Sue Wells – The New Canterbury Tales

March 24, 2011

Warm, weathertight and waiting. #eqnz

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sue Wells @ 7:22 pm



Every week I voice instore supermarket commercials at a little studio on Fitzgerald Ave. I biked there this morning. It’s only a handful of ks from home. Amanda, my buddy, is being published soon in an EQNZ fundraiser, Tales for Canterbury. It’s sci-fi, fantasy. Appropriate in a city that feels more like Discworld than Christchurch. (

When I finished, I crept inside the four aves, biking the wrong way down a one way street. I must admit, I like doing that. It makes me feel naughty, and that’s a plus right now.

Street closed at Barbadoes. A poor soldier behind a wire mesh fence, a captive of our city. They’re doing 12 hours on, 24 hours off. The only excitement is when they have a scrap with someone, or a silly lady wearing hot pink cycles up for a chat. At least it was sunny and beautiful today. Poor wee thing. Can’t have them catching cold.

I didn’t try to break the cordon. Rode out the right way, rode the right way into the next one way, rode the wrong way out. It has to be done. I’m notching my belt.

And then to a community forum at the Beckenham Service Centre. We talked about ideas and projects that can help us as we move closer to the full recovery phase. As long as the state of emergency exists, we are officially “still in transition”.

I think we have a long way to go before we move out of it psychologically. We need to encourage people to look for their own solutions to their own problems. That’s empowerment. Whether it’s the shock or something more deep seated than that, I find it really disturbing when an adult can’t figure out how to create a poster to put on the wall near their house unless someone hands it to them. Paper. Pen. Sticky tape, I say helpfully, thinking ‘it’s not like I’m inventing the wheel’.

But the answer to her reluctance comes in the next question, the one I didn’t stop to ask. Need to take the time to listen, Susan. “Won’t I get done for tagging?”

I’m the queen of the bylaws. I don’t break rules. I do now.

No you won’t, I tell her. If you’re helping other people, if you’re helping yourself – then help yourself. Take the steps you need. Be responsible – don’t abuse it –  but don’t wait for the normal permissions. We’re in different times now. I’m going to ride the wrong way down a one way street if that’s a safer route for me to travel. If the footpath is a better alternative and I’m respecting other people – I’m going there too. My safety is the most important thing. So is yours. We live in different times now.

I pick up a sense that we’re over the emergency and we should be bright and shiny all over town all at once. We want  to surge, we’re impatient, we’re ready to solve it all. It’s a marathon, I comment. It’s going to take a lot of time.

Nobody wants to hear that. Everybody wants things back to normal. Perfectly natural. We have power and water and electricity and internet and roads. They don’t have that in Bexley. They don’t have that in town.

Then I biked to the community meeting in Waltham Park. About 200 there, bright sunny day, the occasional golden leaf. Great presentation from the assorted services. I tweeted it live. Hope the public didn’t think I was being rude.

At the end, we stood under flags so people could find us as they sought help, my hot pink hi vis not quite enough. Barry and I responded to a handful of questions. (They are starting to come in thick and fast now. They’re so varied. “Can you get the gates opened at Hansen Park – I don’t feel safe parking on the street.” “What part of town does Garry Moore live in?” And Avoca Valley, and the Huntsbury Reservoir, and can we build a cairn in Hagley Park, a memorial at CTV.)

They’re all valid. They’re all real. It doesn’t matter whether they’re life and death (just death, really) or so tiny that you wonder why they’re asked. Some people are focussing on the big things – and some are finding it safer to engage about the little. They’re all saying the same thing. “I want my life back the way it was. I’m over it now. I’m tired. I’m sad. I’ve had enough.” All questions welcome. There aren’t any silly ones. If I had someone to ask something of it would be “where will my boys be at school in term 2?” (I suspect it will be correspondence. That will be fun. I’ll like that.)

Then Gina arrived with Pepper. She launched straight away, her paws on my chest, that beautiful white tip on her tail like a tui’s feather, that silly grin. She’s been playing with Jake the huntaway and she’s worn out. (I think I might be too. Another little blue pill tonight.)

I’ve learned my lesson about riding my bike with Pepper on a lead, so I walked her home, my helmet the carrier for Chrissie Williams’ homemade relish. Down Fifield, a lime green portaloo flies open. “Boo! This is my house!” calls a little redheaded girl. Her brother in behind her laughs aloud. “Not it’s not, it’s our portaloo.” The door shuts. I hear fighting. I laugh. Their hair was so pretty in the sun, especially against the lime green.

Home is much further than it was. The river roads are closed, the Ford Rd bridge fenced off, the sign reads “Extreme Danger Do Not Enter”.

So Pepper and I walk down Cholmondeley Ave, past St Mark’s School. I don’t think I’ve walked that way for a while. The red and black hearts dancing on the fence in the sun make me cry. I read each one. They’re uncomfortably real. Children are very blunt. You can’t hide from this, even on Cholmondeley Ave in a cheerful hot pink hi-vis vest.

This is my first night home alone since the quake. The boys are at their father’s house, and it’s deliciously quiet. Wifey, my cleaner, has done the floors, changed the sheets. I picked rosebuds from my garden, probably the last of summer. I don’t normally pick them when they’re in bud, but they are so beautiful and soon they will be finished. It’s too late to appreciate their beauty when they’re gone.

And then as I bring the wood in for the fire I don’t think I’ll bother lighting after all because I need that early night, I notice my raspberries. Full and red and sweet and nearly over. I’m hungry it seems.

And then the grapes spring to mind. The same grapes my grandfather had at his house, and him born in 1893. Mum and Dad have the same vine. Mine would have been planted during the Great Depression. The grapes take me straight back to childhood, eating them warm after school if Mum was still at the shops. They’re only good for another week – the birds have started getting them. I’ve alerted the neighbours. The grapes are juicy and delicious and there are still plenty left for birds and bees and students.

So on a harvest roll I cooked my favourite comfort food. Stewed tomatoes, onions and capsicum, fresh from my garden. Pan fried in butter, a little salt and pepper and cheese. White bread and marg, some chocolate for dessert, texts from Elizabeth making me laugh. “I know life is difficult at the moment but why can’t the city SORT OUT SOME F**ING BUSSES?” To which I reply “Fine thank you how was yours?” She says “What are you talking about you insane blonde person?” I tell her “Yours is the New Chch hello. Mine is its reply.”

We text back and forth until joy, a friend picks her up and takes her home. She’s bus dependent until her car gets out of the parking building. I love the freedom of my little bike.

I was leaning on it today at Waltham Park when a little lady wearing a red and black swanndri came up to us as I was feeling it was all a bit hard. She said to me ‘You’re Sue Wells. You’re on my W list.” And it turned out her list was not about the things we’ve lost – it’s about the things we have.

“There’s Willowbank – they’ve been opening for free. You can take the kids there. It’s good.

And then there’s Warm, Weathertight, and Waiting for EQC. That’s our house. We’ve got a logburner and a roof. That’s all you need.

And then for a smile and a bit of a lift – there’s you. Sue Wells. I like you on Jim Mora’s show. Now you’re on my list.”

I nearly cried then and there. I hugged her instead. Lifted my chin. We all need a helping hand.

What it is, I think, is what you choose to look at . Some days it’s harder than others but that choice is available to you every time you open your eyes. It’s up to you what you focus on. It’s up to you what you see.

You can see a broken sewer, or you can see two red headed kids playing in a portaloo. You can weep, or you can laugh. You are on this bus, like it or not – so you make the best of the journey or you make yourself and everyone around you miserable.

And as to the rest of it, we just need to apply a bit of togetherness, and quite a lot more of time, and some faith, and a pinch of hope.

(And of course, the occasional wink from a man in uniform doesn’t hurt either.)



  1. Thank you for sharing your days and your stories with us. I read them each day 🙂 *hugs*

    Comment by Tammie — March 24, 2011 @ 7:26 pm | Reply

  2. I too read them each day. Keep going Sue. I love your open, frank and funny style. We need to tell our story. Thank you for taking that on.

    Comment by Suzy — March 25, 2011 @ 7:49 pm | Reply

    • Thank you so much. 🙂 That means heaps. 🙂

      Comment by Sue Wells — March 25, 2011 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

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