Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Remarkable Crusaders Roadshow

The Crusaders are on the cusp of a remarkable piece of sporting history. Although I dislike the sporting cliché of "a journey", it really applies to the Crusaders as they have gone through this entire campaign, as many commentators have put it, playing away from home.

It does a disservice to the host unions to say that the Crusaders have had no home games because, like all teams, they had games that were designated home games. It would be more accurate to say they played all their games away from their home base in Christchurch as Nelson and Timaru are part of the Crusaders region and provided home-town support that was every bit as hostile and uncomfortable for the opposition as the average Christchurch punter could muster. Playing home games in Wellington against the Hurricanes was always a bit of risk and against the Chiefs in Napier was a potential banana skin. And the now celebrated festival of rugby at Twickenham where the Crusaders put on a stunning display that had the locals gasping. Adding to the excitement, the Sharks were not charitable enough for it to be a Crusaders benefit and ratcheted up the excitement to complete the celebration.

The Super 15 is truly a long competition. To put it in context, when it started, the Christ Church Cathedral still had a spire. Since then, the Crusaders have travelled more kilometres than any team in the history of Super rugby. And at the end of the round-robin competition they had third place in the bag and still had the highest point differential by quite a long way.

Along the way, there were times when it looked like the toll was too great. There were less than stellar performances against the Highlanders and the Cheetahs. Both those performances by the Highlanders and Cheetahs were excellent team performances where they took their chances and were able to put the Crusaders under pressure. There was even room for controversy with the loss to the Reds in Brisbane. Just when the Crusaders looked like they had the game won, a refereeing decision cost them the game. To be fair to Stu Dickinson, he did communicate "no hands" while the play was going on, but it did seem to be a strange decision. But perhaps the season was summed up by the first game back after the February earthquake.

The Warratahs had basically clobbered their opposition in the first two games and were sitting pretty with maximum points. They had also nilled the Rebels in the first game and beaten the eventual finalists the Reds. Against the Crusaders, they looked like they were playing well. They had two tries in the bag and the Crusaders didn't look in it. For the Crusaders, it looked like one bridge too far in what had been a hell two weeks. But the Crusaders came back and won comfortably in a game when it looked like the emotions may just overshadow the performance. It was also one of the games the Crusaders turned out in West Coast colours in tribute to the miners who died in the Pike River disaster.

In that game it took two magic moments from Robbie Fruean to turn the game. An intercept try from a telegraphed pass then two minutes later a try in the corner and suddenly the Warratahs were a beaten team. The following week, the Crusaders crushed the old foe, the Brumbies by a staggering 52-10 in a game where the highlight wasn't the tries but a try saving tackle by Robbie Fruean again. With the Crusaders way in front, he chased down Adam Ashley-Cooper and hauled him down five metres from the line and gained a turnover. If that wasn't season inspiring stuff, then I don't know what is.

As the season carried on, there was a mixture of clinical, grinding wins (Force, Stormers, Chiefs), sprinkled with the celebrations of rugby that the Crusaders and Sharks took to Twickenham. The forward pack took on the role of the toughest, hardest pack in the competition and the backs combined to fluidly finish moves. Once injuries started to mount, there were fears the wheels would fall off, but they still ground out wins. And as the season started to wind up to the climax, and injured players came back into the mix, the Crusaders started to find top gear again.

When Sean Maitland returned to the fray, the backs looked much sharper. He set up a try for Sonny Bill when nothing was on simply by good footwork. And when he ran away with an intercept in the semi final against the Stormers, the ball could not have been better presented to him if the player in question had run up to him with the ball on a silver tray and asked, "Will there be anything else Mr Maitland?" A fully fit Sean Maitland is a real threat to any team and I have a feeling, he is going to get better - much better.

So the journey is nearly at an end. After winning the first away semi-final in 12 years, the Crusaders enter this game as favourites. In their way, the Reds, who disposed of the Blues with a flourish that any one of the Three Musketeers would have been proud of. There is obvious danger men in Quade Cooper and Will Genia but to ignore the rest of the team and target only those two would be a huge mistake. The Crusaders are smarter than that and whatever happens on Saturday night it will have been a truly remarkable season. A chapter in sporting history awaits.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Aftershocks, Coffee Shops and Christchurch's Fattest Sparrows

Three weeks ago, most Christchurch residents were left saying "Oh no, not again!" I had literally sat back down at my desk and logged back in when the whole room shook violently. I simply picked up my bag and walked out, holding the door for a moment or two for the next person to come out. Once everyone was assembled outside, it became apparent that work was over for the day and unless you had a pressing reason for going back in, you should go home. Then two hours later, an even bigger shake struck. It felt like some giant being had grabbed hold of the house and was trying to shake it off the foundations. Power went out and so out came the battery powered radio. The kids entertained themselves with the iPod, while still sitting in the doorway to the study. As before power was soon restored and I could watch what was happening on TV.

Because the bigger of the two aftershocks was classified as 6.0 on the Richter Scale, most people the next day tried to go about their normal business as much as possible. With schools closed this was a bit tricky, but I did manage to treat my children to lunch at Pizza Carto which is their favourite eating place while still logging into my work PC. Wednesday, however, most schools were back and so was work.

In and around the Art Gallery, there is not too many places where coffee can be found - and one of them was closed for the week. This meant there was a choice between the only indoor one left or the outdoor one. This choice was further rendered academic when the only indoor one's espresso machine broke down leaving a morning coffee session outside in the middle of a Christchurch winter. Still we did have a lot of company in the form of some of the most well-fed sparrows I've seen in a while. In the last few months, I suppose sparrows have had rich pickings of left-over food in hastily abandoned cafes. The disadvantage for many of these obese sparrows is it they no longer resemble sparrows but characters in Angry Birds. They didn't look too worried though.

The following day my grandmother died in Wellington and all of a sudden what was a stressful week for the nerves became a stressful week for the emotions and it was still only Thursday. I kept mostly to myself that day and spent time in the garage working on a CD/DVD tower. Keeping busy was best.

Once Friday rolled around, the never-ending week was finally coming to an end. And mother nature had another say. At 4:20 a 4.5 shake rattled the Art Gallery. At that point, and I wasn't the only one, I shut down, picked up my bag and said "That's it - I've had enough this week!"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My tribute to Grandma

On 16 June, my beloved Grandmother died. It came on top of what was already a very long and stressful week. Below is the tribute I wrote about her and delivered at her funeral yesterday.


Hello everyone. I'm Kevin Field. I am the privileged oldest grandchild and I had Grandma all to myself for three and a half years. When I was a wee boy, I often wondered what people thought about this tall woman, striding rapidly into town with a gaggle of grandchildren struggling to keep up. For some reason, this thought stayed with me till I was a young adult and was put into perspective when I heard second hand, a quote from Don when walking with Barbara, "Slow down, you're not walking with your mother now".

I walked many places with Grandma. It would be the river side of Fitzgerald Ave if going to Cleveland Street or as most expeditions were, into town. We would normally visit the Farmers department store which always used to have the delicious smell of roast cashew and peanuts wafting through the store. Sometimes Grandma would even buy some roast cashews if I was really lucky. Sometimes there were hurried trips across town to Ballantyne's because a certain grandchild needed to go to the toilet and Ballantyne's was the only place he would go. No demands that this toilet is good enough, she just did it. That was Grandma. Even as a young fella, I thought she was kindest grandmother you could ever have. It seemed to me that during the regular visits to the Fitzgerald Ave house, we would be asking Grandma if we could take home any number of trinkets that we had discovered in the house or shed. And she would normally say yes.

Staying over at Grandma and Granddad's was special. There were National Geographic's for Africa - many about Africa; plenty to explore and always breakfast in bed. Toast and marmalade and the sweetest, nicest tea. Somehow, the way she made it was just the way I liked it. And there were always scones on Sunday for when more of the family gathered.

There were never any favourites with Grandma - we were all treated the same and that was with kindness. She was non-judgemental, even when the older grandchildren struggled to play Christmas day cricket with the younger grandchildren because they had headaches or if they turned up at Fitzgerald Ave with bleached hair.

The last time I saw Grandma was on 23 February and unlike 4 September, where Grandma was quite philosophical about her potential fate that day and was more concerned with the new dinner arrangements, she was worried about her Christchurch family and whether they were all right. I was pleased to be able to deliver that news.

I realise the last few months of her life were a bit confusing after moving first to Nelson and then to Wellington, but I am pleased the Wellington family had the chance to be with her and to spend time with her.

And even though her health deteriorated in her 90's, she still got to meet and get to know her seven great-grandchildren. I am pleased she was able to watch them at her house as they went about their routines, doing such things as scrubbing the bird bath, picking up apples or chasing the cat. I'm also grateful they got to know her as well.

So thank you Grandma. While I'm sad to say goodbye to you today, I'm happy to have had you in my life and that it was you who was that rock in my life.

One last thing. Ballantyne's had small children's toilets and that's why I had to go there.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


It was probably the most obvious news of the year. The front page of The Press with a story that Christchurch residents, according to a Southern Cross Healthcare Group survey, were the most stressed in the country. There were a number of other categories such as the amount of alcohol drunk per region, the amount of fruit and vegetables eaten and the number of residents who smoked. Ironically Christchurch residents were the most satisfied with the amount of sleep they got per night. Even more remarkable considering that the vast majority of Christchurch people would have been awake when this morning's edition of The Press was on the printing presses thanks to a 3:00 am 5.3 wakeup call.

The stress that people are suffering goes way beyond just anxiety over aftershocks. There are the normal things such as job losses, business failures, money worries but there are also the other stresses with the damage and losses of homes, dealing with insurance companies and EQC, the loss of the central city and the worry that there may be more to come. Not to mention the suspicion that the Christchurch rebuild is only going to satisfy politicians and won't reflect anything that residents want to see.

For many people, the stress is so over and above what they would normally experience, that they are displaying symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome. And often it is people who fall into the category of a "strong person". It's as if an earthquake is too far out of their area of control that coping with them becomes difficult. You can't blame anyone for feeling this way because of the terrifying and unpredictable nature of earthquakes are fertile pasture for feelings of fear and anxiety.

Some of the methods of dealing with stress are simple. One of the best ones is breathing. Often during aftershocks that is the first thing that people forget to do and they end up hyperventilating whereas what is required is slow, measured breaths. Other techniques are going through a small routine of checking everything and everyone is all right, listening to soothing music, putting on a favourite item of clothing or accessory or just going to your happy place.

Even though this survey pointed out the bleeding obvious, it also suggests that if this is a regular survey that some of the categories may change, but Christchurch people are going to be the most stressed New Zealanders for a while to come.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Christchurch Ideas

Since the first earthquake on 4 September, the term "Christchurch Rebuild" has been used quite liberally by both the media and local politicians. Following the first earthquake it seemed a little ludicrous to describe repairing the damage and demolishing about 90 buildings within the four avenues could be called rebuilding Christchurch, as the vast majority of the buildings in that area were perfectly fine. A better question would have been "What would be prudent to do with this vacant area?". An even better question would have been "Should we move a little west?". The debate around these questions became irrelevant on 22 February.

That was when those questions tool on real relevance. Many buildings completely collapsed, terrible loss of life. The Minister of Earthquakes being quoted on his preference to tear down many of these older buildings. The shutdown of the CBD and the eeriness of the pictures and videos showing badly damaged and deserted streets of a place we all knew so well. The reality that what was there will no longer be there. This was not limited to old brick buildings, but many so-called modern buildings. Many of these will have to go. A few hotels, the BDO Spicer building down Victoria Street, the Clarendon Towers and the now infamous Grand Chancellor.

So it is now a given that there will be mass rebuilding, but before any grand plans are drawn up, there are a few facts that need to be considered. One is a lot of people will not go back into the CBD let alone a high rise building. Another is that no matter what the politicians say, the actual CBD of Christchurch has already marched west into Addington, Riccarton and Hornby. Many of those business are likely to stay there for the foreseeable future. It is also possible that the planners will have to think that Christchurch will be the first city in New Zealand to have a "old town" quarter, much like many European cities. With that in mind, will it be better to design around that idea? As events since the February earthquake have illustrated, it's entirely possible that what was central Christchurch may become one of the more eastern parts of the city if suburbs such as Burwood, Dallington, Shirley and Bexley become deserted.

What should central Christchurch look like? Should any ideas of attracting businesses be abandoned and design more along the lines of Oxford Street and the West End in London? Should there be some more concise acknowledgement of the history of the city? Why not have a French Quarter of the city much like New Orleans. The French did after all, have history in Canterbury. And while we're at it, what would Maori architects come up with if they had to design a Maori Quarter to acknowledge the original settlers of the area? An area similar to the West End? A retail triangle with Ballantynes as the centre and covering High Street, Cashel Street and parts of Colombo Street?

Whatever happens with this design, Christchurch residents need to put their hands up and contribute. Christchurch has that rare luxury in cities that there is plenty of space, in fact, it's the only major New Zealand that can shift inland a bit. So while it's pretty much rest assured that iconic structures such as the Cathedral and the Arts Centre will be rebuilt, those gaps in the city blocks will need to reflect not only the best way to rebuild in earthquake damaged areas, but also to start a new heritage.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Our Favourite Places

People who live in cities have them. Their favourite places. Might be a favourite shop. Might be a favourite cafe. Might be a favourite venue. Might be a favourite pub. Tonight in Christchurch, many people's favourite pub was demolished.

To be fair anyone who saw The Carlton following the 22 February earthquake would have thought it was only a matter of time before it was demolished. There was a gaping hole on the east side wall. There were also braces holding up the south side wall. The future didn't look rosy for The Carlton. However, this was where New Zealand's first tap beer was poured. It had occupied the same spot for over 105 years, which by New Zealand standards, is an exceptionally long time. It also introduced that much beloved pub feature, the beer garden to New Zealand. The first drive through bottle store was also at The Carlton.

To anyone who has lived in Christchurch, they would know The Carlton. It stood on the corner of Bealey Ave and Papanui Road like a sentinel. It has always looked welcoming. It is the pub that has had probably more regulars than any other New Zealand pub. There were groups of old men who had met there every Friday for drinks since their student days. For a while there you could see bands playing there until it was restored back to the original building. Just about anyone who has ever been to a pub in Christchurch, would have spent time in The Carlton. Many people are going to mourn the passing of this part of the city.

Regretfully, the demolition of The Carlton, only re-emphasises the point that this is only one of many favoured places in Christchurch that will face the wrecking ball. All but one of the churches within the four avenues have either been destroyed or badly damaged. To put it in some context, compared to the rest of the churches, the Cathedral got off lightly. There are other buildings around Christchurch that haven't survived such as the ANZ building on the corner of High Street and Lichfield street which was completely destroyed during the earthquake. Buildings further down High Street have had significant damage and it seems unlikely they will survive. Much of Manchester Street and Colombo Street have been demolished already. Many people's favourite restaurants were in these areas.

In the end, it's all brick and mortar. It can be rebuilt. What can't be rebuilt are the lives that have been lost or shattered by the earthquake. But as people start looking for signs of normality, the news that some of those favourite places have moved to new premises, brings an elation beyond what could normally be expected. In the last week, I have seen Scorpio Books, the best bookshop in the city, getting ready to re-open down Riccarton Road - just down the road from my place. The Children's Bookshop is re-opening down Blenheim Road at Blenheim Square and it's looking increasingly likely that Alice in Videoland will be re-opening soon. And while it doesn't sound like much, the survival of those favourite places in a city where everything is anything but normal, is just the tonic to spur the population on.