Southerly by David Haywood


Getting There is Half the Fun

“It’s very icy this morning,” I told everyone. “Are you listening, Bob? Are you listening, Polly? There’s lots of ice on our driveway. So you have to be really careful, okay? That means don’t run. The taxi will be here to collect us any minute.”

Fifteen minutes later I was phoning the taxi company: “Where are you? Have you forgotten to send someone? We have to be at the airport in half an hour!”

Another fifteen minutes, and despite the sub-zero temperatures I was actually sweating with stress. When the taxi finally arrived, I shouted: “Run for it everybody! We’re going to miss our plane!”

I picked up a suitcase in either hand and sprinted towards the front gate. The concrete paving stones seemed to rise up, twirl around, and then suddenly leap forward to smack me hard in the face. To my credit (or, at least, I presume some people might think it’s to my credit) my first thoughts were artistic in nature: don’t the rivulets of blood look pretty against the snow? Then I thought: “Ouch, that hurt.”

But there was no time to examine my wounds. We piled into the taxi. The taxi driver handed me a wad of tissues; I clutched them against my bleeding face. We were off to Trondheim, Norway.

Ah yes, Trondheim, only a mere 58 hours journey (door to door) from Dunsandel. This was a trip clearly absent from the slogan-writer’s mind when the phrase “getting there is half the fun” was coined. Unless, of course, the slogan-writer was thinking: “Getting there is half the fun of smashing your face into cobblestones”—which, now that I have done both, seems approximately correct.

At the airport, I sponged the worst of the blood out of my beard, and mailed a last-minute package to Russell Brown. The stress of the journey so far (30 minutes elapsed; 57.5 hours to go) made me unable to remember my own address to list as sender. Weirdly, however, I was able to remember Russell’s address. You never forget where you’ve had good coffee.

Naturally I refused the vile, luke-warm beverage offered by Air New Zealand on the flight to Auckland, but sucked a double espresso through a straw at the international terminal. My nose was throbbing like a bad nightclub, my lips continued to ooze blood, even my teeth were pounding with pain. How much worse could my day get? Travelling with small children for the next 55 hours: that’s how much worse.

The first leg of our international journey was to Hong Kong. I’ve never previously been to Hong Kong for the simple reason that you inevitably have to fly with Cathay Pacific. And I’ve never liked the idea of flying Cathay Pacific because I don’t like their logo, which is a stylized image of a burning plane.

It’s not that I don’t admire the magnificent ‘fuck you’ attitude in adopting a burning plane as the logo for an airline. A logo which, put into words, might read: “It’s not crashing into the ground that hurts; it’s burning alive on the way down.” But I worry about the nihilism of employees who might be attracted to work for such an organization. Safety engineers with “Live Hard, Die Young” tattooed across their chests. Stewardesses who sing The Who’s My Generation as part of the safety demonstration: “Join in on the chorus everyone! ‘Hope I Die Before I Get Old’.” I confess to finding the whole thing excessively morbid.

Fortunately, however, there were no singing nihilistic stewardesses on this particular flight. The only singing during the safety demonstration came from my own daughter, Polly, who took the general silence as a cue for a deafening version of her favourite nursery rhyme: “WINKLE! WINKLE! LITTLE STAR!” A few nearby passengers smiled indulgently. But I didn’t kid myself they’d be doing that for long.

By this time Bob’s interest in air travel had well and truly evaporated. “I feel grumpy,” he said. “Make Polly stop singing. How long until we get to Norway?”

“Fifty-four hours,” replied Jennifer soothingly. “As soon as we leave the runway.”

“How much is 54 hours on a plane? Is it soon?”

“Not long,” said Jennifer, in a statement that she later admitted was the most outrageous lie of her life.

Over the next twelve awful hours we gradually fell into a routine. Jennifer dealt with Bob, and his endless complaints: “These movies are all boring! How long until we get to Norway? Can you please read me another book? Why can’t you make Daddy stop breathing like that?”

At the same time, I attempted to deal with Polly and her ongoing mission to throw herself from the plane’s emergency exit. My cunning approach was to distract her with Mickey Mouse cartoons, which, according to the Walt Disney Studios, are beloved by children everywhere in the world. “I don’t like this rat! Make it go away!” shouted Polly at regular intervals. Then catching sight, once more, of the emergency exit: “OPEN THAT DOOR! I’M GETTING OUT!”

By Hong Kong we were all beyond exhaustion. “Only three more flights to go,” said Jennifer, attempting to raise our spirits. In their usual contrary manner Bob and Polly quite enjoyed being checked for bird flu at immigration. Indeed, as far as they were concerned, it was the high point of the entire trip.

Jennifer had booked a hotel on the basis of a theory, which she subsequently admitted was delusional, that we could get a few hours sleep before our next flight. Apparently she had forgotten our children’s personal motto: “Sleep is for losers”. While we waited for the hotel bus, Bob and Polly sprinted in circles around our immense pile of bags. It was 3.00 AM local time.

No, they didn’t sleep.

“Why is it so hot in Norway?” asked Bob a few hours later, as we wearily boarded the bus back to the airport for our next flight.

“Actually we’re not quite in Norway yet,” I said gently. “We’re in Hong Kong, where Keith Ng was born. Do you remember Keith?”

“He bought me cake,” said Bob. “Let’s go and visit Keith again. Let’s go back to New Zealand.” And then suddenly sobbing, “IT’S TOO HOT HERE, THIS IS THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE!” Jennifer and I felt disinclined to dispute this.

Two minutes before our arrival at the airport, Bob fell into a deep, coma-like sleep. He lay motionless on the concrete footpath while we offloaded our bags. The bus driver found this astonishing. “I’ve never seen anyone so much asleep before,” he said.

Bob remained completely unconscious as he was lugged with maximum inconvenience through the departure process. It goes without saying that the slight unpacking of our bags at the hotel had somehow caused one of them to become 300 grams overweight, which necessitated ten minutes of repacking at the counter; and which, of course, resulted in catastrophic failure of the hinges of the other bag.

Tight-lipped with anger and frustration we joined the huge security queue. By now it felt like Bob was made of uranium; an immense patch of dribble crept slowly over my shoulder and down the front of my shirt. Polly was weeping inconsolably. Jennifer looked as though she wanted to join her. The cuts on my lips were still oozing blood.

Bob awoke, suffused with energy, as soon as we had passed through security.

The plane to Frankfurt was like a bad movie sequel to our Hong Kong flight. Jennifer and I, both convinced that we’d previously been saddled with the more horrible child, mutually agreed to a trade. Jennifer lost out. It transpired that the wonderful people at Lufthansa had programmed a couple of ESA documentaries on the flight entertainment system; Bob watched each of them five times over in rapt attention.

From the other end of the row I could hear the semi-muffled screams of Polly, and the unmistakable sounds of a two-year-old being forcibly restrained from throwing herself from the plane’s emergency exit. I’ve known Europeans critical of the cost of their space programme, but if you ask me it’s worth every bloody penny.

The only drawback to the ESA documentaries was Bob’s desire to share information by out-shouting the commentary in his earphones: “DADDY, DID YOU KNOW THAT CERES MIGHT HAVE LIQUID WATER BENEATH ITS SURFACE?” His observations were, I admit, penetratingly loud in a cabin full of slumbering passengers; but by now I was beyond caring about other people’s sleep.

We arrived in Germany.

A quick customer survey: how satisfied were we with our experience at Frankfurt Airport? Well, you know, I feel moved to make a slight, and very diplomatic, suggestion. Perhaps the airport could have a lane at immigration for parents with young children? Or to put it another way: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU THINKING? WHY HAVEN’T YOU GOT A FUCKING LANE FOR CHILDREN? DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO GO MAD AND START STRANGLING THEIR BABIES? I HATE YOU, YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!

Bob had again reached the end of his tether and lay stomach-down on the floor. He declined (loudly) to be picked up. He declined (very loudly) to walk. I considered the sanity of the many hundreds of weary travellers who surrounded us. I reached the conclusion that they would be unwilling to listen to hours of ear-splitting whining and weeping. We compromised on Bob remaining in his preferred prone position, but holding onto my trouser cuffs, and being dragged along the airport floor.

Bob was dragged along the floor for over an hour, as the queue snaked eight times back and forth in front of the passport control gates. About halfway through, Polly lay down on the floor, grasped Bob’s trouser cuffs, and was dragged along behind him as well. When we eventually arrived at the passport counter our children arose to reveal their clothing black with dirt.

We were quite a while at Frankfurt Airport, with an amusing last minute sprint to another terminal when we discovered that the wrong information had been printed on our tickets. Then we boarded the flight to Oslo—which, after the first few moments, I mentally dubbed the “fight club” plane. Jennifer and I have agreed never to talk about the fight club plane. Indeed, ever since it happened we have both been trying to erase our children’s behaviour from our memories.

But worse was to come. In the security queue at Oslo airport Bob finally snapped. He engaged in a full-scale temper tantrum. And yes, a six year old having a tantrum is not a pretty sight; and yes, the other passengers were no doubt fully justified in wondering what sort of parents would raise such a child. This was the moment, I regret to say, when I finally understood why parents want to beat their offspring. Only a vague recollection of Norway’s progressive child-abuse laws prevented me from enacting the violent fantasises that suddenly filled my head.

Polly fell asleep as soon as we boarded the next plane. We emerged at Trondheim Airport almost delirious with exhaustion. Polly still fitfully slumbering; Bob sullen and tear-stained; my face still swollen and seeping blood. Jennifer investigated the transport options and found a bus that would transport us to the town centre.

In our hotel, Bob collapsed on the bed, unconscious in mere moments. Polly was tucked beneath her blankets without waking. It was early evening. Bright sunlight illuminated the room. The streets outside thronged with people; buskers were playing beneath our windows. We slept.

I awoke an hour before midnight. Bright sunlight still streamed into the room; the streets were still filled with people; the buskers played on.

I awoke at 3.30 AM. Trondheim was as beautiful and sunshine-drenched as before, but the streets were empty. It was as if the entire populace had suddenly been abducted. In Canterbury I’d have judged it time for morning tea. How odd it seemed that no-one was outside in such bright sunny weather.

This is a pleasant change from midwinter in Dunsandel, I thought, as I drifted back to sleep.


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.


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.