Today’s the day

We are signing our contract with Southern Response and heading towards a new house.

I feel I should be excited, pleased, something, but to be honest I really can’t be bothered. I have got so used to living like we do, with sloping floors, and liquefaction piling up through the cracks in the foundation and building mini sand dunes under the lounge carpet. Of having cupboard doors which don’t open or don’t stay shut – whatever is the opposite for what you want. Of having two sponges on the end of the kitchen bench to sop up the water before it pours into the rubbish bin.

But now we are on the express train to decisionville.

First of all their people will count up the bits which go into replacing our house as it was on September 3rd 2010 but luckily using current prices. This gives us our rebuild budget.

The engineers will swarm over and investigate the land to see what remediation needs to be done and what fancy foundations will be required. That work and the retaining wall will need fixing. Which comes out of our budget, but the foundations do not.

Meanwhile we work with an architect or building company to come up with a house suitable for our section and land evaluation TC3 – this means pretty damned difficult. In fact we are just points off being red zoned which means unsuitable for use.

And then what door handles, what light switches, what colour walls, carpets, curtains. All those decisions. For someone who since the earthquakes has had terrible trouble making any sort of decision and would rather go without than choose sometimes, this is going to be incredibly difficult.

Possibly why I am not looking forward to the process.

Yes, I should be excited. But I am not.

Maybe once the project is underway and becomes more real.

Maybe not.



Four years ago my home town was hit by a massive 7.3 earthquake. Unbelievably no-one was killed. But the city was damaged.

It was a massive shock. I was woken from a deep sleep with no idea what the hell was happening. The actual quake lasted 30 seconds and I think it took all of that for me to register it was an earthquake. All my energy was concentrating on staying in bed when the house was trying to throw me out.

I remember the noise. It was incredibly loud. It was the earth moving, rumbling and roaring. The house being twisted in all directions. And furniture being flung over. China and glass smashing.

Afterwards silence.

That was almost worst. I could not hear any other people. I was so scared for them. But like me they were just dazed. I was scared. The kids were not.

But it didn’t stop. Aftershocks kept coming. We had no power. The floors were covered in broken glass and china. It was dark. I was cold.

Andrew and I sat huddled together under the door frame in the downstairs hall, away from glass windows and broken glass. The kids sat in the car listening to the radio.

And slowly the day dawned and we realised how lucky we were.

Four years. Who knows how many aftershocks. And of course the deadly 22 February quake which killed 170 people and really did destroy the city.

Four years of living in a house which noticeably drops downhill, where spilled drinks leave juice rivers across the lounge, where the water drains off the kitchen bench into the rubbish bin, where doors don’t open or shut, and where they have been planed allow the cold winter air to course around the house. Four years of a giant crack in the lawn and under the house, of cracks in the foundation slab which makes the house feel cold and damp.

Four years of waiting for our house to be rebuilt. Four years of extra car repairs as the fine liquefaction dust stuck in the driveway shingle causes havoc with all things mechanical. Four years of roadworks, road cones, hi vis, bureaucracy.

Four years of not sleeping, of being so tired most of the time, of feeling like a moaning minnie.

Four years of being alive. A survivor. Of realising that actually possessions don’t matter, but people do.

There is no point wondering what if. This is my life now. I have to live it as best I can.

Christchurch. My home town.

Cover photo – the shops at the corner of my street, less than 100 metres from my house.

Dirty girls

I like it rough. I like it dirty.

And that is why I like cross-country running.

Yesterday’s race was muddy. I had run on the course a few weeks ago and it was wet. I ran again on Wednesday, doing a quick lap in spikes. It was muddy.

And then it rained. For two days straight.

I took my 6mm spikes out and replaced them with longer 9mm ones. A good move.

Yesterday morning I woke up feeling queasy. I actually think it was nerves. Twice now this has happened before a championship race. I had my horse trough sized bowl of porridge, with natural yoghurt and sliced banana on top. And I pottered around. I went to Merivale Mall which was hosting a food tasting market. So many things to try and buy. I had none. Discipline is knowing what you want more than what you want now. I wanted a good race.

Start time was 2:05. Andrew dropped me off just after 1pm and I trudged across the park to our tent. Underneath my puffer jacket, my club fleece, my club dryfit, my merino and my thermal. Beneath the trackpants and running tights there was a lean mean running machine. I kept some of the outerlayers on and did my warm up routine. I ran the course working out the best lines for harer ground. Going wide was the better option as the inside corners were churned mud. The juniors race first.

I did have a momentary panic when using a portaloo and it lurched violently. I thought I was over earthquake stress, but at that moment if I hadn’t just been, I would have crapped myself. I thought there had been a massive earthquake and I was going to die, trapped in a portaloo, drowned in yucky stuff. But no, it was just off its rocker. Freaked me out big time.

It was cold but not as cold as was predicted. There were intermittent rain showers which were better than the snow flurries predicted. And it was time to strip down and check. Singlet. Number. Timing chip. Shoes laced extra tight.

Start time. A big crowd as every woman from 15 years up was running together. Under 20s were running 2 laps of 2k, senior women 4 laps and us oldies were running 6k.

And we were off. I was in the middle of the pack. The first 150m is downhill and I passed a lot of people. I tried to remember not to go out too fast as three laps could be tough. Across the bridge and the first uphill slog. It doesn’t look much but it is deceivingly tough. This year because of the wet conditions the start finish area had moved. This uphill is usually our finishing straight. It was very soft and very wet. I ploughed through and passed a few more. I could see easily I was in third position for masters women. It was where I expected to be. Just hold that spot. Round the bend and downhill for a bit. Use these straights to keep strong but recover. The long two part uphill is coming. Andrew called out “Go Robyn”. Lots of people were calling out to me. Telling me I looked strong. I felt good. I felt strong.

The next uphill. Again sodden and soft. Quite muddy. I picked off a few more runners. Younger girls. A sharp s bend and then the real hill. Thick thick mud. I kept to the left and dug in. This is a strength of mine. I am strong in these conditions. I passed another couple. Round the corner and down hill. Keeping it strong but easy. Across a gravel path and then we weaved through the flax bushes. The choice was slippery mud or slippery mud. It was 100 m of a muddy path. It could all turn belly-up here. I was through. Across the water course, round the corner, the second water course, round the corner and first lap done.

We set off again. I am feeling good. Just keep going. I see Fiona ahead of me. Fiona is five foot nothing of pure running machine. But lately she hasn’t been running as well as previously. I have been hot on her tail a lot recently. I passed her at about 2.5ks. I felt like apologising. She said go girl.

I attacked that second hill again. There were a couple of blue and orange singlets ahead of me. Our junior girls. Again I don’t like to pass them. I think it must be demoralising to be passed by someone older than your mum!

But I did. Sorry, girls. I am having a great day.

Second lap done. Everyone is really cheering me. Giving me good advice. Telling me I was looking strong. Looking awesome. I felt it too.

That last hill though. It was tough. I try not to look behind me in a race but I do use the corners to see who is where. Fiona was coming back. Could I hold her? I dug a little deeper even though my kegs were a bit tired. Less than 1k to go. I glanced back as I crested the hill and rounded the bend. She was about 80m back. I had this. I flew.

Across the line. Second masters woman (over 35) and first over 50. A nice visit to the top of the podium. I am beginning to like the view from up there.

But I felt good. I have a training plan. I have an eating plan. I had a race plan. And they all came together.

My legs were caked mud from top of my socks to bottom of my shorts. It took some scrubbing to get them clean. I imagine my shoes and race gear will take some scrubbing too.

Now it is Sunday. My medals are hung. My day of glory gone. Back to the training plan, and even though it is dark, cold and I hear rain, the plan says 25k.

So be off.

Bob the Builder

10 weeks ago I had a plan, a slate roof tile off the Christchurch Cathedral and four lengths of manky 4×2.

I was standing in this dusty shabby room with six other newbies while a couple of “experts”, looking highly competent and able, industriously worked on wine racks and drawer units.

Somehow today I brought home this. A coffee table featuring my slate tile as an inset centrepiece.


The roof tile was a gift to Andrew and me about five years ago. The Cathedral Chapter had to re-roof the cathedral and decided to sell the tiles to recover some of the costs. Post earthquake the ruined Cathedral crumbles away in the square. I found the slate tile when sorting out a cupboard. It needed to be used somewhat significantly.

The timber has been recycled from someone’s house. Someone’s home. Destroyed by the earthquake. Demolished by Cera. I don’t know where it came from but I am pleased to give it another life.

When I first cut it to length and fed it through the thickness planer I loved how the mankiness was stripped away to reveal the hidden beauty of rimu and kauri. I used the rimu laminated together for the table top. The sturdy kauri became the four legs.

I feel quite confident myself using a variety of powertools, though the skill saws still scare me slightly. But the planers, the router and the sanding machines, even the biscuit joiner – no worries, mate.

Yes, there were cock ups along the way. But they are how only visible to my own critical eye. And actually I think they add to the rustic charm.

I still need to glue the slate down in the recess. The legs need to be unscrewed and then glued and using longer screws re-attached to the table top. Finally I need to seal and finish it so we can use it as it was designed to be used. A coffee table. Not evidence that Bob (what my boys call me) is having a mid-life crisis.

My course ended tonight. I said good bye to Bruce the tutor. Some people will have to return next term to finish their projects. But my father is really looking forward to helping me finish mine. He has made a couple of pieces of furniture in our lounge. I can’t wait to add my own creation to the collection.

I am feeling pretty chuffed. And so relieved it sits flat and solid on the floor!

Marathon number 20 – I think

I woke this morning at 3am. A little cold. Needing to pee. And wondering which snorer I would smother first – the husband or the cat. I chose to read my book instead, and let them live for another night.

By 6am I was up starting my pre-race routine of two strong cups of coffee, two bits of gluten free toast with peanut butter and squished banana. And hopefully enough visits to the toilet to empty all systems.

Just after 7am I woke the snorer who could drive and he took me to my friend’s house, within walking distance of the start/finish line of the Christchurch Marathon.

It was -2 degrees.

We went for a short warm-up then wearing just our race clothes we walked to the start. I was running in my usual club singlet and shorts. I had a kiddie’s polyprop on as a top layer and some mismatched mittens and a throwaway beanie.

I met a number of people I knew before the start. It was not long before we were called to the start line. We found other runners from our club and lined up with them. It was cold. But the air was still, the sky clear and the sun was shining brightly. Another brilliant winter’s day in Christchurch.

The pre-race briefing warned us that there was ice on the route. I realised systems weren’t quite as empty as I had hoped. Too late. We were off.

I have to admit I felt uncomfortable and looked for any tree or something I could dive behind, but with the full marathon, half-marathon and 10k all starting together there were a lot of spectators.

My club members had all agreed we would run our own race. So even though I was with them I did not feel tempted to talk.

1k down. We turn onto McLeans Island Road and there is the brilliant vista of snow clad mountains in the distance. The sight of three turquoise portaloos was even better. Dammit! They are all occupied. I waste about 2minutes here but the relief is worth it.

My club mates have gone ahead. I run my own race. Pace is a little faster but I feel relaxed. I tossed my polyprop at the start and I am starting to feel warm.

4k done. I start to see the first 10k runners heading back.

5k and the 10k turnaround. This is always run by our club. High fives. A few slaps on the back. And encouragement. I drop my hat and gloves. First water stop and my water is frozen.

We set off around the back of the airport and turn up a side street which is lined with trees.

Ice! Very slippery. I choose to run on the grass. It is harder underfoot but I am faster because I am not scared of arsing over.

8k and the half marathoners peel off to run their loop. More people I know. Vic and I were having a slightly risque email exchange yesterday which ended with him called me a tease and me calling him a cock. As I ran past him, he grinned. “Tease.” Right back at you with “cock”.

On towards Yaldhurst Road, more ice. Robbie’s old hockey club are on drinks here. More people I know. Down Pound Road and there is my brother in law out the front of his lifestyle block with Ugly, his pet sheep.

Ryans Road and here is Sam Wreford, the eventual winner, miles ahead of second place. We turn around up here and so I was counting my place. I had me sitting at fourth woman in my age group, give or take a place. (I missed one person coming in fifth). I also saw Rodger and Guy from my club who were also running the full.

I was feeling good and starting to pass a few people. In fact from here I was not passed by another woman.

The ks are ticking over quickly. I went through 21k in 1:44 which was pretty much on target for 3:30.

I signed up for Christchurch the night before I ran Rotorua. I had to do it then to get the cheaper rate. But my plan was if I ran well at Rotorua then I would just run, with no goal, Christchurch. In honesty though I was hoping to do under 3:30.

A race official car drives past. One of my club mates is driving it and has a loud hailer. Nothing like being told at full volume with your full name being used to hurry up.

We loop around a bit and had to back up Icy Road. It had not thawed out at all. The race car is back giving me a breakdown of where my teammates are. Sam runs past again on his way to the finish.

Back down to Yaldhurst Road, past Malcolm and Ugly. He tells me to run fast or he will set the sheep onto me. All I can think is roast lamb!!

Back past Vic who promises me a kiss at the end. I am still waiting! We head out to do our loop and from the turnaround can see who is ahead. I am still passing people. Those poor buggers who are walking, or stopping to grip their legs as cramp takes hold.

Past Vic for the final time. He has his camera out and I run at it making silly faces. I may live to regret that. Back down Icy Road for the third and final time. This time around the drink station the frozen spilled water is treacherous. It becomes too much for me, all this changing pace. I suddenly get very tired and sore. It is 8k to go. I can see the airport and hear the finish. I want to be there.

I keep running. The first runners pass me since 15k, a quartet of men. I catch one up further on, but I am spent. My pace drops from 4:50ish to 5:10. I push it. It hurts. My quads are tight. My feet burn. My butt and hamstrings are tormenting me.

I count down the ks.

We round the back of the airport by the nor’west runway and then head back onto McLeans Island Road. I see Rodger. He is only 500m ahead. I dig deeper. There is not much there.

I pass a friend walking her first half marathon. Well done, you!

3k to go.

We turn into the actual airport. Apparently this was a bit thrill seeking attraction. I couldn’t care less. 2k to go

I am not gaining on Rodger. I can’t.

I bump into my pal with the loud hailer. And another club mate. “Come on, Robyn. Go faster. You can catch Rodger.” I stopped. Turned around. Stuck my hands firmly on my waist and yelled, “FUCK OFF.”

Everyone laughed. And from the two comedians I could hear “DQ. Offensive behaviour. Disrespect for officials.” Idiots!

Last bend. Finish. I couldn’t sprint. I think it was the slowest 500m I have ever run.

I crossed. 3:31:03. Got my medal. Met Rodger. I wanted to puke. Lie down. Stand up. Walk around. Die. Puke. I felt awful. And sore. And stiff.

We staggered back to Rodger’s house where we were reconvening. I had a shower. And coffee. Eventually some toast and a banana.

After 90 minutes it was time to go back to the prize giving. I was surprised to find I had only come fifth. Oh well. It was all I had today. A little disappointed.

It is not yet five hours since I crossed the line. I have to get up and cook dessert for dinner guests tonight. Luckily they are members of my club. I am sure they won’t care that I am entertaining them in compression tights, ug boots, a bright orange polarfleece and a blue and orange striped beanie. Yes, I will be wearing my medal!

PS This is rough and unedited.

“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.” ― Coco Chanel

In every little girl’s life there comes a time when she realises, as much as she willed it not to happen, it has. She has turned into her mother.

I think my time has come.

I am taller than Mum ever was. And leaner. I have the brown-green eyes of my father, not her soft grey ones. My hair has her thickness and her curls, but not as much. She was also much greyer, or maybe she gave up dyeing her hair at an earlier age! I have certainly inherited her slightly olive skin, a throwback to some spaniard who washed ashore in Ireland many years ago.

I guess I must resemble her because sometimes when my father introduces me as his daughter to old friends, they tell me I look like my mother did.

But it’s the other things. I have similar priorities as she did. A good book and or a spot in the sun should never be wasted, especially on mundane tasks like housework. Many the time I remember trudging home from school to find my mother sitting in the sun, cup of coffee at hand, and either a book or knitting on the go. She always had both.

She was a very creative woman. She knitted and sewed many great pieces for her family, and when we preferred shop brought, she made clothes for the needier people in our community. She was also an accomplished artist, and in her last years enjoyed painting watercolours. I am pretty adept at stick figures.

Mum and I share the knack for the written word. Mum published numerous short stories. One of her best was called “The Empty Nest”. Totally autobiographical it was about a mother’s desire for her fledgings to learn to fly and leave the nest. With some artistic licence and the Irish gift of the gab, some of her children’s exploits were exaggerated, but we could all see ourselves in her writing.

I am gently encouraging my eldest bird to take her adult wings, her cat, her dancing boards, her dirty undies off the bathroom floor, and make her own nest. By gently encouraging, I mean I tell her “it is time for you to move out now. Good bye!” Juliet is off to London in 15 days for a five week trip. Three girls, a few dancing competitions, catching up with old school friends and university mates who are on exchanges. They will have so much fun. Maybe coming home will be too boring afterwards and her wings will feel decidedly clipped.

I started to flap my own wings at 17, going flatting with two girls I worked with. It was a damp, cheap, grey summerhill stone brick flat, on Lincoln Road overlooking a bikie gang. I have no idea what my parents really thought of my stamping my independent foot.

My Jonny turns 18 on Thursday. He also shows no desire to move on. He is working in an office, learning the skills associated with that and also the importance of personal hygiene and how to iron a shirt. There are mutterings of going to South America at Christmas.

South America??? I was thinking he would leave first for a uni hostel in Dunedin or take a camping to Kaikoura. Not South America! There are drugs and drug lords and pirates in South America! Murderers! Violence! Coups! Wars! Jonny doesn’t even know where he left his, or his father’s, eftpos cards. How will he cope in another continent.

After six months of flatting, when I was just 18, I flew to London with a girlfriend. Stayed away a year. Nannied the kids of the privileged and idle. Did the whole Britrail youth hostel month in the UK and bus/camping trip around Europe. Again I don’t know what my parents thought of this adventure.

The youngest, only 15, is still at school. He is a little concerned because I keep talking about if/when we rebuild post earthquake, we might replace our four bedroom family home with a nice two bedroom retirement unit. Not implying Andrew and I are ready to retire, but more a comment on how slow the process is. Robbie is most indignant that “Juliet and Jonny get to mooch off you for ages and as soon as I leave school you are forcing me out?!” I don’t see the problem.

Children come into the world so cute and helpless, loving you with all their might because they need you so much. Then they grow up and want to do things on their own. It is cute when an indignant toddler states, “me do.” Later they even push you away. Hopefully, eventually after a period of teenage angst/rebellion/self-absorption the frustrated gangly ugly ducklings return as beautiful adult birds.

A good parent has to let them grow. I want them to go. Life is outside in the world. Even if it can all be accessed by tapping on an ipad screen, I am proud that my kids feel confident enough to go and explore it in reality. Of course, they have had such sheltered middle class lives and are completely naive, but Mum, Dad and the credit card are on the other end of the virtual apron string.

So Mum, I wonder what you would make of your grandchildren now. It has been more than 10 years since you saw them. The little children you knew have evolved into adults or almost adults. .
I wonder if you would find sweet justice in what goes around, coming around. I wonder how many of my exploits contributed to your grey hair.

I look forward to the day in the future when I can watch my children struggle with their children stretching their wings. Or not.

Wow for a Working Girl!

One question which people often ask is what would be your dream job? I had my dream job. I worked as a trainer in an inclusive gym which was set up to assist people with physical disabilities achieve their health and fitness goals. It was also open to the community, and so people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities (or lack of) worked out together. I loved it. It was rewarding in all aspects. And the future looked bright.

Until one night I had a phone call to say the building had been deemed unsafe and was red-stickered immediately – which meant no access at all, except to retrieve important personal belongings. This was a bolt out of the blue as we had been using the facility through all the earthquake period, for more than 18 months.

I was immediately out of work. That was May 2012. Since then I have worked as a part-time casual relief trainer for a city council facility. It seemed impossible for me to get permanent hours as I stated all along I was not willing to work weekends. I would happily cover occasionally, but I did not want a permanent weekend shift.

It was disheartening. Plus I have to admit the pay was ludicrous. Both my children were being paid much more than me.

My goal for this year was to find work. A friend suggested I formalise my computer skills with a free course which would give me the necessary qualification to prove my ability. It is a self based learning programme and I am racing through the papers, loving it all. Computer geek alert!! She also said to treat the application process like a bit of a game, a challenge. I used two online job seeker sites, searching for both administration work and positions in the health and fitness industry.

I created a spreadsheet to keep track of them all. Each morning I would receive email notifications of possible positions. I would shortlist those I was interested in and on Friday afternoon I would sit down with the PC and the iPad and apply to them all. Twelve applications so far. Three flat out nos. Two interviews. Five still haven’t “closed”. One job offer today.

Both my interviews were absolutely perfect and I am sure that I would have been offered the other position today. The clincher in the interview for this position is the husband and wife team for who I will be working with are Totaranui people. I knew then I was in!

I am thrilled. For so many reasons. But mainly some job security. The ability to plan ahead knowing what my income projection will be, knowing what hours I will be working. Plus wearing colour, and what I want, not a uniform of black tee shirt and black shorts or trackpants.

I am also thrilled that my admin skill base was still relevant enough to compete with applicants with more current experience. I have not worked in an office since 1997, a brief stint between Jonny and Robbie.

So big wow. A wonderful start to the weekend. Looking forward to Monday 4 March for my first day. Also looking forward to maybe buying some real clothes!!