The place where my flat used to stand is now a zen garden. It was here, on the second floor, that I braced myself in the doorway as the ground shook itself from a slumber. The building, in Cashel St, was hidden so deeply behind the cordon that I don’t actually know when it was pulled down. Not that it really matters. Now that the fences are down, I can ride around town with impunity. Some enterprising guerrilla gardeners saw the empty site of gravel and jazzed it up with minimal fuss. It’s a quiet, ponderous, beautiful, spot made even more emotional for me by my personal connection.
September the 4th is a weird anniversary. The bigger quake, the moment of terror that started the whole sequence – but also the silent, peaceful shake. In retrospect, a clear warning that we should have heeded – but at the time, a sense that we had dodged a bullet. As the recent shakes centred in Seddon have shown, we are people who frighten quickly before settling back into a routine of negligence and complacency.
It is a resigned, almost apologetic anniversary. Many – most? – Cantabrians got on with their day without stopping to think about it at all. My dad admitted that it hadn’t even crossed his mind until he saw it on the six o’clock news. In time, it will probably fade away until it is only remembered in the occasional pub quiz. Greendale Fault, 7.1, 4:35am, September the 4th, 2010.
Resigned and apologetic – the mood of the day could sum up the mood of the city quite well. The recovery proceeds at a glacial pace. Cantabrians are fighter harder than ever – and harder than they should have to – to get a fair deal from the government, even if it does mean a trip to the courts. The retention of the Town Hall – which was in not only the city’s interest, but the country’s interest – was achieved despite an extraordinary campaign waged against it by the ham-fist of the Minister and the poisoned pen of the Press. When it feels like everything is up against you, when your regular route to work changes on a weekly basis, when EQC’s latest IT gaffe is most notable for its routine predictability, it’s hard to achieve a state of zen.
The little garden on the corner of Cashel and Manchester is a good place to escape. Walk across the lot as the deep carpet of pebbles wash around your feet. Spin 360 degrees, contemplate why it is that one building should stay whilst others have already departed. Insurance? CCDU buy-out? Overseas owner? Watch as bewildered drivers crawl their cars through an alien landscape, necks bent over the steering wheel, heads craning up to get a better view. A car might stop at the lights, still running in their pre-quake traffic cycle. In a city where the bizarre has now become routine, this little zen garden is the perfect spot to step back and observe the serenity of the surreal.