A Special Time

Today is Thursday May 28. Kia ora katoa.

Cautious optimism. That’s the mood here, I think. It seems that Todd Muller’s rise to lead the National Party has cast a kind of blight over the news and the environment in general, although I gather he’s not everything to faithful National Party members, or to Maori. He’s reshuffled his Shadow Cabinet, but there seems to be no major role there for Paula Benefit. This may or may not be a Good Thing. Muller does not give the impression of being a (good) listener. I suspect it’s His Way or the highway.

Yesterday we went to town in Wellington. I had seen photos of Lambton Quay looking deserted, and, I wanted to go to Unity Books, so I was determined to do my tiny part to help restore the New Zealand economy (and fulfill some personal ambitions, of course).

By the way, I read stories about Air NZ being in trouble, and laying staff off; while I don’t doubt that they’ve taken a severe hit from not being able to fly their overseas routes, their domestic business has certainly picked up, judging by the frequent flights heard overhead. There seem to be more everyday – I counted three in the last ten minutes!

JD offered me a lift, which I accepted, being a bit nervous about using public transport.  We made our way to Unity Books, where we had to wait in a queue, and sign in, before entering. We were also asked to limit our visit to 15 minutes. The inner city seemed quite busy – not extremely busy, but humming, just the way I like it, really.

It’s always a bit of a trade off, going into town together. As usual, I am determined to hold my ground, go where I want, eat what I want, not be hurried, or questioned, and not to have choices made for me. On the other hand, it is quite cold; I’m relieved not to use public transport (I’m not quite ready for that, or the windy bus stops), and to have a companion, and someone to carry stuff.

But what a joy it was to be in a bookstore again! I chose the last copy of Geraldine Brooks’s “Year of Wonders” – a nice paperback at a reasonable price. I first heard of this novel when Geraldine Brooks was on a podcast I listened to, and she spoke about the English village of Eyam, which had taken a decision to isolate itself in 1666 when London was ravaged by the Plague.

I also asked about two other books I’m interested in, about “Stalingrad” by Vasily Grossman (It’s due to come out in paperback, pushed back to October), and John Henderson’s “Florence Under Siege”, which was reviewed in the London Review of Books. This is also not in stock, and is a very expensive book.

After this we had lunch at a café, where we signed in, sanitised our hands, and sat at a table – uncrowded. I had an omelette and an espresso, JD had avocado on toast and English Breakfast tea. It was so nice to eat out again.

Meanwhile, the US is consumed with Memorial Day, reaching the total of 100,000 deaths caused by Covid 19, and the UK with Dominic Cummings driving from London to Durham, and then visiting Barnard Castle, during lock down, when he was supposedly self-isolating with Covid 19. In the US they are obsessed with Trump’s golfing on Memorial Day, and some extra vicious tweeting. In contrast, Joe Biden delivered a kind message of sympathy to those who mourn. In the UK, Cummings’s actions have led to calls for his resignation, while his apparent boss, Boris Johnson, flounders yet again in dealing with this crisis.

Overseas most countries are accepting that they will have to live with some degree of novel coronavirus infection, while opening up their economies – services, bars, restaurants, tourist hotspots, parks, schools, and other facilities to varying degrees. Some countries are thankful to see their daily death rates reduced, while South Korea opened schools and has had forty new infections. So success is mixed. Some areas have been hit very hard, while others have got off more lightly. Pictures of crowds on Memorial Day were distressing to many. There is also an attitude that it’s safer to be outside in fresh air, and to eat outside; some beaches maintained social distancing, others did not. I guess people are going to make their own decisions about their personal safety, as we did before this pandemic; but given how infectious, and how deadly this virus has shown itself to be, and that cutting yourself off from contact with other people or surfaces seems to be the most effective way of not getting it, I think people need to be more careful than usual.

I always wash my hands after shopping, a habit I developed before we had this virus. JD asked if one should wash them before or after unpacking the goods – I would claim both! But I’m not quite as paranoid as I was during our severe lockdown, when we used to joke that if one could smell the Dettol (used to disinfect everything after a shopping trip), then you probably didn’t have the virus!

It seems to me that we had to change gear for the level 4 lock down (and it was a relief when stringent rules were applied, and incoming travelers formally isolated for 14 days); now we are gradually changing, with some difficulty, into a different gear – and there’s still no rush!

This morning I zoomed into one of my singing groups. It seems we may be able to meet again in the Khandallah Town Hall soon, although we won’t be able to use the kitchen for a shared morning tea yet.

This afternoon we walked in the sunshine to the local store, which had very few patrons. They didn’t have a new TV Guide, which used to come out on a Thursday, but I bought eggs, carrots, beans, raspberries and feijoas, and disposable plastic gloves, which are thankfully back in stock. On the way home I remarked how fortunate we are to still enjoy good electricity, enabling people to work from home, do podcasts and broadcasts, and hold meetings, all of which have made life much more bearable and enjoyable.

There is a new issue of London Review of Books in my letterbox, and I read first a very interesting review of Albert Camus’s 1947 novel “The Plague”.  I also read an account written by someone who had polio during the epidemic of the 1950’s, before the Salk vaccine became available. I am continuing to read “Year of Wonders”.

I find myself immersed in, and very interested in, details of a crisis caused by a pandemic, such as the novel coronavirus. It certainly seems to bring out amazing qualities of altruism by some people, and really bad behaviour in others. There is a huge drive to blame someone for this crisis: others, like myself, would say well it’s here now and we just have to deal with it. There has been some usurping of civil rights, but I see that as our government taking action for a specified time, thanking us all, and guiding us through it. I see these actions as being quite justified in the circumstances, and I’m grateful not to be ill, and not to have lost any of those dear to me here. I’m grateful that the government here kept us safe. Then there are the mysterious cures – all types of snake oil, in my view.  I think perhaps some actions have been a little excessive, but then there is so much we just don’t know about this virus. We must be grateful that it doesn’t result in bleeding, bursting of sores, or severe stomach upsets. Infectious discharges would be very hard to deal with safely.

In some parts the death rate has declined, although it seems restrictions are being lifted well before this phase of the virus is under control; in parts of the US, there are serious numbers of infected people, that tend not to make the news because they’re not major metropolitan centres. It seems that this virus is unpredictable, striking some places, such as New York city, and northern Italy, much more severely than others.

Then there are the basics of civilisation: being able to buy adequate food safely; having the utilities of power and water and plumbing continuing to function, having regular rubbish collection, and a police force to maintain order; this also relies on people’s goodwill and kindness, and a rudimentary justice system. In some societies, these services broke down, leaving people to fend for themselves at a very basic level.

I have also been interested while reading “Stalingrad” to see what effect another emergency situation, such as war, has on all kinds of people.

As I’ve repeated, given the situation here, we’ve had it rather good.  Let’s hope we don’t have a second wave of the virus here, and our utilities keep functioning.

That’s all for now. Nga mihi nui.

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