Christchurch earthquake: No getting back to 'normal'

One month after the earthquake, well-wishers from overseas or out of town are leaving messages on our phone and sending e-mails, containing the statement: "Hope you're getting back to normal."

Image caption One month after the quake, Pam still has no running water

"Normal!" I fume. "What's 'normal'?"

I don't recognise that word any more. It will never be normal! It's a new normal.

It's poo-ing in a bucket and remembering the mayor's words: "Double bag it, tie it tight and drop it in the red bin."

Well, red bin is getting very smelly, so often it's dig a hole and fill it in (not near the rhubarb please) and feeling very sorry for our rubbish collectors.

"Normal" is using hand sanitisers with no water and our favourite fragrance of air freshener. The chemical toilet has been on order but not yet arrived. Maybe our road is still too much of a challenge.

Three-cup wash

"Normal" is taking laundry to the people making generous offers of "use our washing machine" - we still have no running water, and collect water every day in bottles, from the water tanker.

For personal washing we spread ourselves around on the people who have showers and on alternate days we have the three-cup wash - one for top, one for middle and one for bottom.

"Normal" for us is waking in the night thinking of those who have died and those who still suffer with horrific injuries. It is living with a broken home, broken possessions and sometimes a broken heart. It is getting aftershocks (still) which jangle the nerves and shake plaster from the wall.

The "normal" of now is living with lost income, lost neighbours who have gone to live in other places and lost familiarity of our beautiful city and our suburb.

"Normal" is, in fact, spending the whole day trying to get back to normal. Fixing things we can fix, filling in form after form to make a claim to the EQC (Earthquake Commission), insurance, mortgage, holidays, cancelling tickets and trying to find things among the boxes of stuff we rescued.

It's also reading The Press cover to cover for pictures and stories of the quake aftermath. The noticeboard at the local info centre gets read and re-read for helpful information - our quake brain finding it difficult to absorb it all.


We have got used to our "normal" roads where huge sink-holes and crevices and drop-outs have been filled in with loose shingle, so that we can at least drive over them. Normal is taking three times as long to get anywhere, often in billowing dust and horrendous traffic jams as you get near town.

Image caption The prince: A kind and affable visitor

And even our normality is not too bad. My partner, John, and I no longer sleep in the garage but have moved back into a downstairs bedroom.

I have friends and neighbours who have been told to leave their unsafe homes because they are so broken, or because rocks are still likely to fall down on them.

They aren't feeling anything like normal, they are displaced, sleep-deprived and anxious.

And then there is the suffering of the people in Japan. My heart aches for them.

It's also not normal for a prince to visit out city and our suburb - but that bit we really liked.

Prince William was here on 18 March, is very kind and affable and I shook his hand, then shook with delight. He punctuated our lives with warmth and sunshine and we loved it.

But people out there living normal lives, with things in your home in just the right place, with the dog at your feet sleeping happily instead of jumping at every noise and trembling with every aftershock, with your hot showers, flushing toilets and peace of mind - please don't ask if we are getting back to normal, as it's never going to be the original "normal" ever again.

But this is a new normal, and we do cope, and we will move on.