Liz feels her past lives of science technician, mother, teacher and photographer still impact her current slower more observant life.
My six year old grandson has decided to sleep in the camper van outside the garage. I am not sure if he will go through with it but his parents and I are willing to give it a try.
In level four lockdown I notice how we are all that much more patient and open to his ideas. He is making a bed in the back of the van and I agree to stay there with him until he is asleep if indeed he manages as he is normally afraid of the dark. I let him fuss around about exactly what he wants in there for the night. Several times he asks if it is dinner time yet, and I realise he can’t wait. Finally the time comes, the bath first with specific toys already planned out. I don’t talk about sleeping outside in case he loses confidence. I remember how, often, he gets frightened in his own room at night, as I dry his hair and clean his teeth. We walk to the van and climb inside. He has prepared everything; two Doctor Seuss books are placed in the front, a bottle of water, a lunch box with snacks and a torch.
We read the books and then lie down, the torch goes on and off under the blankets and up on the roof of the van. He wriggles and twists and after a while I say that's enough now you don’t want to wear out the torch battery, we are quiet together.
It is a very dramatic sky outside speckled with small fluffy clouds each of them glowing around the edges lit from the moon which is extra large and bright tonight. Earlier the TV weather lady had announced it was a super moon and that when it reached full again we would be near the end of level four lockdown.
It is strangely grounding just lying there looking at the moon, there is a stillness like a song that soaks in to you. I can’t help reflecting that if I was inside the house I would be looking at another blue light, the computer screen whose energy is like heavy metal in comparison. This moon is connecting me to the rest of the world's suffering in a strange sort of way.
My eyes adjust to see a star appear from behind a cloud. I feel the warmth of a small foot on me and the sound of deeper breathing. I have explained I will leave as soon as he is asleep but I realise there is nowhere I would rather be at this moment experiencing our planet floating in vast space, all of us united in facing the same things. The feeling of this child beside me.
As each day has passed there have been news updates and projections of how it will all pan out. A financial crisis, a depression, a huge shift in the social fabric of society, all of the above? We are not quite sure which new crisis will happen but unlike an episode on Netflix I cannot choose to stop watching.
If there is something new and good to emerge from this will it be in my lifetime?
I gaze at the star its infinite distance from me and the vastness of this universe. Then I reflect on the microcosm of my own body where a small planet-like virus could invade, multiply and take over.
I have no fear and nor does he, this little boy who sleeps beside me now.
Anita writes poetry and flash fiction. Born in Christchurch, she now lives in Auckland and organises Inside Out Open Mic for Writers, a monthly writing/music event welcoming people to read prose, poems and life stories, at One2One Cafe, Ponsonby Rd.
no one to drink with
so I pour another
on the sly
I craved quiet
wishing the carousel to slow
apprehensive, though, of the dismount
my neighbours recalibrate at day’s end
with a raised Heineken at the gate
the grass between them grows up and over
my bubble walks bear witness to lockdown striking
this glorious autumn, one for the books:
bulging garden bags chalked rainbow bridges
a verge adorned with indoor games for the taking
teddy bear mascots smiling from bay windows
plastic dinosaurs playing hide and seek in a berm rockery
a peggy-squared tree trunk trimmed with pompoms
the odd purple glove
locals give me a wide berth
I nod them ‘thanks for that’
the tui chants an alarm of lost commotion
and so the days go
my buddy the firelight
has taken to taunting me
these hollow walls with flickers of animation
interrupting the long hush with crackles and snaps
stay home be kind stay home be kind
yes I know yes I will
but for the sake of interest
how are the horses?
when will the carousel crank up?
foFredrika was born in the Netherlands and has lived in New Zealand for the last fifty years. She studied English and Philosophy at the University of Auckland, worked there as a researcher and is now retired.
Before Covid-19 I had been living by myself for several years. Then suddenly my one-person household became a one-person bubble.
As one of my neighbours remarked, ‘You have been doing this for ten years anyway.’ Implying nothing much would change for me.
Looking in from his outside he was right, up to a point. I would go on living alone, retired, without a car, staying home quite a lot of the time with a bad hip.
Experiencing it from my inside though, a lot of the less visible details would change. No visits from my daughter and grandson. No friends turning up with their contributions to a long lunch. No three-year-old from next door darting in to turn on every reading lamp in my living room before taking a small car off the bookshelf and asking where the ‘wibbly-wobbly things’ are.
I would still shop online for my groceries, but there would be no gentle walks to the SPCA shop to check for a new jigsaw puzzle or a present for my grandson. No visits to the local library or to the art gallery. No chamber music concerts. No impromptu meetings for coffee with a friend. And no hugs, from anybody.
Not that those things happened daily. I had been spending plenty of days at home, talking to no one but myself. And that was fine. I had shelves full of books, music on RNZ Concert, an online subscription to a range of international films from Poland, Japan, France, Germany, Iran. I could potter in the garden, watch the birds having their bath, listen to the tui in the top of the tall bamboo next door. Busy enough.
But as soon as I knew I would not be allowed to go to any of the places away from home, I wanted to get on a bus, go out, have coffee in the art gallery, visit the library, today, now!
Perverse, I know, but the feeling was quite real.
I subscribed to Zoom, so I can see people’s faces and have conversations with more than a single person. People phone more often, send texts and funny or interesting items they found online. Strangers on their walk say hello when I am outside. Every one of my neighbours has offered help if I need it. They and their children wave to me when they pass and I wave back from my sofa. They post my letters for me because I can not walk that far. I am passing my newspaper on to them after I have finished the cryptic: lots of games and puzzles for housebound children. Phone calls tend to take at least an hour, we are all making up for time alone.
I watch the news. International news is grim. It will be years before it is safe to travel to Europe, I expect. I am now over 80 so it is possible I will never go there again to see my family. That thought is taking some getting used to. Never again to go for a walk in the woods around my hometown, wander about the weekly market buying cheese and salted herring, spend days with my sister, get on a train to Amsterdam, see the broad rivers in a wide landscape.
All of that was going to happen anyway, sometime, I know, but two months ago there was still the option. Now, borders are closed, my world is shrinking, perhaps permanently for me.
So for now I laugh out loud when I see a blackbird insisting on having the birdbath to itself, no sparrows allowed in. And so much splashing that a top-up will be needed. The sparrows are happy to share their bath. Six or eight hop from the rim into the water and out again, and again. The little silver eyes are so quick it seems they barely get their feet wet, but they too come back for a second dip, for a second.
How lucky I am to have this small garden.
Auckland, May 2020.
Leigh was born in Rawene and raised in Oue, Hokianga. She is a primary school teacher who enjoys writing with her junior class.
Teachers were taking guesses as to when schools would close. I was astonished. Even though my family were not keen on me working, it was business as usual.
On Monday 23 March, as we scanned our classrooms, it was clear to us teachers that many parents were uneasy and were keeping their children home. I had only ten students. We carried on, unsure what would happen next. The principal came into my class, just checking on everyone, “Have a great day!” he said. I continued teaching my shrunken class.
At 2.30pm my senior teacher appeared and said Jacinda Ardern had announced that schools would close at 3pm, and remain that way until further notice. I was stunned. We had just half an hour before the 3pm bell. I gathered my little class together and told them to take their personal belongings from their tote trays on the way out. Then with barely suppressed emotion I said “I don’t know when I will see you again.” They were silent — unusually for my class but unsurprisingly in the circumstances — and didn’t question me. They would be going home to households of uncertainty.
Several days later we were allowed time in our classrooms. A quick glance around. Portraits, character studies and bees suspended from wires across the ceiling. The walls plastered with ghosts, cave paintings and children dressed up. So much effort, so much colour. I will miss these visual delights.
What do you do in a limited time? Empty bins, check for food in trays, lock up technology devices, if you can, hastily shove vege plants in the outside garden, grab personal gear — where would you start? There’s so much of it.
Think quickly! Move! What else is important? Then a long sigh. Shut the classroom door, check it’s locked. Whisper to myself “When WILL I be here again?”
Margo works as a librarian in the Metadata (Cataloguing) Dept of Auckland University Library. She is a sixth-generation New Zealander, and treasures her large extended family and her friends, as well as her involvement with choral and solo singing. She supports many environmental and social justice organisations and often fund-raises for animal welfare. The weeks in lockdown gave her valuable thinking time about her future life.
On 25 March 2020 the New Zealand government locked down the nation for an indefinite period, in an attempt to contain the spread of a virus which was previously unknown to science.
My husband gathered his research materials from his office so that he could work full-time from home, while I was instructed, as an older employee, to stay at home from my university job, on special leave, until further notice.
Under the lockdown, our lives quickly settled into a new routine. With the nation at home, apart from essential workers, the streets were eerily quiet with no cars. We tried to do a daily walk to take exercise, waving and exchanging greetings at a distance with other family groups out to take the air.
The weather was glorious and we enjoyed day after day of a golden autumn, only worrying later about the lack of rain and the looming water shortages.
During our walks we discovered parts of our neighbourhood that we hardly knew, in spite of having lived in the area for many years. We found a miniature olive grove in an adjacent street, and around another corner, a street guava tree laden with fruit. Another time we explored a tiny local park which we had driven past hundreds of times but never visited. It was full of ancient trees and ringing with birdsong.
We enjoyed the community spirit coming to the fore, including neighbours shopping for us, teddy bears in windows for children to count, Easter egg paintings in nearby streets, and flags and poppies on display for Anzac Day. Trading between friends saw us receive avocados from a neighbour's tree, some of which we exchanged for another neighbour's home-grown feijoas. Our own home-grown pecan nuts also made an edible gift.
I appreciated having the time to trawl through recipe books looking for easy meals which could use food from the freezer and pantry. Baking, which I have always enjoyed, became the indoor hobby of choice, and cakes, loaves and muffins emerged from my ancient oven in a regular procession.
My daily routine included putting on different clothes from the day before, plus lipstick and earrings, to maintain my self esteem and to avoid frightening anyone who might come to the door!
We watched the daily television updates of medical and social news and were impressed by the calm focused drive of our Prime Minister and Director-General of Health. We realised how lucky we were when observing the situation in other countries. Receiving bulletins from relatives in the United Kingdom and United States only underlined this.
Communication with family and friends (especially our older ones) was vital, and every day I was in touch with people, here and overseas, by email, phone and letter. My Samsung tablet became my lifeline and I took great care to keep it charged and out of harm' s way.
Entertainment has never been a problem and we have watched lovely concerts on Sky Arts channel , read obsessively and listened to recorded music and live radio. We also found solace in our garden and nurturing a small vege plot.
During lockdown we discovered our much-loved cat had a cancerous growth on his side which needed to be removed surgically. In the weeks that have followed we have been nursing our furry boy at home and keeping him inside (against his will) as he heals.
The nation has now moved down to Alert Level 2 and life has resumed some normality. But the long-term effects of the lockdown, necessary though it was, will be felt for a long time to come.
The weeks at home emphasised for us that we have much to be thankful for, and that we are supremely fortunate to be part of the 'team of five million' which makes up the population of Aotearoa New Zealand. Let's hope we don't waste any lessons we might have learned from this unprecedented experience.
Janet lives on the North Shore of Auckland, and is a developing writer, who relished the isolation of the COVID-19 Lockdown to spend many fruitful hours immersed in writing. Since attending Deborah's Memoir and Biography course in 2017 and embarking on a biography, she has been honing her skills. She finds the regular sharing and support of her writing group immensely motivating and the topics they write on provide stories for her own personal memoir.
The day dawned. Already two days in and I'm starting to forget the date. Good to stop after multiple trips to the supermarket and Mitre 10 garden centre. Yes, I did buy extra toilet rolls and paper towels along with extra fruit and veges and I set up my 96-year-old Dad with food, etc.
The dark autumn morning was sooo QUIET. No car noises, neighbours’ curtains still drawn, no-one up and about. The day stretched ahead but I had my priorities. The list of 'to dos' was well formed in my brain but quickly relegated to a cold, rainy day. Usual routines were carried out: turf Audrey the cat off my bed; feed the cat, (she's now returned to my warm, empty bed): savour cups of tea; eat breakfast. As the sun rose, the weather warmed, and gardening tasks called. I had checked the moon planting calendar the night before, so I knew that I was on target for planting and preparing the ground. I prepared my snow pea bed with recycled bamboo poles (freshly released from shrivelled tomato plants), spread some worm laden compost of my own and then bags of compost. All observed by Audrey, now arisen.
Under the spent sprawling courgette plant, I found a couple of silver beet plants. My friend Chris, up the road, wanted one for extra greens during lockdown, so that was dug up, along with garlic chives and basil plants that needed her green fingers. We did a two-metre spaced exchange later in the day which doubled as my solo walk. My grumpy neighbours, also walking, surprisingly said hello from the other side of the road. I transported my plants in a non-returnable plastic bucket and placed them on her steps. She had left me a bunch of parsley in a paper bag, camouflaged in her avocado tree.
Next, I decided to water some new celery plants and citrus trees, dry from the preceding months of drought. Done. In the process I spotted neighbour Clare, laboriously wire brushing her basement concrete blocks. I proffered my water blaster. From beyond the two-metre perimeter I instructed the novice water blaster in the art, on her driveway. She needed a review a few days later when I spotted her almost gouging out the mortar! But she was grateful, and it felt good to help her. She had thrown some chive plants over the bushes earlier in the week. Sitting on the deck later in the day, hearing kids play over the fence I felt comforted by knowing there were people around me. This distancing feels so strange.
Later, the onslaught of Covid-19 statistics and strategies on TV got a bit too much. In an attempt to distract myself my viewing dropped to a low when I hit on the Kardashians for ten seconds. The next day my daughter added me to her Netflix account. Took all of five minutes! Why did we not do that years ago? Thanks Anna.
I have felt the need to talk to other friends living alone, my Dad, my daughter and my son and family in Switzerland. They were two weeks ahead in lockdown with a young baby (first grandson who'd been due to visit in April). Bryan must have a weird view of his Nana, her moving face framed in a small black frame singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! I so wanted a big hug.
As I head to bed — no housework done today just talking and gardening — it is interesting to contemplate four and potentially more weeks ahead. The garden looks good and Audrey is thrilled to have so much attention.
Ruth Bonita, a public health academic, is currently working on a journal-memoir, ‘My Dream Year.’ Her initial intention was to capture her joy of having the whole family in New Zealand for a year with the arrival from Scotland of her daughter, son-in-law and their two young boys to live just down the road. She had no intimation of what was to come, that the journal would soon become, as well, a chronicle of the impact of coronavirus on the world.
Thursday, 23rd April 2020
Only 2 new cases (but 2 dead – both from the same rest home)
Total cases in New Zealand: 1,454; 12 deaths
Total cases worldwide: 2.75 million; 87,000 deaths
As the news items roll off the screen, I can barely contain my disgust at the litany of lies and the ensuing damage caused by Trump. It’s endless. A constant barrage. It’s said that he tweets, on average, every 7.5 minutes to millions - up to 80 million - of his followers although undoubtedly this is a talk up to a large extent; more than half, it has been estimated, are fake. Each tweet is worse than the previous. In a recent interview he muses about injecting disinfectant – or “somehow” getting light into the body as a deterrent to the virus. Meanwhile, the Justice Department sides with plaintiffs against different states’ stay-at–home orders; Trump places a For Profit Insurer in charge of hospital Covid-19 funds; $300 million of the funds allocated to small businesses are eaten up by corporations; the public social safety net is not working and millions of American citizens are denied access to stimulus packages because they are married to immigrants. And Trump continues to plunder for his own benefit: a Trump hotel in Manhattan seeks rent relief from the Trump administration. A new US Relief Bill of $500 billion lacks funds for food aid, rent relief, postal service, or election protection. 26 million have lost their jobs in the last 5 weeks.
There are rapid increases in cases, 835,000, and deaths, 43,000 in the USA. A few key papers explain how these figures are likely to under represent the true picture. I stand by and watch in disbelief. Trump blames it on the Chinese, saying “no one was warned”. I could go on, but I must stop obsessing about Trump and the train wreck that the USA is about to become.
Much as I revile Trump, I was reminded tonight, as we watched the Netflix film Sergio, just how awful GW Bush was as well, unbearably so. And how Paul Bremner, the face of the US presence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussain, set in motion an illegal occupation of the country by American troops, refusing to allow the UN to broker arrangements for fresh elections. I remember, in 2003, when I was working at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, the shock and horror that rippled through United Nations offices around the world, when Sergio De Mello, head of the UN office in Iraq, was killed in the bomb attack on the United Nations building in Baghdad.
Sergio was meant to be a tribute to a remarkable man, but it was just too syrupy and too long with far too much focus on his fling with a breathless young woman in the international NGO sector: steamy scenes in hot tropical places. She was inappropriately clad as a foreigner, thin backless dresses, the plunge line dropping so far as to barely cover her nipples. It was embarrassing to watch her walk arrogantly through street markets in East Timor, the locals turning away from such a sight; she was oblivious of her impact on anyone except her prey, Sergio, married father of two boys.
Putting the doom and gloom of the global picture aside, all seems good in New Zealand. Simon Bridges has been firmly put in his place after an appalling Facebook entry attacking the government’s decision to delay re-entry to level 3 by five days. As it is kindly put, he “misread the room, made a poor judgment of the mood of the country …” clearly oblivious to the huge support for Jacinda’s actions throughout this pandemic.
And it was a lovely day, if windy. Robert, on his usual long low tide walk to Takapuna and back, came across a fisherman who was being questioned by an official. Not because he had broken lockdown rules by going out with his kayak to lay the net, but because he was over his limit: he had netted 35 fish. He gave Robert two large Kahawhai fillets, which, later, pan fried, were fresh and strong in taste. They filled our plates. Fresh lemon added the perfect touch. What an unusual lockdown treat!
Estelle was born in Australia and is a long-term resident of Aotearoa. Her formal qualifications, of psychologist and psychodramatist, have allowed her to practice over decades, mostly working with women, in groups or as individuals, focussing on trauma recovery. In her eightieth year, her focus is shifting away from being ‘the professional' and more towards involved mother of three, grandmother of seven, and almost great-grandmother of one. Of the many other ways she might describe herself, she has selected; loving partner, concerned responder to climate change, and emerging journal writer.
May 18th 2020- Lockdown Level 2
I have been behaving a bit like a Bower Bird, fancying a wide variety of titbits with very different characteristics, picking them up and storing them until I am ready to place them in some new configuration in the journal, working them over, tossing some out, gathering themes together, and sometimes upending the lot. Sometimes I discover surprising configurations, and then I want a visitor to my bower to share them with.
Here’s something I heard about on the BBC. It touched me deeply and is such a contrast to the accusative rants of You Know Who against the Chinese. The young doctor in Wuhan who raised the alarm quite early on, later contracted CoVid-19 and died. A fellow doctor reflected on being there with his friend, and the profound grief he and his colleagues felt. What astounded him, though was when he walked outside to explore a sound like a lamentation. Hundreds had gathered outside the hospital and were gently blowing whistles- just s few repeated notes, piercingly beautiful. Tonight I heard that the Chinese Premier said that if they found a vaccine, they would share it with the world.
Another titbit- my youngest son has just had his 48th birthday. He knew I was doing this workshop and to my delight asked me to write something, so I did and it was well received. Now my other two both in their fifties, will get a birthday letter at the appropriate time. All over the world, as well as the horror stories, I hear about people deepening their connection with one another. Perhaps a new foundation for valuing ourselves and the planet.
Today has been another lovely day- sunny and still. Enjoyable for us, as it is a rare treat to sit in the sun with my partner during the week. But there is a shadow.The reservoirs are very very low, and outside watering is banned. We are bucketing grey water and spreading it around the garden. We are both Aussies and long-term residents here, and this bucketing is something we have both done in Australia, but in mid-summer, not mid-autumn in the North Island. I am reminded of the apocryphal story of a billy full of frogs being cooked up on the stove, so slowly that they fail to notice until it is too late to jump out. Can we still jump, and to where?
There has been a deluge of writing during this Lockdown, considering this question in many forms, too much to read. So, Bower-bird that I am, I have assembled quite a range to browse through, wisdom, music, science, humour-some to share from my bower, some to treasure for myself.
Ruth is a retired Jewish lesbian lawyer/legal academic. She grew up in the Bronx, New York and came to New Zealand about forty years ago. Ruth has three children, nine grandchildren and a wonderful partner. The wisdom she lives by is a statement made by the anarchist Emma Goldman, "If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution."
Where I live, in a retirement village, the residents and all visitors now have to pass through a cordon of road cones in order to drive into, or out of our street. The security guard makes notes of our goings. Name, apartment number, time, sometimes even the reason for our travels. Those of us on foot, the ones who exercise at a nearby park, we are often waived through but sometimes the uber-bureaucrats among the guards collect the same data, though clearly, especially for those of us using walkers, we won’t be covering much ground once we are allowed out, into what I now call freedom land. I myself have never been stopped from leaving but two older, more enfeebled women, have told me how they have been, their reasons apparently invalid, not good enough to pass some unknown test which has never been communicated to us.
I have a name badge that’s often asked for by the guards. It’s become a sort of passport required to be shown each time I want to go out or in. Given its apparent importance, over the last few weeks, I have managed to lose the badge on repeated occasions. Sometimes it just gets caught up in my jeans or in my bag but recently I have really lost it. I have had to backtrack, retracing my steps from home and around the park, increasingly anxious to find it. Today was the worst of all. I had walked three times around the park’s perimeter and then back towards home but when it came time to show my badge to a new guard, it was unfindable. Back I went, round and round but it was gone. I gave up hope. It was only when I enlisted Jan, my eagle-eyed partner, that it turned up, hidden among the tall grass.
Jan has now devised a simple solution to this ongoing hassle. She’s tied a long crimson ribbon to my badge and it can no longer just inadvertently fall out of my pockets or bag. Knowing my ingenuity at misplacing even larger objects, who knows, but at this moment, I feel that this too will become just another example of my craziness that I’ll repeat to my friends to elicit a little giggle, a way to demonstrate to them, for the millionth time, how neurotic I am.
On other days, this name badge experience has felt much more sinister. Since childhood I have heard a myriad of stories about what could happen to someone/anyone/me even who didn’t have the right papers to get in or out of a cordoned off village. It takes me back to when I was a kid in the Bronx, to the apartment where I grew up. We had a walk-in closet there. I knew better than to venture beyond the rack of clothing hanging in it. I was certain that there was a one-way tunnel in it that led directly to the camps where my family had been murdered. Once in there, without proper papers, there was no way out. It wasn’t a game. You couldn’t pass go. You just became a nobody, another nameless no one, lost, unremembered. In there, anyone/everyone/me even fell off the edge of the earth, gone and alone.
Today I realise I don’t need to go there, The closet, whatever secrets it held, is no longer in my life. There are new stories I can tell. Slowly. quietly, without even realizing I’m doing it, I begin to subvocalize the words of that 1940s hit: Don’t Fence Me In. For today, I refuse to be another Jew on the run. Instead I will be someone totally different, a cowgirl, just like my childhood heroine Dale Evans, riding the range.
“Oh give me land, lots of land, and the starry skies above…”
Whew! A lucky escape! Long may it last.
Elizabeth is an actor and a poet and finds the two not dissimilar. A blank page is like a first rehearsal.
- dedicated to the “women in squares”
I want my journal to be personal but have the usual fears that it might be too trivial and boring. Who am I writing it for, anyway? But then I do want to document the period of covid19, the lockdown in this weird and extraordinary time. I want to thank my daughters, their partners and two of the granddaughters. I have been living with them for two months. I’m hugely grateful for the care, the meals and the loving atmosphere. I anticipate living alone again with some trepidation.
On the other hand I do need my own things around me.
I have attempted keeping a journal before — during the celebrations for the centenary of women’s suffrage, documenting a rehearsal process for a play, surviving my first year in a new soap opera (this became too libellous to continue) and holidaying with a group of friends at Mimiwhangata. I admit to finding these sorties into journal writing quite diverting and at times sobering to read through.
I would also like to document this process of growing old. How is being eighty-three different from being sixty-three or twenty-three? I have no answer to this. It’s reassuring that when I write about the past memories rush into my head and it’s quite a job to marshall them into coherence.
When I go back home and other events crowd into my life, will I keep up with this journal? I have enjoyed the weekly zoom and the company of the women on the course. I treasure their personal disclosures and the laughs we’ve had together. My heartfelt thanks to Deborah for guiding and shaping a coherent and interesting programme.
View from my Writing Table
this morning the sky was golden
“shepherds warning,” they say
my delight to see such light
over snow topped Kaikouras
and tiny island in the bay
bright foam on waves
breaking on sea-weeded rocks
wind shivers the cabbage tree
long grasses bend and wave
I breathe in the air
so clear in the crystal light
Elizabeth McRae April 2020