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.


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…

How we rolled

Go-By-Bike Day NZ was Wednesday 16th February.

Some of the team got into the spirit and we met at Victoria Square for the free breakfast organised by the spiffing chaps at Spokes Canterbury, (the Canterbury Cyclists Association) among others.  (Where were you Soph?)  From what I understand the different venues were organised by different groups.  Vic Square had free coffee!  Click on Spokes to go to their website and tell ’em what a jolly good show, chaps!  Also in attendance was Cycling Advocates Network (CAN) whom last year I bought this excellent accoutrement from:

less cars, more calf muscles.

As was the nice gentleman from Velo-Ideale, emporium of fabulous bikes and pieces such as this: (it might not be the best bike shop in the world, but at least it’s not in Islington…)

coffee time, comin' through!

As sported by our very own Chief Executive on her awesome retro bike – and my own Boss-Lady couldn’t resist getting one for her new/old treadley either.

I noticed that the only coverage Christchurch’s-own bastion of mediocrity, The Press, provided the next day was a small article headlined “Cyclist hurt on special day for cycling” or something like that.  It went on to describe the one and only negative incident to mar an otherwise excellent promotion.  But I suppose “Hundreds of cyclists enjoy incident-free commute, free breakfast” doesn’t make for good (sensational) news.

Or does it?  Here’s a little feature on Canterbury Television about the event at Vic Square.

And how do we roll?  Well a little bit like this:

The Chic Cyclistas

Go-By-Bike Day!

Yes yes, you say.  We get all this good stuff about why active transport is so great yada yada. So what are we doing about all this?  Aha!  I’m glad you/I asked!

Obviously I’m not the only one who sees the importance of getting people active (obviously).  I’m just the only active blogger promoting active transport who’s actually ‘bone idle’ (as my brother would say).  It’s a strange claim to fame, but I’ll take it.  I’ve just noticed that my bike has mysteriously become covered in cobwebs…


Anyway.  I wanted to shine a light on this great event which is part of Bike Wise Month held every year in NZ during February.  Implemented and promoted by Bike Wise, a government initiative funded by the NZ Transport Agency and the Ministry of Health.  I hope that doesn’t make it somehow less sexy, I just wanted to say ‘fair go’, the G-men are actually trying to do something positive.

This coming Wednesday 16th February is Go-By-Bike Day nationwide.  By my reckoning on the Bike Wise website there are about 80 events planned for Wednesday alone.  Let alone the rest of the month.  Go-By-Bike Day events tend to involve enticing commuters to cycle by offering free breakfasts to cyclists.

Here’s a link to the Christchurch event, they’re offering brekkie at 4 different locations in the central city.  I’m gonna try and get my whole team to bike to work and meet for a breakfast together so if you’re in ChCh bike along and I’ll see you there!  I’ll be giving away free subscriptions to ToC 😉  And while we’re at it maybe we’ll all wear our best ‘bib n’ tucker’ and make it a real cycle chic event.  Boss-Lady recently purchased a rather fabulous reconditioned granny-style, sit-up-and-beg (love that name) bike, complete with basket on the front.  Puts my mountain bike to shame.  But wait til they get a load of my retro suit!

Need some inspiration?  Look no further.  Well no, do look further but here’s a good start…

How to Be a Car-Free Family

How to Be a Car-Free Family by Angela and Dorea Vierling-Claassen.

Our Massachusetts heroes Angela and Dorea Vierling-Claassen had this article appear in that most excellent of publications, Yes! Magazine.

It’s a good introduction to their blog which we also talked about right back at the beginning… Just the little bit of inspiration one needs on a rainy, southerly day.

And another thing… Pedestrian Thinking?

Following on from the last post – no wonder we have such a hard time convincing people to consider the creation of a walking city (note: a walking city includes our rollin’ brothers & sisters).

The word ‘pedestrian’ has become in our society a kind of insult, meaning: slow, stulted, non-creative, inefficient and a bit lame.  In other words not fast, not sexy, not cool.  Which is why I love the work of Living Streets Aotearoa. From their website:

We want more people walking and enjoying public spaces be they young or old, fast or slow, whether walking, sitting, commuting, shopping, between appointments, or out on the streets for exercise, for leisure or for pleasure.

Let’s take back our public spaces!

This is from the page I linked to in the previous post: the Traffic Transport & Road Safety Associates (Ireland) website.  But it was so compelling I just wanted to give it a post all to itself.  Here’s the link again:


Why Pedestrianise?
  • Improving Road Safety – reducing the potential for conflict between vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists and motor vehicles creates a significant reduction in the number of accidents within the pedestrianised area.  In Odda in Norway accident reductions of over 80% were reported.
  • Improving Economic Vitality – most retailers, at least in town centres, appreciate that the number of people walking past their shop and not the number of people driving past their shop is key to getting people inside to spend money.  Pedestrians comparison shop, and research conducted in the United Kingdom reported increases in sales of upto 20% per year in the first few years following pedestrianisation. Research from 11 cities in Germany showed average rent increases of 50% after pedestrianisation. Chartered Surveyor Weekly reported that following the introduction of the footstreets concept in York, United Kingdom, a boom in retail sales was accompanied by rent increases of upto 400%.
  • Improving Social Interaction – increasing the amount that people meet, talk and interact, has been shown to have health benefits, but also creates a sense of community and a pride in the space or place.
  • Improving Health – in the same way that providing streets to drive on has been shown to increase traffic levels, providing a good walking environment has been shown to increase the number of people walking. Studies tend to show that the number of people walking within the immediate area will increase by over 50%.
  • Improving the environment – It is over 30 years since the OECD studied the link between environmental improvement and the removal of traffic.  Whilst some of the noted benefits such as reductions in Carbon Monoxide have now been addressed through the introduction of catalytic converters to vehicles, creating a modal shift from the car to walking reduces the level of CO2 helping the country to meet its emissions targets. Noise levels are also reduced by up to 15 decibels.


So, what kind of city do you want to live in?

What to give the planet for Christmas?

Saw this on one of our favourite websites World Sweet World.  It’s the precis for an article on building your own bike trailer – something we had our own feature on this year…

While around a quarter of all the energy we use in New Zealand is for transport, two thirds of the trips we actually make are less than six kilometres. If you calculate the embedded energy used to get your food on your table (how much energy is used for the farmer to fertilise the field, to run the tractor, package it, transport it to market, etc.), you are likely to double that amount by driving to the supermarket to do the shopping. It’s relatively easy to make big energy savings here and you’ll be better off health- and wallet-wise in the process.

–          World Sweet World – Steven Muir, Issue #9

So, what to give the planet for Christmas?

How about a break?

Nice and warm and cosy

The beast otherwise known as my sweet little daughter is still ill. She’s remarkably cheerful for someone whose arse is exploding at regular intervals, but she also has a veteran smoker’s cough, and a gummy yellow case of conjunctivitis. All of which adds up to her being a nasty pestilential little piece of work. So we are staying inside, being warm and keeping our germs to ourselves.

I am attempting to set a world record for most hours spent wearing pyjamas in one calendar year. I think I have depreciated my current pair to a cost per wear of 12 cents, which is still prohibitive. I can do better than that.

Being stuck inside and sporting a fine line in ‘given-up chic’*is no barrier to cost effective enjoyment so I am thrilled to bring you the last word on fun budget activities in your very own living room.

Now as every talk back radio listener knows, the cheapest way to have a good time is to get irate about something.  So here goes.

It’s hard work staying warm in winter in New Zealand. Professor Robert Vale of Victoria University said “the average New Zealand house is scarily cold, badly insulated, has huge expanses of single-glazed glass, and is a nightmare to heat,” and he was being polite.

What is it with this country and its crap buildings, eh, eh? Piss poor building codes, because we wouldn’t want “bureaucracy” to hinder the poor housing developers in their quest for riches now, would we? Bugger all real incentive to improve the heat retention of older buildings, and every winter we have a power crisis. Well fancy that. Let’s not even get into the unnecessary burden put on the healthcare system by illness caused by people living in unhealthily cold and damp buildings.  I can and do bang on about this topic ad nauseam, but today I’ll spare you the full rant.

Back when I was a newbie in this country, I rented an old Victorian villa in the heart of the swamp that is St Albans. During that first winter I subsidised the rent by letting out the spare bedroom to the district coroner as an overflow morgue facility.  It was icy hell. I put on a hat to go to bed. The walls ran with damp and mould grew on my clothes in the wardrobe. There was NO HEATING AT ALL. I got chilblains on my feet. It was so long since I’d had chilblains that initially I had no idea what they were. And folks, lest you think I was a naive fool for renting such a cold house, please bear in mind that this sort of property is common place in New Zealand, particularly in the rental market.

So here we are, still renting, now with a house that has at least a passing acquaintance with the old pink batts and a nice heat pump, but there are still things that could be improved. And here’s where we get to the point of this post. At this time of year every magazine, newspaper and caring, sharing local council handout is full of advice to toasty up your hovel. But the vast majority of this advice is for people who own their home. What about people like us who rent? We have no control over our heating or insulation; how do we stay warm? Well my gift to you today is the accumulated wisdom from my many years trying to stay warm in winter in rented houses the world over**.

Most windows in New Zealand are single glazed. Ours are and it gladdens my heart of a morning to wipe the mould off my aluminium window frames. With single glazed windows you need HEAVY curtains, preferably full length, so they puddle on the floor and keep draughts from howling around your ankles. You might be lucky enough to have a nice landlord who has installed thermal drapes. If so, cherish them dearly, they are a rare and thoughtful beast. However, chances are that your curtains, if you have any at all, are of that particularly lovely variety, found only in rented accommodation, that resemble nothing so much as a pair of clapped out tea towels strung on a sticky wire. This will not keep you warm.

Here’s how to solve your problem on the cheap and with minimum effort like. Haste ye to Trade Me and buy yourself some bargain full length curtains. You can get great deals on the old Trade Me, everything from moth eaten velvet, granny style florals (très now sweeties), and plenty of nasty eighties prints, which is where you can really grab some good deals. Thermal curtains are a particular score. It doesn’t really matter if the real steals are hideous, because here comes the clever bit…

Beg, borrow or steal some old blankets. It doesn’t matter if they match or not, but if you are going to use an unmatched pair, it’s a good idea to go for some common colour scheme, a cream base for example. Op shops have piles of old blankets. Trade Me has more. You probably have a stash already. Sew your blankets to your old curtains. If you like the look of the blankets best, hang them facing outwards. If you dig the curtains and the blankets are skanky old horrors, use the blankets as lining. Either way, you’ll have yourself a pair of monster heavy drapes that will foil the iciest blast, and look pure dead gorgeous into the bargain. I made some with old blue striped blankets for the beast’s room, and it was my very own little Vogue Living moment. Everyone who sees them ooohs and aaahhs and admires and they cost me $25 and half an hour of slapdash sewing.

I thought that this was my own super original idea when I made my curtains, but no, it turns out heaps of clever people have had the idea already and executed it better too. If you go to World Sweet World, they even have a step by step tutorial, which means your curtains will end up much flasher than mine and I will hate you. It’s a win folks.

Let me talk to you about draught excluders. They call them draught snakes or something like that here in Kiwi land, but humour me here. Say draught excluders out loud with your very best Glaswegian accent…go on…do it….right now…

Awesome huh?

Right well, draught excluders. These are your friend. Breed the little bastards like pets and use them on every door in your house. If you are crafty you can make your own. Otherwise may I again recommend Trade Me (I know, I’m obsessed, I don’t get out much) specifically the offerings of the lovely Linda, who goes under the trader name of creative_two. Linda makes draught snakes out of sexy designer fabrics, and will also make custom sizes to order. She made me a huge striped snake for our awkwardly high and wide back door and her kids thought it looked like a giant monarch butterfly chrysalis. She is a delight, and very well priced.

Also, hang a blanket over your cat flap. Saucy eh?

If you have a major issue with the old condensation, and I’m yet to live in a house in New Zealand which doesn’t, you can temporarily double glaze your windows for peanuts by getting a plastic window kit. This works wonders, and isn’t that tedious to install, plus you get to blow dry your window frames, which is a new experience, and we should always embrace the new, non? If you live in jolly old Christchurch you can buy these kits from the good people down at the Community Energy Action Trust.

If you can, wrap your hot water cylinder in its own little custom made duvet.

This next section is about subsidies, so if you know all this stuff and your eyes have glazed over, please move on.

If you live in NZ and your rented home is freezing, you can talk to your landlord about the possibility of applying for Energywise funding for insulation and clean efficient heating. This is where the government subsidises part of the cost of insulating and heating a rental property. Your landlord will still have to stump up some cash, so they might say no. But in that case, my advice to you is to move on and find a better landlord.

In Christchurch, the Community Energy Action Charitable Trust is a good place to start for guidance on what assistance you may be entitled to. If you rent within the Christchurch Clean Air Zone (Lyttelton falls outside this zone, bad luck oh Southerly facing suckers like us) and your house is only heated by an open fire or a log burner, your landlord is legally obliged to replace the fire /burner with clean heating and may be entitled to assistance under the Clean Heat scheme to do so.

And that’s all folks. Another day, another ramble. I have plum crumble in the oven and a pot of cream in the fridge. My world is nice. Hope yours is too.

*Thanks to Lindo for this excellent description of the kind of clothing favoured by knackered mothers everywhere. However I would like to state that I am a mere beginner in the field of ‘given-up chic’. The other week I was pootling along Stanmore Road in east Christchurch and a grown woman wearing a fleecy onesie crossed the road ahead of me.

**All this stuff is on the Community Energy Action Charitable Trust site. They rock.

Car pooling, car sharing, car swapping and other forms of non-monogamous car love

So winter is here. As I type, hail is battering the windows and piling up in crunchy drifts outside. It feels like it’s been raining for weeks, and the ground is so saturated it pools water around our boots, and makes sodden squelching kisses when we move. I’ve been walking out in the dank sog with the little girl everyday, which actually hasn’t been too unpleasant, in fact in between showers it is beautiful, with the scent of wood smoke, the last leaves, coloured flags tumbling down the teeming gutters and the clouds so low over the hills that they cascade down the valleys like smoke and you feel like you could reach up and touch them. But there are a few errands accumulating that are going to need a car. So I thought I’d look into the options available to us here in New Zealand.

Car sharing

Here I’m talking about organisations that offer car sharing. The key ways in which car share companies differ from more conventional car hire companies is that they tend to have multiple pick up/drop off points in urban locations, and you can hire the car for as little as an hour. In a fully realised incarnation, with widely located depots, a good car share company offers pretty much the same flexibility as owning your own car, for far less money. Obviously you have to be a little more organised and save up your errands to do all at once, and you have to go pick up the car, but it’s still pretty damn handy.

Sadly, to date, New Zealand is served poorly in this way.  I am aware only of one car share company in the country, Cityhop and they have only one depot in Chistchurch, out by the airport (which is miles from Lyttelton, so of no use to us at present). However cityhop seem to have big plans, and their founder Victoria Carter runs a blog on the cityhop site, which offers inspiration on sustainable living, as well as updates on the progress of the cityhop network.

Victoria writes in a recent post “Most car share cars around the world are low energy fuel efficient vehicles that can be used by sometimes more than 7 different people in one day. Every car share vehicle is reported to take 20 privately owned cars off the road so that is a lot of energy being saved.”

Those are some pretty impressive claims right there. We await eagerly a central Christchurch cityhop pick up point.


This is an arrangement where several passengers share a car trip and also share the cost of that trip. This isn’t so handy for running errands, as you are dependent on someone else’s schedule and plans, but it’s great for commuting to and from work and could be used equally well for a weekly grocery shop, or similar.

You can set up your own carpool with your friends, or if you are lucky to live in a close community like Lyttelton, you can ask for help through the Time Bank or the weekly community newsletters; but if neither of these options is open to you there are also some more formal organisations that exist to make car pooling easier. If you Google “car pooling in NZ” several options come up.  Jayride is the most polished of the set ups, with a good user friendly interface. Gum Tree particularly caters to backpackers, but could be handy if you are planning a longer trip between cities. Here in Lyttelton we have our own dedicated carpooling forum Lyttelrides. I have to note though that all the carpooling organisations I checked out were quiet, with few offers of rides. Gum Tree was the most active, but that’s probably because there is a strong tradition in the backpacker culture of sharing rides. I’d like to think that the other sites were quiet because everyone is furiously carpooling independently among their friends. However, I suspect that the truth is really that not many people are car pooling. That’s a pity, because it’s a great way to cut costs, go a bit easier on the environment, make new friends and help people out by sharing the burden of personal transport.

In 2009, Auckland held its first carpool day in an attempt to get people to have a go at car pooling, which is a particularly smart idea in slow moving, car congested Auckland. The event website has some great advice for wannabe carpoolers.

Co-owning a car with friends

One thing we’ve considered is co-owning a car with some friends. We have a number of friends in the area who aren’t heavy car users and we could see this working quite nicely. It has obvious benefits in terms of cost and environmental impact. It would be more local than a car share depot, and more flexible than a carpooling arrangement.

More than one family putting money into the pot could also mean that we could afford to buy a more environmentally friendly (but more expensive) car.  We’d have to find some sensible way of sharing the car, which was organised, permanently accessible and didn’t involve one person doing a whole heap of admin.

It’s all good food for thought, but not a lot of people seem to be doing this, as I found out when I tried to research the topic further. I’d love to hear from any people that are doing this already or are planning to do this. From our personal perspective, we want to try and be completely car free for a while and re-boot our car using habits, before we embark on purchasing another vehicle, whether alone, or with others.

Because you’re worth it

“The changes that we desire for the world can only begin with what we are willing to do in our own lives.” – James Keye

The above quote comes from an essay entitled Tyranny of Convenience by James Keye it is one of the inspirations behind the title of this blog.  Another phrase in Keye’s essay is “the hopelessness of an effortless life” a theme we’ll return to as we draw the connections between owning and using our car and our addiction to convenience.  How, in our efforts to avoid effort, we sacrifice our health and wellbeing and that of our environment.  Perhaps more usefully we’ll also be documenting and ruminating on the positive effects of not owning a car.  This is not an anti-car blog – I love cars!  If it’s anything it’s a pro-active transport/anti-sedentary blog – but that’s not a very snappy title is it?

So what do you think of our little middle-class crusade so far?  Do you think it’s just another case of the petty bourgeoisie on the latest hobby horse to assuage our First World guilt?

Or do you reckon that we might be just like you and making small steps in the right direction?  Putting good intentions into a little worthy action.  We’re already reaping a little reward too.

Possibly most importantly, we’re not alone.

In fact, there are quite a few other blogs about rejecting our disposable, inauthentic and unsustainable societies in general and going car-free in particular.  We’ve got a reading list as long as our arm and we’ll tell you about some of the blogs we like and why we dig them, as we go along. Here’s some that we have already checked out that got us going.

  • Carbusters is the quarterly journal of the World Car Free Network and they publish a thoughtful blog as well.
  • A lot of people have said to us, “but isn’t it much harder doing this with a kid?” After all, in this neck of the woods, once one has spawned, it’s more usual to scale up to a people mover than to scale down to a pair of sturdy boots. It’s very early days for us, but we reckon it’s all about not trying to pack too much in, and instead really relishing the stuff you do. There’s a couple of blogs out there, both called Car Free with Kids; that agree. Some particularly interesting stuff on how to raise children that love to walk. Car Free with Kids and the other Car Free with Kids.

We’ll also be adding our own Blogroll of useful, interesting and related links in the sidebar as we go along.   These people are making the effort for all of us, even though it’s not convenient.  Why?  The answer is in the title of this post.  And a little effort can go a long way.

As I tell myself when I’m struggling to knuckle down and work on my art – if not now, then when? If not you, then who?