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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blog: East side story (Vicki Anderson)

East side story

Last updated 08:41 21/06/2011
Driving through Avonhead on the way to work on Thursday morning, I become angry. At one home a team of six men are paving a driveway. Next door a woman is watering her lawn.

Bloke, driving me to work, refuses to pull over so I can yell at them to get a reality check.

He still agrees that perhaps the team of six men could be using their shovels on the other side of town to greater effect.

When you feel helpless it's good to do something instead of just sitting around thinking about doing something, so the next morning a team of colleagues and I end up at Keller Street in Avonside armed with shovels and wheelbarrows with which to battle the hideous silt, the result of the process of liquefaction, that pervades everything in sight.

Turning into the street, a couple of men in fluoro jackets start pointing at me, perhaps mistaking me for a rubble necker, but when they see my borrowed shovel, they instead offer a salute.

It's somewhat ironic that the first house we choose belongs to former Press worker Ken Dunn. I remember meeting Ken on my first day at The Press some 20 years ago. We never hugged the entire time we worked together but we hug now.

Ken hasn't lost his dry sense of humour. It's the only dry thing in the street.

The resilience of people in Canterbury is so touching. It can catch you off-guard sometimes.

But it's not until I talk to Wyn Tinnion that the tears come.

She and her retired hubby Kelvin, both with heart conditions, don't like having to rely on anyone for help.

When we arrive en masse in their driveway, the sight of a tiny old man with a small shovel surrounded by liquefaction makes me catch my breath with shame.

How is it that this elderly couple with poor health are left to fight for themselves?

The pair had their home built around 30 years ago. Wyn points at the remains of plants in the garden that she has lovingly tended for three decades.

Behind the hideous piles of gloop that is so heavy and difficult to remove, glimpses of a once proud home emerge.

I end up with some girls from our finance department in the tilting garage with Kelvin, trying to shovel out the silt and water that is ankle deep.

It all seems rather pointless - the garage is tilting to such a degree that I don't think it can be saved. The night before, Kelvin says, the water was pumped out but was back the next morning.

Although we remove the silt, we are effectively polishing ashtrays on the Titanic. But it is Kelvin's man cave and is clearly important to him so we clear it as best we can, respectfully moving muddied objects from the bad side of the man cave to the good side. When I, worried about his health, try to tell him to go put his feet up for a bit and take his shovel off him, he gives me a playful shove into the hanging shallots on the wall and gets back into shovelling silt with a gleam in his eye.

When five minutes later I smack myself in the face with my shovel, giving myself a bleeding nose, Kelvin kindly points it out with an understated ''I think you have blood on your face dear''.

While I stand with my nose in the air, pinched at the bridge, Wyn tells me what their life is like right now.

Strangers have been kind, she says.

''But we don't like accepting help. It's just my generation, we want to look after ourselves but we can't this time, it just makes me feel helpless and useless''.

One couple from Fendalton have been taking their washing away for them. Later in the morning they appear to help shovel the silt and we get to meet these everyday heroes. Another couple arrives from Hoon Hay and they get stuck into Wyn's front garden.

Only the tilting 'Welcome' sign, covered in silt, offers a glimpse as to how much Wyn has loved her garden over the years.

''Why can't they just tell us what is going on with our land,'' Wyn says, wiping her eyes with a tissue. ''We can't imagine it will be OK, but what will we do?''

The entire time I stand on their property it feels as if the land beneath me is like jelly, constantly quivering.

I challenge Gerry Brownlee to look in Wyn's eyes and say that their future is ''blindingly obvious''.

To make it worse, Wyn gets frightened at night and can't sleep. There are no neighbours around them and without lights at night she is scared when the power goes off. A little boy gave her a solar-powered light in the shape of a dragonfly after the February 22 quake. It gave her much comfort to see it.

Then someone stole it.

There's a sinkhole at the front of their driveway. Wyn fell in it recently and couldn't get out. Kelvin couldn't pull her out on his own.

''You wouldn't believe it, someone was walking on the other side of the street. They looked across and saw that I was stuck and just kept walking,'' Wyn says.

It leaves me speechless.

I invite her and Kelvin to come and stay with my family but she doesn't want to leave her cat.

When I say her cat's welcome too she cries and I cry again and we hug for the fourth time.

''She would just disappear, dear. I've got her in one of the bedrooms now and I've drawn the curtains so she doesn't see all the people out here or she'd be off again.''

One of our team has done a coffee run and as we stop for a break Wyn appears, somewhat miraculously, with a fresh batch of scones she has just whipped up.

''I've got no butter, I'm very sorry, so I've put on extra jam''.

You can tell she doesn't like presenting us with scones without butter.

They are still the best scones I've ever had.

I thought about Wyn and Kelvin a lot on Friday night. And when I woke up with what I've named 'liquefacted boob' - from where the end of shovel meets boob - on Saturday morning I thought of them again.

Part of Saturday was spent on the end of a shovel again. There's so much of that evil liquefaction to get rid of it all feels hopeless - I mean, where do you start?

There are so many people truly suffering in Christchurch's eastern suburbs that to me it is a national disgrace.

My former South New Brighton neighbour Clint Selby has started a Facebook page called East Side Story - go and check it out.

Sunday was my birthday. I reflected on the changes I've experienced over the past year.

It just doesn't seem real.

Last year I went out to dinner with a group of friends for my birthday.

Now all but one of those friends has left Christchurch. I didn't get to see the remaining friend as she is stuck in South Shore.

The restaurant we celebrated in last year is now just a pile of rubble lying in the red zone.

Now when you go to a restaurant the waiter shows you the emergency exits as well as the menu.

Wyn rang me yesterday afternoon to say she had sent me a thank you card.

I waited until I got off the phone to have a really good cry.

How touching is that? That an old unwell woman who is terrified of leaving her house because of sinkholes should have gone through liquefaction to buy a card to send to strangers to thank them for shovelling a bit of silt out of her driveway... it's all just too much.

- The Press

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