Donald just called to say he loved us, but he couldn't get through.

The failed attempt of US President-elect Donald Trump to phone Prime Minister John Key to express whatever condolences over Monday morning's earthquake provides a little necessary light relief.

The island nation that was too busy to pick up.

Plus the rescue of the stranded cows, that's funny too, in a happy-ending way, and did you see that in one of the photos of that incred landslide in Kaikoura, if you looked close-up, there were some seals?


Animal pictures at a time like this: yes please. Lifts the spirits. Reminds you of our place in the world as a haven for wildlife, as one big paddock.

Get in behind, all that.

Good for a laugh.

But there is a dread and an expectancy of another big quake to come.

The aftershocks have remained constant - more than 20 every hour, most in the proximity of Monday's epicentre in the South Island, near the small, vulnerable settlements of Seddon, Culverden, Cheviot and Kaikoura.

To read GeoNet's constant updates is to enter a steady rhythm of underground fracture and potential chaos: "M3.0 quake causing weak shaking near Seddon... M3.4 quake causing light shaking near Kaikoura... M4.9 quake causing moderate shaking near Cheviot."

Weak, light, moderate; and then the hourly bulletins: "26 eqs in the last hour, 357 eqs since 7 pm last night and 886 eqs since the M7.5. Kaikoura Earthquake."

At least there hasn't been any mention of a tsunami for a while.

That slithery, sibilant word is the last thing you want to hear and the first thing you need to hear if you live near water, and want to live.

Thousands of New Zealanders left their homes and headed for the hills.

They slept in their cars, they waited it out.

They're back home, but everyone's still waiting, on alert.
It focusses the mind.

I've decided to never have another book launch again.

My first book was launched on the eve of 9/11; we were still partying when word came through.

I launched my latest book The Shops (Luncheon Sausage Books, a snip at $40) the night after the quake.

Amazingly, about 20 or 30 souls showed up at Unity Books, in downtown Wellington.

Civil Defence had warned against people coming into the city.

All schools were closed.

At my hotel in the city, the nice receptionist said: "Guests are advised against sight-seeing."

Wellington's morning newspaper described downtown as "deserted".

But it wasn't.

All day people were mooching about in the rain and wind.

Quite a few businesses remained open: you could get your drycleaning done, I had a burger for lunch at Fidel's, and because I like variety, I had dinner at El Matador and ordered a burger.

I was just passing through Wellington.

Inbetween burgers and the book launch, I stayed put in my hotel room on the seventh floor.

It never felt safe - it swooned in the aftershocks, actually seemed to float, and I ducked for cover under a table during the two worst jolts - but at least it was familiar.

We cling to what we know.

I was on close terms with the layout - the bed, where I slept in clothes including shoes, the protective table, the bathroom with cold and hot running water, the window that was yet to offer a view of the city in smoking ruins.

You always have to remind yourself that as long as you're alive then you're going to be better off than others.

Someone else always has it worse.

And someone - and it can seem like the whole nation - is there to help.

The rescue of the cows, the airlifting at Kaikoura; there were some very anxious, very scared people in the Wellington hotel lobby on Sunday night, and always someone on hand to lend a hand.

In San Andreas, the epic earthquake disaster movie, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson came to the rescue in a helicopter; in real life, in these shaky isles, the chopper pilot is being played by Richie McCaw.

And then there are just plain random passers-by.

Maybe 10, 20 minutes after Sunday night's earthquake, I stepped out onto Cuba St and saw an Asian guy who was out for a midnight jog, dressed only in a pair of black shorts, running topless and in bare feet alongside a dog.

I have the feeling he had no idea what was going on, that nothing was amiss.

The thought occurs that he's still running now, has left the city, is in the deep, pungent New Zealand bush, with his dog at his side, better off in the wilderness than a civilisation that is so swiftly and easily toppled.

But he's probably just at home, fit as a fiddle with his Fido, doing what pretty much everyone is doing in various different ways: waiting.