February 27, 2011

Five days later

1. I was talking yesterday about the ordinary business of daily life that goes on through and around disasters, taking my cue from Tim Wilson's Their Faces Were Shining. Few things are more ordinary than dropping your six-year-old off at a friend's house for a playdate. Few things are less ordinary than using the short trip to scan, half unconsciously, for signs of earthquake damage. Pictured: orderly piles of silt shovelled from backyards and driveways await collection on Croydon Street, Sydenham.

2. Another shot of the Ballardian swimming pool at Beckenham School, from Friday's outing.
3. The news this morning says that the old Girls High building on Cranmer Square has been cordoned off and there are fears it will collapse. Three days after the September 4 quake (the warm up for this one, the rehearsal), I walked around that part of town with a colleague and this is what Girls High looked like then. The damage looks ridiculously minor from this perspective. Ensuing aftershocks worsened it, and for a time there was scaffolding or wooden supports against this back wall of the building.

Some will know the building from Heavenly Creatures. Girls High had already shifted to a new site when Peter Jackson shot the film and he was able to use the old building as a location. Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme were at school here; Parker's mother ran a boarding house almost next door and Parker climbed the fence to get to school in the morning (a scene recreated for the film). Photos of the front of the Girls High building, seen from Cranmer Square, are in this impressively thorough online photo album of Heavenly Creatures locations.

There is a curious thing about buildings that are expected to fall: they stubbornly hold on. There was Manchester Courts after the last quake and we have spent how many days in a state of suspense, thinking that the Grand Chancellor hotel is going to drop at any moment.

4. Words of Comfort: Cantabrians of a certain age might remember Ray Comfort, a Christian evangelist who preached in Christchurch's Cathedral Square in the 1970s and 80s. He was an anti-drugs campaigner and a prolific publisher of small books about the evils of the hedonistic, post-counter cultural 70s (My Friends Were Dying was his first one, and apparently he did have ex-surfer friends who ODed). I suspect Ray Comfort was his real name. Alex Comfort was probably no relation.

When I interviewed him, a little over a year ago, he had been in California for more than 20 years, had done well out of a close association with sitcom star turned born again Christian Kirk Cameron and was devoting his energies to attacking atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins. His quixotic scheme was to republish Darwin's On the Origin of Species but with a Christian foreword and distribute it at American universities; he expected the Christian foreword, which he wrote himself, would disprove Darwin's original text. A few months later, I happened to interview Dawkins who found Comfort, and his plan, to be utterly ridiculous.

This morning, an email:
Philip,
I hope you are okay.
The people of Christchurch have been in our thoughts and prayers.
Would you like me to write you an article on the U.S. perspective of the earthquake?
Best wishes,
Ray
I am yet to hear from Richard Dawkins.