Southerly by David Haywood

109

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.

67

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.

239

Coming Up For Air

We don't seem to have had the easiest of babies. My son, Bob, was once described by a plunket nurse as "the worst baby in Christchurch"; his little sister, Polly, is -- in my estimation -- only very marginally better.

Not that it's her fault. It transpires that, like her brother, she's allergic to dairy products. But not only dairy products -- she's also allergic to soy products. Oh, and eggs. And did I mention her really inconvenient allergy to wheat?

All in all, it's taken us a while, and a whole bunch of tests and experimentation to figure everything out. And to discover all those tricksy allergens hiding in places where you'd never have thought to look (anyone ever suspected that baked beans would contain wheat?). We've gradually managed to improve Polly to the point where she's well enough to wake only three or four times per night -- but that's still fairly hard going in anybody's book.

Of course, at the same time we've also had three major earthquakes. And the entirety of our earthquake-damaged neighbourhood has been condemned. And, as you know, our insurance company has found a (perfectly legal) loophole to avoid paying out on our total replacement insurance policy.

So since the declaration of the Residential Red Zone -- in between the baby drama and paying employment -- I've been working non-stop in an attempt to stave off financial disaster for our family. My solicitor is now the most frequently dialled number on my phone; our entire household is totally sleep-deprived. It's been a hard year.

To make a long story short: it turned out that the only way we could preserve the equity in our house was to pick it up and relocate it to another section -- and have it repaired there. Luckily we've been assigned a very professional and competent claims manager at our insurance company, who (while still saying "no" much more than I'd like) has been extremely helpful in moving us towards a possible solution.

There are, however, several problems in buying replacement land for our house. Firstly, we can't afford a section in Christchurch at post-quake property-boom prices. Secondly, CERA has decreed that we must relocate our house elsewhere by May next year -- a very short time frame indeed for this type of job.

Thirdly, the CERA process means that we can't access any of the help in terms of accommodation or a deposit for new property that's available to other people -- yes, it's ironic that the homeowners who have taken the biggest financial hit (i.e. those in the Residential Red Zone who have lost their 'total replacement' insurance and must therefore relocate their houses) have also been excluded from many of CERA's assistance packages. In particular, our ineligibility for the deposit scheme means that we have to borrow a truly horrendous amount of bridging finance.

Fourthly, there's the issue of 'covenants'.

I'd never even heard of covenants before I started looking for a replacement section, but here's how they work in New Zealand: when a landowner wants to subdivide rural land into residential sections they must obtain permission from their neighbours -- and this usually involves the imposition of various 'covenants' that constrain the actions of any future owners of that land. These range from the permitted height of the hedges, to the permitted position of buildings, to the type of dog they're allowed to own (I'm not kidding). The one covenant that invariably applies to any section within an hour's drive of Christchurch is a prohibition against the relocation of old houses (no matter how nice), because neighbours fear that it might reduce the value of their own property.

So the choice of new land for our Edwardian villa becomes extremely limited: only sections that are a very long way from Christchurch; usually beside a state highway or railway line; often with power pylons or something else weird on the property.

We spent months looking, and finally found a better-than-most section about 50 kilometres from Christchurch. Yes, it was next to the railway line; and, yes, it was right beside a state highway -- but it was also located in an old Canterbury village with nice Edwardian and Victorian houses (who didn't object to ours), and stunning views of the Southern Alps. So we paid a deposit, and started planning a new life in the country.

And then we discovered the boundary problem.

We'd been told by the real estate agent (with no deception intended on his part) that the fences were on the boundary lines for the property. But when we surveyed the section we discovered that one of the fences was some 26 metres from where it should be -- and, in fact, a huge chunk of the land we thought we were buying actually belonged to the neighbours. This was a complete surprise to everybody: the real estate agent, the vendors, and the neighbours themselves. But we had the biggest surprise of anyone because the post-survey shape of the section revealed that we couldn't fit our house onto it -- or, at least, not without spending tens of thousands of dollars that we didn't have.

So we had to disentangle ourselves from the purchase. And this, of course, involved more lawyers, more legal fees (we'd already paid about $6,000 in consent and legal fees by this stage), and a lengthy delay before we could place an offer on any other section.

If you want a defining snapshot of my life during this year, then here it is: I wake exhausted after working until 3.00 am trying to make headway on our financial problems, followed by a semi-sleepless night of Polly's problems (my wife has, of course, had an even more sleep-deprived night) -- but happily, for the first few seconds of my morning awakening, I experience a pleasing memory blankness. And then the awareness of our situation and seemingly insurmountable problems comes flooding back, and my heart begins to race: "ker-thump, ker-thump, ker-thump". And that's the way it stays for the rest of the day.

A fortnight ago -- given the almost impossible deadline imposed by CERA for relocating the house, as well as the virtual non-existence of suitable land -- we decided to cut our losses and walk away from everything. It simply wasn't worth the stress. And since we were already psychologically adjusted to moving to the country, we thought that we'd attempt to buy a cheap house in one of the rural townships of Canterbury (my wife's job keeps us in the vicinity of Christchurch).

One of the possibilities was a residence in Dunsandel. We rejected the house, but as we drove away -- only a few hundred metres down the road -- we discovered a section that hadn't yet been advertised. It didn't have covenants, and seemed in almost every way perfect for our old Edwardian villa (the 'almost' being a slight weirdness in terms of the disposal of wastewater).

And so we bought it.

Such are life's unpredictable reversals of fortune. There's still a lot that can go wrong, of course, but we've made all the consent applications and nothing disastrous has yet happened. If we can pull it off, we'll lose less than twenty thousand dollars between what we originally paid for our house and its estimated value on the new section. And that seems like a pretty good deal in comparison with the other options.

Not to mention that the section has wonderfully liquefaction-proof gravelly soil, and is well above the tsunami risk zone, and isn't located in a flood-prone area, and is only a brief drive (downhill) to Lake Ellesmere. In short, a wonderful location for a young family.

Above: the new location for our house.

My intention is to document the next stage of proceedings fairly thoroughly. There'll be a lot to tell about the partial dismantling of the house (with the occasional help of the saintly Ian Dalziel), the relocation (left to the experts), and the eventual repair of the house in its new location. I hope you won't mind some technical details.

For now, I have another busy week ahead of me, albeit with enormously less stress than in the previous six months. I find that -- to my surprise -- I'm quite looking forward to Christmas.

     
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.

99

Things to be Grateful For: A Snowy Morning

 

Above: Bob's tree platform in the back garden 

 

 

Above: the hedge behind which lurks the washing line

 

 

Above: Bob's tree platform and playhouse

 

 

Above: one of the peach trees

 

 

Above: the front garden looking out onto the river

 

 

Above: our house as seen from the footpath

 

 

Above: an excited four-year-old in the front garden

 

 

Above: my life as a (sled)dog

 

 

Above: intense concentration is required for igloo engineering

 

 

Above: the finished igloo

 

 

Above: igloo interior

 

 

Above: a very tall snowman (seconds before tragedy strikes)
899

Tower Insurance Have Some Bad News For You

I was going to write about how we found our house.  To tell you the story of how it took us nearly two years to find just the right spot to make a home.  To tell you how we visited universities all over the world who were keen to recruit my wife -- in New York City, Berlin, Stanford, and York -- and then decided that the best place to raise a family was back in Christchurch beside the Avon River.

But all that has rather flown out of my head this morning.  Instead I'll tell you about our insurance company.

Naturally, when we eventually found the right place, we were very careful to insure it properly.  I am a great believer in insurance -- and, being a very old house (100 years old next year), I made sure that we purchased total replacement cover.  For old houses the book value is usually much less than the total replacement cost; high ceilings and double-hung windows have become expensive in the modern world.

Indeed it was one of the things that has consoled us through three massive earthquakes; through the times we lived without sewerage, water, and electricity; through the six weeks when we were evacuated from the city with a young baby and a three-year-old.  At least, we thought, we had total replacement insurance -- if the worst came to the worst we would be able to rebuild a house of the same quality and size as we had before.

And yesterday, of course, the worst (as regards to the house) happened.  A man called Liam phoned us to say that we had nine months to leave the property.  Although our house was repairable and the land comparatively undamaged, the state of the surrounding houses meant that we had to go.  Fair enough -- and, of course, at least we had total replacement insurance.

But when I phoned Tower Insurance this morning to initiate a claim -- guess what?  They found a loophole.

Tower Insurance maintain that the house is not a write-off.  They maintain that they are only obliged to repair the house -- not to honour our insurance policy for total replacement.  They say that just because we won't be allowed to live on the land, and that the house will be bulldozed, doesn't mean that the house is an insurance write-off.  Sorry, they say, but what the government mandates with regard to land is nothing to do with them.

Tower say that they will only pay the book value on the property -- the very thing that we have been paying insurance for years to avoid.  And by Tower's own numbers this leaves us nearly $200,000 short of the money required to replace our house.

And what about the land?  The news isn't great there either.  Gerry Brownlee has done an outstanding job of upgrading the standard EQC payout -- and I sincerely thank him for that.  But unfortunately the area-by-area system used to determine rateable value means that land on the river bank is underestimated in comparison to market price.  In our case, the rateable value of the land is $80,000 less than that assessed by a registered valuer when we purchased the property. 

So it's been a bad morning.  And I suspect it's going to be a bad few years.