Monday 6 September 2010


Poor old Christchurch is battling with high winds now - just what you want when an earthquake has wrecked your roof and left buildings teetering. There have been some amazing pictures coming through, of gaping cracks in roads, crazy-paved paddocks and huge changes of level, and horrifying cracks in the walls of the brick and stone buildings that give Christchurch its character - but most dispiriting of all are the districts where liquefaction took place, the water-logged sandy soil pouring up to the surface and burying floors, gardens and roads under a thick grey sludge.

One of the worst-affected parts of the city is Avonside, built on the floodplain of the river, where there's been lots of damage to houses. I'm wondering how my old school has coped, Avonside Girls' High. In the city, thankfully the Cathedral and the Arts Centre (formerly the Canterbury University Townsite, where I did most of my degree) were earthquake-proofed a few years ago, and have apparently stood up well to the shaking. I remember when I was at school, the engineers came through and we had scaffolding up for ages as various bits of decorative mouldings were removed from the roof and frontage as they were deemed quake hazards - but when I was there in '02 for the 75th Jubilee, they appeared to have been replaced. Does this look earthquake-proof to you?

We used to have earthquake drills at school, as well as fire drills. At the command "Drop!" we had to scramble under our desks, or kneel down with our hands over our necks, facing away from the windows if we were in the hall, until the shaking stopped, and then use the fire exits. My fourth form teacher was Miss Oliver, a short, immensely fat woman with an even more immense double frontage, who amazed and appalled us all by not only crawling under her table too but, with a great deal of puffing, then got back to her feet and, defying the laws of physics, squeezed herself through the hole in the platform outside the window (our classroom was in the old homestead of the property the school was built on) and climbed down the ladder. An astonishing sight. I bet she boasted about it for years.

The new Art Gallery, by the way, it turns out is the Civil Defence command HQ: what faith that shows in the trustworthiness of tempered glass.

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