Monday, 31 December 2012

As another year slips away...

I find myself taking stock more than usual. 2013, after all, sees a whole new world opening up for me. New house, new locale, new job (I hope!) - a new life, really, and I want to make sure I get this one right.

I'm not in the habit of making resolutions because I only break them anyway, and then I feel bad. I know that I should do the following in 2013:

Lose 10kgs
Stop drinking
Exercise more
Learn to swim (I live on the coast now, after all!)
Learn to like fish (the catching/killing/cleaning/cooking and eating thereof - I live in a fishing town!)

BUT - they all sound like far too much hard work. In 2013, therefore, I resolve to be braver, ride more, write more, stress less and Have More Fun! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

This chapter of my life is all about appreciating how very very fortunate I am to have certain gifts and to make the most of them, to be in this beautiful place with my dear little Basil  - and not to let my fears get in the way of moving onwards and upwards.

So, sliding into New Year's Eve, Basil and I are having a quiet and reflective time of it and avoiding the madness of New Years Eve in Mallacoota. The Golf Club will be hoppin' and the millions of Melbournian holidaymakers have turned the middle of town into a giant traffic jam, so I'm utterly delighted to be in my little house, a couple of kilometres out of town. The serenity is unbelievable.

I'd like to wish everyone a happy New Year - let's make 2013 a good one!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

A New Chapter Begins...

I'm here, finally, in my little house in Mallacoota – for good. No more having to leave. It’s official – this is Home now. And now that the unpacking is done, it feels like home. What a journey it’s been, though, to get here.

A buyer has made an offer for the Canberra house and it looks like All Systems Go there.
I spent all of last week putting things in boxes. How did I get so much STUFF? The first time I moved house I was able to fit all my worldly goods into about five cardboard boxes. This time it felt more like five hundred! Three days before Christmas, a family posse – Mick, Jayne, Steve, Sara, Kate, Mark and I – loaded up a rented truck – we even put the Harley in - and that was that. Here I am. Or rather, here we are. Basil the Travelling Cat did the Canberra-Mallacoota run three times in two days – about 1100kms overall, and behaved impeccably.
Basil the Travelling Cat at Wallagaraugh Rest Area

Travelling Cat is travelling

Travelling Cat is exhausted, and takes up far more of the armchair than he used to.
 All the hard work that Mick & Jayne did in the garden down here has been undone by Mother Nature, and I really need to mow the grass and pull out some weeds. But not today. Today, after unpacking the final box, I just want to sit and enjoy what’s left of my first Christmas Day in Mallacoota. Cheers, dears!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The hovel in the ghetto - FOR SALE!

So - I've been absent for a while, but with good reason(s):

School (it's marking/reporting hell at the moment, and that's never good)
House-fixing - it's finally on the market and it's never looked/felt so good!

Cat stuff - Aldwyn Evilkitty went home *sad face* and Basil the Flopsy-Bunny cat has been too adorable for words. He doesn't have 'nap-time' - he has 'growing-time', and he's (relatively) enormous! We've developed quite a routine now, and it's so adorable I could just melt (apart from the bit where he does a sort of Riverdance routine in the kitty litter and I am left with piles of litter to sweep up)

So - that's the Readers Digest abridged version, just to let you know I'm still alive!

Back later, when I dig myself out of marking/reporting hell. I think there's a light at the end of the tunnel!!! Back in a week or two

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Hovel in the Ghetto – a Tale of Triumph – well, ish.

Work in progress - still. Why is Time so unforgiving?

No, the hovel hasn't sold. It's not even on the market yet – it’s still far too dreadful - and time is running short before my Great Escape to Mallacoota.

So what's the 'triumph - ish' thing about?  Well,  some progress has been made...
My bro Mickey and his wife Jayne have done wonders in the garden. I’ve filled 2 trash-paks already. The garden is still an Issue., but currently looks fab in places, especially as everything is blooming. Damn those weeds...

As for indoors - the floors – well. You know, I’m thinking it might be smart to leave the bare boards (or is that just lazy cheapskate Betty speaking?) This is how I’m thinking:

My choices are to ‘finish’ the floorboards or not.
If I do, it will cost a bomb and the buyer may well decide to re-carpet anyway… The way things are now, I’ve started the ‘reno’ and got the floors ready for whatever they want to do to them – right?

A raging case of conjunctivitis has kept me away from school this week so far, so I’ve been enjoying the isolation and indulging my hermit status by painting the walls. Well, undercoating them anyway. I believe you need to ‘neutralise’ a house when you want to sell it (although my last place was bright and beautiful, and sold very quickly for a good price). I loved my deep gold walls *sigh* but I suppose they’re not everybody’s cup of tea. The main living areas of the house are going to be a deadly-boring cream… although I refuse to repaint the bedrooms.

 Bloody hell, this is all too hard and I just don’t have the time to do it all! Is it worth dragging a few thousand dollars out of my redraw facility, and paying experts to come and do some of this stuff for me??? Thing is, I have this stupid DIY bent – why pay an expert when I can do it myself? But I just don’t have the TIME!!! Time is my constant nemesis *sigh*

Aaaargh, frustration plus! Change of subject before I tear out my hair (actually, I need a haircut, so maybe I SHOULD pull it out!) 

Baby Basil grows bigger, naughtier and more irresistibly gorgeous every single day. I’m SO glad I weakened, and brought him into my chaotic life. I get that warm-fuzzy overwhelmedness every time I cuddle him, and feel like my heart is goimg to explode.

We (Basil Bitey-Bear & I) stayed at Mr & Mrs Boomerang Boy’s place for a few days, looking after their cat, Loki (who’s Basil’s brother). OMG OMG OMG, they were so mega-cute together! Totally inseparable. I desperately wanted to steal Loki. I was so sad bringing Basil home alone. Cranky but lovable Aldwyn, who’s still boarding here, sniffed disdainfully at little Basil and wandered off – welcome home, Baz, yeah, bugger off and don't annoy me - I enjoyed the peace and quiet while you and the Old Chook were away - and Basil has been following me all over the place ever since. I think he misses Loki. So do I.
What do you mean, 'we can't take him home with us?' Basil is distraught.
But I'm sleepy, and the pumpkin is soooo inviting! Do we really truly have to go home? (and leave Loki behind?)

Seeya bro... Get out of my pumpkin! Please come back to play...

Monday, 8 October 2012

Kitteh Therapeh

When you get to a certain age, you realise that a lot of the things you acquire may be the last ever…. for example, 'this will probably be the last set of saucepans I ever buy’ (bad example, they’re supposed to last a lifetime anyway, aren’t they?) Um…. how about ‘this will be the last new motorcycle I ever buy’, or ‘this will be the last new bed that I ever buy.’?

Anyway…. it’s why I splurged on a DeLonghi kettle a couple of months ago. It was horrendously expensive, even though I bought it on special, but I figured it was my last and only chance to own a superb bit of water-boiling kit. OMG that is soooo ‘first-world’ and I blush with first-world embarrassment.

Anyway, for a while I wondered whether it was weird to be so in love with an electrical appliance – but I so admired its drip-free spout, its gorgeous red enamel finish, its beautiful curves – it’s an aesthetic and functional masterpiece. 

But that love was nothing compared to this one…

I know I said I would never have another cat. When I said goodbye to my dear old demented Miffy, 18 months ago, I believed it. I meant it right up until Saturday, when I locked eyeballs with an adorable little grey and white kitten.

Not sure what it is about me and grey & white cats.... but Basil (as he's now called) is my third...

Basil was only 6 weeks and 2 days old.  I suspect he was a little young to have been in a pet shop, or anywhere away from his mummy. However, he could crunch dry food, lap water from a bowl and use a litter-tray, and I suppose that’s all that pet shops insist upon. So I rescued him. (Steve & Sara rescued one of his brothers at the same time.)

Basil and I have hit the jackpot. He has a mummy-surrogate who adores him, and I have a cat. Probably the last cat I will ever have (although I’m learning never to say ‘never’).

Until now I’ve never had a cat that willingly travelled in a car. Basil, however, loves it. He relaxes, looks out the window and goes to sleep, supremely comfortable. The day after I acquired him, he and I drove to Mallacoota, which was a huge road-trip for a tiny little cat. I’m going to keep taking him for daily drives, and will introduce him to Piglet soon. A Harley-kitty is my dearest dream.
Chillin' in the back of the car

After a wee stop at Cooma, chillin' in the (open) kitteh cage
He has the tiniest squeak, and he (so far) only uses it as a distress call. He’s alert, playful, inquisitive and supremely snuggly. He drops off to sleep in the middle of things. He springs and bounces, all feet off the ground, as kittens do, and he seems game for anything. I’m hopelessly, hopelessly in love.
Chillin' in the armchair in Mallacoota

Kitteh therapeh is the best!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Hovel in the Ghetto - a Tale of Pain

The other night I fell asleep while I was in the middle of writing a post about the sanding saga. Today I almost fell asleep in the middle of the sanding!

It's looking better though.
The room formerly known as the Glue Room

Hallway, with grotty scabby looking mystery stains removed
Away with the kitchen tiles

Reaching the end of my tether and working in 60-second bursts by this stage.

I, however, am more broken than I was last time. Sheesh, I think I'm just too old for this stuff at this level of intensity. Had Nurofen with dinner, but even Nurofen couldn't fix my creaking, aching, barely-moving body.

The whiz-bang belt-sander that I hired this morning, while far easier to handle than the Monster from ther Other Day, still had plenty of oomph. Enough oomph, in fact, to almost pull me off my feet after I'd been at it for 6 hours.

Stopping for lunch was a bad idea. I downed a huge amount of ice cream, sitting in the dust-covered lounge room, staring listlessly out the window at the half-filled trailer-skip and feeling the last shreds of energy ebbing away.

I spent the final hour or so working in 60-second bursts, with a few minutes off in between. When I finally got to the end of the kitchen I had a go at the bits the belt-sander couldn't reach. I spent much of the time sitting dazedly while the little weeny sander made a noise that, inside my earplugs, sounded like 'Loooovely, loooovely, looovely'. I found myself dozing, lulled by the buzz. I got closer to the floor. Lay on my stomach, in fact, cheek to the floorboards, and battled to stay awake. Couldn't get up because my knees hurt so much I couldn't put them on the ground.

To get myself off the floor I rolled onto my back, groaning as hips and shoulders came into contact with the timber, and again as I strained every last muscle to get into a squating position and then pushing to a standing position. Ouch...

Never again.

Floors are looking a lot better though!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Hovel in the Ghetto – a Tale of Woe

I’m broken. My hands feel like I borrowed them from someone else. The fingers are swollen, the skin is peeling from my fingertips and I’ve broken every fingernail I have. My back is so sore that funny groaning noises sneak out every time I bend down or stand up. My knees are bruised and my legs are killing me. I probably smell, too, but I can’t tell because of the fine layer of dust that snuck inside my dust mask and glued itself to the inside of my nostrils. I’m waiting for the Nurofen to kick in, and trying not to cry.
Day 3 of Trying to Get the Hovel Ready to Sell.

Did I learn nothing from weeks of slavishly following the disasters and misadventures of the people on The Block? What on earth made me think that pulling up the carpets and sanding the floorboards was a Sensible Thing To Do? Ah yes, cat wee.

Remember poor old Miffy and her feline dementia? Remember how she started weeing on a particular spot on the carpet? Well, ol’ Miffy’s been gone for 17 months now, and the carpet has been sprayed and cleaned and vacuumed and scrubbed and sprayed yet again. On a warm day, though, memories of Miffy hover in the living room like an incontinent phantom.

The carpet had to go. Having two mortgages and no money, I though DIY would be the way to do it. Pull up the carpet and sand/stain the floorboards in the first week of the school hols. Yeah, why not?

While I was at it I thought the speckled carpet in the dining room could go too. And the grotty carpet in the hallway. While I’m at it I may as well pull up the kitchen floor, I thought. I have a whole week to do it, after all. Pffft, on The Block they managed to renovate 2 entire rooms in a week. From derelict to designer in a mere seven days. Just getting  a few carpets up should be a piece of cake, I thought. I reckoned without Murphy and his bloody wretched law.

I moved furniture into Other Rooms and pulled up the carpets, and learned the following:
  • Carpet is disgusting, It harbours all manner of grit and dust. I hereby vow never to have carpet laid in any house I live in. Ever.
  • Apart from grit and dust, carpet also hides a multitude of other nasties. Like bright green carpet tiles, which, in turn, hide layers of thousand year-old glue on the floorboards, as well as spilled paint, failed painting and staining experiments and some nasty stains of indeterminate origin. Oh God. My floorboards look like a failed science experiment.

Surprise surprise! Look what the speckled carpet was hiding!

The foam on the underside of the surprise carpet tiles had perished, and was stuck to layers of thousand year-old glue

Bucketload #2 of glue/foam crap. Oh my aching back!

The failed science exeriment that is my hallway floor. YUK!
 A good sanding will fix it, I thought, rather naively, and went to hire a floor sander. Had to trek halfway across Canberra, and the monstrous machine I brought home was so heavy I couldn’t actually use it. Getting it out of the car and into the house was the easy bit. (Ouch, more bruises!) Attaching the heavy-duty sandpaper sheet to the drum and getting the stupid thing going was a different matter. Then it tried to eat a hole in the floor. I took it back to the other side of Canberra before it could kill me and tunnel through to China.

Half a day wasted. Sigh. So I spent the next 6 hours on my knees (ouch, more bruises!) sanding the floor with a little sheet sander. The house is full of dust. So are my nostrils. The nasty stains of indeterminate origin are still there, despite my best efforts.

And I am broken. Ouch.

BUT - as I scraped away at layers of glue on the dining room floor, a message revealed itself, pencilled into a corner of a floorboard:

In the midst of the grotty carpet and the grit and the dust and the thousand year-old glue, it made me smile.

I bet I won’t be smiling when I wake up tomorrow and try to get out of bed.

Tuesday morning addendum: I fell asleep last night in the middle of writing this, and woke up well after midnight, laptop on lap. The Nurofen seems to have worked - for now.... Onwards and upwards!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

SO BUSY! And a Tale of Two Blankets

Crikey, where has the time gone?

That's a rhetorical question. I know exactly where it's gone. SCHOOL. There's school, stupidball, knitting for tutor-group, marking, woodwork classes, helping the Tetris Queen move house (yes, I have the house to myself again), meetings, more school, more marking.....

You know what there ISN'T, on that list? Riding my motorcycle. *sigh* and it won't be on the list for a bit longer yet. Thank goodness I'm a patient person. Poor Piglet has become a commuter bike. How embarrassing.

A metamorphosis is underway, although not of the motorcycling sort. I've been writing every single day - nothing special, but I'm getting words on the page, and re-establishing my old habit of writing every day. I'm actually motivated by one of my classes in particular - the Year 12 Writers' Workshop.

I'm working at getting my writing mojo back. That's a plus.

And this weekend I'm off to Mallacoota to mow the lawn before the snakes decide to hide in it. That's another plus.

SO SO busy! My tutor group has almost finished its second blanket. I'm so proud of those kids - I learned to knit earlier in the year so I could teach the kids in my tutor group how to knit, so we could make blankets for charity as our tutor-group service project. It's been an amazing project. So satisfying to watch a group of kids sitting in their little gaggles, knitting happily and chatting away. And we'll have blankets at the end of it - something the kids can look at and feel proud of before we donate them to our chosen charity - YouthCARE Canberra - a community organisation that relies on donations for its survival (no government funding or church affiliations) - and they care for at-risk and homeless youth in the Canberra region.

Our two blankets may not go very far in terms of warming Canberra's homeless youth - we can only warm two of them after all that work - but the amount of work that went into those blankets has taught my tutor-group kids a lot about making a commitment, sticking to a task and the satisfaction you get from making something yourself rather than throwing money at a charity and feeling smug.

It's involved a lot of people besides my tutor-group. My Basketball parents, and others from the school community donated wool. Kids who aren't even in my tutor-group have spent time knitting with us. The Fashion Design class pinned all our completed squares together as a design project, and the Fashion teacher made valuable suggestions for sewing the completed squares together. It's been a great project - and it's not quite finished yet. I'm in the process of knitting/attaching the borders to the blankets, and contacting the lady from the charity so we can organise a time to present them with our finished product.

I won't be sorry to finish the project - I've felt inspired to start knitting a jumper that I'd like to be able to wear NEXT winter - yes, it'll take me that long to make it. Also, I have writing projects, woodwork projects and house renovation projects that I need to get onto pronto. There are plenty of school deadlines - marking, assessments, exams, reports - to get through. Stupidball finishes in two weeks (phew!) and I also need to sell my house. Eek.

For now, though. I'm just being happy about our blankets.

See below, added 2 October: The finished product, at last, handed over to YouthCARE Canberra at the last assembly of term. YAY!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Back to Mallacoota

In between saying goodbye to my dear ol’ dad in Shakytown, NZ, and shivering in the Berra, 5pm today, there’s been a wonderful week of Mallacoota-ing.

Maallacoota! Maallacoota! (sung to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus)

Oh it was lovely… A lot of the time, after a cool start to the day, it was t-shirt weather – I had to keep pinching myself to remind myself that it was actually midwinter.

My daily routine was simple – a walk into town to buy a hot chocolate; a nice sit by the lake, reading a book, drinking hot chocolate and talking to the seagulls like a crazy old bird-lady. 
My noisy buddies the seagulls, who snuck up on me from all angles to see if I had anything worth eating.
 On the way home, collect a bit of kindling for the evening’s fire. Fill in the day with gardening or reading. Light a fire in the evening, pour a glass of wine, fall asleep in front of the telly. Nice.

 And then there were some highlights: delicious, delicious curry night at the Golf Club (the courtesy bus came to pick me up from home!) with Peter & Margaret and a group of their friends; communing with nature in a variety of places:
Hot choc spot by the lake, near the main visitors' wharf

Bastion Point
  Showing my woodwork teacher Derek, some of the scenic delights of the area on a bushwalk on my birthday (yay, happy me, another highlight - I’m Old!) 

Fiddling about in the garden, tidying up some shrubs, pulling out some weeds, pruning the roses. The lawnmower died after doing half the lawn. But you know what? I just shrugged...Mallacoota has that effect on me. Yes, me, the great worrier.... what a magical place!

And then this – on Monday – a picnic at Allan’s Head with Peter and Margaret. I am so lucky to have such wonderful friends. (Quick aside: Peter & Margaret were formerly my hosts at the Adobe Mudbrick Flats, where I went holidaying every year, sometimes a couple of times a year. We’ve become friends, and they helped me a lot when I was buying my house down there.)

We zoomed across the lake in their boat, with me pretending to be the maidenhead, or whatever it’s called, at the front of the boat (no I did not follow tradition and take off my shirt, but I did a nice Wagnerian ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!’) We watched pelicans sunning themselves and listened to the black swans singing on Goodwin Sands, 
  then carried on to Allan’s Head, where we had a bbq picnic. It was lovely! (A little challenging, getting into and out of the boat – remember my unco-ness….) Great food, great company, beautiful scenery…The lake was like a mirror – look at the reflections of the clouds in the water!
 It being midwinter and all, we had to put on some layers after about 3pm – it became quite chilly on the water, rather quickly, despite the continuing sunshine. I almost lost my hat on the ride back.
 Even Peter put on a sweater for the return journey:
Oh what a lovely day it was. In fact, what a lovely week it was. I feel recharged and refreshed. Thanks to my Mallacoota friends for their continued hospitality. Gawd it was hard to leave there this morning!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Politicians and teachers: a rant

Back off, Christopher Pyne!

I am so, so sick of politicians taking potshots at teachers. The latest drivel to drip from the lips of one of our overpaid pollies is this: that 'underperforming' teachers should be removed from 'the system'. Ol' ChrisPy, with a smirk that would do Peter Costello proud, thinks money spent reducing class sizes has been 'wasted', because Asian schools have big classes and manage to out-perform Aussie schools. He thinks the wrong kind of people are entering the profession for all the wrong reasons - because they think it's going to be 'easy'.

Actually, this makes me so angry that it has rendered me (almost) speechless. I'd like to wipe the smirk from Mr Pyne's face by sitting him in front of 45 exuberant adolescent Aussies, half of whom have a below-average IQ, who would rather be outside kicking a footy around, who don't want to learn, who prefer Facebook to Physics and Angry Birds to angry teachers, who have parents with no manners who don't value education themselves because they left school at 15, and 'done all right', and handing Mr Pyne a copy of Macbeth. 

'Perform or be removed,' I would say to him. 'Their results are a direct reflection of your worth.'

Comparing Aussie schools to East Asian schools is a joke - it's comparing apples and hippos, FFS. It's not the teachers who are the problem. Australian society's larrikin attitude to education has to change. As long as teacher-bashing is a national pastime (short hours, long holidays - teaching's soooo eeeeeasy, teachers are all overpaid bludgers, and what use is History anyway?) many of our students will continue to undervalue education and underperform at school.

Schools are microcosms of society, not homogeneous little divisions of corporate Australia or (heaven forbid) the Australian Public Service. Yes, they are often staffed by people who may be employed by the government or the church, but they are filled with students - bright and dull, keen and lethargic, but all human - and the performance of this disparate mass of youngsters (some of whom are, not to put too fine a point on it, as dumb as dogshit and twice as nasty) is seen as an indicator of the teacher's ability to teach. Reducing this ebullient mass of humanity to a series of performance indicators and league tables is farcical. This is why politicians should keep their noses out of schools. 

It's dangerous. There's a legion of hardworking, exhausted teachers out here in the Real World banging our collective heads against brick walls, going back to school every day because we care about the kids and we understand the value of education as an aid to social mobility. We want that for our students, but not all of them want it for themselves. It's hard work, learning - harder for some than for others.

Holding a big stick over our heads, and telling us we have to make silk purses from some of the sow's ears we teach, or else, is not going to work. Playing politics with our schools by making ridiculous comparisons between Aussie schools and Asian schools when our cultures and values are so vastly different, isn't helpful. In fact, it's downright counter-productive.

Oh, and a final point, My Pyne, before I get off my soapbox. You said

"At the moment, unfortunately, a survey was handed down in 2010 which showed that the students who are choosing teaching are choosing it because it's cheap, because it's not going to push them much further than they were in Year 12 and because they think it's easy.

"Now that's not the kind of students we want to be teaching our young people."

Don't worry, Chris - they won't be. Not for long, anyway. Have you seen the stats regarding the numbers of new teachers who are leaving the profession when they realise how difficult it is? When they realise the level of commitment that teaching requires is so much greater than they had thought? When they find out it's exhausting, frustrating, often unrewarding? When they feel so utterly unsupported by legislators, regulators, pontificating government powerbrokers? When no amount of money can make up for the levels of stress they feel? Have a look here

Bloody politicians! Just back off. Please.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Shipping containers, gap-fillers and Other Things: UnZud part 3

Ode to Shipping Containers

Oh lovely shipping container, your chunky form delights.
Your squat and solid bottom planted firmly on the ground
Withstands the wrath of Nature, holds boulders at bay
Shoring up the crumbling cliffs and hiding the hills
Your long snaking wall along the Sumner coast
Offers art space
And can, with the help of a legion of New Zealand knitters, be quite cosy.
You are the embodiment of kia kaha* in broken Christchurch
I wonder if your ships miss you while you work so hard on land?

*Maori phrase  meaning be strong

So many gaps… Half of Christchurch, it seems, is a car-park. A razed rubble wasteland, grey and gloomy. Enterprising Cantabrians, refusing to take it lying down, have taken to filling the gaps with quirky installations – like these: 

 Dad and I went grocery shopping yesterday, and didn't even feel the 4.8 earthquake that rattled the city. Now, 4.8 is a sizeable shake, and it lasted about twenty seconds. Admittedly, the supermarket was noisy enough for us not to hear anything rattling, but I was surprised not to have felt anything. It made me think about the ridiculous and alarmist travel advisory put out by my own government, which was in yesterday's The Press.Oh dear, oh dear...

Friday, 6 July 2012

A dip in the (hot) pool. UnZud Holiday Part 2.

Hanmer Springs is a resort town about 120 or so kms from Christchurch. Look:

Brrrrrr. Yes, there were piles of snow here and there on the ground, refusing to melt. Look!

Perfect day for a dip in the pool - the thermal pool, that is. The fine misty rain that has dogged this holiday kept finely misting all over us, but the temperature in the thermal pool was 42C! Just like a hot bath, but with a farty sulphurous pong. It was very very difficult to get out and scurry through the freezing air, in wet cozzies (or in my case, flapping wet t-shirt and boardies) to the change room.

What a great day! We sang It's Now or Never very raucously in a gift shop, while the proprietor accompanied us on her pianola. We ate delicious food in Mumbles cafe, surrounded by a big Harley-Davidson and a million Pukeko pics (the chunky chilli vegetable soup was to die for) and wandered through some foresty bits that Chris and Ingrid had planted when they were in the Conservation Corps. We drove back past Seal Rock, which looks just like a seal (surprise surprise) and Frog Rock, which looks just like an enormous squatting frog (bet you didn;t see that one coming!) and then stopped at Brew Moon on the way home, for some of their very fine, er, brew. The mulled wine was a delicious way to round off the day.

You know when you're getting closer to Christchurch because the roads suddenly turn to poo and long strips of road cones materialise.

'Must be high tide', murmurs Ingrid as we drive through the flooded streets that are a new feature of Christchurch, post-quake. At high tide, water rises out of the drains, rather than flowing down them.  Something else that residents have taken in their stride as the 'new normal'.

Tomorrow: Sumner, and a tribute to the humble shipping container.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Destination Christchurch

What’s it like, coming out of marking hell? Well, this time I'm actually still sane (thank you Prozac.) It's been a bit like stepping out of a fog. All of a sudden I can hear my thoughts. I notice the mess in the house and the pile of unpaid bills on the table. Oops. I can think straight and acknowledge tomorrow and next week. I can actually think beyond this exam, this report, this frantic and inhumane pressure. It’s like waking up from a coma. I feel human again, and it’s time to enjoy the school holidays.

First thing on the agenda – visit the Christchurch Hineses! Off to Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud. Fortunately I made all my travel arrangements a couple of months ago, before the descent into marking hell – sometimes I surprise myself! So this is how it goes: a bus trip to Sydney – I finished two blanket squares for my Tutor Group knitting project (more about that in a separate post), a night at the Ibis Airport hotel, an early morning shuttle-bus to the airport, and I’m up, up and away!

Uneventful flight, but as usual I’m sitting next to a fat person who insists on oozing into the seat I have paid for… but I get to read a library book on my Kobo (more about that in yet another post, too!) and after an uninspiring gluten-free airline meal (fish! Erk!) I touch down in Shakytown at 2-something pm.

Chris and Ingrid collect me from the airport and we head across town to Dad & Diana’s place in the eastern suburbs.

It’s been 6 years and several thousand earthquakes since I was last in Christchurch. The recent biggies – the ones that split Dad’s former house in two and filled it with the silt of liquefaction – may seem like old news to those of us in the rest of the world – but they’re daily conversation and an ongoing fact of life for the people who live here. The roads are bumpy and pot-holed, fences and walls are falling down, and shipping containers have demonstrated their versatility in many ways: as storage places for all your worldly goods, holding up damaged buildings, shoring up crumbling cliffs, becoming coffee-shops and boutiques… being covered in artwork or a knitted container-cosy… 

Shipping container shopping mall - called 'The Restart Mall'

 Cantabrian quirkiness and good humour abound, however, and people have developed their own coping mechanisms. ‘Guess the magnitude of THAT’ is a popular game, as is ‘Guess the epicentre’. ‘What used to be there?’ is another. I liked this sign, in a craft shop window in New Brighton:

It’s now Tuesday, and I haven’t felt the earth moving – yet – let’s hope it stays that way. In the meantime, here are some photos taken from the periphery of the Red Zone in the city.  The scale of the destruction is hard to imagine – Christchurch has become a city of car-parks (seriously!) and sprawling vacant blocks. The soundtrack that plays in the background is the unceasing thump-thump of construction work – or rather, deconstruction work. Clearing the rubble is a gargantuan task. 

It was a harrowing ‘tour’ that made me feel a little ghoulish, but even worse than looking at the scenes of dereliction in the war-zone that the inner-city resembles was a visit to Dad’s former home.

It used to be a comfortable home with a lovely view of the river. Now it’s a broken shell awaiting the arrival of the deconstruction men. The hallway is a downhill slope. The bath, if filled, would be nearly empty at one end as it overflowed at the other. Ruined books and records litter the floor and the overgrown ‘garden’. Along the whole street, curtains hang in houses where no one lives any more. The street is deserted, apart from demolition workers and their trucks. The river glides past between the built-up gravel banks that run through this ghost-town.
Stuck in the mud - Dad's record cllection
The road to Sumner snakes along the coast, and walls of shipping containers act as barriers against the falling rocks and crumbling cliffs. Broken houses hang precariously from the clifftops.

I can’t imagine the noise of the rocks grinding and rumbling, houses being torn apart , trees falling, or the terror that must’ve gripped people as their world crashed down around them. Just looking at the aftermath, all these months later, was enough for me.