Day 5 of the lockdown. I have already written a post today. This second one Is an attempt to establish a better rhythm, one that is closer to my writing habit on the Karekare House Writer’s residency last year. There I would let the day fill up with experiences in the natural world and then, in the quiet of night, reflect on the things I had observed. In this way the writing seemed closer to the experience, more immediate.
***** Every hour of this strange new world is different from the one before, every hour has an undertone of weirdness, a sense that something is not right. The big event this afternoon was an expedition to the supermarket. I decided to approach it with curiosity. I guessed it might take a long time and resolved to be patient and receptive to whatever unfolded. What I wasn’t prepared for was the sense of disquiet, how it clutched at my throat and made me anxious. I must be one of the very few people who only viewed one episode of ’The Handmaid’s Tale’. In this respect I take after my mother. She lived through many terrible losses in her life, the last one being the loss of her health. She developed late onset MS in her late sixties. Even before that though, from the time of my father’s death she refused to expose herself to scenes of grief, or violence, or the worst of human behaviours on screen. When my marriage ended and suddenly I could make my own choices about what to view I followed my mother’s lead. BUT. I still have earlier memories of viewing futurist, sci fi horror films starting with the shocking apocalyptic film ‘Threads’ (1984) a television drama set in Sheffield, England and remember how they chilled me. The films came to mind today outside the Devonport supermarket as I observed the strangely silent queue, a line of solitary people strung out two metres apart across the pavement and the unusual quiet, the guardedness - have we been told we can’t be friendly? The warning signs presented in the nicest of ways on the outside walls are sobering ‘It is important that we take care of ourselves and others. Please stay at home if you feel unwell.’ Then crossing the threshold, an Indian woman, wearing a face mask, pointed out the hand sanitiser and ushered me inside. The fruit and vegetables seemed brighter and more colourful that ever before. The grocery shelves and fridges were packed with an impressive array of tempting goods and for that I felt very, very grateful. ***** Yet even so I found myself feeling very lonely. The fear was palpable. People seemed withdrawn, pressured, I tried to engage once or twice but it was a fleeting thing, a smile, a nod. You mustn’t linger. There are more shoppers waiting in the silent line outside. By the time I arrived at the checkout I was ready for some human connection. And I was lucky. The very kind woman smiled and said ‘You look wonderful.’ To which I beamed, ‘I needed to cheer myself up.‘ This morning I’d chosen a favourite dress and a hat for my outing. ***** It was in the soap section that I gained a different perspective. To my utter amazement I found the beautiful handmade slabs of olive oil soap, so gentle on sensitive skin, made by the women of Syria, and spread out to dry on dusty hillsides in the countryside. Normally I buy the soap, ‘Sabun,’ from Harvest Wholefoods in West Lynn. Sometimes though there are hold ups in the supply chain and the shelf is empty. It always seems a miracle to me that the soap even emerges from a war torn country. I bought one immediately and sent a thank you to the wonderful people who continue to craft those slabs of soap, against the odds, in conditions far worse than the one we find ourselves in today. I wondered what will happen when Covid-19 takes hold in Syria, a country whose infrastructure and economy and health system is already devastated by the nine-year war? It is a terrible thought. ***** Tonight in my rocky nook across from Takarunga I listened to the sound of doves calling and slowly, exhaling, I sank into the blessed peace. Up on the skyline I saw a single figure beside the signal station and imagined that person surveying the broad panorama from on high, seeing how the slate blue water, smooth and syrupy, slips around the edges of the land...