We got a nudge to the tune of 4.2 in Christchurch yesterday. Alarming if you’re not from around these parts. Less so if already your life has been shaped by the earth moving experience of February 2010. Ireland don’t arrive down here until later today, from Auckland. By then the place will be busy enough. The time to see it however is on a quiet Sunday afternoon when there’s nothing going on.
That’s when a few of us arrived, as an advance party, the day after the Auckland Test. It was grim. Much of the CBD (Central Business District) is closed off still. On a weekday there is lots going on behind the barriers, with diggers and earth movers shifting stuff about the place, but check it out on a Sunday and it’s ghost town stuff.
The proprietor of the hotel I’m staying in, on the outskirts of the CBD, is a Christchurch man born and bred. He built the hotel 30 years ago. It survived the quake and its subsequent shocks with only minor damage. So what’s the future? “Mate I just want to get out,” he says.
It’s like a game of chess here. Commercial interests won’t consider rebuilding on some of the hundreds of lost properties in the city without insurance cover. And insurance companies are still prevaricating on pay outs for those who have already lost everything. In the meantime life goes on in a churn of mixed emotions. If you’re on the right side of town and your home or business is built on solid ground then you see a real future for yourself; if that ground was not so solid and is now a liquefaction site then you’re in trouble. Some reckon it will take another big belt from mother earth to shift the argument one way or the other.
Until that arrives it will be depressing to see the collateral damage on people’s lives and how local and national government respond to it. I’d guess mental health services are a whole lot busier now than they were pre-quake.
In that context the arrival of the Ireland squad isn’t a huge deal. Among local rugby fans there is a resignation that the tourists won’t be able to make the next two Saturdays interesting. So for Cantabrians they will focus on having the ABs play a game here for the first time in almost two years. For the premier rugby city in the country that’s a lifetime of waiting.
Naturally enough then there was a huge turnout for a training session the other day with the All Blacks in Christchurch Boys High School, the top ranked institution in these parts. It was more than a PR spin, and a raft of schools had been invited to send along a few players each. In brilliant winter sunshine the Test stars worked for an hour, breaking the kids (U 18 group) into position-specific groups and working on their technique. The only downside was the security detail which accompanied them.
The All Blacks aspire to be the best in everything they do, so if they want to appear more humble they could start by losing the langers who clear the path before their arrival. People were herded out of the area where the session was to take place as if they represented a grave security threat to the men in black. One clown with an earpiece and a mountain of attitude, having moved one of the schools coaches behind the fence, announced triumphantly that he was “living the dream!” Oh to be tooled up and overlooking the scene from a grassy knoll.
You would imagine the players, who came across really well, would be embarrassed by the outriders that precede their arrival. Well, you’d hope so anyway.