When the bad thing happens, you deal with it

When I left Motueka it was raining. Cattle stood in the rain like statues of misery. In Murchison it was still raining. It was raining in the Maruia Valley. It was raining in the Lewis Pass. And in Christchurch it was pouring.

My windscreen wipers staggered against the load. This was rain to make Noah reach for his tool bag. The only colours were grey or black. The few pedestrians were blurs, hunched, sodden and scuttling. Cars made wakes like ships.

Fierce weather excites me: blizzards, thunder, wind that bends you double or lifts you like a moonwalker, hail like small-arms fire, rain that drills a roof. Cocooned in a car I was warm, dry and thrilled.

As I emerged from the Lyttelton tunnel the rain was falling yet harder and the siren was wailing for the fire brigade.

It's an air-raid siren from World War II. I once had a dog that wailed back at it. He threw back his head and he howled like a wolf. I liked that. But now the siren made me worry about my wall.

I live on the side of the Port Hills. The wall holds a chunk of them up. It was sturdy enough until the quakes. Then it buckled and bulged. Now, when it rains, water arcs out of it in a dozen places, as if it concealed a cache of Belgian statues.

If the wall falls, there is nothing to stop that chunk of the Port Hills from following. I've been worrying about it in a low-level way for 18 months.

I first learned to worry at roughly the same time as the Beatles had their first hit. Those two facts are not related. In the subsequent half-century I've found plenty of things to worry about, as no doubt have the Beatles. Wealth doesn't banish worry.

I have forgotten most of those worries. Love and money have probably topped the list but there have been hordes of trivial matters. As a teenager I lost sleep over the size of my backside. A chubby backside, a buckled wall, the object may vary but the worry's the same.

"Everyone can master a grief but he that has it," said Benedick in Much Ado. And I am expert at mastering other people's worries. "Think of all the things you've worried about in years gone by," I tell the worrier. "Where are those things now? See? This, too, shall pass."

It's excellent advice, of course, but all advice is like herpes: easy to give but no good to receive.

Worry achieves nothing. Either the bad thing doesn't happen, in which case the worry was pointless; or the bad thing happens and you deal with it. But although worry serves no purpose, it is an emotion, and when any emotion strides in through the door, reason leaps out through the window.

The road below my house was awash. My driveway was a torrent. Several drains were blocked, but my wall had not fallen. The Belgian statues could have doused a house fire but the wall was holding.

Inside I lit the log burner then pulled on a coat and gumboots to attend to the drains. I slid on the drive and fell and banged my knee and sank an arm into deep cold water. But from an overflow pipe I pulled a mass of sticks and rubbish and made the thing work. Then in the road below I saw shapes, neighbours who were threatened with flooding by the torrent pouring down the road. A culvert was blocked.

Together we hauled branches and rocks from the grille that covered it. It was freezing, rotten work but it did the trick. Sodden, I went back inside and showered and stoked up the fire and ate a meal in front of it, hunched like an orphan, listening to the storm and worrying about the wall.

It was when I was undressing for bed that I heard the the crash. In a dressing gown and gumboots I went out with a torch, though I knew what I would see.

The wall lay buried under a great tongue of mud and debris. It looked like what it was, a landslide.

There was nothing I could do. The bad thing had happened. The bogeyman had come out from under the bed. He was ugly but at least I now knew what he looked like. It was better to see him plain than to imagine him. And the morning would be soon enough to deal to him. All worry was gone. I went to bed and slept like the baby I was before the Beatles made good.

The Press