It’s now four years since the earthquakes that devastated my hometown of Christchurch/Otautahi (its Maori name). It’s still a picture of destruction. What a lot of people don’t understand is that the earthquakes continue. There was one while I was there – a short, sharp jolt that rattled the door knocker and my nerves. The people of Christchurch are a resilient bunch but you get a sense of the post-traumatic stress they must be living with.
There are signs of life in this flattened town.
I’ve saved my favourite thing for last. C1 Espresso is a Christchurch institution, where all the cool kids used to get their caffeine fix. It used to be under my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment, but has now relocated across the road to the former home of another institution, arthouse video store Alice in Videoland. Alice’s (as it is affectionately known) has moved to the back of the premises and also opened a small cinema. They have left plenty of space for the cafe though.
Inside, lights salvaged from somewhere. The new cafe’s USP though is their “pneumatic sliders”. Remember how department stores used to have pneumatic tubes to whizz orders and cash through the building? Well at C1 they do the same but with food.
Other cool things about C1: you get to the loos via a sliding bookcase full of Penguin books.
Once you get there, a Harry Potter audiobook plays in the background.
I just about died from the cool.
I could go into more detail – the upshot is the picture’s not all bleak. All sorts of things are springing up.
I can really recommend a visit to Christchurch to anyone with the slightest bit of curiosity. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild and I don’t know if the people realise quite how long. London still has a gap-toothed grin from the Second World War – and we’ve only just gotten back to the pre-war head count. The London comparison doesn’t stop there. I thought it had a real East London vibe – and not just from the Boxpark connection. But Christchurch is constantly changing and this is a good chance to reinvent itself. It’s going to be an exciting place to be.