Southerly by David Haywood


Gerry Brownlee: “I Like To Knock Cats Off Tables”

Guest Speaker, Gerry Brownlee, talks about his favourite hobby.

Coo! After a hard day of driving my digger and smashing historic buildings in Christchurch I find there's no better way to relax than knocking a cat off a table.

We have three moggies and they're always climbing over the furniture. As you well know, I have hands like plates of meat, and if I ever managed to give one of my cats a wallop they'd be knocked halfway into next week. But the sods are too damned quick!

One night my wife and I dimmed the lights in our sitting room for a 'romantic' few moments together. In the gloom, I suddenly perceived that a cat was sitting on the table, and I was able to sneak up and give it a hell of a bash with one of my great big hands, shouting: “Take that you horrible hairy bastard.”

Unfortunately, I soon realized that it was my mother-in-law rather than a cat. Mum had crept into the sitting room in order to keep warm by the heater! When she finally regained consciousness, I explained my mistake and she immediately saw the funny side. We often reminisce about this incident, and whenever it's mentioned my mother-in-law laughs for hours.

Silvio Berlusconi was one of the few international leaders who understood my desire to knock cats off tables. When I visited him in Rome I told him, “Coo! I'd love to knock an Italian cat off a table.” He replied: “Signore Brownlee, I know a man who can get you three Italian cats to knock off a table. They will be willing young cats, scarcely more than kittens, and I can promise you that none of them has ever been knocked off a table before.” Such is the world-famous hospitality of the Italians!

After lunch at the Palazzo Chigi, Silvio took me to visit the Pantheon. I had to be honest with him: “Silvio, this building is what we in New Zealand call 'a dunga', and frankly so is your Palazzo Chigi. Put a cat on a table in each building and then borrow me a digger. I'll get stuck in and smash them both down for you; then we'll get Fletchers to whistle up a couple of proper tilt-slab buildings.”

Unaccountably, Silvio seemed offended by my words, and in the end I never did get to knock an Italian cat off a table. So much for the famed Italian hospitality!

On the subject of foreign leaders, I have to say that I was very impressed by François Hollande's table manners. He used cutlery at lunchtime. Coo! You can't have cutlery when you're eating lunch in the cab of a digger as I usually do. Not when you're health and safety conscious!

After our official meeting I was able to spend a few private moments with the President. “Look, mate,” I said, “a word to the wise. It's no wonder that you guys never managed to colonize the South Island. You know why? Too many dunga buildings in France. Look at that old ruin in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle—my cat could crap a better triumphal arch than that. And the Louvre is totally bloody old-fashioned! Te Papa is heaps nicer. You ought to get the boys from Fletchers to come over and knock down the whole of Paris. Put up some decent tilt-slabs.”

I reckon President Hollande was pretty blown away by my architectural vision. He didn't actually say anything; he just left a really, really long silence. Then the bloke from MFAT said it was time to go to Belgium, and so I never got to ask if I could drive one of the demo diggers.

Anyway, it was nice to visit Europe (apart from the old dunga buildings), but as you can imagine I was itching to finally knock a cat off a table when I arrived back in Christchurch. So I phoned up Graham Darlow from Fletchers and told him to go down to Cranmer Court and personally put a cat on a table for me. Then I drove my digger to Cranmer Square and smashed everything to bits. Despite having a pair of big slabby hands I have been told that I am quite balletic when at the controls of a digger.

Afterwards, Graham and I searched through the wreckage of Cranmer Court and guess what? No cat! “Coo!” I said, “where's the cat, Graham?”

“Minister,” he replied, “I suspect that the cat may have got off the table and left the building when you began demolition. Cats are rather uncooperative animals.”

Alas, insofar as knocking cats off tables are concerned, this would seem to be the story of my life!


Liveblog: Moving House (Literally)

Today's the day that our riverside house leaves the river and the Residential Redzone. It will be cut into several pieces and trucked to its final destination in an empty paddock in lovely Dunsandel.

I'll be live-blogging the events of the day (the whole exercise will take at least four days). You can read the latest update by clicking here.

08:00: Here's our house resting on two trailers as at 8 am this morning. The plan is to crane off the roof, separate the house, hitch the trailers to trucks, tow the house from the section, park it beside the road, and then drive it to Dunsandel at midnight. What could possibly go wrong?

Above: Awaiting major surgery and a long voyage.

Above: View of nether-regions.

08:45: My excellent insurance Claims Handler advises me that she is reading this liveblog. I should like to correct a sentence in my previous update from "What could possibly go wrong?" to "Nothing can go wrong now (definitely)!)

09:05: Things are really starting to happen...

Above: The towing trucks from King House Removals arrive.

Above: The crane arrives (only one week late!)

Above: I have no idea what this truck is doing.

10:06: Grant King from King House Removals detaches the roof ready to crane off.

Above: You don't see many managers getting as hands-on as this.

11:00: The first stage of dismantling the house begins...

Above: The right-half of the roof is craned off.

Above: Roof in midair.

Above: Roof resting temporarily on ground to be shifted once house is at Dunsandel.

11:55: Lunch from Piko Wholefood -- how we'll miss them when we leave Avonside.

12:00: The remainder of the roof parts company with the house, and goes to a temporary home in our back garden.

Above: Roof beginning to lift.

Above: Lifting...

Above: Swinging round...

Above: Dropping...

17:00: Dont worry -- there have been no disasters! We're on hold while the laundry roof is removed. This is a rather small roof (although apparently very tightly attached) and it was thought that it would go underneath the electricity lines. But now it appears that it doesn't. The house shifting is now expected to start around 6 pm.

Above: All ready to go out, but too tall to leave the property.

17:05: Sushi for dinner. Yum.

19:00: The right-hand half of the house has just left the section -- filmed by One News/Close Up.

Above: Progress at last!

19:01: Wow -- that was close! The truck ended up within a hair's breadth of going into the river. Some superb driving skills as the trailer is reversed back onto the section for another try. A bystander claims that she's still suffering heart palpitations as a consequence of just how close it was.


Above: This photo really doesn't do justice to an alarming few seconds.

19:04: Safely off the section now. I'm amazed at the skills of the driving team -- the trailer has eight drivable wheels in addition to the regular front wheels of the truck. Extreme co-ordination is required.


Above: We can all start breathing again.

Above: The truck (and house) crawl along the road.

Above: A view from the other side of the truck (and house).

Above: It's incredibly disconcerting to see our (crappy) kitchen driving down the road. Very, very strange.

Above: Waiting for 10 pm and the long drive to Dunsandel.

18:03: Oh joy -- about to hitch a ride in the cab of the truck! All my transport-oriented dreams have now come true. Slightly antisocial to take my laptop, so I'm going to be tweeting further updates on Jennifer's Twitter account at @jbhay. The convoy hits the road at 10 pm.


We completed two trips taking the two halves of the house (minus roofs) from Christchurch to Dunsandel. Travelling along with us were four pilot vehicles; the two vehicles adjacent to the house (front and back) calling out instructions to the truck driver via radio link. I was astonished by the difficulty of the task: ducking under power lines and overhead traffic lights; incredibly tricky manoeuvres to avoid trees; weaving through roadworks and undersized roundabouts. The skill of the drivers was breathtaking.

The convoy reached an terror-inducing 80 km/h down Highway 1. Quite amazing how quickly the oncoming traffic pulls over when they see a house barrelling down the road towards them at that speed.

The whole process was carried out amazingly quickly; I was home and in bed just after 4 am.

I must say that I've thoroughly enjoyed the trips -- well worth the $80,000 plus. I'm half-tempted to always travel with a convoy of pilot vehicles from now on. They add a real sense of drama to any occasion, and would certainly liven up those otherwise mundane journeys to the corner dairy for a spare roll of toilet paper.

Above: The second half of the house being jockeyed into position on the section in Dunsandel.

DAY 2, 08:15: Absolutely hosing down with rain in Christchurch. I'm kidding myself that it'll be dry in Dunsandel. Wonder if any of those tarpaulins came loose during transportation?


Bricks and Mortar

The trouble with writing about a large(-ish) building project is that after doing hard physical labour all day, and then paperwork all evening -- you somehow don't much feel like doing anything else. It turns out that there is nothing quite so impossible for me as dealing with building consents until 2.30 am, and then making light of my bureaucratic travails in 2,000 amusing words before bed.

But happily the document shown below has afforded me a spare hour before midnight today.

Above: The seldom-seen completed To-Do list.

Yes, the preparations for the house relocation are complete. Although somehow this list doesn't do justice to the 550 hours (exactly) of suffering that it represents.

Above: The double chimney (before & after) as seen from the sitting room.

A definite high tidemark of suffering was the removal of the remains of our chimneys, in which -- very fortunately -- I had the able assistance of the lovely Ian Dalziel from Apple Pie Design. Actually 'assistance' perhaps undersells his contribution. Saint Dalziel lifted a mind-boggling 75 tonnes of bricks (7.5 tonnes, 10 times). The fact that he hasn't ended up in a spinal unit is nothing short of a miracle; indeed I plan to use this as evidence in my campaign for official papal recognition of his saintliness.

Above: The same pair of chimneys (before & after) as seen from the study.

The removal of the first pair of chimneys opened up an interesting architectural space between the study and the sitting room. "Open plan living," quipped Saint Dalziel.

Above: Another double-chimney as seen from the master bedroom.

The commencement of work on the second pair of chimneys revealed three hitherto unknown cupboards hidden behind the wallpaper.

Me: Damn it, Dalziel, a find like this is the reason we got into this crazy archaeology business in the first place!

Dalziel: Damn it, Haywood, this changes everything we thought we knew about chimneys! They'll have to rewrite the textbooks!

I have since reflected that it is slightly embarrassing to discover three cupboards in your bedroom that you had never suspected of existing. Surely it's the sort of thing we should have noticed if we'd been genuinely thorough in our cleaning.

Above: This container is larger than it appears.

An enduring memory of the house relocation preparations is the packing of the container. I had somehow managed to underestimate the time that it would take to fill, and ended up making a late-night plea for help to Saint Dalziel. We spent numerous hours of darkness stumbling around the property while burdened with heavy objects; I have seldom felt so exhausted at the end of a day (and I'm sure the Saintly Dalziel must have been cursing his promptness in answering the phone).

Above: Six burly chaps form a paving stone chain-gang -- while the shapely authoress in the background does the actual hard work of stacking.

The job I'd been most dreading -- the lifting of the paving stones -- wasn't nearly as bad as I'd anticipated. This was mainly thanks to Jennifer's brainwave in holding a 'Pizza, Beer, and Paving Party'. The concept of such a party is simplicity itself: you invite your friends around for pizza and beer, but when they arrive you don't allow them to eat or drink until they have lifted a tonne of paving stones.

Above: Paving party heroes, starring (in alphabetical order): Ian Dalziel, Karl Dearden, Donald Derrick , Emma Hart, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Beth Hume, Jeanette King , Pat LaShell , Matthew Littlewood , Andrew MacFarlane , Roger Nokes , Jacqui Nokes , Jon Ohaire , Viktoria "the Vegan" Papp , Pauliina Saarinen , Mari Sanchez , Keyi Sun, Andrew the "Don't-Fuck-with-Me" Canadian , Creon Upton , and Kevin Watson.

Jennifer's colleague, Viktoria the Vegan, was an early arrival at the paving party. I had expected that -- given her no-frills diet -- it would take all her energy reserves simply to stand upright and watch other people lift bricks. To my surprise, however, she lifted more than anybody else: three tonnes entirely by herself. Vegans are stronger than they look; I hereby vow never to pick a fight with one (no matter how frail they appear to be).

Above: The paving party labourers enjoy a well-earned meal of pizza and beer.

A fortnight or so back, with most of my To-Do list completed, I called in the people who will actually transport the house: King House Removals.

So far, I must say, I've been extremely impressed. They have highly impressive technology, and they are outstandingly efficient workers. In next to no time my workshop looked like this:

Above: Levitating workshop.

And hardly any time later the house was ready to be moved.

Above: Levitating house.

The big day is tomorrow (Thursday 26 April). Watch this space for breaking news.

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.


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.


Deconstruction and Construction

The preparations for the relocation of our house from the Residential Red Zone to its new location in Dunsandel have been going unexpectedly well (hopefully this statement isn't tempting fate too much). The first items on my list have been several demolitions that will allow the relocation company to access the buildings that we want to move.

The first rule of 'before and after' photographs is, of course, to take the 'before' photograph. Alas I became so excited at liberating the heartwood rimu and assorted useful Edwardian fittings from beneath the earthquake wreckage of our woodshed that I inadvertently broke this fundamental rule. So here is a photograph of our woodshed 'after':

Above: Where the woodshed was.

After the woodshed was the spa pool. Our house came with a spa pool. Do you understand the concept of spa pooling? I don't. You get in. You are instantly bored. There is nothing -- I repeat nothing -- to do. Then you get out and have a proper bath to wash off the chlorine. Then you think to yourself: "Why would anyone bother."

Life with a spa pool consists of constantly feeding the damn thing chemicals, and feeling depressed about what it's doing to your electricity bill. So it was with great pleasure that I knocked its block off (or, at least, finished knocking off its block -- the earthquake having done most of the work for me).

Above: Spa pool (before).

Above: Spa pool (after).

Then there was the garaport. I've always doubted the engineering of our garaport, and had planned to knock it down and rebuild it even before the earthquake. But blow me down if it hasn't been the only structure on our section to survive unscathed.

Above: The sole structure (on our property) to survive 10,000 earthquakes without harm.

The saintly Ian Dalziel from Apple Pie Design volunteered to help me with the garaport. Saint Dalziel has always struck me as a very mild-mannered sort of chap. "May I borrow your sledgehammer, please," he asked. Shortly afterwards the garaport looked like this.

Above: What earthquakes fail to destroy, the mighty hammer of Dalziel puts asunder.

Saint Dalziel also volunteered to help with the disinterring of the (very expensive) heat transfer pipe that runs between the boiler in our shed and the house. This pipe was the crowning glory of my thermodynamic work on the house, and I nearly killed myself digging a bloody big trench to put it in.

"Bet you never thought you'd be digging up this bastard again," said Saint Dalziel cheerfully. In remarkably short time we had dug it up again -- as immortalized in this photograph, which contains a rare image of the notoriously camera-shy Dalziel.

Above: Trench and Dalziel (with saintly digging implements).

With most of the preliminary demolition out of the way, I have turned myself to lifting paving stones. I bet you're thinking: "What? He's taking the paving stones?" Yes, I am. Why should Gerry Bloody Brownlee get my paving stones? They're perfectly good, and they'll be handy for the driveway in Dunsandel.

Here is the result of an evening of lifting paving stones:

Above: How many paving stones can you see?

It turns out that I can lift 220 paving stones in a leisurely couple of hours work. I counted up the remaining paving. The total came to 5,907. Or as I pronounced it in my head: "Fucking five thousand nine hundred and seven fucking paving stones?" So I may be lifting paving stones for a while yet.

My son, Bob, has been a somewhat disconcerted by all the demolition work. "Why can't we build something for a change?" he asked. His nomination was a case for our dulcimer.

Oh, our family can't get enough of the dulcimer. As we like to say, it's like bagpipes only more dulcimerish, i.e. without bag or pipes. My daughter Polly likes it so much that she stands upon it to gain better traction for strumming. A dulcimer can only stand so much of this kind of love  -- so, indeed, a protective case was a most sensible suggestion.

I fancied a quick-to-build case out of plywood. Bob had other ideas. He wanted tongue-and-groove panelling on the sides; he wanted fancy stainless steel fittings; he wanted access to my power tools.

The result was quite the surprise to me. Bob did all the drilling and sawing (under supervision), as well as tortuously inserting the screws for the fittings. I don't want to suggest that he's the best four-year-old instrument case designer/builder in the world -- but I bet he'd make, say, the top 5,907. It was so good that I wished I'd let him use some of the heart rimu instead of crappy pine.

Above: Bob's dulcimer case. Quote: "I'll be in the photo, Daddy, but I won't smile." (Background shows Bob's new 'packing boxes and lego' decoration scheme.)

Above: Strumming the dulcimer (producing a mercifully muffled sound).

And, of course, Bob was right: construction is much more fun than deconstruction.

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.