Enjoyable punt amid doom and gloom

JANE BOWRON
Last updated 09:33 20/08/2012

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Jane Bowron

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OPINION: As you get older you have to make a conscious effort to be Pythonesque and always look on the bright side of life.

In the last year of his life when I handed the paper to my father he'd shake his head in mock gloom and sigh melodramatically: 'More doom and gloom I suppose'.

I visited a friend in Fiji a few weeks ago who showed me the local rag explaining that it only published good news, a remark which came back to me on my return when I faced the daunting task of conquering an Everest of unread newspapers.

Newspapers are a catalogue of bad news and discontent, daily reportage of people living in appalling conditions shivering through brutal winters, others messed around by recalcitrant insurance companies, many living like refugees camped and waiting to be liberated from a zone of no-man's land.

And then there's the soaring divorce rates and plunging birth statistics.

Yes indeed, plenty of doom and gloom.

The roads in Fiji were pitted with potholes and my friend kept apologising for the bumpiness of the ride as I hastened to assure her it was just like this back home in Shaky Town. Infrastructure is something I used to take for granted but not now as the week days are punctuated by the do-your-head-in sound of a pole driver over in Fitzgerald Ave as the road is rebuilt.

I can escape the noise by driving away from it but Benecio has to sit it out and grin and bear it like the cheshire he is as the floor becomes ankle deep in the fur he sheds when insecure.

To add insult to mental injury, he has been wrongfully implicated in an unsavoury feline incident where a doppelganger black and white long hair was making the neighbourhood miserable, rending the night air with its hideous mating meows. A text message was received from the owner of a cat on heat to say my old boy had been spotted hanging round their girl as I hastily texted back that it wasn't my lad, as he has taken the pledge and is saving himself for his wedding night.

February 2011 turned the corner of Fitzgerald Ave and Kilmore St into your classic image of what a quake-hit road looks like with its ripple of ruptures, and it continues to astonish how long the road has been worked on, and will be worked on. I'm not saying there is any incompetence at play but the cost of this one stretch must be staggering.

When the Government says it has already spent $5.5 billion on the rebuild without itemising where the money has gone, you wonder if they are including the cost of the army, the police, the roads . . .

As the community wakes up from the thick fog of trauma, it has to demand transparent fiscal accountability, the least the taxpayer can expect from its Government. The broken landscape is an overpowering wordless insult but it shouldn't shut us up as we put up with the over-reach of Cera and an emasculated council that meets secretly behind closed doors.

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At the risk of sounding addicted to punting, I took the opportunity to go for a float from the newly reopened Worcester Boulevard Bridge that takes you into the Red Zone. Feeling as seasoned as a frequent flyer with a grand total of four punts under my belt, we took off down a gravy coloured Avon as our puntman informed us how the river seemed higher but it was the addition of liquefaction that has created this illusion.

He had noticed more fish in the water than the halcyon days of 18 months ago and the presence of a two- metre eel, which I am happy to report, did not emerge during our brief journey. The puntman was politeness itself, apologising for his puffs and grunts as we were only the second boat load and he was out of practice.

Apparently puntmen in peak condition develop lopsided, three-pack abs as they favour one side to pole the river. Pre-quake the puntman's British public schoolboy uniform of white shirt, tie and boater was in keeping with New Zealand's most English of cities, but now among the destruction of buildings we glided past and the wreck of the land, the outfit seemed more than a little out of place. We observed high-vis men atop tall buildings taking them down level by tedious level as you longed for it all to be just detonated and blown up.

The degraded spectacle of the town hall was particularly sad, with its many boarded-up windows, the cascade of shattered brick steps and a three dandelion-headed fountain that hasn't played for many moons. Only Captain James Cook, pristine in his whiteness, looked untouched by the epic drama that had caused the giant upheaval around him. Now I know the true meaning of the expression to rend asunder.

On our return to base, the puntman asked if we had enjoyed ourselves. 'Yes.' I said. 'In a brutal kind of way.'

- The Press

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