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Thursday, June 23, 2011

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

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