How to understand this blog

Monday, September 27, 2010

how to:

Tonight I made This:

I have a smallish-medium sized jewellery collection that I just don't use. It's really sad. I've figured out that it's because I keep it all smushed together in a box and so I don't even remember what it is that I have.

First step in fixing this: An earring holder.

A shoebox lid + pretty paper from one of my favourite shops, Trade Aid + glue + a nail to poke holes = and there you have it! I am quite happy with it, actually a little too proud of it, so this is why I am displaying it on here, almost immediately.

In a quaking update, we have now had over 1000 earthquakes in Christchurch, over the last three weeks. The first one was the big one, the aftershocks vary in size and depth. This morning our entire church building was shaken by a relatively small 3.6 and a 4.1, but the epicentre was only a few blocks away - an interesting experience. Who knows how long they'll keep coming? They're still interesting to talk about with every single person you meet, but they're becoming second nature to me now.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

our very own installation artwork

A few days ago, we woke up to find that during the night some charming specimen of humanity had decided to chuck a bucket-full of paint over our fence. White paint was splattered all over our deck, some of the fence and also on the house itself.

This is partly ironic because I'd been feeling really positive about humanity in the few weeks leading up to this. I'd forgotten that Neanderthals still exist.

We rang our landlords as soon as we realised, figuring they would want to know. 'Do you want us to have a go at it?' we asked, knowing that five girls had no chance against sticky white paint.

'No, no,' they replied. 'We'll come round straight away.'

To be fair to them, they are absolutely fabulous and it's not every landlord that would care about their own property and their duty to their tenants the way they do. Every problem we've ever had with the house has been sorted out in record time.

It's just that when they came round, they brought with them a waterblaster to attack the paint with, and they proceeded, basically, to blow the paint from its existing spots to all other spots that hadn't already got paint on them.

Now we have white paint splashed all over our vegetables; the vegetables we've been growing all winter in the hopes of one day eating them and which have only just become edible and which are now, all, inedible. The rosemary we've been growing for over a year is covered in paint. The little miniature rose, planted in my favourite favourite pot is also now covered in paint.


Monday, September 20, 2010


It's spring! My favourite time of year (narrowly beating autumn). Two weeks ago I took my nieces to the Botanic Gardens, which are currently radiant. We danced around the band rotunda singing songs from Mary Poppins, made daisy chains, and skipped around the masses of daffodils. I go a little silly in springtime.

It reminds me of getting back from the UK last year. I wasn't all that eager to return, but once I was here again - at the beginning of October at the last gasp of spring - I fell in love with my hometown once again. I remember walking down the road to my sister's house smelling all the flowers and the cleanness, and, as ridiculously idyllic as this sounds, listening to birds chirruping in the trees, feasting themselves silly. There was a slightly overwhelming brightness to everything. Europe can be quite dim, even in sunlight, but the sunlight here is so raw and cheerful. (It's probably because we have a depleted ozone layer, and therefore have to be very careful to sunblock-up. Still, it's very pleasant.)

I love the turning of the seasons. Constant change, rediscovering the familiar.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

mental health weekend

Escaping to Dunedin for the weekend was a really good decision, it turns out.

I bused down on Friday.

It's a five hour trip which only becomes interesting in the last hour or so when you get to the coastline. This was a very wobbly photo I took.
Got into Dunedin at about 2pm and hung around at the Dunedin Railway Station (above) for a while until my sister finished work. It was a beautiful sunny day, and everything would have been perfect if I could only have found a café. I sat outside with my bags reading From Russia With Love in the sun (which, by the way, is racy in an incredibly old-fashioned, sexist way - but I still had to find out what happened).

My sister V. is married with three kids between the ages of eight and thirteen. They are an awesome family and it was so good to see them again. I also happen to love their house - it's around the Otago peninsula a bit, at the top of a hill, right next to a park with an amazing view of the harbour. They have the most lovely dog, Oscar, as well as a cat called Mufasa, both of whom make me wish that I had a dog and a cat.

When we got there, V., my eldest niece and I went for a walk with Oscar. Dunedin is awesome because it's a city (smallish but still a city) but it's almost like the wilderness is right next door. The wildlife is prolific - sea lions, all manner of birdlife including penguins and falcons, occasinally whales, etc - and there are tons of green green hills.
That evening, V., her husband and I watched Boy, which has just come out on DVD. This is the latest/greatest Kiwi film, directed by Taika Waititi. It's set in the 80s in a tiny community in the North Island and it's about a little boy who is a huge fan of Michael Jackson. It's one of those movies which half the time has you laughing and the other half makes you want to cry. I recommend it highly. Highlights in it were the performances of the children, and their ne'er-do-well father, played by Waititi.

On Saturday, my sister decided to take me to visit Broad Bay China Shop, along with my sister R. who also lives in Dunedin and my niece. I thought this was a strange decision given my current state of earthquake-apprehension. I couldn't drive around Dunedin without audibly wincing at all the tall, old, unstable brick buildings with huge chimneys. So a shop full of breakables wasn't going to be particularly distracting.

It was, however, a good decision. Broad Bay is a short drive around the harbour in a cute wee area, and Broad Bay China is one of the coolest shops I have ever been to. Bursting with china and so many other things, it would undoubtedly be a disaster zone in an earthquake, but nevertheless, it is AWESOME.
Besides the little building you can see in the photo above, there are at least three other rooms jampacked with china, vintage lace, jewellery, clothing, and much much more. There is expensive stuff and there is also stuff that is incredibly affordable and also tempting. I bought stuff and V. bought me a birthday present, and altogether I returned to Christchurch with:
- three saucers with the most beautiful blue and white painted design which I am going to hang on my wall someday.
- a little mug with Big Ears (from Enid Blyton's Noddy books) painted on it.
- salt and pepper shakers that look like toad stools.
- a painted tile which I will use as a hot plate.
My precious...

This Saturday fast became one of my top Saturdays when we stopped in soon after at Broad Bay cemetery. This tiny cemetery is balanced on a little peninsula, which juts out only a little further (pictured below) with huge pine trees surrounding it. I LOVE CEMETERIES AND I LOVE BROAD BAY CEMETERY. I'd put it in my top ten so far.
That night, V. and family took me up to a secret (okay, not secret but not exactly famous) location up the valley where the Leith River flows. We took torches and raincoats and climbed up a gully until we found glow-worms!! It was an amazing experiential moment, standing in a tight little riverbed gazing up above at the dark lushness of the trees and ferns and the slightly less dark sky, with shining little lights like candles speckled around us in the darkness. I felt like huddling down in a sleeping bag and just watching all night.

On Sunday we went to church in the morning. V. and family attend a lovely little church which always seems so happy and enthusiastic. Good refreshment.

In the afternoon, V. and the kids took me to the beach. It was another beautiful day - I cannot help but mention that Dunedin is not known for good weather two days in a row - so despite the still refreshing winds and still-freezing water we were happily paddling and removing outer layers.
While the boys made dams, V., niece and I went for a walk along the beach with Oscar, who is the most charming dog ever known, past people on horses, past surf lifesavers practising, past more and more dogs who all wanted to play...
... then back to the boys where we too mucked around on the beach with sand and water... Lovely.

On Monday morning I caught up with my sister R. again and then went shopping in Dunedin town before catching my bus home. Great weekend. Much needed.

And now I am back at university, trying to get back into the swing of things. There are huge cracks in the plaster walls on our floor, but we have been assured by the VC that 'all the cracks you may come across have been seen by structural engineers and the buildings are perfectly safe'. Well, fingers crossed!

Thursday, September 9, 2010


The last week has been so entirely strange.

I loathe looters, and despair about humanity, and then feel incredibly uplifted to hear about some of the stuff going on, the best being brought out among the people of Christchurch.

I don't mind the aftershocks (over 300 so far), and almost find them exhilarating, in a way, and then feel terrible for feeling that way, given the effect they're having on our buildings, our ability to progress out of the emergency phase, and, just as important, the already-shattered nerves of so many people.

There's another kind of exhilaration - surviving something that could have been so catastrophic, being on the spot - at the same time as a sorrow at the hardship many people are experiencing right now.

It was announced today that we don't need to boil our water for three minutes before drinking anymore - yay! But now that I've got used to boiling, I still feel nervous drinking water straight from the tap - this is a tragedy because Christchurch water is beautiful, pure water and now my faith in it has been ruined. Let's hope temporarily!

I feel really worried about my mid-term future. I was hoping to finish my thesis by October. However, although the university will be able to open its buildings again by the 15th, we will not be able to use the library for the rest of the semester. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to deal with that. But at the same time this just seems so minor; I mean, if this is the worst that's happened for me, I'm really pretty lucky. So it's a weird balance.

I feel guilt. I've been babysitting for my siblings while their normal childcare centres have been closed, and I'm so glad I've been able to be useful in that sense. On Wednesday my flatmate and I delivered a few food parcels. But I decided not to go and help out all the hundreds of other students shovelling silt in the worst-affected areas because I had hurt my arms just before the first earthquake and don't want to cause further damage. Probably sensible. But I can't help feeling like a big wuss who is sitting round doing easy stuff while others are doing practical getting-hands-dirty stuff. And I decided to go down to Dunedin for the weekend to take advantage of this forced thesis-inactivity and see some of my family, but I feel incredibly guilty for skipping town.

Meanwhile, the aftershocks are still going, the condemned buildings are falling/being destroyed, and the expected bill is multiplying. I feel like I need to write poetry, but I'm not good at it, and would just get depressed at my lack of skill in making depressing subject matter lyrical.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

still shaking

It's weird watching the quake that woke me up a couple of nights ago - our power instantly went off and so it was pitch black and that was the scary thing about it, but in this video you can actually see it, and it looks a lot bigger than I had thought.

Aftershocks still going; two last night were really big (but I wouldn't know because I slept through them!). I'm torn - a terrified friend of mine wants to leave town and stay with family down south, but is too scared to drive by herself, and so I'm thinking about going with her and staying with family in Dunedin. But at the same time, I'm perfectly fine and don't seem to be affected by the quakes and so it seems like I should stay and do what I can to help. At the moment, that is to provide childcare for my sister and her husband whose daycare is closed but who are in demand at the hospital as doctors. I've also rung up the university to add my name to their database of potential volunteers for the clean-up - from these photos published in the NZ Herald, it looks like it'll be a massive job. (My cousin's work desk is right in the middle of the 15th photo - hooray that the earthquake hit at 4.35am!)

We are SO LUCKY in this country to have such amazing, efficient emergency services and public servants and people-who-prepare-for-stuff-like-this. As the extent of the damage becomes clear, I can't believe that 95% of the city has had power for the last couple of days.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

earthquake woz here

I love this photo from the air which I saw on the news - it's like a little signature the quake decided to leave.

For an absolutely hilarious quake-related photo, look here.

The weird thing about this weekend has been the contrast. Since power came back and we got to see the news and hear if people were okay through facebook, it's been clear that our side of town got off very lightly while others did not. Which is weird because, being on the west side of town, we're actually closer to the epicentre of the quake, but it's the eastern coastal side which has been hardest hit.

There are clues. The roads near my dad's house have been ripped up a bit but not approaching the extent of some roads elsewhere in the city. There are funny little mud volcanoes appearing - something to do with "liquefaction", I am told:

In my area, the roads seem absolutely fine. We hardly saw any visible damage, and there's nothing like the mud volcanoes near Dad's. We did notice that our fence seems to have buckled a bit, and a few of the planks broken, as the earth twisted beneath it:

But it's really quite tame. I know that at least one wedding went ahead yesterday, while today people are holding open homes or going about their normal daily business, and everything's strangely normal except that people are buying up on petrol, bread and water, and that the aftershocks are still going, at least a couple every hour.

The university is closed for a week for repairs. I'm really quite lucky that this is the greatest of my worries, but I can't help feeling annoyed. I was building up quite some mental momentum, aiming to work extra-extra-hard on my thesis, but I left most of the stuff I needed in my office at uni, and now won't be able to do it. Enforced holiday, I suppose!

Update: Okay, just saw pictures/videos of some of the quake damage at uni - I GET IT. Clean up is needed. Very, very much. Our poor, poor library.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

newsflash from your special correspondent

This morning at 4.35am we were awoken by an earthquake - 7.2 on the Richter scale, so I hear - and you can see photos of some of the damage in Christchurch and surrounds here.

We all got up, found candles and torches and swept up some smashed glass, while the aftershocks continued, one of them itself was a rather large 5.7 on the Richter. Eventually we were worried to hear nothing from one flatmate, A., after text messages and calling through her wall, so went outside to knock on her door, only to wake her up. She'd slept through the entire thing!

So for us it was a few smashed glasses, a bit of mess in our rooms if stuff fell down, and the wooden fence around our property is buckled and snapped in a few places.

From information I received in text messages from friends, some of the damage has been much worse than ours, especially in the north-east part of town:

- my flatmate's brother's house fell down. After he got out. Thank God. A lot of other buildings have been partially or even fully destroyed.
- the city streets are full of rubble.
- the history building in which I study is closed, as the stairs have moved away from the wall. Windows have blown out in the university library.
- my friend's piano fell over, and her furniture moved around her room.
- in Darfield, the small town where some of my friends live which is closest to the epicentre, people were thrown from their beds. I haven't heard from my friends, but assume from the news that they are okay.
- bridges are broken, sewage stations damaged, roads ripped up, someone had to be pulled from a hole in the road when their car went in.

Thankfully the damage in human terms has not been large. There are a couple of serious injuries but no deaths, despite a large number of buildings falling down. We have been very, very lucky. Also the fact that it was in the early morning must have prevented a lot of damage.

The aftershocks are still going and are expected to continue for the next couple of days. It's an absolutely beautiful spring day but the world keeps wobbling. It's very strange.

Power came back on at about 9am for our part of town, but we are still supposed to be careful with water usage. The cellphone towers only have an hour or so left of battery power. The hilarious thing is that my flatmate R. only last night mocked me for being cautious, as I have been storing water in spare bottles since the start of the year. Hooray for irony and personal minor triumphs!

Update, 3:19pm:

I just can't believe the damage that has been done. It doesn't seem real to see these familiar places just gutted. This earthquake has just been so destructive, though our house has escaped any major problems. I'm starting to realise how large the effects of this quake will be on the city. It's really sad to think of the central city; I don't know how it will possibly be how it should be again. It's sadder to think of the people whose homes have been ruined.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Typical. Just typical.

I've been looking through my photos of years past (I wrote that because it sounds good but hardly because I expect to look at photos of years to come), and came across these photos of the beautiful Church of the Holy Innocents in Peel Forest, where my family and I spent Christmas a few years ago. We spent some time wandering round the graveyard, because that's what we like to do, and I took a photo of the gravestone, pictured below, of "Edith Ngaio Marsh" because the name sounded familiar.

I forgot all about this. But in the past few years I've picked up a Ngaio Marsh detective novel or two, and if only I'd read the books when I found her grave completely by accident, I could have got all fangirlish and excited. Now I have to settle for getting slightly excited and fangirlish looking at a photo I took once upon a time.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

beginnings and ends

This is a photo of a beginning of something:

It graces this quarter's issue of Halfway Down the Stairs - 'Beginnings and Ends' - which is a website that you should definitely visit, browse, read, etc. September's HDtS is full of fabulous poetry, fiction and nonfiction - I can say that with confidence because I've read it all!

Of the fiction, I love 'Ashes' by Jennifer Marie Brissett, which is as fine and restrained a portrait of an ending as I can imagine, and 'Knitter's Corner' by Suzanne Marie Hopcroft. I also think 'Roman, Explorer' by Peter Hajinian is hilariously funny.
Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick's nonfiction piece 'Sounds and Fury' is pretty amazing.
And of the poetry, I really enjoyed 'For Keeps' by Sarah Bartlett, 'Fall' by Janeen Rastall, and 'Pebble Round' by Kimberley Keith.

We also welcome two new poetry editors, Ashley Vemuri and Joseph Murphy, which is very very exciting. It's been a while since we had new blood.

Submissions are now open for our December issue, themed 'Silence'.

Edit: Oh, and I almost forgot! Follow us on facebook! If only to minister to our vanity at the number of 'likers' we have.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wellington, je t'aime

I am surprised to see myself write the above - I've never particularly liked Wellington. Too many suits, too many hills, too much wind and rain, too much earthquake potential.

I flew up on Sunday evening with my friend M., also a historian-in-training, and I was fully prepared to get what I could out of the few days in Wellington, but not expecting to enjoy it all that much.

Well, I did.

Perhaps I have had more than I can take of living in a house with five other people. I don't know. But there was a real luxury to staying at a mere backpackers:

Nomads Capital Wellington. A room to myself, a bathroom of my own, NO MICE. Waking up in the morning, wandering out the door onto a dignified central city street, meandering past Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester on my way to find coffee.

Speaking of coffee, Wellington has a reputation for the good stuff. It has a higher number of cafés, per capita, than cities like New York and so for the cafés to survive the coffee has to be good. Flying up with M., who used to live in the windy city, she was almost salivating at the prospect of it. I was sceptical. Surely you had to have a very refined taste of coffee to be able to tell the difference between all the different cafés?

And then I had breakfast at a Wellington café, and the coffee was everything it was cracked up to be. I could EXIST on that stuff alone. The food, however, was also excellent and the service perfect. I felt luxurious.

Wandering through central Wellington streets, it surprised me how vibrant the city feels. Despite all the suits. It's strange to think that Christchurch is now a bigger city than Wellington, because it just doesn't have the same pulse. I suppose it makes sense given that Wellington is the capital city so it's got all the government jobs and the high-powered atmosphere. Wellington seems more highly strung. It's more like a 'big city'. Christchurch feels like a large rural town, at times.

Another thing that is strange is that Wellington has a fantastic variety of ethnic restaurants, often on the very funky Cuba Street, whereas Christchurch has a more limited variety. Another friend from my university and I were looking for somewhere cheap to eat on Monday night, before I suddenly saw the Malaysian restaurant I was surely fated to eat at. Reasonably cheap, with a menu of food I haven't been able to eat since last time I went to Malaysia - from that point, my friend had little say and we just HAD to eat there. I chose my favourites - masala dosai and roti chanai, with a mango lassi to wash it down - and felt so extremely satisfied with Wellington that walking back to my accommodation in the rain was a pleasant experience. And then sitting in a cosy little cafe reading Agatha Christie, rain streaming down the windows, was the perfect end to a nice day.

Wellington could begin to feel claustrophobic. I come from the wide open vistas of the Canterbury plains, the flatness of Christchurch and the huge sunset sky, whereas Wellington is nestled in among steep hills and even in the flat part of town the buildings seem to swallow up the space above you. For two nights, it's a lot of fun. If the big earthquake does come to Wellington (the city is sitting precisely on the Alpine fault line that runs the length of New Zealand), it would be terrifying.

My purpose in coming to Wellington was to go to a conference being held at Victoria University of Wellington, which sits perched on the side of a steep hill. As sorry as I was not to climb this hill (ha!), it was more tempting to ride the cable car up the hill:

For $1 (student rate), this is a cheap and easy way to get up the hill, and besides that there's a novelty value that makes it much more fun than walking or taking the bus. And you really do feel that you're sitting in a box that is being pulled on a rope up the hill. Weird.

Victoria University of Wellington:
... is a university that by its very existence helps its students get fit. The flat playing field in this picture above is possibly the one flat piece of ground in the entire university. The rest is made up of constant stairs and constant slopes, and there are probably hundreds of mysterious little paths all over the place making their way down the steep, steep hill and between buildings.

The funny thing about the campus is that on the first morning, before I registered for the conference, I wandered around for a while trying to get a good view of the city. But nowhere could I find an unbroken view. It was very strange, given that this university is 2/3 of the way up a very steep hill - but there was always something getting in the way.

Imagine my joy when M. and I went for a walk between conference sessions on the second day of the conference and discovered a little old cemetery on one of the steepest parts of the hill, graves at a ridiculous gradient. You must know by now that I love cemeteries. And this was one of the most romantic of them, hidden away from sight - we even had to climb through a hedge just to get to it!
My joy was even greater, though, when we found that by standing on top of the huge slab of concrete marking the Sisters of Mercy's grave (apologies to the Sisters of Mercy), the wind rushing in our face, we suddenly had an unbroken, wide view of the city, the harbour, and the suburbs disappearing up the valley.

It was exhilarating. One of my favourite moments of the trip.
The conference itself was really fun. I presented at the end of the first day and got a lot of questions which I think is always a good sign, and was followed by someone who was researching a slightly different time and place but who was dealing with very similar concepts. That, I think, was one of the most valuable things about the conference. Even within the history department of a university it's sometimes hard to find people to talk with about the things you're researching who really understand, and so it's very helpful to be given a situation in which you meet the only people in the country who are particularly interested in the same things as you.

The other three from my university who went all did really well, too. And overall I was reminded of all the reasons I've chosen history (although I was also reminded of the types of history I'm not keen on, and the elements of academic life that I'm going to find challenging).
On the final night, I left the conference and went for a wander along the waterfront, and then followed my nose back to the backpackers to pick up my bags. A light dinner in the cafe next door - lamb, haloumi and red capsicum on skewers of rosemary with minted yoghurt for dipping, MMM - followed by a hot chocolate, and then off to the airport and home to Christchurch. Rather a lovely few days.