Day 33 of lockdown and though last night I dived down deep in the writing, today I ascended, literally and metaphorically, onto the slopes of Takarunga, where from the very top the panorama was spectacular. Not a breath of wind. The sea on all sides of the isthmus a smooth body of water the colour and texture of pale blue silk, with darker blue seams made by the wake of the one boat, the Waiheke ferry. I started on the lower path and began circling the spiral, first in dappled light along the corridor of tall trees that cling to the slopes on the eastern side, their autumn leaves coating the slope with a dense layer of gold. There was a sudden noise and a movement. Was it a bird? Not two metres away a brown rat was leaping away uphill, over the leaf mounds. It was too big to be a mouse but smaller than a fully grown adult rat. Maybe it was a teenager. I noted my bodily response, a tensing, a buzzing sensation of recoil. I spoke firmly to myself, ‘This is silly. When has a rat ever hurt you? Keep watching.’ And I was rewarded because there was movement again, a tunnelling under the leaves and then what do you know the teenage rat popped her head above the sea of gold and looked at me. They have good vision. It definitely saw me and then it was gone but in that instant it looked harmless, exactly like Ratty in the ‘Wind in the Willows’ cute.
Day 32 of lockdown. The writers travelling with me on the course, ‘In Extremis: Writing in the Time of Coronavirus’, bring with them a wide range of journalling experience. Some have been writing since the age of fifteen, some keep a journal for professional reasons, to reflect on their work, others, and this is the group I belong to, have had a stop – start approach. There are journals covering one year in the life, travel journals and themed journals, of which this Coronavirus Journal is one, but I have also written fragments in notebooks, single entries that I find in file boxes, jottings on scraps of paper that flutter out of notebooks.
Day 31 of life in lockdown and tonight I am tired. I’ve been writing now for thirty days. Mostly the work happens late at night, in the inky dark by the light of the lamp. Journalling like this at night works best for me. In the silence I can dive down below the surface and find out what I am really thinking. But the problem with starting late is that often I don’t finish before 11.30pm. It’s okay, in alert level four you can manipulate your schedule and adjust your wake-up time but sometimes I would like to be in bed earlier.
Day 30 of life in lockdown and I’m looking out on a dreamy autumnal landscape. The colours in the trees are turning tawny orange and gold. Through the wedge in the tree canopy, the sea beyond is soft gray with a hint of purple. Out on the horizon there is a smoky haze shrouding the two islands making them the softest shade of mauve and pale blue. I’ve noticed how the indistinct island, hugs the one in front, like a piece in a jigsaw. It struck me today how colours change in the landscape depending on the direction you face into and the position of the sun’s rays. As I walked away from the sun, up the right-of-way, I was surprised by the striking colour palette. The sky on this side was a bright azure and the roofline and chimney juxtaposed against the blue dazzled white and seemed more Greek island than Devonport.
Day 29 in lockdown and I sensed this might happen, that the announcement of the easing of levels might be interpreted by some as permission to return to normal. It was mostly the same as usual at the supermarket today. I hadn’t shopped for nine days. The challenge of planning ahead and then eking out my provisions has provided a welcome diversion. I feel almost like a pioneer woman in that respect, although I can’t make bread in a pan on my one-plate induction cooker. The settings, of which there are many, are all very hot, apart from the milk boiler. Food cooks rapidly and burns rapidly too.
The change at the supermarket was the appearance of more staff at the checkout. Previously I’d felt stressed by the scramble to throw products into the trolley and scoot off quickly, so the next shopper can start their process but today a good person packed my groceries. It felt like a gift and I thanked him.
Day 28 of lockdown. Tomorrow we begin a fifth week in level four but already the announcements about level three, due to take effect next week, are having an impact. I felt it today on my afternoon walk, a subtle easing, a breathing out. We’re going to be okay. People were out on the streets in the gorgeous blue light — mothers, fathers, children on bikes, a teenager zipping at a pace down the road on his electric scooter, another lying on his stomach on a trampoline enclosed in a net with his ghetto blaster beside him playing, not too loud. Young and old were enjoying the warm sunshine on a bright day in April and saying hello. This is something positive to come out of the time of coronavirus, the rise of the new friendliness. I hope, when this is all over, that our revised etiquette on the streets will remain in place. For me, getting acquainted with a new suburb it has made a difference to how I feel. The weather as well has played its part. In the main this has been a golden autumn and Devonport throughout has put on a show, rolling out her best.
Day 27 of life in lockdown and a difficult, dull, sober kind of day with a sky that was overcast and weather so damp, I could feel the weight of water in the atmosphere. For most of the day I stayed inside bent over my computer using work as a distraction from dark thoughts. It wasn’t melancholia. It was more a listless, hopeless feeling, like the feeling that emanates from the gorgeous young woman standing, alone at the counter, in the crowded bar ‘Un Bar aux Folies Bergère’ (1882) by Edouard Manet. She’s pensive. Distracted. I see a faraway look in her eye. The locket, that stands out on her pale chest, tells us there is, or was someone special in her life. You want to ask, ‘a penny for your thoughts?’ And can’t. That’s how I felt today.
Day 26 and the nation tuned in at 4pm to hear the announcement from our leader, Jacinda Ardern, outlining the plan going forward. She began with the positives. The number of new cases of covid-19 trending down — just seven and two probable today. This is a sign of progress. Our position internationally is enviable. The strategies implemented early and decisively by the government, in consultation with our top public health professionals, are being viewed as exemplary by most experts in global public health. Jacinda says our sacrifice has paid off. And then she said, ‘But.’ We must be patient for a little while longer. Alert level four is to be extended by a further week, making a total time in lockdown of five weeks all up. Then, all going well, we will drop to level three for two weeks by which time the position will be reassessed and a decision will be made on the model going forward. This will make a difference to many workers and employers in the construction, forestry and food industries and to business retailers. Over this next week, Jacinda explained, those businesses can begin preparations for re-opening in controlled circumstances. The advice to the rest of us however is to stay home. If we venture out for exercise we must continue to observe social distancing, rigorously, and not drop our game. Keep washing and drying your hands, cough into your elbow.
We hang on her every word. We have put our trust in this bright star of a woman, and her ministers and her director general of health to guide us safely through the crisis.
For 25 days, now, we have been living in lockdown. Today at the third session of the journal workshop a participant made a comment that took us all the way back to March and the feeling of that month, the hugeness of it, as we learned of the approaching lockdown. Once the government made the decision it happened very fast. Suddenly we were scrambling to prepare for an indeterminate period of time confined to our homes. We were stocking up on supplies. Even though the authorities assured us there would be plenty of food, the future was unclear. Could we trust them? Nobody knew exactly the shape of what lay ahead and when we might shop, or move about freely again. So much was unknown. In a sense we still don’t know how long this might drag on for.
Lockdown, day 24 and a friend sent me an article today from the New York Times about the Wuhan writer, who goes by the pen name Fang Fang, who began chronicling the coronavirus pandemic on 26 January of this year. When the journalist began writing, the virus that had began in Wuhan was already well advanced. Initially she considered writing in retrospect starting at the beginning of the crisis on 31 December but she decided instead to focus her energies on a daily journal, one that would chart her impressions in real time of life under lockdown. She saw her role as one of bearing witness. ‘If authors have any responsibilities in the face of disaster, the greatest of them is to bear witness. I’ve always cared about how the weak survive great upheavals. The individuals who are left out — they’ve always been my chief concern.’