Thursday, March 31, 2011


… fingernails too, they came in useful, although I found an old kitchen knife with a broken blade that worked better. That was for digging along the cracks between the boards to clear out the sand, fur, feathers, grit, leaves, twigs, crumbs, cobwebs and dead insects that had accumulated in the decade or more since the deck was last stained or even, if I’m honest, swept. My excuse is that the breezes take care of any loose detritus and everything else simply lodges where it will.

The deck is more of a veranda because it has a roof, and it is shady in the summer and sunny in the winter. There is, yes, indoor/outdoor flow – essential for true deck-worthiness. It is a place to loll with the newspapers or a book and a cup of coffee, to soak up the warmth, or catch a cool breeze, or just to think.

The deck is appropriately furnished. First, that essential on all proper New Zealand decks – a sofa. It is old. And shabby, a bit scuffed, with the pattern faded out of it. There are breadcrumbs embedded in its upholstery. It is for putting feet up on, or spilling drinks on, without worrying about the consequences. There are cushions, although not quite squashy enough for my taste. There are a couple of rustic tables, five plants in pots, two concrete cats painted in uncat-like colours and patterns, one ceramic bowl containing clothes pegs (don’t ask) and an old bedspread ready for covering the sofa in windy weather – the nor-wester brings leaves and twigs scudding across from the forest behind the house.

Once in a while the deck has to be flossied up, just a little, and recently I decided to do it. I moved everything off, except the sofa, and piled it against the garage wall. I got to work on my hands and knees, scratching and probing, brushing and vacuuming. In fact the vacuum cleaner hardly stopped for two days, its cord permanently stretched across the living room floor. Opening the new and unnervingly large tin of brown deck stain I wondered how I could possibly paint that vast empty acreage of boards. And goodness, I could see through the gaps into the newly lit wild life sanctuary below, which was now carpeted with sand, fur, feathers, grit, leaves, twigs, crumbs, cobwebs and dead insects.

When I finished at last, the deck looked quite smart but not too smart – as was proper. The furniture was back in place. My shoes had acquired brown freckles. OMG, so had my feet.

Three days later: another earthquake. The deck shifted sideways, and was covered in silty footprints. @%&*@#!

Monday, March 28, 2011


The man with the chainsaw came the other day and cut down my peach tree. The earthquakes had loosened its toe-hold on the ground and it was leaning towards the house, its higher branches sweeping the gutters. The tree was laden with fruit – its best year – and I was sad to see it fall.

As the chainsaw bit into the branches the tree took its revenge by showering us both with hundreds of fat, ruby-red fruit, ripe enough to splatter us with scarlet slush. It was indeed a massacre (apologies, couldn’t resist that) but we weren’t finished. Seeing that the chainsaw was whining on I suggested that another tree, grown too big at the front of the house, could come down. No sooner said than done – the tall timber fell. There was now a heap of loppings, and the man with the chainsaw said he would be back with the trailer later.

He left me with a brand new saw – a small, sturdy thing to replace the rusty old tenon saw that I used for odd jobs around the place. Yes I know, a tenon saw does a specific task and is not designed for all the jobs that I found for it, but I can’t handle the great big push‘n’pull thing with teeth like Jaws, or the slightly smaller one that wobbles enough to be played with a violin bow (some may be too young to know about those). I hate the spiteful, curved pruning saw which snags and bites, and even I know better than to use a hacksaw on a tree. So, here was a new, sharp, easily handled saw, and several bushes that were getting too big for their boots. Maybe the man with the trailer wouldn’t notice a few more branches on top of the heap.

On the other side of the drive the liquefaction had dealt rather horribly with a couple of small trees. I pulled on gumboots, squelched into the silt and hacked off first one then the other at their bases. The beautiful little saw worked a treat. I eyed the nearby trees which quivered in shock, but perhaps that was a little too ambitious – yet. Back across the drive there were more shrubs restricting the light from the front windows of the house. Could I? Yes I could. Like the Red Queen, I shouted “Off with their heads!” Like Boudicca butchering Romans, I slashed through foliage. Like Excalibur, my new saw was invincible – no tree or shrub was safe.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


It is tempting to write a blog about the earthquake in Christchurch on 22 February, 2011. There are probably half a million stories that could be told by the people who were here on that day, and some of those stories have already been told. Mine is unexceptional by comparison, and I don’t propose to tell it here.

However, to write a blog about anything else seems bizarre. Trivial. Everything has changed. There is a sense of “before and after” when life as we knew it has shifted into another dimension. Our perspectives have changed in so many ways, both subtle and not so subtle. What was important before no longer matters. What is important now has been reduced to a handful of personally essential elements, once the basics of water, food, shelter and medical attention have been met.

The pioneer spirit has come to the surface. Instead of spending idle hours reading a book or watching television an instinct for survival and preservation has kicked in. There is an urge to go out and shovel silt, or salt down some beef, boil water, bottle fruit, dig a latrine. Neighbours have become friends, communities are pulling together. News is passed around by word of mouth about a local supermarket re-opening, roads and bridges becoming accessible, the arrival of a portaloo.

Practical safety measures are now routinely taken. Ornaments, important enough to care about and not already smashed, are displayed in safer places, blu-tacked to shelves, or wrapped up and put away in drawers. Bottles are now stored on the floor of the pantry. A bag of freshly picked peaches, left on the bench temporarily, is tied so that when another shake happens (and they happen several times per day) the fruit – touch wood – won’t spill out over the carpet. These are the sort of everyday, just-in-case things that we now do, if we can, that we didn’t think to do before.

What is precious to each and every one instantly becomes clear in an emergency. Those they love, obviously – and that often includes pets. Then come the photographs. So often people are seen after a disaster mourning the loss of the photographs, the record of their lives. Next, the box of valuables and family documents – birth, marriage and death certificates, passports, Wills. After that, nearly everything else is meaningless when deciding, if there is time, what to save and what to leave behind. The small handful of essentials is all that really matters.

Here in New Zealand we have adopted a short and simple phrase from the Maori language meaning “be strong”. Kia kaha, Christchurch.