A Pilgrimage

Image result for st matthew in the city

Today is Friday September 11. Kia ora katoa. It is now almost 9 years since I became ill.

Last week we made a kind of pilgrimage to Auckland:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,

And bathed every veyne in swich licóur

Of which vertú engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open ye,

So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

And specially, from every shires ende

Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for to seke,

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

I have cited the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales because this work has great resonance for me. As American news anchors say, there’s a lot to unpack here.

The Canterbury Tales is one of my favourite works, in fact I did a paper on it for my MA in English Literature. One of my sons is named after Geoffrey Chaucer. Another son lives in Canterbury, I have visited Canterbury Cathedral twice, and know T.S. Eliot’s poetic drama, Murder in the Cathedral, quite well. The “holy blissful martyr” is St Thomas à Becket, who was killed on his return to Canterbury Cathedral; this was also the object of Chaucer’s pilgrimage, and this work was written sometime after England had been devastated by the Black Death.

There’s also the fact that two of our dearest friends visited our son in Canterbury not so long ago, and they also came to that son’s wedding.   And while it is not April here, it is September, and so is springtime here, although we are still feeling winter’s chilly winds. We may have had the warmest winter on record here, but although the sun shines most days, you still need a jacket.

We headed north last Friday afternoon.  We had lunch in Otaki and reached Taupo at 6 pm. At the café in Otaki they were being very careful about the spread of the virus, having added in extra separated seating where the shop used to be, having separate exits and entrances, and bringing cutlery to the table. Later on, it was so beautiful driving along the Desert Road: we had wonderful views of the mountains. I wondered how often we would do this drive again. We stayed with some friends at their very well-appointed motel in Taupo, and had dinner at a Thai Restaurant. I did notice the very wide streets, and lack of pedestrian crossings. I have to confess I was rather apprehensive about the whole trip.

The next morning we went to see JD’s mother’s headstone at Taupo Cemetery, and then visited his aunt, before heading north. We stopped for lunch at Tirau, where there are now masses of cafés (I should have googled them). I picked one that looked all right, but I didn’t feel particularly safe there. No one was wearing masks.

We chose to approach Auckland via the expressway rather than route 31. The expressway speed limit is 110 kph! I didn’t know that! At least it has a dual carriageway. When we reached Hamilton, we had to drive through the city (isn’t there a bypass?) before rejoining the expressway, aka State Highway 1.  I picked we needed to take exit 432 to reach our motel.

Eventually we got to our motel. Despite a rather unprepossessing appearance, it was just great. Although it was on the busy Manukau Road, we were at the back, well away from the busy road. It was opposite a lovely park. There was plenty of room, a spa bath, and a well-equipped kitchenette. The TV had all channels. There was a heat pump, which blew hot air not directly onto the bed. The motel was handy to Greenlane, Epsom, Ellerslie, the city, everywhere in fact. We were warm and comfortable, and unbothered by noise.

That night we walked to an Italian restaurant – about 15 minutes’ walk away. They couldn’t take us until 8:15 pm. No one seemed to be observing any kind of distancing, but we were seated at the front, quite a way from other diners.

The next morning, we went to visit a cousin who has a very nice apartment in Parnell. My attempts at navigation messed up again, and we had a nice drive through the museum grounds. Afterwards we went to the Art Gallery, always a treat.  Car-parking in the building opposite was tricky, but we mastered that. JD had the Father’s Day Special: a pie, chips and salad, and I had French toast with boysenberries. Afterwards we looked at paintings; JD was pleased that they’ve got rid of the wine-red walls as backgrounds to the paintings (this was very fashionable for a time, although I have to agree with him that it does nothing for the paintings). There are several old favourites there, including a painting by Salvator Rosa. At the Art Gallery the staff were very careful about infection, ensuring that we’d signed in; there was someone wiping the handrails with disinfectant. I was very pleased that I’d loaded the Covid tracer ap on my phone: I went around everywhere scanning QR codes.

That evening we ate at a Thai restaurant in Manukau Road. No one else was eating there, and I felt very nervous about being the only ones. But as it turned out, it was very clean, and we had delicious meals. They were playing movie themes on guitar, and we had fun identifying them: Lara’s Theme from Dr Zhivago, and the Godfather theme.

The next morning it was my friend’s funeral at St Matthew’s in the City. We booked a taxi the night before, to be sure of getting there in good time. I had pressed my skirt the night before. We were early, but so were many others, including two dear friends of ours who had flown up from Wellington for the day. I almost cried but managed to hold it all together. Everyone was masked, everyone signed in.  Fifty people is actually quite a lot, when you’re only sitting in every second row. We filled up the beautiful and gracious church nicely, so although quite large, it didn’t feel empty.

It was a sad occasion, but so special to be there. I have to admit that the service was not quite what I expected, although I don’t really know just what I expected. The Requiem Eucharist was celebrated by a woman and a man. The doors were open, and you could here the rain outside, although the sun was shining sometimes, too. The two-hour service was live-streamed.

There were four tributes, including one from my friend’s eldest son.  There was a lot of ground to cover here! My friend’s youngest grandchild (just a few months old) made happy noises. I learnt that wearing a mask does not stop you hugging someone. The readings were nice; I did not know the hymns.

There was some wonderful music: Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, and Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. There was a photo montage played with Sting’s Fields of Gold and Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven, both sung by a female vocalist.  I sing these songs with one of my singing groups.

Afterwards we went outside and placed sprigs of rosemary (for remembrance) on the plywood coffin. Then we went inside again to have a light lunch before the family went to the crematorium.  It was good to speak to most people there. They served tea and coffee and finger food, asking what each person would like, and using tongs to put it on a plate.

I spoke to each of my friend’s children. This was very special – mostly they live overseas, and I don’t see them very often. We also marvelled at our friend’s husband – he played a song for his wife on the piano there.

These are the main things I remembered about her. She introduced us (actually her husband introduced us) to a principle of Catholic Social Services, the principle of Subsidiarity (or, reworded, Local is Logical). We introduced this at Hohepa, and it became a tenet of their approach to management: that decisions affecting Hohepa Hawkes Bay should be taken at its local level, rather than at a national level. It makes such good sense, once it is explained. The other main things I recall are her care for others, and ability to take care of us; her down-to-earth, sensible nature; and her way with words.  She could be quite direct too! And although we didn’t always agree, I was always interested in her views. Our friendship goes back a long, long way. I will miss her greatly.

Afterwards, JD and I walked into the CBD. JD was feeling cold and bought a very nice jersey. Although it was on a special price (they were having a sale), it cost much more than what I would have thought was reasonable. He needed to be warmer, and this seemed like a good opportunity. Sadly, the jersey disintegrated the next day! We couldn’t go back to the shop. Perhaps a friend in Wellington will mend it.  We drank more coffee, and walked some way, around multiple roadworks, looking for a taxi stand! Eventually we found one.

That evening we had another beautiful meal, at a restaurant in Great South Road where we’d been before.  We spoke to the woman there, who felt that the latest lockdown in Auckland was a bit of an over-reaction. Sadly, I have to disagree with her. Local cases of Covid 19 infection seem to bear out that some Aucklanders “broke the rules”.  It is very scary when pupils in schools are infected, and bus routes and cafes are named as being used by infected people. Schools and cafes, like churches, have wide networks. I can certainly understand the frustration, though.

And what about the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship?  What kind of madness infects certain people who call themselves “Christians”, who seem to forget that God gave them a brain, to think with, and who fail to remember that we live in this far-from-perfect world, replete with infections of all kinds, as well as many things to be thankful for. It seems to me that if one wishes to display God’s love, it would include showing respect for others, and using sensible measures to ensure their (and one’s own) safety.

The next morning we visited our bereaved friends. It was sunny, and everyone was very welcoming.  Afterwards we went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum.  We were looking for a handicapped carpark, but there were two parks there for electric vehicles! As at the Art Gallery, the staff were also very careful about attendance. We shared food and looked at some of the Pacific exhibits.

Later that day our nephew and his wife and three children came to our motel, and after a drink we went to a burger joint together. It was so good to see them all! The burger joint was being very careful, too. We found two tables at the back, well away from other people. Not many were eating there. They had a non-meat burger, too. There are aspects of “social distancing” that I really appreciate.

Next morning, we headed off for Napier. Again, we took the Expressway, rather than route 31 through Matamata.  It was quite a long haul. We had lunch in Taupo – mushroom soup and pasta, at what I thought was a café but turned out to be a rather nice restaurant.  The food was beautiful. We assured them that we would come again, better dressed, and with more time to spend.

Then it was the two-hour drive to Napier: a rather dangerous road, with very few stopping places, and some steep and winding hills to navigate at the Napier end.  We had a lovely dinner with our daughter, and drove back to Wellington the next day.  All’s well at home.

Now we are settling in again to Wellington and adjusting to the latest news: the extremely severe fires in California, Oregon and Washington State; and Trump’s interviews for Bob Woodward’s latest book.  Is it truly horrifying? Yes, it is, and I thought I couldn’t be shocked any more.  This comes on top of his disparaging of the war dead.  But the attitude to the coronavirus, is really disgusting. We are continuing to learn of the aftereffects suffered by many; meanwhile, there is a halt in the testing of a vaccine, and in many places, infection rates are rising again. But the frustration is echoed by so many: we (actually they, in the US) endured this – for so long – for this? Can the children ever safely go back to school? Will we ever be able to travel again? Certainly, our lives have changed for ever, but can’t we look forward to doing some of the things we love and seeing our loved ones again? In the US over 192,000 people have died of the coronavirus, officially.

Two of my friend’s sons could not see her while she was still alive, because they were in quarantine for 14 days after their return. No one would dispute the need for this, coming as they do from Germany and New York.  Sadly, they could not bring their wives and children with them. It would be extremely unwise to do so. They will probably not need to quarantine on their return, although the son who lives in Melbourne will have to. What does this do to people? 

One thing’s for sure: this disease demands to be taken seriously, by everyone.

In NZ, it’s election campaign season again. Thankfully, this is very brief. One hopes there won’t be too many silly promises, like keeping the Tiwai Point Smelter (owned by Rio Tinto) open. Surely it’s high time it closed. Certainly some jobs will be lost, and that’s sad, but it seems like sending folk down the mines, and we surely wouldn’t want to do that.

The resurgence of coronavirus also highlights some new issues. While many of us found we coped just fine with the severe lockdown (level 4), we certainly don’t want to go back there. But it is really disappointing to see more conspiracy theories emerge, and be promulgated on social media, and some Aucklanders appearing to thumb their noses at the community spread of coronavirus. The authorities are doing their utmost to find out how this cluster originated, but the role of the Mount Roskill Evangelical Ministry has to be really disappointing. The government has its work cut out in Auckland, getting people to see sense and obey the rules. Goodness, they aren’t hard. And it’s for a good cause, however frustrating. Look at anywhere else in the world: where would you rather be?

That’s it for now. Nga mihi.

This song is by John Bunyan, who wrote A Pilgrim’s Progress (which I also studied in English 1).  Apart from the obvious misogyny, it’s a fine hymn.

1 He who would valiant be 
‘gainst all disaster,
let him in constancy 
follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement 
shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent 
to be a pilgrim.

2 Who so beset him round 
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound—
his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might, 
though he with giants fight;
he will make good his right 
to be a pilgrim.

3 Since, Lord, Thou dost defend 
us with Thy Spirit,
we know we at the end 
shall life inherit.
Then, fancies, flee away! 
I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labour night and day 
to be a pilgrim.

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