Co-sleeping in New Zealand

There is a war being fought in New Zealand bedrooms, and the bullets are made of bullshit.

Recently, a coroner described an epidemic of co-sleeping with infants being killed by the practice. Reportedly, between 55 and 60 babies have died per year due to unsafe sleeping practices. The coroner’s report related to a sick, premature baby who was in the same bed as his mother, a smoker. He was formula fed, and she had consumed both a bottle of wine and cannabis before going to bed. The coroner commented: “I have to repeat comments made in the past that it [co-sleeping] is becoming almost like an epidemic.”

The fundamental problem with co-sleeping is that it happens a lot in what are called socially chaotic households. The parents that are drug users and alcoholics, the parents who don’t care enough for their babies, the parents who pass out on the sofa with their babies on top of them, and the families who are in otherwise extreme circumstances through no fault of their own. It’s quite obvious to any thinking person that careful co-sleeping is not the same as lying in bed with somebody who is passed out drunk. What is not obvious is whether it poses any increased risk over, say, room sharing, the current recommended practice. (We need to take a moment here to clarify that co-sleeping can mean sharing a room or sharing a bed. Here, we are talking about bed sharing.)

The most recent New Zealand study was a meta analysis of five prior studies, and was published in May 2013. It aimed to get to the bottom of the matter: “To resolve uncertainty as to the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) associated with sleeping in bed with your baby if neither parent smokes and the baby is breastfed.” Bravo! The study found that bed sharing for non-smoking, alcohol and drug free parents does indeed increase risk of SIDS from 0.08 / 1000 live births to 0.23 / 1000 live births.

Now, these are tiny numbers, and here is a danger (this is where the bullshit bullets fly in the other direction). I could ask all my friends who are parents and find they’d all had no problem bed sharing. That’s great, but anecdotal evidence doesn’t make it safe. Many practices are both unsafe and probably won’t cause harm. Don’t wear a seat belt? You’ll probably be fine. Don’t wear sunscreen? Ditto. But these unsafe practices have an associated probability of harm. With co-sleeping, do I want to gamble on a 1 in 700 chance of killing my baby? No, I don’t want to do that. So these tiny numbers are a concern.

However, there are obvious problems with this study. The first is in assuming information about the circumstances of death is accurate. It’s not reasonable to assume that parents will tell the truth about how their baby died. There are strong disincentives against honesty in cases like this. The second is that the study did not account for other factors such as obesity, sickness, and legal medications. This may seem like nit picking, but the study found a 243-fold increase in risk with alcohol, drugs and smoking, so it is reasonable to consider that factors not controlled for may constitute a substantial portion of the remaining risk. The third problem is that the researchers imputed values. As one reviewer put it:

“Maternal alcohol consumption prior to the last sleep was collected but only for 38.7 per cent of the mothers in the study…. Imputing values from a group of five studies, three of which did not even ask the question, is surely making unreasonable equivalence assumptions across studies conducted in different countries with different cultures in different time periods.”

To my mind, this is a flawed study. It is resonably clear that co-sleeping is dangerous if you or your partner are drunk or stoned, or smokers. It is not at all clear that careful co-sleeping is hazardous.

But… why take the risk at all? Well, a generation or two ago, we put babies in nurseries and left them to cry. We fed them on a timetable and we considered them to be machines that need discipline and strict management. Today, many of these ideas still hold sway, but in general we practice a kinder form of child rearing. It is certainly easier to settle a child if they are close at hand. Arguably, it is also more natural. Babies have been held, swaddled in their parents clothes for thousands of years (of course, babies also used to die all the time). Nevertheless, babies want and need this natural closeness. They settle more easily and display less distress.

Sarah and I feel that it is important for our baby Zia to feel loved and to feel close to us. We are not prepared to compromise that for the sake of bad science, given that other studies have found no risk. So we do bed share, and we do get lectures about how we are harming our child. However, we do also maintain a rigid space in the bed that is just Zia’s space, and we feel that this provides a level of safety we are comfortable with.

Music, 2012

Here’s a sample of what I’ve been listening to this year.

  • Alt-J, Tessellate
  • Benjamin Gibbard, Bigger than love
  • BOY, Little numbers
  • Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking ball
  • Cat Power, Sun
  • Dandy Warhols, SETI vs. the Wow! signal
  • Electric Guest, This head I hold
  • Fanfarlo, Tunguska
  • Fiona Apple, Hot knife
  • First Aid Kit, The lion’s roar
  • Fun., Some nights
  • The Jungle Giants, You’ve got something
  • Kishi Bashi, Bright whites
  • M. Ward, Primitive girl
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Same love
  • Of Monsters and Men, Little talks
  • San Cisco, Beach
  • Sarah Blasko, I awake
  • tigertown, Morning has finally come
  • The xx, Angels

Being vegan

Once upon a time as a child I refused to add salt or pepper to my food. I don’t mean one meal. Not for a day or for a week. I mean for years. I mean for a substantial chunk of my childhood. But why? I liked salt; I liked pepper. I liked food. I think I just could not accept the ubiquity of salt and I was aware of its hazards. But why pepper? Well, I would have to put that down to my fondness for symmetry. And then for no special reason the prohibition broke and I moved on.

Not long after, I found something more profound to eschew: flesh. I stopped eating animals at age 18 and learned to cook for myself. At the time, vegetarianism was not big in New Zealand, and was considered a personal affront to the culture of the time. People told me that I would give up after a month. People told me I would die. People told me that if we didn’t farm animals then they would have no life at all and isn’t a short brutal life better than none at all? But for me it was all far too simple: if you want to eat meat, you have to be prepared to kill, and I wasn’t.

I was a loner; my best friends were animals.

But there are so many dark secrets closeted in the hearts of the dairy and egg industries. Male chicks are killed at one or two days of age, often by shredding or gassing. After a year, a hen’s daily egg production declines, and she is slaughtered. She could have lived for another ten or twenty years. Cows don’t simply product milk by magic. They are impregnated every year, and they give birth every year. Male calves are raised for beef or veal, females for dairy. Dairy cows are slaughtered after 3-4 years, when they could have lived for 25. Even in the best conditions, even setting aside cruel cages and stalls, there is no getting around the killing that is an essential part of production of both milk and eggs.

And so, for the past few months, Sarah and I have been experimenting with veganism, and I feel like I’m 18 again: veganism in New Zealand is about where vegetarianism was in the late 80s. Here is what we have discovered:

Restaurants don’t really know what vegan is, but they understand dairy-free. Many Indian restaurants have no problem with dairy-free. This intrigues me as ghee is such a key part of Indian cooking. Perhaps it is simply cheaper to add oil? Vegan pizzas are straightforward, although commercial ones are often rather humble (I have found at home that a generous splash of olive oil when you bring the pizza out of the oven is key). In Christchurch, the Lotus Heart Cafe is a refuge for a vegetarian, and it is directly across the road from the hipster-chic Darkroom Bar, run by the clever T’Nealle, blogger, dressmaker, photographer, vegan, barmaid. The Mainstreet and Dux de Lux cafes are, sadly, gone. However, there is a new Morroccan cafe on Colombo which offers a delicious (although probably unintentional) vegan tagine. Small consolations. Interestingly, Subway’s vegetarian option is now a vegan option too.

Vitamin B12 is not available as part of a natural vegan diet. Deficiency is serious and causes irreversible damage. However, the body stores several years’ supply of the vitamin, so the situation is not urgent. andis only produced by bacteria. Options for vegans are fortified foods such as some cereals and soy milks, and vitamin supplements. Oddly enough, Marmite yeast extract contains B12, but it is out of stock nationwide due to earthquake damage in the Christchurch factory. Vegemite, the Australian analogue, does not contain B12. Some nutritional yeasts also contain B12.

Historically, beer contains isinglass, a fish product, used in clarifying the beer. Better production methods mean that most beer is now vegan. Beer from smaller craft breweries may not be vegan. Wines are traditionally clarified with milk and egg products. However, these are both considered allergens and so must be listed on the label. If there is nothing listed on the label, then it’s a vegan wine (or so I believe). Further information is available at Barnivore.

Western cooking is basically French cooking, and the French love their œufs. Eggs are a mainstay of cooked breakfasts, desserts, and baking. But we are learning to use coconut oil instead of butter, to puree tofu and to grind nuts for desserts. With Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Post-Punk Kitchen website and cookbooks, we have learned to make some very good cakes and desserts.

A cheap tofu outlet is essential. In Christchurch, Kosco Asian supermarkets sell two-litre tubs of tofu for just a few dollars. This tofu is quite soft but may be pressed to make it firm. Or you can freeze and thaw it to make it stringy. Bin Inn is a quaint chain of bulk food outlets throughout New Zealand. The shops are drab and smell funny (I think it’s because they sell pet food). However, they stock a remarkable array of grains, beans, dairy-free or gluten-free products. If you are looking for vegan items in a supermarket (i.e. chocolate cookies), then head for the gluten-free section. Vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free often cohabit. The Moorhouse Countdown and South City New World both have strong offerings, including the Fry’s range of vegan frozen convenience foods. Finally, of course, Piko in Richmond offer a diversity of vegetarian wholefoods, organic and gluten-free foods. Eternal Delight, Revolution Food and Angel Food have intriguing products online.

Socialising is hard. We no longer get invited to friends’ houses for meals. We can eat out at a very small number of restaurants. Cake at work on birthdays is out. And we have very few vegan friends in Christchurch. It’s a lonely business.

Finally, I don’t believe that everybody should be vegan. I certainly don’t believe people should try it, find it all too hard, and give up. If you want to try it, learn the techniques, find the shops, ease in. Be happy to be partial. I believe that everybody should make their own choices, and that every single meal makes a difference. Having said that, I also believe that cheap meat is an outrage, and that cage eggs and veal should be outlawed. If we are going to exploit animals, we should give them respect.

I am glad I have a partner in this adventure. There’s no going back.

Let’s end with a couple of movies:

And some amusing snippets of animal intelligence:

Criticism, feminism, Lana Del Rey, and Joss Whedon

It is hard to create and easy to tear down. It is all too easy to mock a piece of art, and all too much fun, especially when you are paid by the word. Everybody is somewhere on the continuum of creativity, whether it’s writing novels, Vimeo movies, Twitter haiku, of Facebook bon mots.  And in this environment of rich mediocrity, I do think that criticism performs a valuable role: it helps us to interpret the works around us and it does help guide us toward what is relevant, what is unusual, what is exceptional, when there is just far too much to attend to.

But what troubles me is the fashion to simply rip anything apart, because it’s fun, and it’s especially fun if it’s a girl. Let’s start here, with Cracked’s “Hollywood’s 5 saddest attempts at feminism“. The implication is that Hollywood writers have attempted to sprinkle some feminism-dust in their movies in order to broaden appeal and boost box office takings, and that they have failed in doing so because — well, they are all men. You could certainly argue about Hollywood’s troubling images of femininity and masculinity, but Cracked isn’t: they are discussing particular characters as failed cynical attempts to manipulate you. Since I’m not paid by the word (and you’re not paid to read), I’ll just look at one.

Cracked describes the character of River Tam in Joss Whedon’s Firefly (TV series) and Serenity (follow up movie):

Since Firefly was created by Joss “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Whedon, it’s pretty much assumed that all the female characters will be ground breaking paragons of feminist virtue. Maybe this is because Whedon genuinely respects strong female characters, or maybe he’s intimidated by a cult fanbase that demands every show of his have another Buffy in it.

Despite River’s inherent ass-kicking abilities, she rarely uses them to the benefit of the crew. The character has been driven insane by her experiences, and therefore she spends most of her time saying crazy things and throwing up in her brother’s bed.

In fact, protecting River forms the backbone of no less than five out of thirteen episodes, plus the theatrical movie. That’s an awful lot of rescuing for a feminist hero.

Let me work through the many problems here.

Whedon is well known for writing interesting, complicated female characters. Each of these characters have strengths and weaknesses, and each battle monsters both within and without. Indeed, all Whedon’s works are explorations of identity — hero or anti-hero. Many of his character flip back and forth.

It’s quite true that River is a variable character. Despite very rare outbursts of spectacular violence, she is mostly weak, confused, afraid, and a bit crazy. She is not in control. She is not what I would describe as a strong feminist character. But then nobody said she was.

Worse: Cracked completely ignores the other two genuinely strong female characters in Firefly / Serenity: Kaylee and Inara. Both these characters make their own choices, and live with them. They are active agents in their own lives, and they are strong.

Kaylee is the crew’s engineer: she is plainspoken, straightforward, and always positive. She loves her job and she loves the engine room. She wears overalls, plus grease on her face. But on the other hand, she has decorated her cabin doorway with fairy lights, and she is beguiled by a voluminous pink ballgown. Her job takes her to the frontiers of civilisation, dirty, in danger, and not feeling particularly feminine.

Figures – first time in the Core, and what do I get to do? Dig through trash. Why couldn’t he send me shopping at the Tri-plex, or… Ooh! Synchronizers!

She is living with her choice. She is clearly a strong character.

Inara is a high-society courtesan. Once or twice she is called a whore, but in this world she actually moves as part of the social elite. She is influential, relatively powerful, and always in control. She has chosen her role, and she is almost always in command of social situations. She is another strong female character.

So: River, Kaylee, and Inara, and Cracked selects the weakest and most damaged of the three to attack. This is a straw person argument.

But are Kaylee and Inara feminist role models?

Well, bearing in mind that Whedon is in the entertainment business, nobody wants to watch a “paragon of feminist virtue.” A paragon is a point: there is no room to move. An interesting character makes choices, good, bad. What made Buffy so interesting were those choices, those mistakes, how she lived with her choices, how she changed her mind, how she was forced to make choices that no other character had to make. In a fantasy world, she was very real. And anyway, what does feminist virtue look like? There is no singular pointy definition of that. At best, one can only participate in a dialogue.

Emma Hart puts it like this:

If you wear a dress, you can’t be strong. If you have short hair, wear trousers and smoke cigars, you can’t be a woman. Increasingly it seems that the only way to guarantee not being accused of “not being able to write female characters” is to actually not write female characters.

I want deep characters, of any gender and sexual orientation.

What exhausts me about these arguments over strong, feminist female characters is that they’re all based on this idea that some women are realer than others. Some count more. . . . We all bloody count. There isn’t a list of traits that make a female character “feminist”. Just make her a fucking character. Make me care. [link]

Now let’s move on to Lana Del Rey. The haters love to hate, Lana Del Rey specifically. Simon Sweetman said this:

I have to call bulls**t on this; I am calling artistic fraud – tantamount to charlatanism. There’s nothing to see – or hear – here. You should move on. Lana Del Rey is nothing. She will shortly be touted as everything. [link]

Sweetman mentions Lana’s name change from Elizabeth Grant, describes her as the bored daughter of a millionaire (“Daddy probably paid for new lips to give her a new look. He probably paid for a better producer to try to give her a better sound.”).

One commentary cherry picks her Twitter feed to assert that it is impossible to tell the difference between Lana Del Rey and the infamous pro-horse spam bot, @horse_ebooks:

Amidst the embarrassing-for-everybody controversy over her Saturday Night Live performance, her lips, her name, her dad, her shelved first album and whether or not she actually likes video games (per an MTV interview: nope), the stone that is her Twitter feed has largely been left unturned. It’s full of perky @ replies, album news and the sort of “meaningful,” punctuation-challenged platitudes that you generally find on the Facebook walls of people who had kids right after high school.  [link]

On the matter of her lips, here is a snippet of interview:

Yeah, there’s a lot of speculation about your lips.

I can tell that’s going to be a fucking problem. I didn’t sign up to be famous, I just wanted to sing. It’s so annoying, but what am I going to do?

Are your lips real?

I haven’t had anything done at all. Anyone who’s known me will tell you that. I’m sorry, but I was living in a trailer park for a few years. I didn’t even have enough money to buy Cocoa Puffs. It’s not like I crawled from under the bridge and got surgery. I’m quite pouty. [Laughs.] That’s just how I look when I sing. [link]

The bottom line is: it doesn’t matter whether her lips are real or not. It doesn’t matter if she changes her name. It doesn’t matter what her daddy earned. It doesn’t matter whether she actually plays video games. It doesn’t matter what her Twitter feed says. Cher’s Twitter feed is full of deeply superficial drivel, but it doesn’t matter.

There are a few commentaries that are kinder:

Lana Del Rey is an artist, a story teller. She is not a historian, she is not a politician, and she is not constrained by rules of truth and authenticity. She is perfectly within her rights to experiment with her identity, just like David Bowie and Bob Dylan. Oh . . . but then they were men.

Who knows whether Lana Del Rey will amount to anything, but for now her visions of youthful nihilism, of romance in the face of a world that wants nothing from you and has nothing to offer, have some meaning.

The time of earthquakes

Your mother and I fell in love during the time of earthquakes. The roads were broken and sinking, dust blew everywhere, and the gardens of abandoned houses grew wild. We had no flushing toilet, and sometimes no power or water, but we had each other. We came to see the land differently: not as you see it now, hard and dependable. More like a jelly that would set to vibrating every so often. We would hear the deep rumble, and we would feel the tremors move through us, lying in bed or sitting, checking emails, or standing in the kitchen. We were not afraid, but we were tired. We lived in a wrung out, strung out city. We made the best we could of things as the were, and we knew that everything breaks sooner or later, but you make do with what you have while you have it. And we held onto each other, and we saw people come together, and squabble in their exhaustion, and argue over reconstruction. We saw arrogant city leaders, and we saw communities fight for survival. And we saw creative and temporary solutions: fields of wildflowers, shipping container shops and bars, pianos and bookshelves and pictures of loved ones in empty lots. We saw friends get married, have babies, leave the city forever, or stay — not because they had no choice, but because they chose this place in this time.

For some people want to be at the heart of things, to participate in what is to come. And back then, in that time of earthquakes, Christchurch was reconsidered, restarted, rebuilt, renewed. It could have been the death of the city. It was the birth of a new city. For a city is the crystallisation of a culture and its values at a point in time. Christchurch was the early twentieth cetury frozen in brick and stone facades. And the culture had outgrown the city, and the city had to change.  And your mother and I were part of that change.

T-30

With less than a month remaining now before our civil union, I thought I would share what I have learned.

Civil union

There is a lot of confusion about what these are, that they are non-binding or a lower grade of commitment, that they are only for gay people, that anyone can administer one. The legal commitments and protections in New Zealand are in fact the same as with marriage, although they are not recognised in some countries. It is all too easy to call it a wedding, but we have been training ourselves not to do that, because that defeats the point. The point is, as a straight couple, we had a choice and we chose a civil union. We chose a commitment ceremony on our own terms, and one of those terms is that we not participate in something from which some groups are excluded. There has opposition to civil unions and their “separate but equal” status, with Marilyn Waring commenting for example:

Marriage is a civil and political right and civil and political rights are not negotiable. You can’t have half a right. If it’s a civil or political right in international law it’s immediately enforceable. It’s not something that progressively – you know – as it depends on what you can politically get away with you might get there. So my submission is focused very much on the fact that civil union was a separate but equal approach and we’ve seen separate but equal approaches throughout history. Apartheid is a separate but equal approach. Segregation in the American south was a separate but equal approach. [Source]

Although I agree that marriage should be open to everybody, I disagree on tactics, but it’s not my fight. Also, she loses me at the point where she makes the inflamatory comparison with Apartheid.

Fundamentally, we believe there is value in the concept of a public commitment, and that a union is a product of a community, not just of two people. Also, is a lot of fun to bring together all the people in your life, and there are all too few opportunities to do this (and for one of those opportunities you have to be freshly deceased).

Incidentally, we have discovered that the details of weddings are very different around the world, even in Western countries. For example, In Germany, one has a registry office legal wedding followed by a celebratory wedding. In the UK, you may only marry in registered premises. Here, you may marry or engage in a civil union anywhere but you must have a registered celebrant, and the numbers of these are tightly regulated. In the US, it is straightforward to become a celebrant temporarily so you can marry your friends, or you can choose a Quaker wedding where there is no celebrant at all.

How to apply

In Christchurch, post-earthquake, the process of applying for a civil union (or a marriage) licence has become a mysterious and secret journey — ten months after 22 February and there is still no information online. Here is the process. Visit the Internal Affairs website and print and complete any forms you need. Drive to the airport and park in the short term airport parking. Walk back to the roundabout and turn right along Orchard Road. Turn left onto Perimeter Road. At this point, the footpath runs out, the buildings look like they are for aircraft maintenance or in-flight catering. Continue on foot to the Customs building on your left, and you will see a sign pasted to the wall explaining that it is also the temporary offices for Births, Deaths, and Marriages. The address is 26 Perimeter Road, there’s no parking outside, and if you arrive after 4pm you will have to go home and come back later. Don’t just follow these instructions though: email them first to confirm they haven’t moved!

Celebrant

It is difficult to find information about celebrants, particularly civil union celebrants. Our celebrant is an Anglican minister who gay and is in a civil union herself. We found her through the advice of a marriage celebrant friend of ours. We met another celebrant first who would have would have worn a nice floral hat and done whatever we wanted. She would have been perfectly fine. The second celebrant we met had very clear ideas on what a civil union meant, she understood why we chose one, and she had her own rules and values that she brought to the occasion. We chose her.

Websites

We have found Offbeat Bride particularly useful. It is a community of people all doing their own thing to a greater or lesser degree (and their own thing very often involves Star Trek). Weddingbee is also quite useful. I have been subscribed to a local Facebook group, which has provided some striking insights into how self-centred people can get about their “special day.” For example, some people feel that everything must be perfect, and that therefore precludes the presence of small children, and that guests who have a problem getting their children looked after all day should stop being so selfish. Well, I believe that the selfishness vector should perhaps be pointing in the opposite direction. At the very least, friends with children should be treated with understanding instead of bitchy comments on a closed group. Fundamentally, we believe small children are part of the community and are of course welcome. Another hot topic has been partners and whether it is OK to invite one person and not the other if you don’t know them well or don’t consider them to have a meaningful or valuable relationship. This is a reasonable discussion as these events can be expensive, but there is no need to excoriate guests for their selfishness in wanting to bring a partner. I think the hypocrisy is pungent: expecting guests to honour your relationship while disrespecting theirs.

Venue

Shortly after our engagement, we spent a couple weekends driving around the countryside looking at community halls. We were struck by the high standard of many halls. Farthest afield was the Staveley Hall, in a beautiful spot but quite dark inside and rather far away. We looked at the Ohoka and Brooklands Halls but dismissed them both due to lack of outside space. We considered the Cust community centre, but it was too prosaic and too public. We dismissed the North New Brighton Hall as it is just too nearby and we wanted a fresh space. We chose the West Eyreton Hall, which has a new kitchen, a large hall with a polished wooden floor, pleasant grounds with native plantings, and a pretty little oak grove across the road, all for just $150 (we feel guilty paying so little and are considering making an additional donation). We have since discovered the Kainga Hall which has ample grounds across the road for photographs, but our choice is already made.

A community hall is not necessarily the cheap option though: you need to organise your own decorations, equipment hireage, catering. Everything adds up quickly: $50 for forks, $200 for linen napkins, and so forth.

Catering

First, a preamble: Sarah describes herself as vegan. I usually describe myself as “semi-vegan” which raises howls of protest from the carnivores. They question what that means, thinking that it means I’m vegan except for when I’m not vegan. That is literally true. But what people don’t understand is how incredibly difficult it is to be vegan in social situations. I can easily eat vegan at home, but if I am out at a bar or restaurant, there is often absolutely no food available at all, or it is not clear. As of Christchurch 2011, a choice to be strictly vegan would mean that I could eat safely at one Christchurch restaurant and nowhere else. I will also sometimes eat the non-vegan birthday cakes staff bring in to work. To me, that’s more important. That’s what semi-vegan means to me.

So anyway, with all that in play, we felt we wanted full control over the catering. We have opted for a combination of vegan and vegetarian dishes, and we will prepare everything in advance as best we can. We are very fortunate to have a friend of Sarah’s family taking charge on the day to cook, prepare, serve (he will hire staff for us). We were very impressed that he was willing to work with what we provide and to trust that we will do it right. Then he let us know that he catered his wedding over new year and he made the event last four days!

We have yet to finalise the menu, but we do have all the drinks sorted. I have conducted research into the credentials of wines and beers, and this is what I have found. Wines today are typically fined with milk and sometimes egg. Very few bottles are unlabeled. There are a few vegan wines, of which Wither Hills seems to be a well-known brand. Vegan beers and ciders are very common — in fact most brands are vegan. They tend to be either vegan or non-vegetarian as they are fined with isinglass. There is clearly a trend away from isinglass. Monteith’s is one of the few major brands that are not vegan (although apparently is is usually vegan). Many craft brands are also not vegan, although several are (for example, Moa, Stoke, and Tuatara). There is good information at barnivore.com.

Clothes

Sarah found her dress almost immediately, using Etsy to locate a dressmaker who is in fact in Christchurch. This has been easy, fun, and affordable. I looked at a lot of online options for suits. Locally, only the most boring styles are available and I wanted something a bit different. A host of sites online will offer to make suits for you, but I read many reviews of these services suggesting that the quality was low. Ultimately, I selected a linen suit, which was quite affordable.

First Dance

We have worked with Marcela, an Argentinian woman who is as friendly as she is small, to learn a choreographed first dance to a song we selected. This has been fun, although we have needed a lot of time to practice. Private classes are a much different experience from group classes: if you find something easy then you move on, if you find something difficult then you can stop and work on it rather than being left behind for the remainder of the class. The result was that we learned a four-minute routine in just three classes.

Time

We are arranging every detail of this event ourselves and we are working with large numbers (around 110). In this context, we have found that the eight month timeframe has been a challenge. The organisation, on top of selling a house, working full time, and earthquake issues (dealing with contractors, insurance, breakages, picking bookcases up off the floor), has well-and-truly taken all our time. Wedding or union planning is complicated and stressful, and can include some delicate balancing and management of family. Anything and everything I might have wanted to do with my time has simply not happened. Sometimes I wonder who I am and why I am here. In retrospect, we needed a year.

That’s all I have for now, but I’ll probably add more notes as I think of them.

A table

These past two years have proffered a thoroughgoing exploration (with empirical data!) of that which does and that which does not break in my life. So here are my results entabulated in two columns for you to see.

Frangible

Brick, rock, concrete
Cliffs and even trees
Conditional relationships
Exercise and skin regimes
All walls, if only cracks
Crystals, heart urchins
And also hearts

VS not

Paper polyhedra
From when I was twelve
Daffodils in yellow troops
Cherry blossoms in pink regiments
Wood, books, and cats
The persistence of mortgages
And spirits

Little bird

For the past three and a half weeks, Sarah and I have been looking after a blackbird chick. Living in a large plastic box, I would take it to and from work and feed it soaked cat biscuits every couple of hours. I used the stem of a cocktail umbrella and it was a very efficient and clean process. It even started to learn to feed itself and to drink out of a bowl.

Inky, the landlords’ cat, caught the bird. I could hear it outside one morning over breakfast and I went out to look for the bird and I met Inky at the door, mouth full of feathers and legs and beak. I wrested it from her surprised jaws before she realised what had happened. Leg broken. I took it to a woman from Bird Rescue that I found on the Internet, and she didn’t think it would survive. She bandaged its leg and sent me away.

I learned to feed it. We spent time together in the garden looking for worms, quite hard to find, apparently. Last week, Sarah, bird and I all drove to West Eyreton to measure up the wedding venue. It grew a tail. It learned to fly. It learned to balance on my hand, or on my keyboard. It found its voice and would happily sit on the kitchen counter chirping, no two notes ever quite the same. We would talk to it, and it would talk back in its own chirpy way. It tried lettuce, and tofu, and millet, but it really only liked cat biscuits and worms. We bathed it a couple of times, and it would splash around unhappily, revealing its true, dinosaur form. We would cover it with a blanket to keep it warm. It roosted on high shelves. We would play it birdsong off the internet. We would play it “The lion sleeps tonight” on a tiny music box and it would stop and listen.

We removed its bandage and the leg was clearly destroyed: the lower leg was withered and dead, while the upper leg was pink and swollen. Today I took it to the Animal and Bird Hospital. I took a book so I could wait. They whisked the bird away and sent me away, and I asked and asked and finally they gave me a card so I could call later. Bad feeling. I called as soon as I got home, to check they wouldn’t put it down. Too late.

We had marvelled that something so small could do so much. Its eyes knew me.

The whole idea of progress

At this moment in time, I am missing the City as Memory discussion. I should have been there, but life is just too hard, too busy, too full. I didn’t make it. Cheryl Bernstein is quoting snippets like this:

Di Lucas is talking about the natural world that lies under the city, invisible yet insistent. Manchester Street dropped almost a metre over the course of an original stream. Under the ruined conference centre lies an underground forest of totara tree stumps.

It is all too easy to lay down some concrete and nullify what lies beneath, entomb and condemn it like North American 17-year cicadas. It is all too easy to drain swamps and build subdivisions. It is all too easy to think in terms of surfaces. But the land returns to its natural state, in a matter of time.

My father grew up in post war New Zealand. A land where you work hard, you conform, you get rewarded. You improve the land and you deny the state of things. That was his reality and he lived it all his life. He never realised I didn’t live in that world. And now here we are, questioning the whole idea of progress. And I wonder what he would make of the new city, the city of empty spaces. And I wonder if he would think this was progress, and I wonder if it would cause him to question everything he believed. And I know I am glad he didn’t have to see his city destroyed, because I know that it wouldn’t change the way he saw the world: it would simply sadden him.

The inevitable anniversary post

This time last year was a sunny Saturday morning much like today. It had been a rainy winter, I was newly single, and still dealing with the death of my father. We had been awakened in the night by a shocking and violent earthquake. We had no power, and we were trying to figure out how to get some news without power. I have a wind-up radio now, but that was then.

No one could have believed that in the early hours of 4 September 2010 it was all just beginning. In twelve months we have endured three major earthquakes and 8000 significant aftershocks. We have lost power, sewage, and the city centre. Many of us have lost jobs, many of us lost friends. Entire suburbs have been condemned. Many of the landscapes of our memories are gone: the beautiful stone buildings, the ugly brutalist buildings with the boutique shops, the churches. Even natural landscapes have been destroyed: 6000 year-old sea cliffs have collapsed around Sumner. Shag Rock and Castle Rock have crumbled.

Feeling despondent, I was listening to Bruce Springsteen singing “My city of ruins” earlier.

“The church doors thrown open. I can hear the organ song, but the congregation’s gone. My city of ruins….”

Only, we have lost our churches too. Living here is a struggle. We hear the trite remarks of journalists: Christchurch people are tough, stoic, resilient. We are just people, grieving, heart broken. We are tough because we have to be. Or we leave. We are positive because we have to be, but we are also negative. We love the city, and we hate it. Cheryl Bernstein talked about this: “The question of people’s toughness in the face of these repeated blows to their financial and social security is glib, irrelevant and insulting.”

Many people have left the city, taken their families, taken themselves, found somewhere better to live. Most of us remain though and the question needs to be asked: why? Particularly for those of us in the east, where conditions are still difficult, and where the aftershocks hit harder. Some of us don’t have the money, freedom, or options to move. Some of us do. I could move and start again elsewhere. But I don’t want to. This is my home. This is a city I love, and I would not walk away from a crisis. But not only that. This difficult, tedious, frustrating place is also the most interesting place in the country. I want to see it rebuilt. I want to see a new, smart, post-petroleum city. We are starting over. We can choose to lead the way, if we have the vision, or not. “Tell me how do I begin again?”

I am starting something new. I met a girl, and she is beautiful and smart and full of love, and we will be married in the summer. The party we will throw is our response to the times we are living in. We are making it bright and bold, we are making it fun, we are making it big (with 130 guests), and we are making it cheap. Because these are hard times. I can no longer afford to buy books or music or even orange juice. We will sell a car and a kayak, and we will make do.

“Your smile girl brings the morning light to my eyes, lifts away the blues when I rise. I hope that you’re coming to stay.”

Last weekend, Sarah and I crossed into the central city and wandered along one of the dark but accessible streets. We were impressed by the new series of Yann Athus-Bertrand posters outside the museum. It is nice to look out upon the rest of the world. And we explored the geodesic dome tents and fairy lights of the temporary cultural centre in the park there. And it got me thinking, we need the arts now more than ever. We need more than demolition crews. We need more than planning and rebuilding. We have so much to talk about, and so much to say.

If you would like to see what has happened to the city so far, then try these videos from inside the red zone. To me the empty voids are shocking, but so is the desolation. I do not know the city like this, muddy, vacant, and silent. Lifeless save for the demolition workers and the winter trees. And the demolitions are far from over. The difficult, large buildings are yet to come down. Something else that strikes me is the art. Most of our statues came down and snapped at the neck, but the city’s scattering of large sculptural work remains. I think of “Reasons for voyaging” surely stopped in its gentle mobility, and I am amused.

Alternatively, leave all that behind and watch the Mean Kitty Song. “Cos I got my safety gear on and I’m not scared.”

So much has changed, and we can never go back.