Sunday, January 23, 2005
At primary school, my teachers had two goals, and I'm not sure which was the more urgent one: the molding of me into a prosperous, healthy contributing member of society, or the scaring the living shit out of me by all means necessary. I think it was at least 50/50.
Mostly they'd scare the living shit out of me by telling me about The Earthquake. Sometimes they'd sit me down on a mat and tell stories about the widespread terror that Wellington, and uniquely Wellington, faced in the VERY IMMEDIATELY INEVITABLE FUTURE at the hands of cruel relentless Nature and her fickle ways; but sometimes, for a special treat, they'd take me to special centres, like the Civil Defense headquarters, where trained Living Shit-Scarers would show a filmstrip that was the exact precise reason The Simpsons and so forth have made the Heavy-Handed Parody Filmstrip such an hilarious comedic device.
This filmstrip, and the accompanying stern Civil Defenders, would explain the tripartite attack Nature had planned for us. Well, tripartitite if you don't count her fiendish initial deathblow and her unrelenting barrage of post-devastation afterattacks.
See, here's how an earthquake (which, let's remember, is IMMINENT) will hit Wellington and uniquely Wellington:
Pre-Credits Gambit: The Earthquake
A low loud rumbling (possibly similar to the opening bars of Massive Attack's Angel) will build for some time. This is all the warning we will have, AND IT WILL BE CRUEL AND PRECIOUS LITTLE.
And then the shaking will start.
Buildings and rooms will be split in twain; your best friend, or the girl you get on really well with in a sweet-innocent-primary-school-kissing-with-mouths-closed sort of way, may well fall down a bottomless crevasse screaming never to be seen again. You'd be best to get under your desk, but don't be a damn idiot little shit into thinking this will do any good. It'll improve your chances, but you'll still probably be brained by a flying television or decapitated by a fishbowl or fall into the aforementioned chasm.
Or, of course, be ripped to shreds by the razor-sharp shards of bulletlike flying glass.
First Act: The Razor-Sharp Shards Of Bulletlike Flying Glass
Wellington, as we're aware, is a city with many towering glass towers stretching as high as the eye can see. (As long as the eye can't see past the top of the Majestic Centre, and don't even start that built-on-higher-ground bullshit with me). We have erected a sprawling monument to the ability of people to make big buildings and put glass all over them. WELL WE WILL PAY FOR THIS HUBRIS WITH OUR LIVES AND ALSO WITH THE INTEGRITY OF OUR DEAD AND HUBRISTIC CORPSES. You see, when the earthquake hits, every pane of glass is going to bend, splinter, crack, and EXPLODE WITH THE FEROCITY OF GUNFIRE!
This will turn every building in the city into a towering battery of flying-razorsharp-glass-guns. People will be ripped to shreds where they stand, sit, or cower. Inside or outside, it matters not. It'll be like a really bloody panel in 2000 AD is the way I imagine it. Which will be followed nicely by the roaming clouds of fiery death.
Second Act: The Roaming Clouds Of Fiery Death
Windy. That's what Wellington is. Windy, and having many streets lined with tall buildings (which, as we've just learned, are really just batteries of flying-glass-deathguns waiting to happen). Also, we foolishly believe that having built a city on a faultline and lined it with high buildings, that we can further harness nature's chaotic energies for our own means, and we have gas mains all over the show. O Lord, what fools these mortals be!, that we can take something whose defining characteristic is that it likes to set itself on fire and be very hot and explosive, and channel it so as to only be afire at our behest! Well, the chickens will come home to roost when the earthquake hits, AND THEY'LL BE ON FIRE.
The gas mains - and probably natural gas reservoirs in the earth just for good measure - will all be violently split open, spraying gas about the place, distributed far and wide by the cold uncaring wind. Which would be bad, but when you factor in the flying snakes of electric searing horror, we're really fucked.
Everywhere you look, there will be flying snakes of electric searing horror, as the bus lines who once benevolently allowed our transportation and the telephone lines who benevolently shifted our porn and the power lines who benevolently gave us cancer come detached from their moorings and whip in the air crazed and mad and charged with violent whippy electrocutionary fervour. And when the flying snakes of electric searing horror whip their way into a roaming cloud of natural gas, the whole city will look like - I'm sorry, this is the only comparison can think of - level 2-2 of Ghouls And Ghosts. (Note the Flying Clouds Of Fiery Terror, the Falling And Rising Columns Of Flaming Screaming Immolation, and overhead, the Sky Afire As In An Apocalyptic Vision Of Doom. Also, if you squint and use your imagination, that could almost be a Waving Tentacle Of Electric Fury being encountered in panels 8-9).
It's not addressed exactly whether, once the Roaming Clouds Of Fiery Death roll around, whether the Unendying Random Aftershock Terror will really matter; because it's more important, in these education sessions, to address exactly how you will personally be fucked up seven ways from Sunday by whatever effect we're discussing.
Third Act: Unendying Random Aftershock Terror
Aftershocks, according to the experts asked for the purposes of my education, can be as big as - if not worse than - the actual quake itself. They can also go on for days, weeks or months.
This has the confusing effect of making one wonder what exactly makes the actual Earthquake the big heavy-hitter, if it's followed by earthquakes greater than it. It's okay, though, because it instils in the young child a feeling not unlike that when you wake up in the night and upchuck copiously out of nowhere, and you're filled with this dread knowledge that whatever yucky-ass shit just happened, you have no way of predicting whether it's over, but given how horrible you feel, the worst is in all probability yet to come. Only when it's vomiting, it's just vomiting, but if it's a hypothetical earthquake with all the above effects, telling a kid that aftershocks "can go on for weeks or months and be worse than the actual quake itself" is like pushing him over then kicking him in the nuts.
Final Depressing Credits Sequence: Survival Horror
Wellington, having had all the above happen to it, will then, we're assured, be Fucked for a very long time. Because in addition to our foolish putting a city on a faultine and our Icarean drive to line the streets of a hill-flanked area with huge man-made wind-tunnels and the ludicrous cackling insanity of our lining the underground with explosive gas and the overhead with thousands of volts of raw coarsing electricity such as are commanded only by the Gods and select divine horse-creature-thingies, we have gone and put our city between the sea and a whole lot of steep pathways to Nowhere At All.
The only ways in or out of Wellington are through hilly passes on elevated motorways which - you better BELIEVE! - are going to crumble like so much sandstone in the face of a grand earthquake. And, you will recall from the above, we're going to have no telephones, because all the phone lines are going to have turned into - that's right! - waving tentacles of electric fury. So if we've survived the earthquake and the razorsharp death and the flying immolation and the snaking whips of electrocution, if by some freak quirk we're still standing, we will then be all alone at the tail end of the North Island and there'll be no getting in or out. And probably, given the tone of my education, this is when the Government will turn us into slaves for their salt-mines.
At the end of all this, we'd go home and lie awake in our beds thinking just how inevitable was violent death. Luckily the memories of children are short and frivolous, filled with gumdrops and penny-whistles, so it wouldn't be too long before our nightmares of electric flame in a shaking hell alone all alone were replaced by wondering what was going to happen on tomorrow's Thundercats.
That's when they'd sit us down and tell us what would happen if Wellington got a Nuclear Bomb dropped on it.