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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Life by the sea returns to a kind of normal

Life by the sea returns to a kind of normal

Last updated 05:00 16/06/2011
The scene on Sumner streets yesterday almost belied Monday's aftershocks.

Residents walked their dogs, cycled, bought coffee and went to work.

The normality was only betrayed by the fresh destruction on the hills, and the water cans and bottles carried by most people.

Like many eastern areas, water is yet to be restored in Sumner.

Sumner fire chief Alan Kerr said the station was returning to normal. After 25 to 30 callouts on Tuesday, he decided he could not keep commanding all his volunteers' time.

"The decision was based on the number of calls we had yesterday. It was reasonably quiet. Also, the fact that the guys work. I can't really justify telling them to take time off work when we're not going to be turning out to emergency situations."

Infrastructure repairs moved past the bottleneck at the Ferrymead Bridge yesterday, and the water supply was restored to McCormacks Bay, Mt Pleasant and parts of Redcliffs.

However, Christchurch City Council water and waste manager Mark Christison said further progress would be more difficult.

"The key in the hill suburbs is to get water in the [hillside] reservoirs and work back down," he said. "We're having some trouble pushing water up the hills.

"The entire city should have water back within 10 days, he said. "If we can get some reservoirs filled up, it might be quicker out [in Sumner], but the water won't be out anywhere near as long as it was last time."

At a communal water tank outside Sumner School, James Roche filled the containers he first used in February.

Water was not a big issue, he said.

"Power is the main thing. If you've got power, that's OK. You can come and get water. OK, you missed your shower, but I'm sure there's people worse off than us."

Mother nature's mag-4.4 alarm clock

Mother nature's mag-4.4 alarm clock

Last updated 07:11 17/06/2011
Cantabrians had no need to set their alarms this morning as an old-fashioned wake-up call from mother nature did the trick.

At 6.37am, a magnitude-4.4 aftershock shook residents awake.

The tremor was five kilometres deep and centred on the Godley Beach Park area in the far east of Christchurch.

There were three other aftershocks overnight, with the largest being a magnitude-3.5 shake at 3.41am, centred on Sumner-Evans Pass roads and 11km deep.

- The Press

Farm track is now like 'Colombo St'

Farm track is now like 'Colombo St'

Last updated 17:59 16/06/2011
Clifton Hill residents are getting by on goodwill as the earthquake claims the only road in and out of their suburb.

Clifton Tce is usually the sole access to the area, which sits just above Sumner beach, but the base of the road is off limits while road works crews clear it of debris brought down in Monday's aftershocks.

That may have left residents stranded but local couple Ken and Bev Loader have opened up their private road, allowing residents a supply line.

Their property at the top of the hill backed on to public land and an old track ran between the two, connecting Clifton Hill to Summit Rd.

Contractors were upgrading the road to allow all traffic on what was previously a four-wheel drive-only route.

Ken Loader did not think twice when the Christchurch City Council asked for access.

"We're very glad that we can make the road access available," he said.

"It's normally closed to the public but it's become like Colombo St through here. Or at least how Colombo St used to be."

Loader said he had been "directing traffic" and acting as guide for some of Clifton's more disoriented residents.

"There's the odd people who live on the hill who have never been up this far."

Revelation Dr resident Daphne Manderson said the Loaders had been "absolutely wonderful" in agreeing to the thoroughfare, even if she was a reluctant user of the road.

"I haven't been off the hill yet. I'm not that keen and I'm not keen to be coming back from work at night when it's dark but I'll have to use it so I'll be using it.

When people did venture down walking tracks for supplies they were sure to help the hill's many elderly residents, she said.

"It's getting supplies in and if we lose water [again] it's getting down to get water and bring it up for a lot of people that can't get down."

Her neighbour Julie Densem said the road was passable "as long as you go slowly and keep your wits about you."

"I used to drive ski roads and it's better than a ski road but if you're not used to it it's quite frightening. It's really just a farm track."

Densem used the track for the first time on Wednesday when she became "desperate for a shower."

The road was built by the army during World War Two as an access road to be used during a Japanese invasion.

Chch firms invited south

Chch firms invited south

Last updated 05:00 22/06/2011
Dunedin wants to attract earthquake-affected Christchurch businesses south, rather than lose them to Australia or the North Island.

Dunedin city councillor John Bezett, who chairs a working party on the proposal, said it was not offering any financial incentives to lure businesses to Otago.

"We have been particularly sensitive in not wanting to offend any Christchurch institution with the perception that we are trying to poach business to Dunedin," he said.

However, the ramifications of the Canterbury quakes were an issue for the whole South Island, he said.

It was better companies relocated to Dunedin on a temporary or permanent basis, rather than moving overseas or to the North Island.

"We don't necessarily want people to move here from Christchurch, but if they are thinking about going to Australia, we would much rather they came here."

A pamphlet had been produced for Christchurch businesses, detailing how to contact the Dunedin City Council's economic development unit. "It outlines the particular facilities and institutions available, and outlines the various advantages of moving to Dunedin," Bezett said.

Businesses that moved to Dunedin from Christchurch could apply for rates relief or funding through the council industry project fund.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said only a "handful" of businesses had left Christchurch and only site-specific sectors, such as tourism, were badly affected.

Brownlee off the hook - but it may not last long

Brownlee off the hook - but it may not last long

Last updated 05:00 24/06/2011
OPINION: Gerry Brownlee has done what he had to do. Finally. In the process he has spawned a new conversation starter in Canterbury: "What is your house zoned?" is set to replace "Where were you in that last shake?"

After months of purgatory, 5100 Canterbury households now know they can move – and move on, their houses having been classed as "red zone" residences.

Mr Brownlee admitted yesterday that, since the June 13 quakes, the process had been "sped up" – insiders suggest at the insistence of Prime Minister John Key, who could see the political danger building.

The latest big quake, Mr Brownlee conceded, "had a significant effect on the psychology of the greater Christchurch area". Enough became more than enough.

Now, homeowners who suspected they were on Mr Brownlee's "blindingly obvious" list know the Government agrees with them. They live mainly in the loop of Horseshoe Lake, Bexley, some Burwood subdivisions that were once part of the Travis swamp and alongside the Avon River, downstream of its intersection with Linwood Ave; classic low and middle-income Labour heartland.

The package shows a canny eye was on the politics as well as the humanity of the situation. Potential fish-hooks have been blunted.

Home improvements that have increased a property's value will be taken into account. Otherwise, the baseline pre-September 2010 value will be used to set a price: a fairer and quicker way than wrestling over individual valuations.

Those who take issue with the offer, and see an opportunity to make greater gains by pursuing their options with insurers, are free to try. Mr Brownlee even stopped short of saying he would compel those in the red zones to leave, hoping logic will do the job for him.

The decision to rush the package out has taken the political heat out of the issue for now. But, as Mr Brownlee always knew, the focus will now move to the 9000 residents in the limbo land of the orange zone.

Mr Brownlee will get grudging short-term thanks for yesterday's decision. But the lingering legacy of bitterness will only worsen if the thousands still in no-man's land do not get certainty soon.

Cathedral dome is being removed

Cathedral dome is being removed

Last updated 11:15 21/06/2011
The dome atop the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament "wobbled like a jelly" in Monday's aftershocks, destroying the plan to remove it intact in two weeks' time.

The extra damage from last Monday's shakes has also meant the rear portion of the cathedral, where the dome sits, would have to be demolished.

Work was now underway to cut the dome into four parts before removing it. Contractors are working from the top of the building, instead of alongside it which would have been required if it was removed as a single piece.

Work, delayed yesterday by the weather, is expected to take six weeks. The rear part of the building will then be demolished.

Cathedral management board chairman Lance Ryan said contractors were suspended from a crane when Monday's first quake hit and saw the dome "wobble like a jelly".

Ryan said it was still hoped to save the main nave of the cathedral and as much of the historic character of the building as possible, but that would depend on a full assessment once it was safe to enter.

Any rebuilding work would have to comply with much tougher regulations likely in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Owners' rights gone in demolition order

Owners' rights gone in demolition order

Last updated 05:00 17/06/2011

The owners of more than 100 earthquake-hit Christchurch buildings facing urgent demolition will have no right to appeal and cannot use their own contractors.

The central Christchurch red zone is in lockdown after Monday's quakes, and The Press understands that only a few approved engineers and demolition companies are allowed to enter.

City Owners Rebuild Entity founder Ernest Duval said that in a meeting with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) on Wednesday owners were told buildings classed as "urgent" would be demolished by Cera's contractor at the owners' expense.

Cera said it would try to notify owners before their buildings were demolished, but there would be no right to appeal or opportunity to have their own engineering assessments, he said.

Duval said his company, Equity Trust Pacific Group, had 15 buildings in the red zone, including two that must be demolished. Two could now be on the "urgent list", but without access it was hard to know.

"There's probably going to be a few innocent victims [buildings], but it is very hard to know," he said.

KPI Rothschild managing director Shaun Stockman said he had had no word on the urgent demolition of his central-city buildings, one of which was in the shadow of the crippled 26-storey Hotel Grand Chancellor.

If there were buildings earmarked for urgent demolition, the public and owners should be told, he said.

Ganellen business and development manager Michael Doig said the company had submitted a plan to demolish The Press building in Cathedral Square, starting on Monday. Despite attempts to contact Cera, he did not know if this private work could proceed, and his engineers were unable to access the building. Any attempts by Cera to take over the demolition in the name of urgency would be met with "very pointy questions".

"It will be a substantially larger cost for the owner if it is a forced demolition."

Cera interim deconstruction manager Warwick Isaacs said on Tuesday that 147 buildings within the red zone had suffered more damage on Monday, and more than 100 urgently needed to be demolished. He said demolition would start within days, but Cera said yesterday that no time frame had been set.

Cera has refused to release a list of buildings facing urgent demolition, citing the privacy of building owners, and declined to say how many owners had been given urgent-demolition orders.

"We are currently beginning this process," Cera said.

Buildings already identified as suffering further damage on Monday include the Hotel Grand Chancellor, the Harcourts building and Christ Church Cathedral, but yesterday Cera would not say whether they were being earmarked for urgent demolition.

The previous process of giving building owners 10 days to produce a demolition plan had been suspended, with priority given to urgent demolitions, it said.

- The Press

Community spirit buoys quake-weary

Community spirit buoys quake-weary

Last updated 05:00 17/06/2011
As residents in Christchurch's eastern suburbs struggle to deal with more earthquake damage, community support agencies have hit the ground running.

February's quake prompted the creation of community groups in the worst-hit areas. They were again able to help those growing weary after Monday's large aftershocks crippled services and damaged homes.

The Dallington Community Hub was set up in March to provide water, food, blankets and other emergency supplies.

Christchurch City councillor Glenn Livingstone, who started the hub, said yesterday the portable building at Trade Aid on Gayhurst Rd had been swamped with people since Monday.

The hub is open weekdays, from 10am to 2.30pm.

Many residents were "really struggling", he said.

"They are at a low ebb because the liquefaction has hit them pretty hard. The idea of the hub is that it's there to meet the basic needs. Just being there for people is a source of great comfort."

Volunteer Loretta Jackson, one of many from the unaffected areas of the city offering help, said people were "tired".

On Wednesday, four people broke down in tears in her arms. "They're like rabbits in the headlights," she said.

An Ashburton group will put on a barbecue at the hub tomorrow.

Clean water was trucked in yesterday, with another 100 litres arriving at the weekend.

Silt-shovellers from Rotherham in North Canterbury yesterday got a head start on the Farmy Army, which would help out tomorrow.

"This place restores your faith in humanity," she said.

Retired Dallington residents Denne and Maureen Marshall, who built their Locksley Ave home 15 years ago, have found the hub invaluable. Their neighbours left after the September quake, but they planned to stay.

"I didn't think we'd have to go through this again. We've got a lot of cleaning up to do," Maureen Marshall said.

The Aranui Community Trust has reached out to its neighbourhood, as well as other eastern suburbs.

The trust has three Ministry of Social Development-funded earthquake support co-ordinators on site. Manager Rachael Fonotia said the response had been immediate because of the experience gained in February.

"Our systems are really well set up, and so are our people," she said. "You talk to people about Monday and a lot start to well up. The most regular comment I've heard is `over it'. They're all hanging out for that [land report] to come out. So many people are sitting on edge waiting for that."

Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel said while the community had mobilised "straight away", the response from some central agencies could have been better.

"They did a reasonable job, but they just overlooked a few suburbs, like Bexley and Dallington," she said.

Orion's efforts to restore power in the east had been "tremendous", Dalziel said.

- The Press

Third time unlucky - now it's beyond a joke (Joe Bennett)

Third time unlucky - now it's beyond a joke

Last updated 09:37 22/06/2011

'Here,' he said, 'I've got a good one for you.'

I didn't want to hear a good one. I was on my way to the internet cafe to check email for the first time in a few days. But the speaker was the concierge of the block of flats in London where I am staying and it is wise to stay onside with concierges.

Besides, he's a good guy who's led a full and varied life. He's been a butler, a ship's steward, a gentleman's gentleman - jobs that have taken him all over the world.

He's told me about fighting three ladyboys in a bar in Thailand and that in black South African churches under apartheid the Lord's prayer began "Your father".

I enjoy such tales but what he wants to tell me now is a joke. These days I don't find many jokes funny. There are only a few set patterns for jokes and once you've spotted them they become predictable. Comedy depends on unpredictability.

Also the announcement of "a good one" is a poor introduction to a joke, because it both reduces the element of surprise and increases the risk of failure. But, I repeat, the concierge is a good guy, so I said, "Go ahead. I'm all ears".

"There's this bloke in Australia," said the concierge, "and he's dying of some tropical disease and the doctors have given up on him and then he hears that the Sister of Mercy nuns have developed a miracle cure. He's got nothing to lose so he catches a train to their convent in the middle of nowhere. When he arrives a nun gives him a cup of something warm. He peers suspiciously into it.

" 'What's this?' he says.

" 'Tea,' says the nun, 'made from the flesh of one of our local marsupials'. He sips, splutters, and spits it out. 'It's full of bits of hair and bone,' he says."

At this stage, of course, I was thinking ahead, trying to work out how all these spectacularly absurd elements would come together. But it was beyond me and anyway we'd reached the punchline. Though contrived, it was mildly amusing.

I laughed a little more vigorously than the joke deserved then said I had to be on my way.

"You're from Christchurch, aren't you?" said the concierge as I turned to go. "I see you've had another earthquake."

A minute later I was reading emails. The quake had happened a day and a half before. A friend wrote that when the quake struck she was with a plumber, looking for leaks around her house which has been red-stickered since February.

They crawled to a barn, the ground cracking under their hands. Boulders were crashing off the hills behind. The house is red-stickered because of alleged danger from boulders, but just as in all earlier quakes, none came within cooee of her house.

From other friends I learned that my dog's a mental mess once more; that the theatre we'd battled to reopen is now closed again; that the Timeball is gone for good, and so on. And for the first time I felt the guilt of the absentee. If there's a mess going on, I ought to be in it.

And behind several of the emails I sensed a change of tone. There was a weary gloom there. The reason, I suspect is mathematical. Three is a very different number to two. Two major earthquakes are bad luck. Three, however, form a pattern.

There's an exact parallel with jokes. In those old-time jokes about nationalities there were always three characters: an Englishman, say, a Scotsman and an Irishman.

The first two were there to establish a pattern which the third somehow subverted to create the comic surprise. If there had been only two characters the joke wouldn't have worked.

I suspect this third major quake will be one sick joke too many for a lot of people. They will sense that we've gone beyond bad luck and that nasty is the new normal. Some will leave Christchurch and not come back. You can't blame them. As far as I know the series of quakes that has struck our city is unprecedented anywhere.

The flip side of disaster remains opportunity. But with every quake it becomes harder to keep that in mind and harder to joke about.

But the jokes will come back eventually, and with any luck they'll have better punchlines than "The koala-tea of mercy is not strained".

- The Press

Good place gone in cloud of dust (Joe Bennett)

Good place gone in cloud of dust

Last updated 09:14 20/04/2011
They've knocked the Volcano down. And today the wind is howling like a goat in a trap.

You may never have seen a goat in a trap but if you've ever heard the noise a rabbit makes in one, multiply that by the number of times that a goat outweighs a rabbit and you'll have some idea of what the weather's doing. It's windy.

It's also raining, though when I say raining I wouldn't want you to think rain.

Rain is vertical. This stuff's horizontal, because of the goat-trap wind.

It's the sort of rain that renders an umbrella useless and its owner sodden. And the dog's bored so I'm going to have to take him out for a walk soon and I have no idea how I am going to stay dry. Actually I have every idea how I am going to stay dry and the answer's with difficulty.

A bloke in the Volcano, which is where I get all my useful knowledge - or rather got - once told me that if it is raining and you have to go from A to B it makes no difference whether you walk or run. You will get equally wet.

"Balls," I said. "If you run you spend less time getting from A to B, ergo you get less wet."

"Balls," he said. "If you run you hit more raindrops per second, ergo it all equals out."

It was a typical Volcano conversation and I have no idea whether the man was right, but I've just come up with a rival theory about horizontal rain.

If you walk in horizontal rain you get seriously wet, but if you could run at exactly the speed of the wind it seems to me that you wouldn't get wet at all.

You would be travelling, you see, at the same speed and in the same direction as the raindrops. So the drops in front of you would stay in front of you and those behind would never catch up and you'd be moving in a little oasis of dryness which would only be breached during the acceleration and deceleration at the beginning and end of a dog walk.

I can't put the theory to the test because my days of running like the wind are as gone as the Volcano, but I can see no flaw in the physics and would like to find out if anyone else can. And the place to do that, of course, is the bar at the Volcano. Or rather was. The earthquake buggered it. They knocked it down on Friday.

It was a bar and it was a restaurant. But it didn't do any of that celebrity chef stuff with too little food on too much plate. That sort of thing is so much nonsense. If you go to a restaurant for the food, you're just short of friends.

Nor did the Volcano inflate its menu, with drizzled this and vine- ripened that. Though actually I'm only presuming it didn't. I never read the menu. I just ordered fish of the day because it was easy and I was too busy making noise.

In short I ate and drank at the Volcano but I didn't go there to eat and drink. I went there to be happy.

It was a restaurant in the true sense of the word, a place that restored you.

The food filled the belly. The booze eased the mind. And the people made you happy. Food, booze and people. It's the oldest recipe in the book and the only one that matters.

Twenty-three years the Volcano stood, which is exactly how long I've been in Lyttelton. I attended its 10th and its 20th birthday parties and can remember little of either.

How many words were uttered within its walls? Trillions, I suppose. And how much did any of them mean? Not much at the time and nothing at all now. A good bar, a good restaurant, exists only in the present tense.

But the trillions of words and the innumerable gallons of air expelled as laughter accrete, just as a thousand years of services can hang in the gravid air of a cathedral.

But then the big yellow wrecking machine rumbles in on its tank tracks, and its claw sinks into the roof, and the iron buckles and the roof joists give and into the air goes something held.

And a couple of days later the wind howls over the rubble where a good place was and I'm about to take a dog for a walk in the rain.

- The Press

Imperial power sealed with golden hard hat (Joe Bennett)

Imperial power sealed with golden hard hat

Last updated 08:31 30/03/2011
It was a lovely day for the coronation. The processional route, which had been designed to pass by all the most telegenic rubble, was lined with eager crowds. Many waved flags made in China, paid for by a foreign news corporation and distributed by the local professional rugby franchise. They featured a man on a horse waving a sword.

"It lifts the spirits, doesn't it?" said 61-year-old Daniella, a long-time fan of anyone in power. "In these dark times it's nice to have a bit of ceremony. And he seems a lovely man. What was his name again?"

"He's from the military," said her daughter, Emma, 36, a receptionist. "He reminds me a bit of George Clooney."

"Roger Moore," said her mother firmly, and on the summit of the little mound of masonry that had previously been a chemist's shop, mother and daughter had a happy little argument.

Meanwhile, back at the civic centre, council workers gave a final polish to the front- end loader that had been spray-painted gold for the occasion. It had been suggested that the coronee should drive the vehicle himself, symbolic of his practical, hands-on style, but the idea had been vetoed by health and safety.

Instead, he would clutch a dummy steering wheel, the real one being concealed in a makeshift cab where it would be controlled by an experienced council driver.

Behind a potted rubber plant the bishop and the dean were talking in whispers and casting nervous glances about, though no-one was paying them any attention. Their hands fluttered as they spoke, their sleeves of lawn billowing. They were not happy.

They had lobbied for the ceremony to be held in front of the cathedral but had been overridden, ostensibly for reasons of security. Nevertheless they had been offered reasonably prominent positions on the coronation stage, and had accepted grudgingly. What really irked them, however, was the bevy of representatives from alien faiths who had also been asked along.

"Honestly," said the bishop, looking with resentment at the archimandrites, mullahs, rabbis, lamas and scientologists all hovering near the refreshments.

"I know," sighed the dean, "I know . . ."

Then suddenly the front-end loader lurched forward and they were off. Dignitaries scurried to their appointed places in its wake, pinning solemn looks on their faces as they emerged from the shade of the council building into the afternoon sunshine and the gaze of the masses, and trying not to cough amid the diesel fumes.

The crowds cheered and waved their flags and in an hour or so everyone safely reached the makeshift stage in the park, bar the Coptic Archbishop who had lingered over the savouries, been obliged to run to catch up and had been arrested, much to his disgust, as an impostor.

When he loudly proclaimed his position the arresting officer was heard to reply,

"Yes, sir, and I'm Richie McCaw."

The ceremony kicked off with several popular musicians all playing their signature songs, none of which bore the least relevance to the occasion - indeed some of the lyrics were spectacularly inapposite - but the crowd recognised the tunes and sang along, feeling as they did so a gratifying sense of unity.

Then a symphony orchestra launched into the anthem made popular by the local rugby franchise, the door of the front-end loader opened and the coronee emerged, much to his relief because it had been getting hot. The crowd went commendably quietish.

A problem with the PA system meant that only one snatch of the oath-taking was audible to the crowd.

"I do solemnly swear," said the coronee, "to implement ongoing policy initiatives in accordance with" and then the crackling resumed.

But the crowd was less interested in words than in spectacle.

When the council's chief financial officer raised the robes of office and held them out for all to see there was a gasp. Solemnly he laid the hi- viz vest around the shoulders of the coronee, placed in the man's hand a highly polished clipboard and on his head planted a golden hard hat complete with little light.

"Hail Quake-tsar," he said.

"Hail Quake-tsar," repeated the crowd.

The Quake-tsar stood, caught the golden hard hat just before it toppled, waved once to the crowd then re- entered the cab of the front- end loader. Its giant engine fired into life and the great beast rumbled off across the park.

The crowd began to disperse, delighted at last to have a leader whom they could revere for a while but onto whom, rather more importantly in the months to come, they could pin blame.

"That was nice," said Daniella, 61, as she began the long trudge home, "but, ooh, I could use a portaloo."

- The Press

Volunteers backbone of our community

Volunteers backbone of our community

Last updated 10:47 21/06/2011
Volunteering provides an invaluable contribution to the smooth running of our communities. It provides frameworks that are essential during times of disaster.

In the nine months since the first earthquake, we have seen thousands upon thousands of selfless acts of volunteering in Canterbury.

After the earthquakes everyone became a volunteer - everyone did something to help others, family members, friends, neighbours, even strangers in the street.

In the first instance people just did what was needed to ensure others were safe and provided for.

But as time went by most people slotted themselves into some communal helping project. We responded to calls for volunteer help from all kinds of community groups and social service providers.

Existing volunteering and civil defence organisations became the first point of call, but new networks also developed. Everyone wanted to help and many people contacted me to offer their services.

You need a framework to use people effectively. I had a small team that worked with me, but I plugged others into the Farmy Army system, the Student Volunteer Army and the Christchurch City Council organisers.

It was interesting to see the different models in action. The Farmy Army grafted onto existing farming networks, contacting volunteers by phone and through community groups.

The Student Volunteer Army used social media networks as a platform for volunteering - students could commit online to jobs or turn up to pick up work.

This soon became a sought- after model internationally. Student army organiser Sam Johnson did such a fine job in his role that he was invited to Japan to teach the pattern of social media communication to university students there.

There were many examples of volunteer groups swinging into action, like the Rangiora Earthquake Express helicopter flying hot meals into areas difficult to access, or volunteer knitters spending countless hours knitting hats, beanies and blankets before winter set in.

Church groups shuttled hot soup and essential supplies all over their parishes and beyond, while resourceful locals responded to their communities' need for essential information updates by preparing and delivering printed newsletters.

Let's acknowledge also the valuable contribution of the ethnic communities during the earthquakes - the Koreans, Somalis, Chinese, the Buddhist community, and so many others. All wanted to pitch in and help, even when they had suffered damage to their own homes and businesses.

As we reflect on the devastating and ongoing events of the past nine months, Volunteer Awareness Week (June 19-25) is a time to recognise not only individual volunteers but also the frameworks in place in times of need.

These frameworks are important, and communal volunteer projects need to be linked into the bigger organisations to maximise volunteer power.

Research tells us that the better connected people are, and the more people are linked to existing organisations, the easier it is to mobilise when disaster strikes.

Volunteering New Zealand says one of the key objectives of Volunteer Awareness Week is to encourage more people to volunteer, "raising people, not money" being the catchphrase.

I like this focus on raising people. Fostering goodwill among the people is what makes volunteering just happen.

It goes without saying that volunteering has become a way of life here in Christchurch and Canterbury. As so many people have said to me in the past nine months, "well, you just do it, don't you, you just get in there and help!"

* Nicky Wagner is a National Party list MP based in Christchurch.

- The Press

Feeling sorry for Christchurch (Joe Bennett)

Feeling sorry for Christchurch

Last updated 07:58 23/03/2011
And lo, Prince William has come among us, which was nice of him.

He didn't bring Kate. Being only a fiancee, she has yet to be sprinkled with the transforming stardust of royalty. Wills, poor thing, has got it like dandruff. When he shook hands with a schoolgirl in Sumner, it was five minutes before she could stop blubbing. Having power like that must be horrible.

I seem to lack a gene. If Wills had shaken my hand, I wouldn't have wept. Nor did I when his mum died. Indeed, I felt much as I do whenever someone's mum whom I haven't met dies in a car crash on the other side of the planet. Hypothetically, I'd rather it hadn't happened but I was unmoved. I wrote a column at the time saying as much and wondering at the general palaver, but I was advised against submitting it. I was told I stood a good chance of being lynched. I have always regretted bending to that advice.

I hope that when Kate and Wills get hitched, the stardust on either side of the marriage cancels itself out, so that at least they get a sniff of the blessing of ordinariness. Otherwise, they're looking at half a century as performing seals.

Wills has been well schooled. He said all the right things, mixing praise, sympathy and optimism, and thus a ritual was effected, a ritual as old as the species.

He wasn't a 28-year-old husband-to-be with a bald patch and a sweet smile. He was a totem, a figurehead, a representation of benign power. It was all fascinatingly anthropological.

The precious Wills was allowed to walk among the rubble of the central city. Numerous dignitaries have also been let in, as have members of the media. But an electrician I know, whose tools are stuck in his van and whose van is stuck in the central city, hasn't been.

I realise, of course, the difficulties faced by the authorities, but I'm wondering whether they might have been a little over-cautious. The earthquake has amply demonstrated that we live in a perilous world. Time and chance, as the Bible puts it in one of its better moments, happeneth to us all.

But the authorities dislike chance. Here in Lyttelton, for example, they've been systematically closing the walking tracks on the Port Hills. I know the tracks better than they do and whenever they've closed one, my dog and I have moved to another.

Today they stuck a notice saying "Don't go up here or you will die", at the foot of what is almost the last of them. I've been up that track daily for the past three weeks and indeed have been up it during several of the more vigorous aftershocks. As far as I recall, I haven't died once.

I think we need a new sticker, a pink one perhaps, for dog walkers and electricians, a sticker that says we accept the responsibility and are willing to run slight risks in order to carry on. But I can't see it happening. People do enjoy taking care of others.

Meanwhile, I continue to feel sorry for people who feel obliged to feel sorry for Christchurch. Recently, I flew to Mapua to fulfil a long-standing engagement and the people couldn't have been more solicitous. I had expected to stay in a motel, but on arrival a woman said, "the fridge is full, help yourself", handed me the key to her house, and left to spend the night with her sister.

At the community hall, there was a bucket for donations to the earthquake fund. By the end of the evening, it was elbow-deep in banknotes. The organisers asked me if I'd take the money and give it to a particular cause. I understood that. I have no doubt that the big relief funds are beyond reproach, but it would be sweet if we could find some way of tagging donations to a specific need.

At Nelson Airport, a woman in the cafe, as bubbly as the coffee machine she was operating, carried on the theme.

"Ooh," she said, "are you really going back to Christchurch? Wouldn't you rather stay up here where it's safe?"

"It's safe in Christchurch," I said. "Besides, there's nowhere I'd rather be."

And there isn't. We've got people believing the Moon Man, and we've got Derek Fox telling us the rescue efforts have been racist and we've had bizarre assemblages of totemic figures and we've got novelty and strangeness such as rarely shakes the graph of my flat suburban life and . . .

"But," exclaimed the woman as she handed me my coffee. "Don't you have to shovel up all that horrible liposuction?"

"Only in the more affluent suburbs," I should have said, but didn't think of it in time.

- The Press

Where is leadership?

Where is leadership?

Last updated 10:45 21/06/2011
Watching helplessly as Cantabrians stoically retrace their steps through the stations of their city's seismic crucifixion, the rest of New Zealand is demanding to know: "Who's in charge?" and "Where's the plan?"

Gerry Brownlee is the minister in charge of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Bob Parker is the Mayor of Christchurch, Roger Sutton is the CEO of the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) and Ian Simpson is head of the Earthquake Commission (EQC).

And onto a stage already crowded with people in charge, we note that the insurance and reinsurance companies, local and national politicians, the news media, and what remains of Canterbury civil society (employers, unions, heritage activists, architects, retailers, etc) have also invited themselves.

Viewed from a distance, Christchurch appears to be represented by a cross- talking, often bickering gaggle of increasingly irritable spokespeople. Noone appears to have a plan or, if they do, it's a plan no-one else is allowed to see. Meanwhile, the quakes keep coming.

With mounting frustration New Zealanders are watching their fellow citizens struggle through these bleak June days, sans power, sans water, sans toilets - sans everything.

And you know what, Christchurch? The rest of New Zealand is getting bloody angry.

The first question we'd like answered is: "Is Christchurch caught up in one seismic event or many?"

It's time the seismologists and earth-scientists came clean on this one. Because one thing is very clear: what's happening in and around Christchurch is no ordinary seismic event.

If you doubt that, then just take a look at what's happening in Japan. After experiencing one of the most devastating seismic shocks in recorded human history, Japan is well on the way to recovery. Sure, there have been aftershocks, but of lesser force, and they are dwindling.

That's the typical seismic sequence after a major quake. But it does not appear to be what's happening in Christchurch.

After millennia of stasis, the earth's crust around Christchurch is on the move. Vast amounts of energy are being released as tectonic pressure realigns and redistributes itself. More than one seismologist has suggested that the process could take years, even decades. That may be a mere blink of the eye in geological time; but it's an interminable wait for human beings desperate to re-start their lives.

Surely it's not beyond the resources of our government to summon this country's own - and the world's - leading seismologists to a scientific conference dedicated to making sense of what's going on beneath Cantabrians' feet?

This country has some of the world's best CGI animators; could they not be commissioned to represent graphically the best scientific consensus of what's happening 10, 20, 30 kilometres down?

All of us - but particularly the people of Christchurch - need to know what we're living through.

The second question goes to the very heart of the dithering and inaction plaguing Christchurch's recovery: "Has New Zealand forgotten how to exercise its national will?"

Are we no longer sufficiently generous as a nation to formulate a clear and resolute response to a disaster of this magnitude?

Have our leaders become too disdainful of their own people to ask them for the sort of courage and sacrifice the Michael Joseph Savage and Peter Fraser asked of New Zealanders during the six long years of the World War II?

Where are the swingeing increases in personal and corporate taxation that funded New Zealand's war effort?

Where are the drives for Christchurch Recovery Bonds? Where are the marshalled forces of the unemployed? The special training facilities dedicated to turning out carpenters, electricians, plumbers - all the trades required to rebuild a shattered city?

One of my very best friends is a richly qualified engineer and town planner: why are his extraordinary skills unneeded; his visionary ideas unheeded?

What in God's name is wrong with our leaders?

Do they really believe that if they transgress against the "Holy Free Market" the ghost of Adam Smith (or, more appropriately, Ayn Rand) will strike them dead?

Do they not understand that the only "invisible hand" at work in New Zealand right now is the one that's smashing Christchurch to pieces?

The third question follows naturally from the second: "Are we being held hostage by the institutions upon which our insurers' reinsurers ultimately rely to meet their obligations - the international banks?"

Unwilling to ask its own people for the resources to rebuild their nation's second city and, therefore, dependent upon the insurance industry (and its reinsurers) for the cash to commence Christchurch's reconstruction, is the Government unwilling to release any recovery plans to which their finance-sector masters have not given prior approval?

Because if that really is the situation, then the Prime Minister would be better advised to organise a mass exodus of all quake-affected Cantabrians to Australia.

They'd be better paid, better housed, and altogether better off - across the Tasman.

- The Press

End of tether is nigh

End of tether is nigh

Last updated 11:03 20/06/2011
I have always wondered what the end of the tether looks like and now, after Monday's double visitations from Old Bucky, I think I've seen it.

The end of the tether is sandbags lining the Avonside riverbank, put there in case the river, already swollen with burst water mains and raw sewage, rises with the predicted rain.

The end of the tether is there in the grey faces of the men who continue against all odds to service this broken city, painstakingly blasting the water pipes free of silt, digging the hideous sludge from liquefaction out of roads and properties, endlessly plugging and repairing roads, and scaling cliffs and tall buildings, trying to put Christchurch back together with what seems like vinegar and brown paper, as Old Bucky snickers with contempt and swings back to have another go.

The end of the tether is in the animals, in my case the three cats I'm in charge of, which refuse to come inside after Monday and only dart into the house to get food and whip out again. Toby, a once stroppy adolescent cat, now meows piteously and I go to stroke and reassure him and spot Benecio seething, giving me the filthiest look as he turns his back and stalks off.

The strong feeling is that there will be an announcement some time later this week about which suburbs or parts of suburbs are to be retired, even though Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee steadfastly refuses to be drawn on when that vital information will be released.

My apologies to T S Eliot, but the east of Christchurch more than mutters with retreat as you go through certain half-deserted streets, the city brought to a standstill like a patient etherised on a table. I say that because earlier in the week John Campbell put it to Brownlee that the residents living in the east of Christchurch were like sick patients simply wanting to know what the prognosis was from their doctor.

Brownlee defends the delay, saying they have to get it right; that the insurers and reinsurers, and 12 agencies are all working together furiously to make sure that when the marching orders are given, there's a decent package to sweeten the blow.

The Campbell analogy is a good one because there is a feeling that Christchurch has become an impatient patient put in isolation, while hordes of specialists circle the cot case, assuring the patient a diagnosis is imminent. But in the meantime you can lie there and rot and worry.

The worry and fear is the thing, and it doesn't help when people who haven't lived through the quakery keep asking, "Why don't you just get out?", the inference being that you're loose in the roof for staying while, in Carole King's words, the earth moves under our feet.

So imagine if Christchurch isn't viable in the east any more, and all those thousands and thousands of residents up sticks and come to your town, your city; compete for your job, put pressure on your schools, hospitals and fragile infrastructures. What will you say then?

And for those with the will to stay, what of the land owned by developers earmarked as the new suburbs? Will Cera, armed with its immense and sweeping powers, make sure that the developers don't drip- feed the land to get top dollar? If ever there was a time for an overlord to act like one it's about now.

It's not pity we're after here in Christchurch; it's empathy and support, and fortunately, loads of out-of- towners have that in aces. I was sitting in my Dad's old chair early on Wednesday morning when I got a hell of a fright at the sound of something large giving birth through the cat-door entrance.

To my astonishment and pleasure, the courier had delivered me a patchwork quilt of rich reds, browns and golds, with a note hand- stitched into a corner that read: "For Jane and Benecio, to keep you both warm, June 2011" and a card written by the quilt creator, one Karen Simcox, who had enclosed a picture of her cat, Charlie Rose, encased in a similar quilt. Talk about damp-eyed and feeling spoilt.

Another day I am surprised by a knock at the door and a visit from Shirley Goss, who has written to me since the February quake and mentioned she was heading down this way to go to her Uncle Barney's 100th birthday, and there she is, with her cousins, who all pile in, and we raise a glass.

Continually I have to pinch myself at the kindness of strangers and all that has happened. When the adrenaline induced by Monday's upsets wears off and I have dispatched my visitor on her plane, ash and all, I feel profoundly glum and quiet and regret having committed to Friday night and an auction for Christchurch businesses.

The Energizer Bunny accompanies me and is astounded that I have arranged this out-of-character outing but, like everyone else there, I wanted to go out and let my hair down in a different venue, which in this case happens to be a car showroom. A Mercedes, priced at 170 grand, goes for 150 large, there is good wine, bands and the women in attendance are dressed to the nines in their High St, that was, finery and impaled to the floor in heels so high they'd make ACC weep.

When I leave the venue, I walk down Moorhouse Ave to flag down a taxi, and happen upon a woman weeping with distress from a derailed romantic encounter. I have a feeling of deja vu, of walking down this same stretch of road a million years ago, when I was 16, with a weeping friend as we struck out to the Hagley nurses' home, currently undergoing the wrecking ball treatment.

What happy salad days then, when I spent weekends parked up on the floor of my student nurse friends' rooms, as I tried in vain to beg my father to let me leave school and train as a nurse. Alas, he took a dim view of the nursing life, thought nurses smoked too much and led wild lives, and told me in no uncertain terms I had two choices - teaching or marrying a sod-buster. It's funny the way things turn out.

- The Press

Wider still and wider

Wider still and wider

Last updated 05:00 20/06/2011
OPINION: One of the faults of pre-quake Christchurch was its far-flung boundaries. As suburbs spread out over the Plains, services had to be expensively stretched to provide for the new houses, and residents' travel time to work became longer. In the process, productive farmland was gobbled up and the city's community identity weakened.

One of the hopes of the rebuild was that this flabby development could be curtailed by providing more intensive housing within the four avenues and the adjoining suburbs, but that hope looks to be forlorn.

More concentrated housing in the centre is likely as a response to citizens' preferences shown in the consultation with them, and the realisation that people in residence are vital if the CBD is to be enlivened and prosper.

But the almost certain large-scale abandonment of earthquake-damaged suburbs means that new subdivisions on Christchurch's outer areas and the expansion of the satellite towns will be unavoidable.

This is borne out by the Weekend Press's announcement that a 2400-house development covering 180 hectares is being fast-tracked on the northern outskirts around Redwood.

Writers of letters to the editor are already objecting to the proposal, saying that the area is swampy and unsuitable for dwellings. Many other people must fear that the errors of the old Christchurch are about to be repeated.

But the developers and the city council recognise that new subdivisions are vital if those shifted from suburbs in the east are to be permanently resettled in sound homes and prosperous and happy new communities created.

Neither are the commercial motives of the developers reason for objection. They will make money but in doing so they will have to provide homes compliant with post-quake standards and able to sell in the face of competition from the several other large subdivisions mooted.

It is vital that the private sector participates in the rebuild in this way if Christchurch is to recover its basic services – and housing is very much one of those – promptly. Neither the city council nor the Government can finance anything like all the development needed.

But what the council must do is ensure the subdivisions are planned for quality living on safe land and that they are not cut off from the city. Moves are already afoot to ensure the safety and quality but the connections with the city are more problematic.

It is unclear if the existing transport plans are configured to cope with large new centres of population on the fringes. The need for roads and buses to accommodate larger volumes is suddenly emerging. As a result, light rail looks more feasible and the need for cycleways and free-flowing roads more urgent.

Also needed will be new schools and commercial areas and the recreation facilities that are increasingly important in people's lives.

Christchurch – its citizens and governors – have a daunting complexity of issues with which to deal but another is coming onto their agenda. The challenge is not just to rebuild the central business district as safe, sustainable and pleasant but to rethink and reformulate the greater metropolitan area.

- The Press

Sweet shower so delicious (Beck Eleven)

Sweet shower so delicious

Last updated 14:12 18/06/2011
If you've got a steaming pile of dog whoopsie, then pick it up and rub your face in it, because that is what this column is going to feel like.

I feel as if I should be apologising, and I swear I would have taken you with me if I could, but the day after Monday's stinking earthquakes, I went to Wellington where I stayed in a swanky hotel and ate almost non- stop for two days.

Every now and then in a journalist's life, a little something called a junket pops up. This can roundly be described as a free trip and mine was to join other writers previewing Wellington on a Plate, the capital city's foodie festival.

Now, if there is any chance of extracting a tiny bit of sympathy, I should divulge that we were tasked with two 12-hour days of non-stop eating. No sympathy? Fair enough.

But they shouldn't have shown me the hotel room first.

Like many of you, I had spent Monday evening cleaning up a mess of jams, the dirt from swan-diving pot plants, and a minor flood followed by a wakeful night of bed-shaking aftershocks.

So the focus of this trip should have been food, but they just should not have revealed the hotel room first. If Cupid's arrow could bond woman and hotel room, then I had been struck.

I thought I could hear birds singing, but that was probably left-over auditory hallucinations from the elevator musak.

I briefly perched on the edge of the bed to deal with an errant sock and made such a loud and involuntary groan-sigh of happiness that if the walls had been thin, and they were not, neighbouring rooms would have assumed I was watching a special movie, know what I mean?

I could have acquainted myself with that room for hours, but the itinerary demanded we eat from 10am to 10pm. Still no sympathy? Fair enough.

But as soon as my room and I could be reunited, Operation Use Water Willy Nilly began in earnest. A frivolous name maybe, but a serious operation, trust me.

I've been house-sitting for a couple of weeks in a great place, but it has water pressure that can barely soak my hair, and Monday's aftershocks made it worse, so I was looking forward to this hotel shower with an almost perverse obsession.

If that earthquake gave us a double whammy on Monday, I gave the Wellington water supply a triple-whammy on Tuesday.

First, I lay in a hot bath, then I lay in the bath with the shower running, and last, I drained the bath and just stood under the shower.

Then I used two towels and rifled through the little collection of hotel shampoos and smellies (otherwise known as free things) until I found moisturiser and practically used the whole bottle on myself. (Don't forget I'm a plus-size model, so I need more than most).

Then I lay on that heavenly bed in those heavenly sheets and read the pillow menu - yes, the pillow menu - but I was much too tired to order anything.

Sympathy yet?

Don't bother to answer that.

I had showered and moisturised my skin until I was so soft that an entrepreneurial lamb would have made gloves and hats out of me.

On Wednesday, I woke up and showered until finger-wrinkles threatened to go bodywide.

Then I got up and ate for another 12 hours.

Never mind Wellington on a Plate. Tectonic plates are a much tougher job.