– Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

Repair number 3

We have our first project control meeting at 8am. We find out that when Builder 2 built our foundation, he embedded a conduit for a fibre optic company that was not our provider, into the concrete. Different companies use different conduits. That means the fibre for the company we are with can’t go through that conduit and will have to go in through a vent in the hebel wall.

Spring comes with a rush – warm days, and delicate blossoms, with splashes of vivid yellow daffodils. Clouds of pine pollen from Bottle Lake Forest fall in great yellow drifts, fine as dust. We head into town on a recommendation and go out for dinner with friends. It is a gorgeous winter’s evening and great to see so many people back in town. We have a great time.

Our project manager (at our request), e-mails a weekly update. Things are going well. We start to relax. I think of the 46m long neon artwork on the wall of the Arts Centre. The large letters are each a different colour. It practically shouts EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. One of the letters is no longer lit up. It makes me smile.

The City Council publishes results of a regular wellbeing survey. 64% of homes have been or are in the process of repair, 30% are resolved, 22% are concerned about the quality of repair, 10% are taking action to resolve poor repairs and 6% are repairs of repairs.

We have a repair of a repair of a repair. It has been 3 years since we moved out of home. We have been renting all of that time and our possessions are still mostly packed in boxes in the garage.

My sister’s partner has had a bad year health wise. After four operations to remove two massive kidney stones he has to have another one to remove an infection in the stump of the leg he had amputated following a vehicle accident in his teens. My sister is again flying from Sydney (where she works) to Cairns (where he lives) to look after him. It is very wearying and worrying.

I am clenching my teeth while I sleep, which is giving me earache. Massage every fortnight is relieving this and helping me sleep. The masseuse says I have to find peace as the focus on our repair for such a long time is no good for my health. I need to relax, and just let things play out.

Our chimney has never been scoped as part of our insurance claim. I request this is added, but this is rejected by our Loss Adjuster as he can’t find a photo of it on our file. He has checked Google Earth 2014 and can not see a chimney. He does not think to look at Google Earth prior to the earthquakes when we actually had a chimney. It makes me laugh.

I send him photos pf our chimney and a link to Google earth 2011 where our chimney is plan to see. The Loss Adjuster is lovely, and accepts the amendment and asks the Quantity surveyor to price it.

My mother’s cousin Alan is in the Dominion Post on 10 September. Robert Holland Taylor (my great grandfather), soldier 25/915 was 22 when he joined the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, on 12 October, 1915. When he sailed for Egypt four months later, on the steamship Ulimaroa, he listed Lucy Taylor –his wife of barely two years –as next of kin. His one-year-old son Charles is Allan’s dad.

In February 1919, after three bloody years on the Western Front, Bert – his sleeve bearing two wounded stripes -came home. Allan says “To a certain extent, I think my grandfather’s life ended when the war ended. Despite his intelligence and ability, he was a man without any ambition. Whether the war had knocked it out of him, I don’t know. As long as he could get a game of bowls and had his pipe and could tell stories, he was just content. His brother was a company director and yet my grandfather –I think something disappeared. He wasn’t worried about the present. He lived in the past.

There was scarcely a conversation when it didn’t come up. If it was raining, Bert would say “By jove it rained on the Somme for the three weeks we were there”. A swamp would transform into the sodden ground of Passchendaele, in which many a wounded man drowned. He’d recall napping in an abandoned trench, only to find in the morning that German scouts had the same idea. Or they were piling the dead as temporary trench protection, anticipating an advance, only to be holed up for weeks, steeped in the stench of decaying flesh.”

Bert went on to fight at Passchendaele in 1917, where shrapnel cut a hole in his left shoulder. He should have died but hitched a ride to a field hospital, attaching himself to the back of the truck, in case he lost consciousness. He came to 12 days later in a hospital in Walton-on-Thames, near London, in Britain. There is a photo of him in the hospital bed.

I think of my dad who died last year of lung cancer at the age of 77. He was evacuated from Guernsey during the second world war. Without that war I wouldn’t be alive. I remember telling him that he Christchurch earthquakes and its aftermath have left the city looking like it had been bombed, like a war zone, but without the bullets. My dad always refused to go back home following the war. He was a refugee, but his home was here.

We are refugees in luxury – we are renting a nice house that our insurance company pays for. We have to be patient and we have to wait. There are so many people worse off than us.

The February 2011 earthquakes have taken lives, many lives, and more would have been lost if it were not for the September 2009 earthquakes, as so many dangerous buildings were red zoned.

I think of the people who died in the Christchurch earthquake, and of their families, and hope that they do not live in the past, but can see the present, and look forward to the future.

Terry’s sister calls. She has (luckily) had a mammogram which (unluckily) found breast cancer. She is booked in for a 12-hour double mastectomy. As her aunt has survived breast cancer, and her mum Diane died of uterine cancer, there is a genetic risk to Terry and his brother for prostate cancer. It seems a cruel irony that the genetic code that ignites life is the same one that can extinguish it.

It’s the school holidays. I meet a friend that I haven’t seen for ages, and we walk through the Botanic Gardens into town. You cannot beat Christchurch on a warm spring day. The tulips lift their white, soft pink, chick yellow and blood red heads above bedding plants of purple or orange. It’s like a fireworks display, but better.

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