Southerly by David Haywood


Now I Am Permitted

Sometimes I thought it would never happen. And so did a lot of other people. But finally, finally, finally, I have the three building permits and the three resource consents all approved and signed-off on our house.

You might express incredulity upon hearing that I would need three building consents and three resource consents when I haven’t actually been building anything—merely moving an existing home. But I’m afraid that in post-earthquake Canterbury such incredulity would simply brand you as a naïve, out-of-touch simpleton. Although, frankly, the innocently happy world inside your head would be a much better place to dwell than the brutal gulagesque existence that I have been living for the past eighteen months.

Am I bitter? Hell, yes. Did I recently write an essay entitled “How I Became A Grumpy Old Builder”, an essay filled to the brim with complaints and accusations? Oh dear, yes, I’m afraid I did.

But I have just this minute pressed shift-delete on that essay. I have decided to be bitter no longer. I shall, in the words of that nice Mr Key, be going forward. Although I shall not, I admit, be going forward to cast a vote for Mr Key, or the great fat vandal that he appointed as Earthquake Recovery Minister.

Instead I shall go forward to a place of gentle amusement. The light-hearted and humorous side of the earthquake rebuild. Those comedic moments where amusingly bad things happened—to other people.

In this case, I am thinking of a specific other person: my friend and colleague, Emma Hart. If you have read Emma’s excellent book, Not Safe For Work you will recall that she once spent an unpleasant evening while a former boyfriend pointed a loaded crossbow at her head. But not mentioned in her book was an even more traumatic event that occurred several years later. A nightmare incident during which she was mistaken as my spouse.

“Husband?” spluttered Emma at her accuser. “Him? I wouldn’t marry him.” She pronounced the word ‘him’ an octave above her normal speaking range.

Never in my life have I seen anyone so indignantly incredulous as Emma on that occasion, and I confess to being slightly put out by the forcefulness of her denial. But not so much that I didn’t sympathize with Emma’s pain when the same mistake was made on the next occasion that we attended an event together. Poor Emma. She was horror-stricken. In desperation she began introducing me: “This is my colleague, David. We’re not partners or anything.”

Her approach didn’t really work. Over the years we have been mistaken as a married couple on numerous occasions, and Emma has eventually moved from grief to acceptance. No longer bothering to correct people on our non-marital status, she merely winces, and gives a silent shudder of horror.

Other people’s clouds often have silver linings, and it was as a result of this ongoing case of mistaken identity that I inadvertently became a spectator in Emma’s amusing EQR/EQC inspection. For non-Cantabrians I should explain that this is a joint exercise during which an inspector from Fletchers EQR identifies earthquake damage at a property, and an assessor from the EQC vehemently denies that the damage exists; or, if denial is obviously futile, that the damage was due to something other than an earthquake.

It is unfortunate that I did not write anything down at the time, but I hereby present the sequence of events as I now recall them. My apologies to the EQC if I have misremembered any of the details; I would, of course, be devastated if I inadvertently caused offence to anyone at this fine organization.

The story begins as I return a borrowed book to Emma at her house...

SCENE I: A group of people, variously from Fletchers and the EQC, are examining a garage door that has obviously been damaged during the earthquakes. Emma Hart stands nearby. David Haywood enters the property via the driveway.

Fletchers guy: [Observing David Haywood’s entrance] Here’s the husband now.

EQC guy: [Continuing his interrupted monologue] Now I only been in New Zealand five days, right? But I knows badger damage when I sees it. What happens, right, is that it gets dark at night. And Mr Badger comes gimping along and he don't notice the garage (cos its dark at night, see), and he bashes right into it, and knocks it sideways like anything. And then the door gets bent, isn't it. Stands to reason. So it's badger damage not earthquake damage. That's why we got to cull 'em, right? Badgers that is.

Fletchers guy: [Gives prolonged speech explaining that there are no badgers in New Zealand].

EQC guy: Yes, now that's exactly what I was saying. I says to myself, could be badger damage, could be, but most likely ant damage. Cos you does have ants in New Zealand, isn't you?

Fletchers guy: [Nods affirmatively].

EQC guy: Cos with ant damage what happens, see, is that the ants go gritching over the tin bit of the door. Gritching all night, right? Now him [pointing at David Haywood], he can bloody sleep through anything, can't he? Just look at him. But his missus [pointing at Emma Hart] she can't bloody sleep a wink because of the ants gritching on the tin. Now in the morning she's all clemmed, because she's been awake all bloody night, and you do get clemmed when you're awake all night, because you're not sleeping, see? So that makes her right peevish. Not her fault she's peevish, because she's clemmed, isn't she, by the ants gritching on the tin. So she goes outside and gets a maul, doesn't she, and she starts larming all the ants. Now naturally when she's larming the ants with the maul she bends the bloody garage door. Stands to reason. So bain't earthquake damage, does it? It be ant damage. Cos his [pointing at David Haywood] bloody missus [pointing at Emma Hart] been larming the badgers with a maul on account of them gritching on the tin all night, see? I mean ants. Not badgers.

Emma Hart: [Emphatically]: That. Man. Is. Not. My. Husband.

Oh, how I chortled at the EQC assessor’s amusing misinterpretation of the earthquake damage. “Surely,” I thought, “Emma will regard the immense hilarity afforded by this situation as a worthwhile exchange for an unrepaired garage door and the slight psychological agony of being once again mistaken as my spouse.” Strangely, it appeared that she did not. Emma, it transpired, would have preferred the door to be fixed.

While sympathizing with Emma, I confess that I was still experiencing residual amusement as I drove away from her house. The one-hour traffic jam on the ring-road only mildly diminished my mirth; and I was still snickering as I arrived in Dunsandel, donned my tool belt, and prepared to begin work. It was only as I passed the lavatory door that my innocent laughter was cut suddenly short.

Ah yes, the lavatory. The one that wasn’t yet connected to the wastewater system. The one that should have had a large sign sitting on its lid: “Not connected. Do not use under any circumstances.” The sign had disappeared.

I had other workers at the house that day. The plasterers had arrived at the crack of dawn. “Just checking that you saw my sign about the lavatory?” I enquired with a hint of panic in my voice. “You know, the one that says its not connected to anything?” There was a long, long silence.

It turns out that a gang of plasterers has roughly the same digestive throughput as herd of diarrhoea-stricken elephants. Below the disconnected end of the lavatory was a circle of faeces and lavatory paper about three metres in diameter.

Unless you enjoy retching, the clean-up job was not one that I’d recommend. It took several claustrophobic hours in the crawl-space beneath the house to remove some two hundred litres of mixed soil and faeces, and to clean down all the affected piles, bearers, and joists. My sense of humour had entirely evaporated by the end of the job.

Then, as a kind of dessert to my main course of shit, my son vomited in the car on the way back to the Linwood Earthquake Village. And he continued to vomit for the next 12 hours—over every towel and sheet and blanket that we possessed. It was no fun at all.

But the worst of it occured when I related these sad and tragic events to Emma Hart. Did she offer me her heartfelt sympathy? Did tears prick her eyelids as the sorrowful story unfolded? No, unbelievably, she just laughed.

So where am I now? Happily I have all my consents, but there are still a few things to finish on the house. The roof to paint, the baseboards to be fitted, a week’s work in every room to revarnish the windows and to reinstate the wardrobe doors and mantlepieces. Oh, and the new fire to install. And the hedges and trees to plant. And the vegetable garden. Quite a lot, actually.

But the big pressure of the consents deadline is over. My seven-day working week shall be temporarily halted. I am taking a break from building. You shall hear more soon.

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