Christchutch Contained

Difficult to ignore the whole earthquake thing here in Christchurch. Especially as it’s still going on. Fourteen in the past week. (5th April 2012) We were sat having dinner with our hosts when a minor one shook the house (17.11 24th March). They didn’t flinch. Their instinctive, subconscious calibration is used to it. I slightly touched cloth. Mrs B didn’t notice. It was a little like a big truck rumbling past the house: here and gone just like that.

You can Track it all up to the minute here.

Since the big shakes – as the locals sometimes refer to the series of earthquakes that have struck – much of the city centre is what’s called the red zone. In essence, you’re not allowed in. Verboten. No excuses. Not just the high rise bit either, there are many, many properties that are off limits for fear of collapse. So the ubiquitous shipping container, the kind you see on the back of a truck on the motorway, has been called into alternative use.

Landscaped shipping containers

One such alternative use is retail unit. The small and attractive temporary mall in central Christchurch is a cleverly arranged jumble of shipping containers. A little decorative gravel here… a shrub there… a few throw pillows: I like what you’ve done with the place.

Then, on the road past – geographical clue in the title – Redcliffs we see a less decorative, purely functional alternative use of containers. This time they are stacked two high for hundreds of metres, prescribing a boundary between falling cliff and highway.

The wall at Redcliff

Close inspection reveals their being filled with half a dozen or more 2 tonne sacks of gravel. They are essentially a heavy-duty fence, a retaining wall to contain bouncing rockfall. Perched above these are very many Clifton Hills properties that are closer to the cliff edge than originally constructed and – you have to say – intended. Heartbreakingly, some have already gone over, others merely on borrowed time. Some properties at the base of the cliffs are walled in by the containers, their back gardens a mass of scree. It must have been terrifying in the event.

Weighed down

Shipping Containers. When they were patented in the 1956s in the USA, who’d’ve thunk they’d get used in such a diverse manner. Post earthquake uses down here: Container as cafe. Containers as shops. Containers as barriers. Containers as homes, apparently. It’s then somehow odd to have a train trundle by at a level crossing with a snake of containers aboard being, well, containers.

On Sunday morning I accept the invitation to go for a run in the hills. (Nothing wrong with a touch of ambition eh?) We drive – my kind of jogging – to collect Ros.

[At this point, to simulate a forthcoming moment, you may wish to open your eyes to maximum wideness and then take forefinger and thumb on each hand and stretch them eyelids further still.]

We rock up to the door and – with no preamble folks, bold as brass – I am invited in to see Ros’ crack.

We are a pretty earthy lot in Wales, but I confess this is a first. [Oh, this is what we’re holding our eyes open for: replicating my facial reaction.] In the event I say nothing and am wordlessly ushered indoors. There are family members present: kinky. Then I am guided toward the kitchen and gestured to a jagged gap across the room with jagged edged ceramic tiles laying unhappily.

No entry

Ah, the crack.

I see.


Anyhoo… one side of the house? Perfectly normal, t’other? A bit downhill (as demonstrated with a ball that appears to be present expressly for this purpose). So the house is fine as a living unit, just 50% wonky and carries the possibility of condemnation. And Ros family were the lucky ones… they still live in their house. Round the corner at K’s the bay window is now a bay hardboard. It looks like the poor guy lives in a squat. Yet again, he’s fortunate to live in his own house.  Unfortunately, his marriage has not survived the tremors. He could soon be living in a shipping container. And not in a trendy, arty, ironic way.

Coffee in a box

Spotted. A T-shirt in the style of a dictionary definition.

Munted: adj (1) used to describe severe levels of damage in Christchurch earthquake (2) used to avoid offending others by saying f**ked in the context above. Origin: Christchurch, NZ Feb 2011

YouTube: When a city falls.

All rather sobering.

Shopping centre - the new and the old

Categories: Our posts | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Christchutch Contained

  1. Debbie

    A bit sad reading your description of the city and surroundings, but the imaginative use of the containers almost says ‘we won’t be beaten’ in a NZ sort of way. Looks like you’re havng perfect autumn weather. Dx


  2. Love the shipping container architecture. The people seem to be going about their business in a normal manner — did you get the impression that this is their new reality or that they’re waiting for normality to resume at some point in the near future?


    • It was strikingly normal. Spookily so. A little bit as if the quakes were an unmentioned elephant in the room. If you own your house/business there then trying to be normal with the new schema is how people are living. Migration from the area (to Oz) is up four fold currently. Often its renters seemed to have simply upped sticks and moved on…. less ties you see.


  3. G/Pat.

    As you say, heartbreaking. Impossible to imagine how the people must feel – like living on a knife edge every second of the day. Watched YouTube – When a City falls. Something to be said to be living in dear old Great Britain. The topic of much of our conversation is about our weather. We should be thankful it is all above ground and not under us.


  4. Heartbreaking and yet uplifting, and very different to my memories of Christchurch – a bit like Cambridge, pleasant and rather English but doubly miserable in the rain. I guess we don’t really think about the long-term impact of such a big disaster on a city, both in terms of infrastructure repair and demographic shifts. Sobering indeed.


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