Day 73 since lockdown began in New Zealand. It was a quiet day following a week of excitement that ended last evening with dinner out on a wet, wintery night with three good friends at Gemmayze in the lovely St Kevin’s Arcade. The food. The best of Lebanese cuisine you would find anywhere in the world. The company. Dearest friends, one cut off from her home and daughter in upstate New York, missing her beautiful old farmhouse in a wood, her log fire, her views of spring blooming through the panes of mullioned windows, her interiors with the timeless charm of a setting in an artwork by Andrew Wyeth or Grahame Sydney. She was very bright nonetheless, full of stories. She can quote extensively from many a book, remember the plot of any novel, any film. She told me, with confidence, the story of Anne Salmond’s husband Jeremy — they live in Devonport — and a lovely detail of their relationship, and I said ‘that story was in my book, Her Life’s Work: Conversations with Five New Zealand Women’ and she laughed. She’s here with her partner, indefinitely now, and last night spoke of how glad she is to be a New Zealander.
Still I struggle with being alone. I’ve read Sara Maitland’s 'How to be Alone' twice and it is good, yet I continue to feel stricken when a day dawns without scheduled meetings or guaranteed moments of human connection. The house is quiet. When I awoke though, I told myself this was going to be a special day, one where I might do whatever I wanted. I had my own permission to be kind and gentle on mind and body.
What a difference an intention makes for it was a glorious day filled with catching up on tasks that had been left undone and with the concert programme playing as an accompaniment while I did the washing, the cleaning, the emails — one to a nature writer with a beautiful style and an exciting project, just starting — then trying to get to grips with a confounding and irritating new financial training programme. I don’t appreciate the very rigid budget. It makes me want to rebel and yet I recognise this is childish. I’ve embarked on the exercise because I am no longer the wife of a plastic surgeon, I am a writer with a minimal income, like all writers and I need to be able to sleep at night knowing I will survive financially.
I could weep over what has happened to my brilliant journalist friend who lost her column in lockdown and is finding the market for her well-researched freelance articles all but gone as well. Lockdown meant a freeze on the advertising that normally wraps around the journalism and provides the revenue to pay writers like my friend. All the writers in the Bauer Media stable are in the same position, that’s all the writers for the Listener, North and South, Metro and more. Unthinkable. I heard that one prominent columnist was told the column would remain but the payments would be less. How can that be legal? I am aghast at the treatment of writers in this country. How did the assumption ever form that writers can live on air, that they don’t need remuneration for their strenuous effort, for their years of practising the craft, for their dedication. It makes me wild and sick this cock-eyed devaluing of the work of journalists and authors, while rugby stars are paid thousands for running with a ball up and down a field. I know, of course how could I forget they get so much screen-time, that they are highly skilled, staunch and determined but so are writers.
In the afternoon I took a walk through the streets of Devonport. The beauty of this place on its isthmus where always there are bands and ribbons of water breaking up the wide angle landscape view, grows on me. The sky today, in between light rain showers, was the pale blue of a Claude Lorrain neoclassical painting. Some of the architectural features on rooflines are classical, some colonial, some French, outlined against this colour. Still there are leaves on the trees and in ripples on the ground. I passed the claret and yellow tones of a liquid amber, walked under the ancient gold of an oak tree and smiled at a strange mosaic dragon in bright coloured pieces, twirling round a seat. I saw a row of pigeons perching on a power line — dark grey bird shapes against a cloudscape lit up pale grey and white. I counted eighteen birds in a row, keeping each other company, just below the signalman’s cottage on Mt Victoria/Takarunga. Finally on my way back into the reserve at Takararo my senses were delighted by the brilliance of the lime green lawn.
When I arrived here in February the ground was amber, the grass all but dead. It stayed that way through the months of the drought — March, April and into May. Then came the rains dousing mother earth, soaking the soil, quenching the thirsty plants. Even though we are stepping down like Persephone into the darkness towards the shortest day, nature thinks differently in this subtropical climate where life is off again it seems.