Friday 18 March 2011

Christchurch is grumpy - Vicki Anderson

This morning a memorial was held in Christchurch to remember 182 killed in February's earthquake in the garden city. All the suits turned up: Gillard, Abbott, Key and even a Prince. But was it all too soon for a town still in a state of shock and chaos?

Christchurch mother and Press journalist Vicki Anderson, who was separated from her four children in last month's earthquake, is grumpy. Vicki's grandmother, along with my 88-year-old mother Doreen, were both residing in somewhat peaceful existence at Kate Sheppard retirement village in the east Christchurch suburb of New Brighton on Tuesday February 22nd, when just before 1pm, their lives and homes, along with 56 others, were wreaked from beneath them.

"My grandmother was in that home too and she has returned to war-time mentality (she's Irish)," Vicki told me. "Your poor mum, I know she's not alone feeling that way - it must be hard for you, too. I have always thought of Christchurch as a quiet safe haven, it's just not like that any more. I can understand why people want to leave."

Vicki said she's sorry that this tale is such a long piece. "I had a two hour wait for a lift out to where I'm living, so thought I'd fill in the time with a 'little' rant :-)" Vicki told CairnsBlog.

People in Christchurch seem to be experiencing a mass episode of PMT (post magnitude tension).

Mind you, there's a lot to be tense about. Homes lost, jobs lost, everywhere you look life is tough.

No to the Rugby World Cup. Yes to a grandiose memorial service happening too soon. Nuclear terror in Japan. Moon man predictions. My head hurts.

The thing that makes me feel particularly upset is the national memorial service in Hagley Park on Friday. Just who is this memorial service for? It's not for Christchurch. It's not for the families who lost loved ones in the February 22 quake.

It's a grandiose, empty gesture starring so-called V.I.Ps - Prince William, Prime Minister John Key, Aussie PM Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and presumably other assorted boring people in suits.

Lite background entertainment provided by Hayley Westenra, parachuted in from elsewhere, to sing the national anthem.

I can already picture the crowd mumbling along awkwardly. Dame Melvina Major will warble a bit (she does warble nicely but still). This will be awkward for everyone except those in suits who consider themselves cultured.

Dave Dobbyn will get the goose bumps rising amongst the common man during an all-too predictable rendition of Loyal.

Why couldn't they give Christchurch musicians the chance to perform for their city? Do we really need to fly Our Hayley in commando style? Earthquake-ravaged Christchurch, as our city is so often described now, still has a bountiful supply of talented artists.

Why weren't they, who have lost so much, given the opportunity to perform for, and pay tribute to, the city they live in?

Some say it is just too soon for a memorial service and I agree. Life is still too raw here for us to have a memorial. With a memorial comes some form of closure - we're just not in that place yet. To the rest of New Zealand and visiting dignitaries the earthquake might be old news but it's not to us, the ones living through it.

The Government has declared a provincial holiday to allow residents to attend the service. Small business owners struggling to survive after the quake will have to close or pay holiday pay. Just what they need right now, another kick in the guts.

Looking on the bright side I guess the homeless, sorry, displaced, will be able to go to Hagley Park to finally get to use a toilet. Some affected colonials might even get a glimpse of Prince William's rapidly decreasing hairline.

Difficulties with road access, 78 toilets and 10 ''large urinals'', V.I.Ps speeches, plants which were to be displayed at the cancelled Ellerslie Flower Show will be used as part of the service and trotting out grieving families to sit centre stage. It's not a memorial. It's a side show.

A more fitting service for Cantabrians would be held on February 22, 2012. When we have had the time and opportunity to get over current hurdles.

These very important people visiting Christchurch to gawk at our damage would be better served spending their time trying to get to the bottom of how it can be that some people here have had their buildings, their livelihoods, their wordly valuables demolished without any notice or opportunity to salvage anything of their former lives.

On Friday the two minutes of silence at 12.51pm will give news organisations - this memorial requires media accreditation - the perfect opportunity to zoom the lens in on the grief stricken.

Some untalented people will surely be inspired to create a tribute song, using the suitably traumatic footage of the day the nation stood still, again. Endless repeats of crumbled buildings will adorn the 6pm news.

A council spokeswoman said around 300 family members of earthquake victims were expected to attend the event, and would be seated in a special area at the front of the stage.

A team of 40 counsellors and up to 300 volunteers would provide support to those at the ceremony, with some roaming the crowd and others stationed at information centres.

It's like Band Together - Concert for Canterbury, but this is the memorial version. This is Wail Together - Concert for Elsewhere.

A strict alcohol ban will be in place for the event, and there will be a large number of police officers and security guards on site.

Does this sound like a memorial to you?

The security guards will obviously have their meaty hands full stopping grieving, earthquake ravaged locals from mingling with royalty or expressing their drunken grief by brawling amongst the liquefaction in Hagley Park.

I won't be going to Hagley Park on Friday. The last time I walked through Hagley Park it was on February 22. I had blood on my clothes and never thought I'd see my family again.

Instead I'm going to spend the day with a friend who lost a loved one in the CTV Building. We plan to drink wine (no alcohol ban here) and look at photos of her cherished family member and remember happy times. We will laugh. We will surely cry.

We will observe the two minutes silence. It will be meaningful. It will be real.

Afterwards I will talk to a friend in Japan I am worried about. We've become complacent about nuclear threats, haven't we? Nuclear power plants are places that employ Homer Simpson. I've never heard Homer talk about using iodine against radiation.

The devastation in Japan just rips me apart. Those poor people.

Some in Christchurch are grumpy about cancelled Rugby World Cup games. The tragedy in Japan must surely put things in perspective for them.

It doesn't matter that we're no longer having Rugby World Cup games here, it's still happening in New Zealand. And we all share these shaky isles together, don't we?

It's just a game. Rugby was the winner at the end of the day and other cliches.

I'm so far removed from thinking there will ever be a time when I'll be able to go anywhere and relax and watch multiple nationalities tossing a pigskin around that this news barely registers.

And, really, was the Rugby World Cup ever going to be here after February 22? Politicians have just been tiptoeing around the issue like a scrawny wing ducking props.

A comment from Englishman Ian Hensman on the Stuff website when the story broke made me smile for the first time in ages: ''Guys - I'm English and I've got tickets, flights and a hotel booked. I'm coming to Christchurch that weekend even if the games are somewhere else and I hope other England fans will feel the same and come and show our support to you all. So get some big screens set up, some bars, and a campsite - we'll be happy to share your rebirth with you.''

After reading that I felt far less grumpy for at least 10 minutes before I got back to worrying about surviving day-to-day life in Christchurch right now.

Can't we just sell ourselves as a rugby free zone? While the Rugby World Cup is on surely the rugby widows of New Zealand might want to come here for a bit of adventure tourism. Our catchcry could be: ''Leave him to his scrum, we'll make the earth move for you'' or "We promise never to play Right Here, Right Now'' or ''Come to Christchurch - you won't hear Keith Quinn talking about strapping thighs''.*

We could be the Kiwi rugby equivalent of cricket's Barmy Army but without all the beige (it reminds me too much of liquefaction). Think high viz.

Back in Christchurch on the gridlocked roads the cheery wave of yesterday has been replaced with the middle finger of today. Driving anywhere is a mission, roads full of unexpected hillocks and a veritable obstacle course of traffic cones and other agitated motorists all trying to get somewhere via a convoluted backroad route. I literally don't know where I am anymore. I feel more than displaced - I feel discombobulated in every sense.

I'm living somewhere else, I'm working somewhere else, I'm buying my groceries somewhere new - I don't know where anything is. (Why can't all supermarkets have the same layout? I'm sick of wandering loosely down strange aisles searching for basmati rice). A friend texted me this afternoon, he spent three hours driving around trying to find fresh fish so he could make his missus tea. ''Fish! All I want is a bit of fish!'' the plaintive text sent from amidst a traffic gridlock read.

I can't hear live music unless I want to go and hang out in a suburban bar listening to drunken strangers warble karaoke. Which reminds me - please don't choose Lionel Richie songs if you're performing karaoke in Christchurch - Brick House, Hello (Is it Me You're Looking For?), I Just Called to Say I Love You etc all add up to poor taste, in every meaning of the term.

Lionel Richie is supporting the people of Christchurch with a re-make of his hit All Night Long with Guy Sebastian.

Haven't we suffered enough?

The three constants in my life are gone - my home, my workplace and going to gigs. There's no way I can describe how that feels except to say it makes me feel grumpy.

The shock and awe phase has passed and now I'm locked firmly in grouch mode. I don't think I'm alone.
I'm writing this from a portacabin parked around the back of The Press' printing plant we are working from now.

Ours has a nice blue trim but is marked with the words Men's Locker Room, and when the sun comes around to whack me in the eyeballs in the early afternoon it smells like its name. Walking to the tearoom to get a cup of coffee is a slalem course of forklift navigation.

To make it worse I keep nearly being run over by the same forklift guy. Working with the printers is great, though, they're a fun bunch - they were wearing high viz before it became a Christchurch fashion statement.

We've been working with them for a couple of weeks now and I have observed them closely and noticed they all do something rather curious.

They're so in tune with the printing machinery that when they're having a coffee break outside they can tell when it's about to stop.

This means they need to bolt back inside at a great rate of knots. While I can detect no discernible change in the noise from the printing machinery at all they stop, lift their heads up like dogs which have just caught a whiff of rabbit and off they run mid sentence.

They're quite vexing to have conversations with. The old timers don't always run - one told me he knew that although it sounded like it was about to stop it was actually just slowing down and would come right by itself. It did. Forget the horse whisperer, I've secretly nicknamed him the Prince of Print.

What is making me spectacularly grumpy today, as any woman who has ever worn an underwire bra will know, is the fact that the only bra I have in my displaced life is broken.

I've managed to knot it back together in feeble MacGuyver styles but now an errant wire is poking me incessantly where it shouldn't or rising up out of my cleavage like some olde worlde instrument of torture. The poking wire, trying to get anywhere, dodging forklifts and the smell of the Men's Locker Room... it's like death by a thousand paper cuts.

It's St Patrick's Day tomorrow and someone sent out an email saying ''remember to wear green tomorrow''. Green? I'm living out of a recycling bag, I don't own anything green except for the recycling bag itself. I know at some point I'm going to have to listen to someone singing Whiskey In A Jar.

If I have to hear one more person tell me about how the Moon Man's prediction for an earthquake this Sunday is running them out of town or scaring them to the point where they feel paralysed by fear, I have a prediction of my own.

I predict I will hunt down the Moon Man and catapult him, grandstanding politicians and errant underwire bras the world over, on a one-way trip to the moon.

* Every time I heard Keith Quinn commentate there would always be a mention of ''strapping thighs'', eg. ''Look at his strapping thighs powering towards the try line.'' I can't think about rugby without thinking about strapping thighs now. It's wrong on many levels. I apologise. Please feel free to record a tribute song to strapping thighs.

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