Before flying out of Christchurch I spent a week staying with Pete, another English BMXer who has moved to New Zealand. He is a civil engineer working on rebuilding the city after the earthquakes of three years ago. While the still-present devastation was tragic it made it unlike anywhere else I’d been. To be able to understand better—thanks to Pete’s involvement—what had happened and was happening was really interesting.
All over the city, especially in the centre, there are empty spaces where buildings should—would—be. Virtually none of the premises still standing are open for business. Further out there are large areas which have been “red-zoned”, condemned for demolition without the immediate possibility of rebuilding—the land is too unsound or too vulnerable to rock fall. It doesn’t seem incongruous, visiting these areas, that the term sounds like something from a zombie film. They estimate that it will be 5–10 years before some semblance of normality is restored.
* * *
It was a week of easy living in the suburbs and the surf. It should have given me time to reflect on the trip I was leaving—very different to the one I’d begun—a story, written with contrails, tyre marks and footprints; in dust, ashes, and wakes; but it was a story not yet laid to rest.
There’s little sense in a story without an ending and there’s no sense, only destruction, in an ending that comes too soon. My New Zealand experience was richer for having documented it here, for being able to demarcate it into chapters. Arriving in Christchurch closed one of those chapters. Leaving, however, did not. It was the middle of a new one whose ending’s time was still to come.