How are we doing, Christchurch? – WORD Christchurch

For a session dedicated to an honest discussion of how Christchurch people are coping post-quakes ‘How are we doing, Christchurch?’ had a lot of laughs in it.

Mind you, there’s a dry sort of humour that I’ve grown to associate with Christchurch people and the quakes. Jokes in the midst of loss and grief, of chaos, of fear – for some people a wry quip in a tight spot is the only sane choice. The panellists were very much of this sort – though a flippant remark was often an entree to a more thoughtful, sincere response.

Each had a completely different background and area of expertise, coming from a range of professions – Sam Crofskey, owner of C1 Espresso; Katie Pickles, historian and author of Christchurch Ruptures; Ciaran Fox, of the Mental Health Foundation and All Right? campaign; and Robyn Wallace, CEO of He Oranga Pounamu who is also involved in both iwi and local government organisations in the Waimakariri District/Ngāi Tuāhuriri rohe.

Katie PicklesCiaran FoxBronwyn Hayward Robyn Wallace

So how are we?

Not doing “number twos” in the backyard any more but possibly not as well as we’d like?

It was really interesting to me that Crofskey admitted outright lying to outsiders about how they were doing, early on, saving his honesty for those in his family and community. “I didn’t have the words for people who weren’t affected,” he said.

This particularly hit home for me yesterday when I read a New Zealand Herald column, by a visiting Aucklander who that mentioned that he’d heard “very little whinging” from Christchurch people during a recent stay. The column was a light-hearted one admittedly, but I couldn’t help feeling that it didn’t reflect the reality of Christchurch in the slightest. And certainly not the genuine concern mixed with weariness I felt in that room.

Crofskey’s experiences as a central city dweller, in the early days of the post-quake response emphasised this idea of outsiders not really understanding, when he spoke of “White knights in hi-luxes” trying to out-aid each other and others imposing their own ideas of what was needed –

Let’s put on a rugby game for them and make them happy again.

Cover of Christchurch rupturesThere was also a really great discussion about whether the Christchurch we’re rebuilding is for everyone, or if it’s for the men in suits who run things. Pickles’ hope, certainly, is that we can break out of some of those old pre-quake patterns of operating and make a city that everyone feels at home in. Perhaps we need another 4 or 5 Margaret Mahy type playgrounds around the city, for instance?

Crofskey’s wish for future Christchurch was a simple one – “I want a city my children want to stay in”.

One of Fox’s points made a lot of sense for me personally. He simply pointed out that we’re all really tired, and that being tired affects your ability to see solutions to problems. You fall back on the tried and the true. It certainly hinders your ability to be innovative and to take risks. If you scale the personal up to the organisational level, is it possible that this is part of what’s hindering a really creative, innovative recovery?

All panelists were in agreement that Christchurch people have had a “crisis of trust” in various systems and mechanisms / bureaucracy which are not working for them. There were many, many sounds of agreement from the audience on this point.

Audience questions ran the gamut from rants about the consenting process, to concerns about post-quake democracy, and how to keep and spread the energy of innovative projects like GapFiller into other arenas.

Did we solve Christchurch’s problems? No. But I certainly came away from the session feeling less alone, and comforted by the fact that many other people feel more or less as I do about our shared home.

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WORD Christchurch

Tales from the Ice – WORD Christchurch

With the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival winding down, this was an event to cool our heels on.

Matt Vance, Alok Jha, Rebecca Priestley, Simon Wilson
Matt Vance, Alok Jha, Rebecca Priestley, Simon Wilson

Dispatches from Continent SevenTales From the Ice was brought to us by Dr Rebecca Priestley (VUW NZ) – Dispatches from Continent Seven; Matt Vance (NZ expedition leader) – Ocean Notorious; Alok Jha (ITV science corresponder) – The Water Book and chaired by Simon Wilson (Metro magazine). These books collect experiences of the fragile, beautiful, brutally unforgiving Antarctic Southern Ocean, and the element that makes it all possible; water.

From explorers Captain James Cook  and Robert Falcon Scott, early and modern scientists, to modern writers from the Artists to Antarctica Programme such as Bill Manhire and Gregory O’Brien, Dispatches from Continent Seven makes fascinating reading with a scientific flavour.

Ocean NotoriousIn Ocean Notorious Matt Vance shares his own experiences of lonely Southern Seas and the Islands and of taking refuge there. Along the way he gathers tales of heroic explorers, sailors, wartime coast-watchers, wildlife and conservationists.

Alok Jha shared the incredible fact that water on Planet Earth originated from meteorites crashing here. By default all life on Earth is Alien!

This panel conveyed a real sense of adventure from the sunny warmth of my festival seat.

Last words:

“Run the World like we run Antarctica – a co-op.” – Matt Vance.

“Stop (Antarctica) melting. There is still time…” – Rebecca Priestley.

“Help me get back there!” – Alok Jha.

WORD Christchurch

Tickled Fiction – WORD Christchurch

Can Kiwi writers do comedy? New Zealand writers are repeatedly told that their work is too dark, too serious. Is this true? Three local writers got together at this event to tickle this topic. Here’s what emerged:

Damien Wilkins

Damien Wilkins. Image supplied
Damien Wilkins. Image supplied

Damien read from his novel Dad Art – in his words ‘a mid-life crisis book about a basically contented life with a pulsing vein of anxiety’  – and it was funny. Not in a here’s-a-funny-joke way, but in subtle observations that make you think ‘I know someone exactly like that’  (and it may even be me). His excerpt was an account of a motley crew in a Te Reo class. Think I recognised myself there! Damien feels that one of the ways that comedy works in fiction is through structure, that is repeated references within the story. A sort of insider knowledge type of humour, one in which he has ‘created echoes’.

Danyl Mclaughlan

Danyl McLaughlan. Image supplied
Danyl McLaughlan. Image supplied

Danyl read from his novel Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley. Set in the Aro valley near Wellington, Danyl researches his novels very carefully – after all he knows people who live there. When asked if readers take offence at some of his observations, he replied that what seemed to offend them most was if he altered the geography in any way! He’s a big believer in writing funny stuff in, thinking it is fantastic and then removing most of it on the next reading. Definitely a ‘less is more’ approach to comedy in writing. He also likes to make fun of conventional wisdom but feels that makes his humour unpalatable to the ‘cultural gatekeepers’.

Robert Glancy

Robert Glancy. Image supplied
Robert Glancy. Image supplied

Robert (call me Bob) was all set to read from his latest work Please Do Not Disturb, but had brought the wrong book. By this stage we were nicely warmed up so we all thought that was hilarious. Instead he read from Terms and Conditions – his novel on being a Corporate Lawyer. In this book the devil is in the detail. He calls himself ‘the devil’s ghost writer’. His advice to readers is – always read the small print! He loves the act of writing but says that self-editing ‘is like performing an autopsy on yourself’. Bob finds tackling topics from weird angles can be funny. He also writes what he likes. You are always going to offend someone in his opinion. If that’s a worry to you, you’re in the wrong job.

They all hated the title given to this festival event – Tickled Fiction, finding it childish, shallow and borderline pervy. Put on the spot in question time Bob said he liked ‘You Write Funny’ as an alternative.

As indeed they do, write funny, that is.

WORD Christchurch

WORD Up to Flying Nun – WORD Christchurch

Flying NunThe WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival was an absolute blast.

The highlight for me was a celebration of In Love With These Times – My Life With Flying Nun by Roger Shepherd, at Blue Smoke in the Tannery. It’s been a while since I had to queue to get into a gig!

Playing to a packed house, the evening was a mix of nostalgia, pass the mic, performance and hope. While I felt 20 again listening to Graeme Downes play “Two O’clock in the Afternoon” and Jay Clarkson covering the 3Ds, Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins) wished she had been around in the heydays. I’m glad she wasn’t, because she is an excellent flag-bearer for the future of Flying Nun.

Roger Shepherd, Russell Brown, Jay Clarkson, Graeme Downes on Guitar
Roger Shepherd, Russell Brown, Jay Clarkson, Graeme Downes on Guitar
Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins)
Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins)
Graeme Downes
Graeme Downes

WORD Christchurch