The door is open but nobody is home

Back on 7 April I tweeted:

In Christchurch, when the doors are open it doesn’t mean anyone is home & it probably means the home soon won’t be here.

I linked to this photo:

And today (16 April) it was true for 849 Colombo Street and its neighbours, only the pretty fuschias and the fence still on show.

It’s a brutalist brutalist brutalist world

Miles WarrenAs the Dorset Towers are now rubble, and the Crowne Plaza skeletal, The Press has looked at Warren and Mahoney’s work in the article Quake destroys architects’ legacy.

I lived very much in the belly of the Brutalist beast – living around the corner from Sir Miles’  first significant work –  the Dorset Street flats – and working at the Central Library.

Once before the earthquakes, I contemplated tracking the Warren and Mahoney universe I saw each day – Dorset Street Flats, Dorset Towers, their office on Victoria Street, the Crowne Plaza, the Town Hall, the Central Library.

I can’t say that I loved the style – but the monumentality of it makes that redundant. These are strong, grounded buildings, claiming the space with purpose. The Town Hall I think is the apotheosis of their style  – the luxurious interior and soaring spaces work with  brutalist elements to make a successful marriage.


Crowne Plaza


Dorset Towers


2nd birthday party

Birthday party

On Saturday it was my daughter’s 2nd birthday, we had a quiet day and my Mum and Dad came round to visit and gave her a baby doll.

Sunday we had a party out the back in the sun with friends and family and her wee playmate and cousins. And a rainbow cake made by my genius colleague Katie.

Monday – back to work. The exciting news late of a new nephew: my brother and his wife had a baby on Monday night, he delivered the baby in the carpark of the hospital.

On Tuesday, I got up and showered and dressed for work. Realised I was feeling a nasty cold or flu ache, so decided to stay home. The whanau piled into a car and went to go shopping and have a drive to Sumner or Lyttelton. I changed out of work clothes into velour trackies and crappy old maternity bra and put my glasses on.

Started to cook some spuds for lunch when the earthquake came. The noise was inutterably loud and forceful. Stuff flew at me from the cupboards, and the walls. I stood in the kitchen doorframe.  I said my prayers aloud – this it it – the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory be – all compressed into a superfast urgent plea.

The fridge came down beside me. I had to get out of the house, all around me it was divesting itself of substance, breaking into constituent parts that didn’t rain down on me, but came at me on a 90 degree angle. I had tunnel vision – myself, the door, the fastest way to it.

Then I stood in the doorway, horrified, calling out to my neighbour in the front flat beside ours. She was home, and had an air of calm and decision, even though she couldn’t get out as her door was stuck closed. She smashed a window, and got out with her laptop.

Where was everybody? How was everybody? And especially my baby, is my baby ok, every atom of me begged to know if she was ok. The most awful sinking hole of pain. My neighbour calmed me down and tried to get a call through.

Our other neighbour came home, she was wonderful and by the two using their phones I found out my baby and my man were ok. All of the neighbours on the street came out and we talked, noted each other’s damage and we saw people coming down our street from the CBD, trying to make their way out of town and the tragedy.

The washing line

The washing line

Somewhere in here was a wonderful moment when I saw Mum and Dad come down the street.  We grabbed a few clothes off the washing line, luckily the birthday girl had got some new clothes that I had washed. Undies for him. Floral leggings for me. There were a pair of old sneakers on the doorstep I grabbed, so had some footwear at least. Helpful with all the broken glass.

My guy rescued a few things from the house –  baby stuff, a laptop and a phone.

We went to the burbs to stay with family, all sleeping in one bed, staying close and tight.

Mills and BOOM

‘My feet are freezing’, she said. ‘We’ve both got jackets on. If I spread my nice woolly duffel over our feet, you could put our limousine driver’s jacket over our tops. Note that this is a major concession on my part,’ she said before he could move. ‘Because my duffel is very, very warm, and your leather jacket won’t be nearly as warm, not to mention that it’s really been lent to both of us. So I could be within my rights to keep my duffel just for me, but insist that your leather jacket goes over my feet. But I’m magnanimous, ‘ she said in a truly magnanimous voice.

He chuckled.

They spent a convivial couple of minutes arranging their bed. Two blankets. The duffel spread-eagled over the bottom half. The leather jacket over the top …

An excerpt from A royal marriage of convenience by Marion Lennox.

The wonderful Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club gave me the idea of looking at Mills and Boon.


I’ve been too chickeny to write my earthquake story, yet happy enough to take photos.

We did a round the table discussion at work, and my colleague Marion wrote up our stories – so here’s mine (thanks Marion):

Christchurch Earthquake
Donna was in the central city close to Victoria Street. S ran to get their little daughter. She has no recollection of getting to safety. The bookshelves fell across the bed but missed her “because she is so short”.
A few objects fell down in the house but the kitchen was almost untouched, except for a container of oil which left a big oil slick on the floor.

After the initial drama of getting out of the house they made contact with their neighbours in the other three flats. When they all calmed down people began to venture around the neighbourhood and discovered the Daily Bagel building collapsed on to the street and they began to realise how serious the quake had been.

Christchurch earthquake
They never lost power and were without water for only a short time. Their flat became a gathering point for friends who came to charge phones and use the internet. The day turned into a strange social event with people sitting outside drinking beer.

After the quake, Donna had no recollection of sound and yet the chimney had come down outside their bedroom. Rosary House next door has a very large water tank and for a while afterwards they could hear was a really loud, strange, slosh, slosh, slosh.

Christchurch earthquake

That day and the next day they gathered extra batteries and torches, secured bookshelves and tidied up the house. Having Kiddo was a distraction as normal things like feeding her needed to go on so as Donna said “even though you are fearful for your child they are a way of not thinking about the bad things”. She loved the distraction and interest of lots of people around.

Donna was quick to get in touch with her mother who was on her own. Her father was in Dunedin and immediately hitched a ride back on a truck – probably the only person trying to get to Christchurch!

In the days that followed Donna grappled with what to do about work and wondered about leaving town. She felt so unsafe that she was afraid that if she went, she would find it hard to come back. She was glad she stayed and worked through it.

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