IN THE TIME OF STOPPED CLOCKS: A year after the flood

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IN THE TIME OF STOPPED CLOCKS: A year after the flood

As I write this from my temporary office in the upstairs bedroom, workers outside in heavy fluorojackets and hard-hats are toiling under a sweating sun.

There's noise from diggers and massive machinery, the scrabble of scoria pouring from metal buckets, weighty wheels crunching over rocks.

And I'm enjoying it because, to me, it sounds like progress.

We live beside the Western Line in Auckland and for the past few weeks the railways track has been undergoing maintenance. But I'm watching closely what's being done with the drainage.

flood1This time last year that incessant rain ran down the hill on the other side of the line, under the tracks and came through the wooden retaining wall of our courtyard as a waterfall. It flooded the carpark of our townhouse block, flowed under tilt-a-doors into garages and the rooms where people had washing machines and driers, or had converted into living quarters.

Within minutes the floodplain in the courtyard – which claimed a few cars because the owners were out – rose to half a metre in many ground-floor areas.

Because we've never been attached to an expensive car our modest Mazda, quickly moved to higher ground, always remained outside. We'd repurposed the garage into a library-cum-television room with my office beyond.

We'd had rains before but, as everyone will attest, nothing like that night. The water outside, then inside, rose relentlessly as I piled precious art books on chairs. But by the time I'd done that both rooms were awash.

So I opened the back door from the office and watched water flow through from the courtyard into our pocket-sized back garden, already ankle-deep.

My wife Megan was at her farewell work dinner, leaving a constantly busy job after nine years. She was going to have brief break before looking for something else.

She sent a text from a restaurant where water was coming through the light fittings and asked what was happening. I said not to hurry home, there was nothing to be done. We'd become the people we see on television.

floodaOurs is a mundane suburban story unlike that of people in the provinces whose losses – livelihood, family homes, stock and land – were much worse and more long-lasting.

We lost a lot of things, but some lost everything.

Anyone who has been in a similar situation – flood, fire, earthquake or theft – will sing the same refrain: family photos; stuff that meant nothing to anyone else; silly things picked up from travels with embedded memories; the happy detritus of a life enjoyed until that moment. All gone.

I lost decades worth of travel journals and notebooks, hundreds of records, scores of books and dozens of CDs.

My record collection acquired over half a century wasn't so much filed as shelved: jazz over there; blues and classical nearby; that bookcase all and country-rock; CDs by local artists across that wall . . .

My only vaguely logical cataloguing was at the lowest reach, the one soaked by dirty water. It was loosely alphabetical and – because the wooden bookcase swelled up, as did the album covers – days later we literally had to kick them out because they were wedged in.

floodbI lost precious records and memories: from the Buzzcocks, John Cale and Cream through the Jam, Laibach, Meat Puppets and Pere Ubu to great wedges of the Velvet Underground, Warren Zevon and Frank Zappa.

Fortunately other valuable stuff – original and rare Beatles' albums, bootlegs, weird post-punk, all the jazz, local vinyl going back decades– had been above the high water mark. But about 800 albums were damaged by water and the kicking they'd been given.

Straight to the skip, no time for sadness or reflection.

When family photos float past in muddy water they look at you accusingly: “Why didn't you look after me better?”

You have no answer.

Memories turned into soggy paper or indecipherable photos of kids, birthdays, goofy faces and good times.

What we saved went into large plastic bins – there was a rush on those at Bunnings, the Warehouse and other outlets – and were taken by rented truck or overloaded Mazda to two expensive lock-ups we'd had to hire. They are still there.

The insurance company handling our contents' claim – that stuff in skips or awaiting kerbside collection – was quick, offering a small flat fee for the records. But many records don't diminish in value so I sent a screenshot showing my original copy of Captain Beefheart's classic double album Trout Mask Replica – which most people can't stand – selling for in excess of US$1000 on trading sites.

The insurance woman suggested I secure an exact valuation for my losses which I did – scrupulously fair to give them a benchmark for others' similar claims – and it was added to the compensation for the furniture, electrical and office equipment.

They settled within a week.

I guess they had bigger and more pressing claims.

flood2Megan didn't get the break she'd long deserved because for weeks she was gathering evidential material and photos for future reference, filling out paperwork, carrying boxes to the car or trucks, dumping sodden stuff . . .

Later experts came to remove bits of timber from the walls for analysis, assessors poked around in the wreckage. They took photos, did readings and other mysteriously scientific things.

Reports have been written, body corporate meetings held, other reports are pending, negotiations continue . . . .

Discussions about what can be done, by who, when, for how much and who pays are yet to be had. We may have to move out. But to where?

Meantime spiders and dust have taken possession of our former lounge and my office. When it rains we get edgy and watch the courtyard nervously.

flood3And that's why I'm happy about the noise outside: drainage works are being undertaken along the track to mitigate future threats from glooming skies.

Everyone affected by floods and the cyclone last year has their own story, but they also seem to have much in common.

Good things happened, even here in the much-derided anonymity of Auckland's suburbs: neighbours rallied around just as they do in small towns; a community spirit emerged; generous people lent us dehumidifiers and we discovered the collective skills in our suburban low-rise colony. Some neighbours are now whanau.

Loss and inconvenience, even as inconsequential as ours, encourages empathy.

But it was, and remains, depressing.

flood4However we got through, just as we survived 18 months in the mid 2000s when our block was diagnosed as a leaky building, the cladding torn off and we lived with builders, hammers and the workers' choice of incessantly upbeat breakfast radio hosts starting at 7am.

I'd had to move the computer then too, to exactly where I've been for the past year.

But we're Aucklanders with a unique capacity for being fatalistically optimistic. We've learned to wait in limbo while considerable amounts of nothing get done, although a year on we wonder that perhaps “when” has become “if”.

Our waterlogged story is ordinary and just one of many. Around here some low-lying homes are abandoned and small businesses remain closed.

Everyone's story is unique, and we were lucky.

Important though they were to us, we just lost some things.

Some lost everything.


This article appeared in the Listener in early February 2024. I was mindful writing it that I didn't want readers to be able to think, "Oh boo-hoo. Some latte-sipping Aucklander lost a few of his records. Poor baby". Maybe some thought that but they didn't write in to the editor. However a few weeks later I was able to put this up on my Facebook page.

People are kind, generous and thoughtful.

426537666_10161294878668638_1645549929827000153_nThis time last year we were having to throw out sodden journals, family photos, books, CDs and about 800 vinyl records. I wrote something about it for the Listener and out of the blue Mark got in touch and said he had dozens of albums I might like because he'd converted them all from vinyl.

Today I met him and Ann who gave me a large box of records which included Zappa, the Mothers, Nilsson, Cream, Dory Previn, Curved Air and many others I'd lost.

Unbelievable generosity. Thank you Mark and Ann of Ponsonby.

And also to Lisa Paris at The Label.

In the weeks after we were throwing wet stuff in the skip or taking retrieved things to the lock-ups, she sent through a care package of albums. And now she tells me she's sending me another couple, one being the new album by The Smile which I have reviewed in the current Listener and really rate. We are so used to hearing the worst of human nature from all sources it is wonderful to be reminded that in fact, many people -- I'd argue most -- are decent, caring and neighbourly.

I will pay this forward when I can.


These entries are of little consequence to anyone other than me Graham Reid, the author of this site, and maybe my family, researchers and those with too much time on their hands.

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