Day 61 in the time of coronavirus and there is a definite feeling in the air of moving forward out of lockdown and into something that tastes and feels familiar only this is better, a lot better. There have been no new cases over the last three days and incredibly only three new cases over a fourteen day period. This is a remarkable achievement for the Labour government and their cohorts in public health. We really ought to get down on our knees and thank them.
This is what I am noticing in general on this side of lockdown: that people are appreciating the good things more. Living in isolation for nearly eight weeks has shown us ways of being in this world we didn’t know were possible. It’s given us an opportunity to recalibrate and consider what really matters. Many of us have longed for a simpler life but not known how to achieve it. Consider those people who sell up and move from the city to the country to lead a quieter, more sustainable and eco-friendly life, whether it involves moving to Provence, or Port Chalmers, there is a trend. And reflect on how often when we look back on childhood it is with a sense nostalgia for a life we perceive to have been uncomplicated, a time where people lived in closer connection to the land and their families and communities and how this had a civilising influence on people. In some ways Lockdown allowed us an experience of something a little similar, only with Netflix and zoom added in.
We learned about the virtues of simplicity and the benefits of spending less and budgeting better. We reduced our trips to the supermarket, we baked bread and in kitchens everywhere people were cooking up a storm. The social distancing requirements in supermarkets actually forced us to use our time there more efficiently. And so we made lists and this lead to more conscious decision-making about the food we consume. For me the challenge was to stretch out the days between food shops. In my old life before coronavirus I would pop in and out of the supermarket and the wholefood store far too often and unnecessarily. In lockdown I began stretching out the trips, seven days first and then it was every eight days, once it was nine days and it was easy. All that was needed was some forethought.
During the time in isolation we learned that we didn’t need so much of everything to get by on. We didn’t need to drive places for interest and stimulation instead we could attend more closely to the world at our doorstep. The increase in walking and cycling, rather than taking the car was liberating. And we began observing the natural world more keenly and having quiet moments of communion with its beauty. I don’t think I’m imagining this. It seems to me that people are more observant now, that strangers are making connections with one another, heads are up, not looking down and there is more smiling and courtesy on the streets.
I think we have learned a lot from the period in freeze frame. In the time before coronavirus there were so many things that were wrong in the world, in a very big and awful way. It was so bad it felt overwhelming. There was an avalanche of dreadful, unsolvable, intractable problems — global warming, over consumption of finite resources, terrible piles of waste, air and water pollution leading to habitats contaminated and species extinction, the widening gaps between the rich and the poor and a refugee crisis that is a humanitarian catastrophe — and we felt helpless. How can I, as a single human being do anything to avert the disaster, how can I make a difference? And then we’d slip into a place of despondency. These problems have not gone away but during lockdown we have begun to glimpse the possibilities for genuine change. Here in New Zealand we are fortunate. Jacinda and her government have been gesturing towards new ways of running the economy, of making society more equal. There was talk of introducing a universal wage. Today there was a promise of a significant increase in the unemployment payment for all those out of work and unable to earn a living. Overall the position we find ourselves in today is positive. We’ve come out of lockdown with a new resolve to drop old bad habits, to drive our cars less, to moderate our expenditure and not squander resources… We can do this.
And now I have to admit something. I forgot to keep my distance today. It was an involuntary response. I saw my good friend for the first time since going into isolation and the reaction was instinctive. We both sprang forward into a hug. I think this is okay. We are both well. I certainly don’t regret it for a minute, for the reconnection was sweet. It reminded me of the day exactly a year ago, on 24 May, when we met at St Pancras station to journey together by underground then train, two changes, a bus trip and finally a walk down a country road to view the home of British gardening guru Beth Chatto in Essex. It was an unforgettable day. There was the magic of springtime in a lovely garden, softy flouncy irises in muted shades, ponds reflecting the lime greens of trees overhead and the soft pinky-russet of new leaves on copper beeches. The effect of soft English light filtering through lacy tree canopies onto big rhododendrons, the pile up of flowerheads like icing on a tiered wedding cake, cast a spell on us and there was the added delight of having realised a dream and got ourselves to a beautiful place that we'd previously glimpsed in glossy photos in Gardens Illustrated. For me on that day there was a sense of sadness and gladness at having lost a family home but escaped a difficult life and now starting out on something new.