Three hours ago, I was just about to hit “publish” on a frivolous blog post when the lateral fault under Christchurch groaned into life, rendering everything else a bit beside the point.
I am hoping that PA’s South Island correspondents will chime in once they’ve made sure everyone is in one piece and had a chance to have a cup of tea with LOTS OF BRANDY IN IT. Or if the power is still out and there's no camping stove to hand, just start with the brandy. (It's what my dear old Christchurch-raised Nana would have done).
Watching the news roll in, via a flock of tremulous tweets, was uncanny. Once again, bite-sized reports from wired citizens were running around the world before the mainstream media had even got its boots on.
Thankfully, and barring any late developments, it seems the major damage is to property. Nerves too, of course.
And also possibly to the Cantabrian reputation for civic order, if the rumours of looting are to be believed. Looting? Surely they mean luting. This is Christchurch we’re talking about.
Amid the early uncertainty, I found myself having a wee Arthur Dent moment.
…every being in the universe is tied to his birthplace by tiny invisible force tendrils composed of little quantum packets of guilt. If you travel far from your birthplace, these tendrils get stretched and distorted. This compares with an ancient Arcturan Proverb “However fast the body travels, the soul travels at the speed of an Arcturan Mega-Camel.”
This would mean, in these days of hyperspace and Improbability Drive, that most people’s souls are wandering unprotected in deep space in a state of some confusion; and this would account for a lot of things.
Similarly, if your birthplace is actually destroyed, or in Arthur Dent’s case demolished - ostensibly to make way for a new hyperspace bypass - then these tendrils are severed and flap about at random. There are no people to be fed or whales to be saved; there is no washing up to be done. And these flapping tendrils of guilt can seriously disturb the space-time continuum.
Yes, flapping tendrils of guilt and memory and concern, waving about all over the place. I didn’t grow up in Christchurch, but I did a lot of growing up there. At varsity, my geologist friend Steven always said to forget Wellington, that Christchurch would be next. This was a good two decades ago, but it turns out he was right, and our tipsy scoffing at his undergrad seismic "expertise" was wrong.
Thing is, I learned earthquake drills at kindy in the Hutt Valley, forgot them in Auckland, joked about them in Christchurch, and then moved to Tokyo -- where I was grateful for that early pragmatic training in instant response.
In Tokyo, I had cause to brace myself under a sturdy steel desk a couple of times. One huge shake happened just after midnight. The next day I asked my ten-year-old students if it had woken them. “Woke us? Nah!” But it had interrupted their Nintendo and their homework.
The local wisdom was that if you felt the room rocking from side to side, you should fit yourself in a doorway or under a sturdy piece of furniture, and just go with the sway until it stopped. If, on the other hand, you felt the floor moving upwards underneath you, you should reflect on what a nice life you had had up to that point, and hastily make your peace with your deity, or lack thereof.
It was also said that after the Big One, the city would be full of disoriented Tokyo-ites making their way home along the train lines, as that was the only way most of them knew the city and its directions. This I found a strangely moving testimony to the force of habit, and the power of a good public transport system.
After acclimatising to living in a massive city on a massive faultline, it was rather terrifying to land in London and see all those chimney pots, precariously poised like certain death over the heads of the unconcerned citizens wandering the streets in happy ignorance of the impending Blitz overhead. One half-decent shudder and it would have been good night, Mary Poppins. It took me some time to abandon the anxious habit of constantly scanning for where one might hide if the earth abruptly started moving.
And now after a decade and a half in New England, I have completely unlearned the trick of standing upright. People just do it, here; there’s no wobble, ergo, no trick.
It’s not that there haven’t been a number of random civil emergencies of one sort or another while we’ve been living here. I know how to duct-tape the windows shut, where to get Cipro, why to avoid Times Square. But the ground beneath my feet, compacted by a mile-high glacier during the last ice age, is unnaturally firm.
That’s a good thing, right? Then why does it feel so bloody precarious?
Those of you in earthquakey zones (g'morning, Wellington) are presumably revising your survival kits and emergency plans. The rest of us, how can we help, and what should we do?
Kia kaha, Otautahi. Stand firm, albeit wobbly-kneed.