Monday, November 07, 2011

The end of this blog

I am stopping this blog. It was never meant to go on as long as it has -- my intention was to document the emigration process, which has been done. Although I may take up another blog in the future, this one was not intended to become a general diary, and I don't want to turn it into one. I want to leave it as a legacy for anyone else who is considering moving to New Zealand or is curious about the emigration process from Ireland.

We are now settled into New Zealand and, unless I move to some other country, I won't be dealing with emigration again.

Thank you for reading.

Over and out.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

A year to the day

This day last year I (along with everybody else in Canterbury) was blissfully unaware of how life was about to change for all of us. My husband was overseas and I had just returned from a very enjoyable few days visiting family in Wellington. I went to bed happy and relaxed after a busy Friday spent house cleaning and buying groceries in preparation for my other half's return on Sunday.

I'll never forget the shock of being woken in the middle of the night thinking that the house was going to fall down around me. First I heard a roar like a train somehow passing through our garden, and then I was being thrown from side to side. Not knowing the first thing about best practice during an earthquake or that I was supposed to "drop, cover, and hold," I stood frozen with fear in the corner between my bed and the window. The whole house was full of the noise of crashing (which turned out to be roof tiles clattering as well as bits of furniture falling down inside) but that was almost drowned out by the roar coming from the earth itself. It only lasted for a matter of seconds but they felt like very long seconds to me.

When the shaking stopped, I gingerly stepped out of the bedroom to see was the rest of the house still standing. Flicking on the light in the living room, I was greeted by fallen bookcases and DVDs thrown everywhere on the floor, but the house itself looked fine. I went straight to the telephone to call my brother in Wellington. Christchurch had no history of earthquakes like this so my immediate assumption was that we had caught the tail end of what must have been a devastating earthquake along the Alpine Fault. Imagine my surprise when my brother's sleepy voice answered the phone, and he hadn't felt a thing!

We still had electricity and internet access so I went straight on to Facebook to tell my friends what had happened and compare notes with other people. While I was doing this we were having frequent powerful aftershocks, but I had no idea if this was normal or not. I didn't even know if what I felt was a large earthquake or just something small - I had nothing else to compare it to. This confusion only increased when I put on my dressing gown and slippers and took a walk down to the street. Houses were dark and quiet, and there was no sign of any activity. Perhaps I was overreacting and should just go home and go back to sleep like everybody else apparently had.

It took several hours before I felt calm enough to sleep, and during this time the aftershocks kept coming. I felt so powerless in the face of Mother Nature; there was nowhere that I could go to get away from the shaking. And yet I still had no idea that we had just survived a 7.1 magnitude earthquake.

The following few days revealed the extent of the damage to the oldest and most vulnerable buildings in the city centre and out towards Darfield at the epicentre of the quake, and to the land in the riverside suburbs in Christchurch and in Kaiapoi. People had lost their homes and businesses, and we were all scared and traumatised - but we were all still alive. We had survived. The miracle had happened and a terrible quake hit at a time when few people were out and about and those who were awake managed to escape with their lives, even if some people were badly hurt. We would pick up the pieces, deal with the ongoing aftershocks, and get on with things again.

Little did we know what was in store for us six months later...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nail varnish

For the last few months I have been doing my nails with CND Shellac. It's a gel hybrid polish, which means that it has to be cured with a UV lamp rather than air dried but it lasts really well. If I take the time to properly prepare my nails before painting it on, I can get two weeks without any chipping or peeling (by which time I'm so bored with the colour that I am dying to switch it for something else anyway).

This is the sort of lamp I have - a cheap one from Hong Kong that I found on eBay:

And this is what the varnish itself looks like:

The process also requires the Shellac base coat, Shellac top coat, some isopropyl alcohol, and some acetone.

Step 1: prepare the nails (clean, tidy, remove stray cuticle).
Step 2: dehydrate the nail plate (use a 50:50 mixture of alcohol and acetone on a cotton pad).
Step 3: apply a thin layer of base coat, cure under UV lamp for 10 seconds.
Step 4: apply a thin layer of colour, cure under UV lamp for 2 minutes.
Step 5: apply a second thin layer of colour, cure under UV lamp for 2 minutes.
Step 6: apply a layer of top coat, cure under UV lamp for 2 minutes.
Step 7: wipe off the sticky top layer with alcohol on a cotton pad.

There it is, easy peasy! The end result should be perfect shiny nails and they are dry straight away. No more smudging or denting or having to avoid touching anything for half an hour just in case something smears! Use a nail oil every day to keep the cuticles nice and keep everything well-oiled and flexible.

I have had some bad experience with the polish peeling off because I put it on too thickly, so it's vital to keep the colour coats thin and build up colour with multiple layers rather than one thick layer. The polish will also chip or peel off if the nail isn't properly cleaned and dehydrated first or if the nail itself peels off. But the more I practise the better the results are, and now I have no excuse for ugly chipped polish.

Removal is easy too. Just cut up a cotton pad into little nail-sized pieces, soak in acetone and hold in place on the nail with tin foil. Wait ten minutes, remove cotton pad, polish slides right off with it. There is no damage to the nail itself (unlike some gel polishes which require the nail plate to be filed).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A verdict on the city's land

The first official government report on the state of the city's land came out today. It doesn't cover everywhere (some places haven't been assessed yet, or have to be re-assessed after last week's shakes) but it is a start.

For some people it will represent a sense of closure, knowing that the land under their home is in such bad shape that they should leave it. The government will buy them out if they have insurance, and they can move on with their lives. For others in the orange and white zones, it means nothing except that the wait for a decision goes on.

We are incredibly lucky - although we are relatively close to the Avon river, we aren't close enough to be in the red zone that follows its path. Our house is in the green zone. But I really feel for the people who have to leave a house they once loved in an area where they may have spent their whole lives and have so many memories and so many friends and neighbours. Whole communities are going to be torn apart and it will take a long time for many of the displaced people to feel at home somewhere else.

Of course some people have had enough and will be delighted to take the money and run. They have been living with broken houses, few services, and wet silty ground since September, and they don't want to spend any longer in that situation than they have to. Who can blame them?

I hope today's decision is good for most people even if it represents bad news about their house. But I don't envy anyone outside of the green areas.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 13th Aftershocks

I have been meaning to update this blog anyway, with non-earthquake stuff, but that can wait for another day.

Yesterday we had two major aftershocks here in Christchurch; a 5.7 followed some time later by a 6.3. I was working from home for both of them and was by myself in the house. Both times I dived straight under the dining table to ride it out. A year ago there is no way I would have dived under a table -- it just wasn't in my mind or my muscle memory -- but now there's no hesitation whatsoever. As I clung to the table leg, both me and it bouncing around on the floor, and listening to things crash down in the kitchen beside me, I was glad to have some solid wood between me and whatever might come down over my head.

As it turned out, we had no structural damage to the house and no damage to contents either, which seems miraculous, especially as I am certain I heard glass smashing. I can't find any broken glass now, so either it is hiding until I let my guard down or else I was mistaken. It could have been the roof tiles crashing around a few feet above me -- they do sound like breaking glass when they shake against each other.

My husband was at work for both shakes and they had no significant damage either, although a window cracked and I believe some insulation tiles in the roof came down.

Since yesterday we have (so far) had more recorded aftershocks than I can count. In the last 24 hours we have had 44 of them. Check out the action on the quake maps -- there has been a very significant change in the last day or so!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


A few people have asked me how we're coping after the earthquake. I feel like a bit of a fraud when they ask, because honestly we haven't suffered much at all. Our house is mostly fine apart from some superficial cracks, we both have jobs, our toilet flushes, etc. But that doesn't mean everything is normal, so I suppose I'm allowed to exhibit some strange behaviour as part of the coping process.

The strangest thing for me is that I have almost stopped wearing perfume. I've worn perfume just about every single day for the last decade or more, but since February 22nd I have hardly worn it at all. A very sweet lady in Australia sent me some perfume oils recently and I've put those on from time to time, but other than that I've hardly reached for a spray bottle at all. However, I have become obsessed with soap, and washing in general.

In the last two weeks I have purchased almost fifty bars of soap (24 of them are tiny guest soaps but the rest are full sized bars) and enough face cloths and wash cloths to see me through a lifetime. I freely admit that I tend to obsess about things that take my fancy, but this is strange behaviour even for me. It has been suggested that it is an effort to take control of my immediate surroundings and also to reassure myself that I can still be clean and smell nice even though we have had all sorts of problems with water and sewerage over the last couple of months. It seems likely that it's some sort of psychological coping mechanism. Oh well, if the way I cope is to have lots of nice smelling soaps then I suppose I can live with that!

On the plus side, I have learned a lot about soap recently, particularly as far as men's shaving and washing habits go. There are a lot of shaving-related internet sites out there, and a lot of men who really enjoy a good bar of tallow-based soap. I would have assumed that women would be the driving force behind most fancy soap purchases, but it turns out that plenty of men are at least as bad, if not worse.

As for today's choice? It is Caswell-Massey's Almond Cold Cream soap, triple-milled, finely scented, and apparently good enough for President Eisenhower of the USA. It's certainly good enough for me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What's working / what isn't

On a personal level:
  • We got electricity and water back a few days after the earthquake. Going to the toilet in a plastic bag became the new norm for people in this city, but people on our street only had to do that for a few days. Some people are still doing it now.
  • Tap water has been chlorinated in the last few days but is still not safe to drink or cook with. Everything has to be boiled before it can be used, but that's not practical in the shower. I come out of the bathroom wondering if I'm less clean than when I went in. The boil water notice should be lifted once the chlorine gets through the whole system, but then we get to smell like a swimming pool at all times. Lovely.
  • Our house shows only very minor damage (apart from to contents which were flung everywhere), just a few cracks in the plasterboard where boards join, and some flaking paint in the corners.
  • Our garage, despite being badly cracked in September's quake, shows no new damage now. We were told by EQC in early February that it would have to be demolished and rebuilt, but I assume that has been shoved way down the list of priorities. It's certainly less important than fixing somebody's house.
  • My husband and I are both working fairly normal hours in work that is reasonably close to what we normally do.

On a grander scale:
  • Our part of the city is very badly damaged. I don't know how we escaped so lightly, given what surrounds us. Liquefaction, broken walls, broken buildings. Five minutes on foot will take me to our local park, which has ruined rugby pitches and badly cracked and slumping paths. The little drain that runs along the perimeter, which is normally a stream with ducks swimming on it, is now an open sewer. Another couple of minutes on foot takes me to our local shopping mall, which has to be partially demolished, and our local shops which have collapsed on one side of the road. 
  • The city centre is a complete mess. A month after the earthquake, building and business owners still don't know what is happening with their property or their livelihood. The CBD is cordoned off for safety reasons (not just overly PC safety reasons but very genuine ones, given the huge aftershocks we are still having and the risk of people being electrocuted or otherwise harmed by broken power connections) and nobody knows when it can be reopened. It must be a really awful time for those who own irreplaceable stock or personal items and are terrified -- with good reason -- that the building will be demolished before they have a chance to rescue anything.
  • My office building, housing well over 1000 staff, will not reopen for at least a couple of months. It has some minor damage but is surrounded by buildings that need to be demolished. Even if my office had no damage at all, which is not the case, it would not be safe to go anywhere near it. So all the staff have been distributed around various locations in the city, often without their own computers or any access to the staff network (computer network and also people network). I'm working from home this week but have no idea where, or on what, I'll be working next week. Right now I'm just grateful that my employer is still in business.