You will no doubt remember that a couple of years ago Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, suffered not one, but two major earthquakes in six months, each inflicting enormous damage. Christchurch came into the conversation on Sunday evening at the barbecue in the winery. The lady I was talking to explained to me that New Zealanders had been awaiting "the big one" for some time, in the same way that Californians know that a major jolt to the San Andreas fault is long overdue. What shocked Kiwis when it happened was that did not hit Wellington which sits astride two plates, and where buildings have been built to withstand the shocks, but in Christchurch, which was thought to be located in a geologically stable region, and where no precautionary steps had been taken.
I mentioned this last night to our friends and asked how the reconstruction programme is progressing. For the majority apparently, it has not yet even begun. And the reason is horrifying; it is officially judged to be premature because, in the two years since what I thought of as "the earthquakes", Christchurch has suffered five thousand aftershocks. That equates to an average of around seven a day.
In addition, a large part of the affected zone is suffering liquefaction, a phenomenon which turns the ground to mush. The people living in this zone, some in damaged but habitable homes, some in undamaged homes, have to begin each day by clearing away several inches of mud which has oozed up through the floor during the previous twenty four hours.
So far the world is concerned, the disaster happened, did its damage and now is over. I was shocked to learn that that is not the case. And I ask myself two questions. How would I respond to daily mud shifting? And if I had lived through two major earthquakes, how nonchalantly could I react to the start of a new tremor no matter how small?