It’s hard to believe but C1 Espresso first opened 20 years ago. In that time they’ve treated patrons to more than just coffee and fancy teas – C1 is known as the kind of place where unexpected things happen. An old sewing machine dispenses drinking water, a sliding bookcase acts as an automatic door, curly-fries are delivered by pneumatic tube and so on, and so on.
Still, I was surprised to hear they had published a book, even more surprised to hear that the book in question, Let’s take a walk, is their second effort (the first being about growing coffee in the pacific).
I spoke to C1’s Sam Crofskey about Let’s take a walk, in part to try and understand why a café would put together a kids’ pop-up book about the Christchurch earthquakes. It’s an unusual fit.
The motivation comes from a very real place, one that a lot of Christchurch people can relate to, of wanting to move on. And like a lot of things in the genre of earthquake recovery, it didn’t happen overnight.
“We’ve taken four years to do this from a desire to get it right – partly because we’re putting our names to it, partly because of the subject matter,” says Crofskey.
Crofskey and C1 were early returners to the Central City, post-quake. They reopened in 2012 and have been much praised as “heroes of the rebuild” but Crofskey admits that this hasn’t always sit comfortably with him as it seemed to imply that everything was okay with them, as he explains, “our home was in the central city – we couldn’t move on”.
An idea was, if you’ll forgive the coffee-related pun, percolating.
Initially Crofskey enlisted artist friend Hannah Beehre to update the C1 menus with artwork of earthquake damaged city buildings. What she made, drawings of before and after, hacked up and rearranged as collage, were great but there was a problem.
“They were too sad and full-on to have them in the café”, says Crofskey.
So Beehre “softened” the images with the addition of brightly coloured diggers and other demolition vehicles. They added words too. A story grew of “someone who is just trying to explain it (the earthquake) to their kids”.
Crofskey has a young family himself and he even refers to the book as “… an ode to my long-suffering wife and two children”.
Getting the tone of the book right was, he admits, a challenge but he’s happy that “it’s fundamentally a kids’ book”, but one that has things to say that only the adults reading will understand. Poignancy. Loss. Cynicism.
For example, the ending is upbeat, looking towards a shining future… but grown-ups may read it in a different, more cynical way.
“The view of the future is really great – it’s the only picture that’s in full colour – a kind of Wizard of Oz sort of thing. But that’s kind of me taking the piss out of the blue-print and stuff like that.”
Even the choices of which buildings to include in the book aren’t without subtext.
“The Cathedral’s not in it – that’s not a mistake”, says Crofskey making reference to the broken ChristChurch Cathedral as a symbol of a lack of earthquake recovery – an inappropriate choice for a book in which the overriding message is one of moving on and looking forward to the future.
“But kids don’t pick up on that stuff,” says Crofskey drawing parallels with family-friendly films, “it’s like a Pixar movie, is what it is”.
And get ready to feel things when you open Let’s take a walk, as Crofskey claims “we haven’t had an adult who hasn’t been really upset by it”.
Curious to know more? The Let’s take a walk book launch is on tomorrow, Wednesday, 24 August 6pm and is a free WORD Christchurch event. All welcome.
Sam Crofskey will also be appearing in How Are We Doing, Christchurch?, Fri 26 Aug, 11.15am