Last updated 15:59 08/03/2011
Early this morning I woke up from an earthquake nightmare. In my dream, people I knew had been killed in an aftershock, leaving their child an orphan - and I couldn't stop crying. Even worse, when I did finally wake up, I wasn't immediately sure about whether it was a dream or not. None of that sudden "Thank God, I didn't screw up my exams because I'm actually not in high school anymore" wave of relief. I actually had to think quite hard and reason my way out of the content of the dream. No, I had contact with those people yesterday. No, they definitely aren't dead. That sort of thing.
The only reason I'm mentioning this particular, unhappy episode is that it's the first time I've had an earthquake nightmare. At least the first one that I recall having. I'm pretty sure it was caused by a bedtime aftershock last night (they're my favourites) but I think it's indicative of my current state of mind. Quite frankly the cracks, like those in my mother's plaster ceiling, are starting to show.
And it's not just me. People in Christchurch are starting to get pretty cranky with each other. That first week we were amazing. Courteous. Helpful. We couldn't wait to do something for our fellow earthquake-afflicted brethren, but as I mentioned last week, once that euphoria of having simply made it out alive has passed, the unwarranted grouchiness begins.
In this way, it's very much like spending Christmas Day with your in-laws...except that they never actually leave. Christmas, I'm fond of saying, brings out the best and the beast in people. At this point in proceedings I'm happy to go on record as saying that natural disasters have the same effect. Sometimes people are awesome beyond description. Sometimes people are completely obnoxious. In some bewildering circumstances they might even be the same people but at different times.
But what I'd like to recommend is that everyone do their very best not to be douchebags, if purely for selfish reasons. Because the truth is there's never been a time in recent history when behaving like a prat is more likely to get you punched in the face. People really do have zero tolerance for each other's bullpucky at the moment. If you behave like an inconsiderate moron then you are more likely to suffer repercussions than ever before. Here's a few examples from the previous week or so that illustrate this.
Impromptu fireworks display - Neighbours across the street decide to set off fireworks. Without telling anyone. On a hot, windy night. During a fire ban. When emergency services are tied up hauling people out of collapsed buildings. Everyone at our house (with already shredded nerves), upon hearing a series of loud bangs, a) wondered what those coloured streaks disappearing up the hallway were (cats one and two, as it turned out), b) spasmed involuntarily and c) went out on to the street to "investigate". At any other time I think we would have just rolled our eyes and considered it a mild annoyance but in the current state of emergency it seemed grossly irresponsible and made us all quite angry.
Parking abuse - At the local Shell service station at the weekend, to hire a trailer for the purposes of moving, an extraordinarily rude man took exception to where the Silver Fox had parked the Foxmobile as he felt it was blocking his way. Instead of asking politely but firmly if the vehicle could be moved, said uncouth stranger yelled at me (the eff word was used) in the passenger seat while SF was inside organising the trailer, and then stalked off, presumably to spread joy and serenity elsewhere. Showing great fortitude, I managed about 5 minutes of calm before bursting into tears of an uncontrolled nature prompting the Silver Fox to express a desire to "punch the weedy git". No actual punching took place but it put both of us in a terrible mood for the remainder of the day.
I've got water and that's all I care about - Half an hour after the forecourt rage, driving to my wonky house to do some packing up, and while stopped in traffic (more on that later) the Silver Fox and I witnessed an older gentleman using his garden hose to clear leaves away on his footpath despite the fact that there's a perfectly good yard broom leaned against the fence not a metre from where he's standing. Here I am sedulously not flushing unless I have to and skimping on the leg-shaving during showers to keep my water consumption down, and this idiot's using precious H20, which people in the eastern suburbs still don't have, to clear away a few leaves. Even before this recent earthquake Christchurch was in water conservation mode because of the damage to pipes done in September. This leaf clearing nonsense, on the back of angry forecourt man, has me seeing red. SF and I debate whether we should shout out the car window at him since he's clearly making quite the job of his dozen or so leaves which he seems intent on washing all the way to the Pacific with his hose. In the end, we both realise that we are not "people who yell things from cars" but that we considered this as a viable course of action at all speaks volumes about the frayed nature of nerves in the car.
Traffic - Christchurch now has traffic. We have traffic in spades. And all of it is trying to go somewhere without going through the middle of town (aka the red zone) so everyone has to go around and naturally those roads skirting the cordoned area get hammered. And also there are potholes the size of domestic pets, or sometimes sheep, and mini-sand-dunes to slow things down yet again. So Christchurch finally has traffic as befits its status as a major New Zealand city. The great irony being that we no longer have much of the actual "city" part to go with it. The Silver Fox saw a scooter driver actually block an entire lane of traffic just so they could stop and have a good yell at someone in a car who actually hadn't done anything wrong. Even I've noticed that SF is less likely to let someone in if he's in a bad mood. And more people are in bad moods now than ever. There's graciousness too, of course, but Christchurch roads are a far more dangerous place to be now than they were immediately after the quake despite the fact that the road surface has improved a bit.
So while this probably sounds like one big whinge from me about everyone on the planet being annoying (and let's face it, I've always been a bit inclined to feel that way), what I'm actually trying to get at is that the buffer which we all have that generally stops us from smacking our workmates in the face with the nearest stapler, or from suffocating our annoying relatives with a throw cushion, in Christchurch at least, is being eroded by the stresses of bigger, more terrifying things. I can feel my diminished capacity for easygoing-ness as easily as I can see the dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep.
All I'm proposing, is that we all acknowledge that this is the case and take steps. I took the steps of staying in bed this morning and watching the most recent episode of An Idiot Abroad on demand. I've also been consuming chocolate like I'm on PMS-watch. It doesn't make the general grumpiness go away, exactly, but I feel a bit topped up to face the day.
Also, for the love of Jeremy the sign language guy, be considerate if possible. While it's true that everyone's really cranky, it's also true that people are more appreciative of a kindness now than they have ever been. Maybe you can't have one without the other? Maybe that's just how we humans work? But a little bit of modifying of your actions, a little forethought, will go a long way in our current situation, which is lucky because I think it's going to have to.
Have you found yourself being annoyed to an unwarranted level in the last two weeks? How are you managing to keep your calm?