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Thursday, June 23, 2011

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

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