– Governors Bay, Canterbury, New Zealand

Disrupted lives – living with earthquakes. Diary entries from 2-4 July 2011

Saturday 2nd July – today it did not shake – not once! I went to Smiths Mitre 10 and bought some seismic wax, some candles and some super glue. Today I would start mending the treasured broken objects from the June 13th quake. Objects of beauty collected from around the world over many years. I set them all out with the pieces I have been able to locate. The wooden giraffe from Johannesburg, the colourful porcelain and stuffed doll from France but given to me in Seattle, and the Guatemalan birds sent by my dear Colombian friend who lives in Hartford, USA and the little figurine bought by my daughter in an exhibition in Newcastle in 2002, then the quirky carved Mexican man, now with only half a hat.

It feels good to put them back together, rough, no longer as they were but still better than broken, minus a head, minus a tail. The giraffe now has his face, the bird its tail and wing and the fabulous French doll has her topknot head piece.

Today the Press newspaper carried a story front page from a diary entry of Mrs Deans in the 1800’s. She had just experienced a disturbing quake and was writing about it. We are fascinated to read her account. I am reminded of the importance of diary writing.

July 3rd – and we have only had one small quake over the last 48 hours, the quietest period since September 4th 2010, 10 months and now this.

Children are playing peacefully with the farm animals and the blocks, having made an elaborate castle arrangement. Their play vocabulary is still full of earthquakes. Quite nonchalantly one says “If there’s an aftershock, the castle tower, it will tip like this” and then they carry on with the fantasy game. We went walking this afternoon, around the high path from Sandy Beach towards Maori Gardens. As I walk with the two girls, aged 8 and 9, I realise it is my first walk around these steep paths since February. What if there is a sharp jolt. It is sad and annoying to have these thoughts.

Lamb shanks, which have been marinating in red wine and thyme and garlic overnight, have been cooking in the oven for three hours. Garlic parcels baking in thyme and olive oil give a comforting aroma through the house. It’s so cosy with the fire going and the oven going all afternoon. The Sunday lemon cake as usual has been a success with family and visitors.

3.30am 4th July and we have both been awake for an hour or more. So weird to be awake because is it not shaking, but that’s how it is. I feel incredibly anxious because it’s so calm. I think Mark feels the same way, and many others today have nervously mentioned how quiet it has gone. Mark said tonight, “It feels like the beast has stopped tormenting us” and I think “and now we’re feeling lost because the routine of torment has disappeared.”

For me I have been revisited by the terror of February 22nd tonight. Sleeping here in the window seat area of the sitting room, the area where I ended up during the quake, brings back the memories. I can’t believe four and a half months have gone by and that we are only just beginning to talk properly with each other about how the quakes have caused havoc with our relationship. We talked about it tonight and Mark likened it to wartime when someone came back from the front and tried to connect with their old lives and found it so hard. There are so many stories of people, especially men, withdrawing and not sharing these war time experiences with the partners or the children.

Mark talked a bit tonight about how he felt when he exited the Provincial Chambers on that terrible day. He said he feels guilty now that he didn’t notice the Durham Street church was down and that he didn’t even think about people being in it. So many lives lost in seconds of terror, those organists all gathering in their lunch hour to work out how to save the organ in this church, already so damaged by the September quake, their fatal error to be in there at that moment.

I find the city clocks fascinate me, frozen at their different times. The east, the west and the south faces of the old railway clock stuck on 10.30 am from the Boxing Day shock which hit close by, and the north face stopped on 4.35 as a memorial to the Sept 4th 4.35 am quake. The Mayor and Mayoress had proudly been present and had reactivated the clock to run again following the September quake. It had ticked on until 26th December 10.30am where it has remained frozen in time. And then to the Victoria Street Clock Tower – it stands still frozen in memory to 12.51 February 22nd, sadly broken and fragile buildings around it either demolished or in the process of. The Arts Centre clock, it too stuck on 12.51 and now it is stuck on nothing because on June 13th the face fell out. There is just a cavity now, a city frozen in time like a children’s fairy tale, but without the possibility of a fairy tale ending. No prince can ride by and through his actions cause the city to wake again, the clocks to wind forward in time and start ticking again.

A prince did drop by and speak words of comfort to a dazed crowd gathered in the park at the last of summer, but he could offer no magic.

This story is an extract from an unpublished manuscript written by Rosie Belton between 4 September 2010-22 February 2012. Read more of Rosie Belton’s writing here

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