Move to the hills for peace and quiet back­fires

The Press - - Front Page - JOHNNY MOORE

My wife and I moved out of the cen­tral city re­cently. I’d lived there for over a decade and it felt like time for a change. We started rent­ing a friend’s house in Cash­mere. A 1970s Lock­wood, it looked out over the city and we could see from the ocean to the Alps on a clear day.

Sure it gets stink­ing hot on a sunny day and hy­per-cold when the mer­cury drops, but we love it. It’s a short mo­tor­cy­cle or push­bike ride to work and when we open the win­dows, the bell­birds and tui are singing in the trees.

The trees them­selves are lovely. Just hav­ing them around is re­fresh­ing.

We’ve been telling peo­ple all the ex­cel­lent things about our liv­ing sit­u­a­tion:

‘‘Why pay to rent a lodge in Han­mer Springs when you can live in one ev­ery damn day of the year. That’s the Lock­wood Home dream. Be­sides, who wants to have to run from a tsunami?’’

We’ve been smug about our move. Very smug in­deed.

This week the chop­pers started; there were fires on the hill. Now those of you who re­mem­ber the car­toon Cap­tain Planet will know that fire is one of the five main el­e­ments (earth/fire/wind/wa­ter/ heart), which means it’s a big scary ol’ thing to have to com­bat – a re­minder of how vul­ner­a­ble we are.

But surely not? Surely we live in a town in a coun­try in a world where a bit of fire’s not go­ing to rip through and start get­ting all up in our grill? Isn’t that what Aus­tralia’s for?

No, now we are liv­ing in a neigh­bour­hood where we are spend­ing the evenings look­ing at the Civil De­fence web­site and plan­ning de­par­ture. The neigh­bour­hood kicks into gear – the same as I saw var­i­ous neigh­bour­hoods do af­ter the quakes – and peo­ple chat in the street and in drive­ways, mak­ing plans for those who might need a hand.

I get spooked when I see the charred shell of a clas­sic car. I hide my car in some­body’s shed across town – like a bankrupt avoid­ing the re­ceiver. As I’m mov­ing my car, the neigh­bours are mov­ing their mo­tor­bikes. They have a sim­i­lar pis­ton-type af­flic­tion that I have.

The cops are say­ing that if we feel un­safe, then we need to leave. The cop­pers I talk to are amaz­ing. I’m filled with ad­mi­ra­tion for the peo­ple who have to do all the hard work fix­ing a mess like this while ev­ery Noel Know­itall at the pub is telling how he would have re­solved it bet­ter.

We don’t leave. We stay the night in our house. There’s some­thing in us that’s sick of dis­rup­tion to what should re­ally be a nor­mal, bor­ing life full of white priv­i­lege and hol­i­days to the Gold Coast.

I go to work. I come home late at night and the crests of the hills are lit up like Hell. Like fire and brim­stone. I tell my dodgy brother-in­law. He has­sles me for us­ing Hell as a sim­ile when I’m a de­vout athe­ist. I ar­gue that he didn’t even know what a sim­ile was be­fore I showed up. Be­sides, even athe­ists like good im­agery. ‘‘It looked like Mor­dor then. Happy?’’

As a pub­li­can, there’s only one house on my street that’s ever up when I’m com­ing home – I can see what they’re watch­ing on telly as I ride my bike past. This week, the hills are blaz­ing; fam­i­lies are stand­ing out on decks tak­ing pho­tos; peo­ple are in drive­ways pack­ing cars.

I’m scared and need to go to bed. I think about how be­ing in a dis­as­ter brings out some­thing pri­mal, makes us into shiv­er­ing wee mam­mals, hud­dling for warmth and look­ing for an ex­pla­na­tion for things out­side of our con­trol. I sup­pose fear is a re­ally good evo­lu­tion­ary re­ac­tion to trou­ble.

Old earth­quake anx­i­eties that have been buried, re­pressed and for­got­ten start to bub­ble to the sur­face. I cry when I’m watch­ing the news. What’s that about? We go to bed with the sky red and the smell of smoke in the house.

The next day ar­rives with­out in­ci­dent and this is how the week con­tin­ues. So far we have been lucky. But a few poor sods haven’t been lucky and help­ing them is the next chal­lenge. Hope­fully this thing gets un­der con­trol soon and we can all move back to be­ing a town at the bot­tom of the world that no­body cares about.

I worry that I’m go­ing from dis­as­ter to dis­as­ter. What if I’m a per­pet­ual vic­tim? Maybe I’m a junkie for it? I had com­pletely for­got­ten rub­ber­neck­ing, rub­ber­neck­ers and be­ing rub­ber­necked. Now, here I am – all over again, up to my spuds in the sit­u­a­tion.

It used to be I wor­ried Princess Di’s death would be the defin­ing mo­ment of my life. Now it seems I can’t go any de­cent pe­riod of time with­out dan­ger loom­ing.

Je­sus, I need a new-new-new-nor­mal. I think I need to move back into the cen­tral city for a bit of peace and quiet.

‘‘I worry that I’m go­ing from dis­as­ter to dis­as­ter. What if I’m a per­pet­ual vic­tim? Maybe I’m a junkie for it?’’ Johnny Moore


On­look­ers get a van­tage point to the Port Hils fire just above a house at the end of Ben­gal Drive in the Christchurch sub­urb of Cash­mere.

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