw itself to the floor.  I remember seeing my mobile phone sail off my desk (along with most everything else) and noting where it slid under a pile of  what previously would have been terribly important work but was now nothing more than paper and folders I would happily step on without a second thought when I got out. Everyone on my floor started calling out to each other to check in but they all shouted at the same time and I couldn’t tell whether they were OK, hurt or trapped and calling for help.

When I crawled out from under my desk with my bag I seriously wondered for a moment whether we should stay put – trying to remember the earthquake emergency procedures.  I briefly saw my colleagues go past the doorway, I noticed Vaea already had her fire warden armband on and was taking control.  Grant came in to see me – I put the question to him – I think I must have sounded a bit dazed and he made sure I understood that item 5 on my agenda was to get the f&*k out of the building immediately.  (He would never use that language, of course, some words have been changed to incriminate the innocent).

This is where I got a bit strange.  I looked sadly at my new computer which had toppled over.  I then reached out and set it upright – the only such object in the room – I think I seriously considered taking it with me for a split-second before reaching for my jacket.  I always keep my wallet and keys in my jacket so I instinctively knew I had everything important.  Having noticed where the mobile landed was a stroke of luck as I honestly don’t remember picking it up.   I then had to pick my route out of the office.  It involved some clambering and leaping and suddenly I was in the now much darker hall near the lifts and stairs.  There was the sound of running water very close by but I couldn’t see it anywhere.  Grant was making sure I was coming and got me to the stairs.  Someone was having a panic attack on the landing and another of my colleagues was helping them breathe and get control.  There were other people crying but still moving.  It seemed a long way down those stairs right then.

The ground floor was covered in glass where the large glass wall that displayed the buildings tenants had shattered – this had stayed intact in the September earthquake and I started to get a very bad feeling.

We walked outside, a block wall had collapsed in the carpark on top of a couple of cars.  We crossed the road into Latimer Square where literally hundreds of people were gathering in varying states of shock, disbelief or just numbness.  It wasn’t until I was on the other side of the road when I turned around to look at our building and saw the cause of the huge noise I’d heard in the shake – The entire front half of Charlie B’s backpacker hotel across the road from us had collapsed behind its protective barricades (it had been declared unsafe following the September quake so was empty thankfully).  Clouds of dust were merging into a haze all over the park.  The Christchurch Club, a historic wooden building on the parks west side had also collapsed.  No-one could remember whether it had been closed after September and therefore was empty or not.

Another historic backpackers up the road had partially collapsed – this time with many people inside – the first injured people we saw started coming from there.  They were bleeding and covered in dust and in shock.  People were walking in stunned circles.

Agenda for afternoon of Tuesday 22nd February (updated) continued…

6.  Contact Lizzie and Seraphine

7.  Contact Grilly and siblings

8.  Get home

I immediately phoned Lizzie and somehow got a precious few seconds of talk time with her – she and Seraphine were both OK but the house had been trashed inside.  Those few seconds of hearing her voice… she sounded calm and brave even though I knew she wasn’t feeling it – she was conscious of how Seraphine would be reacting to her.  She told me she’d be fine – go get my mother.  I loved her so much right then.

I spent the next half hour trying unsuccessfully to call my family.  I was worried for my brother who works in a large print press facility with many heavy machines in the CBD and Grilly who of course lives by herself.  I didn’t know she wasn’t at home…

Texts seemed to be intermittently getting through.  I heard from my sister that she was OK and going for her daughters.  My brother too, although very little information beyond he was alive.

A friend that I’d thought was still overseas appeared out of nowhere.  She was in shock and very disorientated.  In my own shock-induced daftness I simply held her and said “I thought you were in Sri Lanka?”  After a while she kind of ‘woke up’ and swung into action herself, looking out and caring for those around us in shock.  She finally decided to walk to her house, just south of the CBD but returned minutes later saying the roads were blocked, a building had come down just south of Latimer Square – this was the CTV building.  When I eventually left the park she was looking after some very upset people and offering neck and shoulder rubs, helping any way she could.

Another friend appeared out of the crowd carrying her 6 month old baby – she was crying.  She had been in the CTV building and somehow managed to escape.  She had no idea who’d gotten out and who hadn’t.  Rumours started spreading through the park that the cathedral had collapsed.  I didn’t want to believe that.

The only person I hadn’t managed to reach on my list was Grilly.  After speaking to Lizzie the plan had changed.  There was obviously no way to get home to Lyttelton – buses instantly stopped and the roads would be jammed with people fleeing the city.  There was no way the tunnel would be open and unaffected.  I wished I’d biked to work that day. I found out later that many people got to Heathcote and simply walked over the Bridle Path like a re-enactment of the early settlers crossing the Port Hills in reverse.  A couple would lose their lives in a rockslide after dark.

My colleague Vaea had her car and was heading east – her daughter had got in touch and said the house was badly damaged.  Steve decided to walk it – it proved the quicker option.  I stayed with Vaea and we limped along in the eastbound traffic for two and a half hours to get to Aranui.  I got out and walked at Cowles Stadium where major liquefaction had swallowed a car and caused a river to be flowing over the road.  There were massive cracks and upshifts in the road out there.  As I got closer to Grilly’s house the flooding and liquefaction grew worse but all the houses were standing.  I was dreading what I might find.

It was nearly 4 hours after the quake when I walked up the drive.  I heard voices and a long-time neighbour was at the door.  I heard Grilly’s voice down the hall and I felt like hugging everyone.  She was OK, but she had just got home herself – having been carried the last stretch, over the flooding by two men from down the street.  She too had been in the central city I was finding out and lucky to be here.  Her story is amazing…

Earthquake info

Just added a new link category below with, so far, two important links to information on the earthquake.  Canterbury Earthquake is the Civil Defence site with all the vital information on the emergency response – where to get water, food etc and what services are available and where.  It also has live updates of the rescue and response efforts by City Council, Civil Defence, Urban Search & Rescue,  and the Defence Forces etc.

Canterbury Quake Live provides up to date data on aftershocks, magnitude, location, depth etc.  All presented in natty little graphs and based on data directly from GeoNet.  Morbidly fascinating to those of us in the thick of it.

Thanks to everyone for all the kind thoughts, wishes and prayers.  We’re doing fine and will write some stories about it all soon.  May even include a tasteful picture of our new luxury outdoor toilet facility (they’re all the rage on t’interweb y’know).  Lyttelton is still without mains water…