Determined to avoid a mid-afternoon collapse due to tiredness, I caught a bus into the city centre of Christchurch to delay sleep until ‘local time’. I must admit, after visiting New Zealand before, with Christchurch being one of my favourite places, I had a morbid curiosity to see the damage for myself. In Hagley Park, I felt transported back to the English spring. The daffodils were out in force, with blossom on the trees and the Camillia all in full bloom.
There was a nip in the air, as I walked from the bus from South Hagley Park to North. There was a schools rugby competition on, and the cricket squares were beginning to be mowed. There was a little damage from the earthquake, although there was some ground works underway. I walked through the Botanic Gardens to the North part of the Park, along the riverside. A sign advised that the River Avon was polluted and stopped people coming in contact with the water, although there were ducks on the water, which looked pretty healthy.
I crossed Rolleston Avenue (27 hours in flight to end up back at home….) to walk into the centre. The Christ Church College – Alma Mater, I believe to Andrew Mertens and Daniel Carter, as well as many other All Blacks, had some scaffolding, but seemed to be fully functioning as a school. Across the road in Worcester Boulevard, the tram line was closed off, Rolleston House and the Arts Centre were fenced off with RSG’s propping up some of the walls. A valiant Cheesemonger and a Bistro was still operating, although on the door there was a certificate from the local council stating that the building was safe for occupancy. That was as far as I could go, however, as the city centre was completely fenced off. What struck me was that less than a block away, life was going on as normal. The multi-storey hospital was fully operational, businesses were carrying on as usual, and homes were undamaged. The earthquake must have been really centralised in on a small area, but in the hotel, there are signs asking us to boil water, that have recently been lifted and asking us to preserve water by being as quick in the shower as possible, as to the east of the city, locals stll don’t have a supply. (I bet those French props will be helping preserve the water.)
I could not feel the buzz of the city like last time though, although billboards and the buses had defiant advertisements from businesses, and student volunteers that they were carrying on as usual and were determined to re-build their Christchurch. Maybe that enterprising can-do spirit demonstrated by their immigrant ancestors, business-as usual where possible, and the advertisements will carry them through. I do hope so.
On my way back, I was cheered up by a visit to Christchurch’s contribution to the World Cup. The fact that they can’t host games is a tragedy, but nothing in comparison to what happened to them in September last year and February. They are determined to take part, however, and have set up a Fan Zone. To me, Wales and Rugby School aren’t the soul of rugby, Christchurch is, with New Zealand the heart. No other country has the same degree of intensity, in defining their national identity in the same way. Dallaglio has recently said the same. Even the cleaning ladies in the hotels know and understand the game and have opinions on who the New Zealand scrum half should be, but also who their opposition’s best player for the position is. There are people in the UK who are not even aware that the third biggest global sporting event is even on.
In Christchurch, they live and breathe rugby, and on every piece of open space there are rugby posts. On site was a history tent, showing how New Zealanders have watched (and listened) to games in their homes, from the start of the last century to today. They are also using the Fan zone to show the ambitious plans to re-build the city centre. There was a tented nightclub, public artworks and the ‘Earth from the Air’ photography exhibition to add to it. There are obviously rugby posts and a big screen to watch the games – watching with friends and making friends from rugby is one of the things I love about the game.
‘I feel the Earth move’ – Carole King – a little insensitive perhaps considering the enormity of what happened.