Day 69 and it is very late, almost midnight and I am just in from a long drive through the inky night, over the harbour bridge its sweeping arches silver against the dark while down below on the water coloured lights ripple over the black mirror surface. I was returning from dinner and book club in the city. What a night. The reunion after all the weeks in lockdown was vibrant. As we were going our separate ways one of the members, a writer who is also the manager of Pukororo Shorebird centre at Miranda, said into the dark to anyone listening ‘that was a splendid night.’ And it was. The evening was filled with lively discussion, so many opinions, ideas, comparisons, insights, exclamations, laughter, everybody exchanging their stories of life in alert level 4 and 3, everybody analysing and then predicting where things might go from here.
There was a shared feeling of unease about herd immunity and the fact that very few people in NZ, coming out of lockdown have any immunity to Covid-19. There was lively talk of politics and the approaching election here — fortunately we all share the same politics. There was general consensus that America is going to hell in a hand basket. There was less agreement on China and whether their armies really are amassing and which of the two powers are the greater threat to world stability. Everybody agreed that the experience of coronavirus, which came out of nowhere and suddenly plunged the world into a health and economic crisis of proportions we haven’t seen in our lifetime, was unexpected and has shaken our faith in the constancy of our continuing existence. There is now a very real possibility that the future may not go well. We all agreed we’ve been the lucky generation with our free university educations, our home ownership, our relative economic security and the assumed but blithe self-confidence that we were somehow in charge of our destinies. I remember my grandparents saying to me when I was a young woman, ‘the world is your oyster’ and believing them, unquestioningly.
And then there were the books, each one of us presenting a title, or two that had been consumed over the period in lockdown. This book club was my idea after my marriage ended. I wanted to meet with people from a range of different professions. I wanted a balance of male and female and we nearly made it — three men, four women. It’s strange how the complement feels even. Is that because it is a rare thing to draw men out at night to discuss literature? I find similar ratios, or smaller, in my writing classes. Once at a biography course I asked ‘Where are all the men?’ And somebody replied ‘Waiting for their wives to write their biographies.’ It was funny at the time, possibly a little unfair although what I can say is true is that some women come to my courses to gain inspiration to write their husband’s biographies, or their husband’s family histories. Always I try to draw out their own stories as well. The other wish, when I formed the book club, was to offer the freedom to bring whatever reading material was currently of interest to the reader.
The formula has worked surprisingly well. It means we get to hear about a range of subjects and about authors we mightn’t ever consider exploring. Tonight there was the pleasure of a book 'A Widow from the South' by Roger Hicks set in the period of the American civil war and a biography, 'A Few Hares to Chase,' by Alan Bollard about an economist Bill Phillips from Dannevirke, who, in his time at the London School of Economics designed a revolutionary hydraulic model of the economy and was a leading and innovative economist of his era. I would never in a million years have considered this book but, and some of this is linked to the skill of the reviewer, the account and the excerpts were fascinating.
I hadn’t realised until tonight how much I had been craving this kind of intellectual engagement, this lively back and forth of ideas, this rapid swirl of conversation with one person after another taking and off and building on what had been said a moment earlier and the excitement it generates. I think my mind went a little sluggish and quiet in lockdown. I had enjoyed the interaction between writers on the journal course and loved hearing their writing but looking back I have decided that Zoom is a pallid alternative to the real thing.