Southerly by David Haywood


Village People

On Sunday we moved into the Linwood Park Temporary Earthquake Village (to give its full and rather magnificent name). This was the first stage in our return to normality and I suppose it should have been a joyous occasion -- but I confess to having felt pretty devastated as we finally left the Avon River and our happy life there. This was goodbye forever. It hurt.

However the earthquake village does have its compensations. If you don't live in Christchurch you may not be aware of the horror stories of would-be renters: a hundred applicants turning up for a single vacant house; desperate families offering landlords more than the asking price -- only to be trumped by a higher bid from another desperate family.

Add into this situation the fact that we want to rent  for a short (and not entirely specified) period while our house is relocated & repaired, and you have all the ingredients for a scenario in which the letting agent simply laughs sarcastically before hanging up the phone in your ear.

So without the earthquake village we'd almost certainly have had to inflict ourselves upon our nearest-and-dearest in Auckland and Northland -- which may have meant a significant reduction in our dearestness (insofar as our relatives were concerned). Happily, however, as a result of some genuinely farsighted thinking by an anonymous government bureaucrat, we've been able to move into a small but perfectly-formed house in Linwood Park. Thank you that clever person at the Department of Building & Housing. We even forgive you for all the forms we had to fill in.

Above: The main street (actually the only street) of Linwood Park Temporary Earthquake Village

Our chalet (as I've mentally dubbed it) features spectacular vistas of the Eastgate Shopping Centre. It also -- as Jennifer observantly points out -- has a view of at least one of our eight neighbours smoking on their back steps at any given time. This adds a mysterious miasma to the atmosphere of the village; the sort of inscrutable smoky fug from which, I instinctively feel, a sixth-century druid might suddenly emerge.

The resultant effect is a combination of Arthurian Britain and Butlin's Holiday Camp. I rather like it.

Above: The awe-inspiring architecture of Eastgate as seen from our new sitting room window.

The intensity of my workload since the red-zoning of our house (and the frightening huge workload planned for the next few months) has meant that I've rather lost track of time. I managed a day off at Christmas; my only other break has been a couple of hours for my birthday (today). The arrival of a message from Russell Brown was necessary to jog my memory that the anniversary of the February Earthquake had also arrived.

Above: Jennifer and Bob's dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free, and wheat-free birthday masterpiece (and the small person responsible for making the recipe so damned difficult).

In many ways that is one of the things I've hated most about the earthquakes. The fact that I've had to focus so much on staving-off financial disaster for our family that I haven't been able to think about the bigger picture -- or do much to help other people.

Although, believe me, I am constantly aware that -- despite our problems -- we have been extremely lucky. Thoughts of those who lost their lives in the February Earthquake are never far from my mind. This frequently results in complaints from the junior citizens in our family: "Why are you hugging us so hard, Daddy?'

Friends and relatives ask me about recovery progress and I can only answer from the perspective of my own immediate surroundings. The short-term recovery has been amazing -- repairs to roads, sewers, electricity and communication systems (not to mention the development of the temporary earthquake villages) have been nothing short of heroic.

But the long-term recovery aspects (planning and regulation and large-scale rebuilding) seem as far away as ever. How can you expect the recovery of a city when one of the conditions imposed by the insurance companies for rebuilding is that insurance will be cancelled -- thus instantly placing the owners of the homes or buildings in breach of their mortgage conditions?

How can you expect people to move to Christchurch when they can't get insurance for rental accommodation? Not just the denial of earthquake insurance, but also the denial of fire and theft cover. Who would come to Christchurch under such conditions? I wouldn't.

And who has any faith in house repairs that are only supervised by proper builders, i.e. the actual work is carried out by unqualified cowboys. My friends in the building trade are horrified by some of the things they're seeing. "It's a bloody shambles out there," one of them told me. "It'll end up ten times worse than the leaky homes fiasco. We'll be paying for these bloody repairs twice: once now, and in another five years when the cowboy repairs fall to pieces and have to be fixed all over again."

An engineering acquaintance who deals with CERA has described them as: "Nice and well-meaning people -- but the size of the problem is beyond their capabilities. CERA is a disaster area. They're such a disaster area that they don't even realize how much of a disaster area they are."

Speaking for myself, I'm not particularly reassured to hear that the rebuilding of a disaster area is apparently in the hands of another disaster area. I can only hope that my acquaintance has entirely misjudged the situation.

And that's all I can offer by way of information. There's nothing I can do to contribute or help with the rebuilding (CERA have judged it best that they make their decisions in private). I can only focus on my immediate friends and family, and doing the best for us.

And so we inch forward -- wading upstream against CERA, the insurance companies, the council, and the earthquake commission.  Hopefully we will all get somewhere in the end.

David Haywood is the author of the children's book 'The Hidden Talent of Albert Otter'.

(Click here to find out more)

His previous books 'My First Stabbing' and 'The New Zealand Reserve Bank Annual 2010' are available here.

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