The Monster In The Corner Of The House Stefan Kaminski
And Kindness Lay All About
Stories from the Christchurch Earthquakes
I came to New Zealand in the early sixties when I was about twelve and have lived in Christchurch ever since. I knocked around in a few miscellaneous… what… you wouldn’t call them careers, more
like jobs. Got a science degree and then went commercial fishing and a few other such things for a while. Finally, there was another
degree in law and that’s what I’ve done since, a lot of years now. Civil litigation. An enjoyable career when you are winning, not so enjoyable when you lose.
We were woken that first night by the dog trying to attack the
monster in the corner of the house. We wandered outside thinking it must have been dreadful up in the main divide and pleased that not
much had happened. Then I walked around to the front of the house and stubbed my toe on some bricks. One of our chimneys had come
down and was lying there against the neighbours’ fence. It wasn’t a big issue. The next morning the neighbours helped us clean up most
of it and I put one of those plasticised things over what was left of our chimney.
Boxing Day I was in the fishpond cleaning it out. I was hit in the
nether regions by a lot of cold water and the large chimney—the one that hadn’t yet come down—did a sort of pirouette. We needed a bit
of help to bring it down but again things didn’t seem all that terrible.
In February I was on level eighteen of the PriceWaterhouseCoopers
building and that did sway around a bit. I had an office on the corner
that gave me a great view across Victoria Square and into Cathedral Square itself. From there I could see people running around and the clouds of dust rising. I was taking photographs with my mobile phone when I was called to help free one of my colleagues from some
furniture that had pinned him to his desk. Then the aftershocks
started to arrive and we decided we should probably vacate the building. Going down the stairwell someone yelled out, ‘Hold onto
the railings with both hands! Hold on with both hands!’ Well, I had my bag in one hand and thought to hell with that—that’s a bit
excessive. Only afterwards did I realise the wisdom of that advice. I presume it came via an engineer from one of the firms down
below, someone who probably twigged there was a chance the stairs
could go. Anyway, while I was heading down my mobile went off, it was a one-word text from my wife, Anne. It said, Help. A trifle
disconcerting and not particularly helpful. Naturally I tried to phone and then text her back but to no avail.
By the time I got to the bottom of the stairs there was turmoil
all around. From where I was I could see across the river to the Pyne
Gould building that had come down. My car was in the basement
of PriceWaterhouseCoopers which by then was rapidly filling with
water and there were some large cracks that meant there was no way it was going to be coming out any time soon. There was no choice
except to begin walking through the liquefaction and gridlocked
traffic. At various intersections people had voluntarily taken it upon
themselves to stand in the middle of the intersection and direct the traffic. Without them it would have been far worse.
Anne and I live in a two-storey house and as I walked around the
corner with a young fellow I’d met on the way, I noticed we couldn’t
see the roof of my home, there was no sign of it. That was a little disturbing. He walked on with me and as we approached we could see
the house had nose-dived onto the front lawn. I yelled out and one of our neighbours said that if I was looking for Anne she was on the back lawn having a smoke. After she’d had one or two more we sat on
the garden bench by the conservatory and watched the liquefaction
bubbling up around us. In a way it was strangely exhilarating. I mean when things get to that point it makes life easy doesn’t it—there’s not
a hell of a lot you can do about it, except sit and wait. We were lucky to have neighbours that were very kind. They took us in and looked after us over that initial period.
With our own house gone we were unable to do the same for a
friend of mine. He happened to be down from Auckland and staying
in a hotel by the Avon. The hotel had been wrecked and he thought he
would come and stay with us. Sadly, there wasn’t much chance of that.
Poor fellow arrived trailing his suitcase only to find he was out of luck. Four or five kilometres on he managed to find some other friends who had room.
As for us, we, along with our neighbours Shane and Sharon, spent
many lovely nights sitting around the barbeque while our deep freezers
thawed away slowly and we caught up on all those things you buy
impulsively at the supermarket and never get around to eating. The
prunes and the quail—did we eat quail? Yes, we had quail, and with
all the street lights out we got to gaze up at the beautiful starry skies as well.
June. Well, the house was already in a pretty sad way, June just sort
of aggravated that. Christmas; that one I was sitting in a space down
Riccarton Road that had most recently been a mechanics garage. Some
enterprising young guys had scattered some lounge furniture around
and turned it into a bar. It was rather electrifying when it first went off. The two big metal roller doors made a hell of noise but that was all there
was to it. No problem there. No, February, that was undoubtedly the
worst. Anne was a bit bloodied and bruised in that one, but basically, we’ve both been okay.
Since that time, since February, I’ve worked from home. But while
it’s all very well sitting at a computer yourself and doing things online, it’s not quite the same is it. There are advantages, but also some distinct disadvantages, most of which relate to not feeling like I’ve got
my finger on the pulse. The collegiality is missing. Just bumping into someone in the lift and they mention a case or something else clicks
into place, I’m missing that sort of currency. It’s particularly acute I think for litigators, they need to stay in touch with each other. The
phone or a letter isn’t always an adequate substitute. So yes, probably
at some stage I’ll gravitate back towards town and join up in chambers again.
The situation we have here now is not something anyone would
wish for but the response to a whole series of earthquakes I think
has been pretty good. I know things have appeared slow on many
fronts but when you think of what has been available to most of those affected, as opposed to what their legal entitlement was, they don’t
really have grounds for complaint do they. People tend to forget that the money’s got to come from someone and I think the rest of the
country have been pretty understanding and tolerant really. It’s all very well to jump up and down and say we should have got more money for this and we should have got more money for that…. well, it’s got to
come from someone and right now that someone tends to be outside Canterbury don’t they. I think in some respects we have been a bit
too self-absorbed and probably strained the patience of some wellmeaning people outside the region.
Like many we had been very comfortable in our home over the years,
perhaps we’d even got into a bit of a rut without fully appreciating it. When you think about it overall, this whole thing might not have been
too bad for us. Sure, there’ll be a year or two of uncertainty in it, but ultimately, as much as it shook the house down, it probably shook us
out as well. Maybe prompted us to take another look at how we live our lives. Not always such a bad thing.
And Kindness Lay All About. Stories from the Christchurch Earthquakes.