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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thousand-mile stare the enduring image of quake

Thousand-mile stare the enduring image of quake

Last updated 10:14 24/04/2011
Every Cantabrian had a story to tell after the February earthquake, but few men were seen as often as George Goodwin.

Two months on and the 78-year-old remains surprised that his image became one of the most memorable of that ill-fated day in Christchurch's history.

Once a week, for the past 16 years, George had spent Tuesday afternoons working as a ChristChurch Cathedral guide.

He loved the role he says was a perfect retirement job for a former farmer, even if some days no one would turn up, because on other days he'd take groups of 20 or more under his wing, providing a tour, recounting the building's history and pointing out its features.

George would tell them about past earthquakes and then say: "But don't worry, there's never an earthquake on a Tuesday."

But on February 22, he was wrong. One of the images of that day's events showed a man sitting against the wall of the police kiosk in Cathedral Square, a bandage around his head, his clothes covered in dust, but his cathedral guardian's sash and badge clearly visible. It appeared across the country.

George is still a bit miffed about it, because no one asked if they could take it, although he says he and his mates have had a bit of a laugh about it since.

He remembers the quake but also thinks he must have been unconscious for a short time. He and a fellow guide, Bev, were in the main body of the church when they were hit by debris - a large splinter lodged in his forehead.

The pair made it to a door they could open by pressing a button. George pressed it, the door opened and suddenly they were outside.

"We just walked out. I went around the corner to check my car and then I was taken firmly by the elbow, taken away and tidied up." Hospital staff, he says, were tireless in their efforts to contact his family, who knew exactly where he spent Tuesday afternoons.

"Various people had a torrid time," is all he will say about that. "I haven't asked what they talked about, and I don't want to know."

The cathedral is now holding services in the Christ College chapel and the guides all met for afternoon tea recently, which was when he saw Bev for the first time since the earthquake. "It was a pretty solid hug."

He says certain aspects of the day puzzle him, and he can't help wondering if he's lost a few more of his marbles, but he does know the cathedral wasn't busy that afternoon.

"I don't know where the rumour started that there were 20 bodies in there."

Recently he took his dusty jacket in for drycleaning and the woman behind the counter wrote down "grey blazer". That made him smile - it's navy blue.

To read more stories about Christchurch's earthquake, click here.

- Sunday Star Times

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