PERHAPS the most distressing news recently relates to the aftermath of the earthquake in New Zealand.
The pictures on television centre on the square near the cathedral in the heart of Christchurch. The pictures show severe damage to the cathedral itself and the ruins of offices and other buildings.
The pictures struck a particular note with me as, a year ago, Wifey, our girls and myself were lucky enough to enjoy a two-week holiday in New Zealand ending with a few days in Christchurch. Overwhelmingly, the impression we got of New Zealand was positive. We covered a lot of ground and the terrain was as varied as anything we have between Kent and the Scottish Highlands. There were sun-baked flatlands covered in vineyards around Marlborough contrasting with the snow-covered peaks of the Southern Alps.
The area around Milford Sound is as beautiful as the marketing hype while the Bay of Islands in the north is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and most certainly well worth the long drive to get there.
Indeed, long distances and long drives characterised the country. You never left a town without checking your fuel gauge. Rather than thinking in terms of miles, we measured distances in hours, and four hours between significant towns was not unusual. Long drives along lonely roads, through lovely rugged countryside, were the norm. Indeed, it was quite suprising how good the infrastructure was given the relatively small population of the country.
The towns, despite being clean and tidy were architecturally fairly dire places, many buildings being built of crinkly-tin on a timber framework and adorned with brash signage advertising everything from burgers to cola, and even lawyers and funeral services. Nevertheless, they always had a friendly feel and nowhere did you feel intimidated or not made welcome. I loved it.
Our holiday drew to a close with a stop-over in Christchurch and the contrast was remarkable. For once we were in a city with an elegant, sophisticated feel to it. There were trees and parkland in abundance and its reputation as a garden city is fully deserved. Along the river tourists were punted along placid waters, that gave the place a similar feel to our own Oxford.
But the tourism hub of the city, and our hotel, were on the square near the cathedral. The cathedal was damaged by a quake in (I think) the 1920s and had been restored beautifully. Old-fashioned trams (actually new and only introduced in the 1990s) rattled around the centre and the the overall feel was of a safe, charming city. Our only regret was that we had not planned to stay in Chistchurch for a little longer.
How sad then to see this wonderful little city so badly battered by the quake that has brought misery and death to so many. No signs of looting there. Just solid resolve to get through this. The Kiwis will get through it and rebuild, of that I feel sure. But we must not underestimate how serious a blow this has been to what is in reality a small, if proud, country.
I hope I will be able to go back one day.
Back in Blighty our own lives are much more mundane thankfully. Wifey (a nickname I use as a term of affection and which she insists on incidentally) and I managed to dodge showers and spent the afternoon over in the allotment doing a much-needed post-winter clean-up.
We dug over and weeded our raised beds and gave them a dressing of Fish, Blood and Bone, to get them ready for starting to plant next month. I cut out any remaining dead canes on our blackberry plants and tidied and tied-in the healthy stuff ready for the surge of growth that will soon be with us.
If you are a greenhouse owner, you should be getting it spruced up and clean ready for seed-sowing next month, an ideal job if it is too wet or cold to venture into the garden proper. A good sweeping, a bench stocked with clean pots and with algae cleaned off the glass stacks up the odds for gardening success in the forthcoming season.
And it will soon be upon us. Our “forced” rhubarb is already a foot tall and buds are forming all over our blackcurrants.
We are now anticipating the happiest season of the year ... springtime!