We were on the way to somewhere else when we noticed people lined up on a bridge over the Avon. Normally this riverbank would be a favourite for picnickers spending a lazy Sunday stretched out under a blossom tree. But today it is overgrown and neglected and guarded by a wire fence. Even the river looks sad and forgotten.
And what were the people doing on this warm and sunny Sunday afternoon? Watching the demolition of yet another Christchurch high rise.
The time and effort it takes to smash down one concrete column – 15 minutes of fairly relentless grinding and bashing – makes you realise again the strength of the quake that toppled buildings like these in mere seconds. We watch with morbid fascination as the column shatters all over the ground and then squeal in unison as the bridge we’re standing on shudders with the impact.
It’s easy to forget, when you don’t see it every day, that parts of our city are still very, very broken.
Well, after surviving an attempted job axing in June, the government has rocked our world again and Henry’s school will close at the end of the year. It’s been a tense month in Christchurch with schools anticipating bad news but today it was laid out in black and white. We’ve been told it will cost just too much money to fix the earthquake damage. The school is no longer viable.
We are so sad. Henry’s school is a lovely little green space in the heart of northwest Christchurch. It’s one of the most multi-cultural schools around with students from over 50 different countries. It has a strong sporting tradition, a focus on music and every year sends our intermediate about 60 confident, capable, independent learners.
Three years ago, another little local school was closed by the government and most of the children affected were gathered in by Henry’s school. Three years on and these children are about to be moved again, probably to a school that made it clear they were not welcome last time.
It would seem that the aftershocks are not slowing down at all.
We spent yesterday working on a red and black quilt. This one has Dan Carter bandanas and lots of silver ferns. Red hearts in the corners. Funny little chickadees, my class – they wanted to make this quilt because of something that happened last year.
It was a normal Thursday morning and we were all busy with sewing when we heard that ominous, deep-throated rumble. Without hesitation or consultation, 16 people threw themselves into the turtle position under my big sturdy sewing tables. We held our collective breath as the rumbling got louder… and then a little digger trundled past the windows.
You would think we’d be relieved but it surprised even me that the overwhelming reaction was anger. Curled up in little balls under my tables, half the class burst into tears. “I’m sick of being afraid, ” one of them yells. It’s horrible, it’s heart-breaking and it’s hard to be the strong adult when I mostly feel the same way they do. Fear has embedded itself deeply within our psyche.
I have a stack of blankets in my room which we cut up for cushions and use for quilt backs. I reach out and drag them under the table, pass them around for the kids to tuck up under. We stay in our table cave for a little bit longer and I just let them talk. My poor little turtles, they’re so weary. And so good at putting on a brave face most of the time. We have a Harry Potter moment and name that which we are afraid of. Damn Earthquake we all shout. Then smiles, even a few giggles. We crawl back out, settle at the machines and carry on with the winter beanies.
Yesterday we commemorated February 22 as a school. We stood quietly as a brave, brave little boy talked about his lost mother. She was alive for at least 12 hours in the rubble of the CTV building before her cell phone battery died and they didn’t hear from her again. We wept together, as a school. And my class, knowing the restorative power of creating, spent the day making him a Canterbury quilt with a cross in the middle for hope, red hearts in the corner and as much love as little 12 year old souls could stitch into those red and black seams.
One of the constants in our fairly grim days is a local coffee shop that still stands firm. The first thing you must do when a big aftershock hits is to save your drink – especially if it’s a nice wine or a good coffee. THEN you decide whether or not you need to get under the table. It’s kinda funny to watch a cafe full of people reading the morning papers or the latest gossip mags casually reach for their cup and lift it off the table without even taking their eyes off the page. The walls wobble and the roof shakes but no one bats an eyelid… until the drink starts to slosh. Our local coffee shop also has tried and tested wide solid tables that the whole family can fit under. You understand what an important cafe attribute this is in 2012 Christchurch.
More importantly though is the fact that, even though you’re 14 and a serious scholar and a top sportswoman, the local coffee shop will still make you a smiley face hot chocolate with a marshmallow nose. Mainly because you dish out hugs to anyone cool enough to know that you still love it this way.
The earthquake that is. I never thought I’d say it.
Our new home has a great big back yard and I could see Andrew measuring up a garden in his mind when we first looked at it. We didn’t have one at our last house – dreadful soil in a new sub-division and no room really for box gardens. But here – the possibilites! So my heart was glad when I found this on Fathers’ Day. Five kids helping to dig up the back lawn and get it ready for spring planting.
The following week lettuces, cabbages, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips and strawberries were underway, soon to be followed by potatoes, yams, pumpkins and zucchini.
And everything grew like crazy. We were eating lettuce leaves within weeks. The carrots and strawberries weren’t far behind.
The best crop so far has been our broccoli. It grew huge, without going to seed, and wasn’t in the least bothered by bugs or crawlies of any sort. Every second night through November we ate broccoli in stir fries, in a couple of salads based losely on this creamy one and this lemony one and some of us even liked to snack on it raw. The following is a Garden Party advertisement from James who would just like to demonstrate the difference between store-bought broccoli:
And the stuff he grew in our back yard. The taste is so much better that you would hardly believe it is the same vegetable.
It’s colder down here than in the North Island and while most of our crops are about a month behind yours, we are already on our second plantings of broccoli and lettuce. A lot of people think the voracious growth this spring has something to do with liquifaction, a whole pile of extra… stuff… in the gardens. Whatever it is, I’m glad. I love to go out and just look at the garden, green and vibrant and healthy. Something that went very right this year.
I’m getting quite grouchy. The next time someone tells me about the new normal, I’m going to smack them one. I want the old normal back. I got a letter from our power company yesterday and apparently their heart goes out to me. The next time someone’s heart goes out to me, I’m going to smack them one too. Those words were good a month ago but now they make my fists clench. I heard on National Radio this morning that Christchurch needs to be prepared for a “tsunami of grief”. I’ve written that quote down and I’m going to use it in my defence when the next person tells me kia kaha and I chase them down the street so I can tackle them to the ground and smack them one. Strong is the very last thing I feel. In fact, the responsibilty of caring for someone else’s kids every day is doing my head in. I know the fastest route out of every corner of the school. If someone slams my classroom door, I’m halfway under the desk before I can draw breath. I can’t stop thinking about all those little Japanese schoolchildren in their classrooms by the sea. But then I’m in a supermarket in a town far away, trying to buy things that I can’t find in Christchurch anymore and I see a man, a weather-beaten farmer in a worn leather hat, and he’s wearing a tee shirt that says Aroha Christchurch, and I stand there with irrational tears running down my face and I don’t want to smack him at all.
One of the advantages of finishing school at lunchtime is that you then have all afternoon to do other stuff. Cool stuff like learning to conjugate Latin verbs or learning to dance a modern Spanish Flamenco or learning to play an instrument you’ve been in love with for years.
School winter sports have been cancelled so the Drama and Music departments are blossoming. There are Stage Challenge practises every afternoon, Male Voice Choir twice a week, Junior Concert Band and Symphonic Wind groups and of course, the bliss of saxophone lessons as often as you want them.
At the end of last year, James won a massive academic secondary school scholarship but despite test scores which qualified him for the accelerated classes in his division, he chose instead to audition for the performance music class. Music is pretty much a mystery to me so it has been a joy to watch him comfortably drawing around himself the mantle of a ‘muso’, carting his instruments to and from school and listening to radio stations that play something other than the current chart-toppers.
And being able to smile at the sweet little Year 9s from the Girls’ School as they practise flute and scribble on their scores is the icing on the cake.