Lyttelton outlaw takes on the authorities in boulder stand-off

JOE BENNETT
Last updated 11:03 17/08/2011

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Joe Bennett

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There are many ways to become a criminal, most of them drastic. Shakespeare's Macbeth, for example, did it by killing a king. I, however, have found a simpler way. I merely occupy my house.

By sitting here in this study I have rendered myself an outlaw, liable to a fine not exceeding $200,000 (how kind) or a term of imprisonment. The house, you see, has been red-stickered. It's an offence even to approach it.

An outfit called Port Hills Geotech, under the auspices of the council, decided last week that I am in "extreme danger" of being crushed by rocks. I am touched by their concern for my welfare, of course. Quite where that concern has been over the last six months, I can't tell you, but maybe they've just been busy.

Those six months have been entertaining. Within these walls since Feb 22 my lover, my dog and I have ridden out a thousand or more earthquakes. And in that time the number of rocks that have rained down upon us has been - one moment while I reach for the calculator; hang on, there we go - none.

On Feb 22 itself, when the land around here attained a vertical acceleration exceeding any recorded anywhere in the world, the number of rocks that rained down was - and here, sorry, another computational pause, tap tap tap - one. That single rock landed about 30m from the house and came to rest against my trailer. At the time I described it as being the size of a beach ball but I'm afraid I was exaggerating in the hope of seeming tough like Macbeth. It was the size of a football.

A few days later a woman arrived in a hard hat with a little light on it. Together we assessed the land behind my house and agreed that the chances of my being brained were negligible. And we've been proved right. During the six months of the most intense seismic activity that this region has undergone in the history of human habitation, my dog, my lover and I have hardly been crushed to death at all. Yet now, just as the earthquakes seem to be relenting, the authorities wish to add us to the refugee list. Well, I ain't going.

Friday morning I was here at work when there came a ferocious knocking on the garage door. "Who's there in the name of Beelzebub?" I called, quoting Macbeth.

Macbeth is on my mind because we are about to stage the play in Lyttelton. Our theatre's buggered so we're doing it in the rubble where the Volcano used to be. Do come and see it. It will be very different.

I emerged to find two burly men whom the dog swamped with love. But I was more circumspect for I had noticed they were carrying an aerial photo of my house with an X drawn through it.

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The men did not prevaricate. They told me, bluntly, that I had to leave. I told them, as politely as I knew how, that I would not.

They said I could be killed by falling rocks. Now I acknowledge that this is so. I also acknowledge that I could be struck by lightning, consumed by the Ebola virus, or picked off by a transvestite Bulgarian sniper employed by the Vatican. But, daredevil that I am, I am prepared to live with all these risks. It is my house, my choice and my responsibility. None of which I bothered to say to the burly men. They were merely messengers.

Had the ostensible experts from Port Hills Geotech had either the courage or the courtesy to come and justify in person the decision they have made that would, if I were to obey it, disrupt my life, I would have said many things. And I shall in due course. But for the moment I merely told the burly men to tell their masters that they have a fight on their hands.

One of the men then produced the red sticker, which quotes sections 121 and 124 of the Building Act 2004 and is dotted with words like "pursuant".

"Where would you like me to stick it?" he said.

On reflection I am proud of my own verbal restraint. But as the men drove away in their council ute I spoke to the dog. "Dog," I said, "I'll fight till from my bones the flesh be hacked," which is of course Macbeth.

You can book tickets at the Christchurch Arts Festival website. I look forward to seeing you there.

- The Press

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