Thursday 30 April 2020

A Latte and Banana-Moon

Well, well well...New Zealand is now at Alert Level 3 in its attempt to eradicate Covid-19. The strict rules our government put in place weeks ago have really helped stamp out the virus and so now it seems safe enough for more people to return to work and, for those who have long been deprived of their fast-food, they are now welcome to stand in long queues for burgers and KFC.

Let's just say that the abrupt lock-down 5 weeks ago meant that many fast-food addicts went cold turkey but now they get to eat hot chicken.

John C. admits he spent longer in the queue to purchase his bucketful of heart-clogging KFC than it took for the chicken to be killed, plucked, crumbed and fried.

I don't understand that sad kind of addiction. Sure, I like coffee. Some of you might even say that I am an addict and there is a coffee-bean of truth in that but I would never stoop to waiting for hours for a brew.

Anyway, I'd seen on Facebook that my favourite cafe, 'The Daily' was opening yesterday for take-out coffees only.  I can assure you I attempted mindful restraint as I ordered my first latte in 5 weeks.

I should perhaps have been more mindful of the see, in my excitement, I failed to notice the wooden rail blockading the front main entrance of the cafe.

All that registered in my latte-head was that a side gate was open. I thought to myself, "Oh, we are to go in that way and form an orderly Covid-19 queue for our take-out coffees...and look, I am the first one here, what were the chances of that? Hallelujah!"

I stood politely behind a strip of masking tape with the words, WAIT HERE TO BE SERVED.

The lovely Rochelle who works at 'The Daily' looked up at me after the delivery bloke departed and said, "We are not actually open until 9.30am, Bernadette".

Sensing I was about to dissolve into a puddle of tears she said, "We'll take your order though."

Bless Rochelle's beautiful heart forever and ever. I slunk out with two lattes feeling real guilty because, seeing me be served, another desperado of a woman also snuck in the side gate for her fix and so the avalanche of customers unexpectedly began.

I took one latte to a woman called Enaid, who really needed it because she has been bubbled up with her husband 24/7 for a long time now. I hope it helped.

Sipping my latte in the morning sun was sheer bliss. Life is so nice at times. I smiled as I thought of what our little 3 year-old grand-daughter asked Coss and I on video-time last night.

She wanted Oma and Opa to go outside and see if we could see the same moon that she sees in Wellington. So we did and reported back to her, "Yes, darling, we see the same moon as you! And it looks just like an up-side down banana".

Full of giggles, she put her head to pillow for a good night's sleep.

Next week I go back to work under the kiwifruit vines. Mixed feelings.

Monday 27 April 2020

Silence at the Mailbox

Anzac Day. 25th April 2020.

Due to the Covid-19 lock-down throughout New Zealand, there are no public services to commemorate Anzac Day.

Instead, we were encouraged to stand out at our mailboxes at 6am and remember those killed in war and also honour our returned servicemen and women.

I thought Anzac Day might lose a lot of its beauty and solemnity with our not being able to gather with others - no singing together of our national Anthem, no speeches nor laying of wreaths at cherished monuments.

But Coss and I actually liked the simplicity of standing in the dark near the road. As we listened to 'The Last Post' on our little transistor radio propped up on top of our mailbox, a pink glow appeared and the sky lightened up between the trees.

Who else out there gets goose-bumpy and teary-eyed when hearing the bugle on Anzac morning?  Then the minute of silence makes us reflective and thankful. Thankful for freedom.

And then the National Anthems of both New Zealand (In Maori and English) and Australia do the heart good.

I know it gets a bit cliche when we keep hearing what a fabulous country we live in, but hey, what a fabulous country we live in! Don't you just want to skip and cartwheel when you find yourself on a deserted New Zealand beach, the sun sparkling on the water and the sand warm between your toes? When the man fishing from the shore has caught nothing but still has a sun-crinkled grin for you as you duck under his line?  When a young woman walks past you with her overly-excited yap-at-every-seagull-dog and she too smiles and says, "Hello".

And yet it can always be better. New Zealand has various social problems that we all need to help fix. Domestic violence, child abuse, depression and suicide.

Today we honour and thank those who fought for our freedom but I am also thankful to everyone who helps New Zealanders get un-stuck from their destructive lifestyles or mental illnesses. We can all bring a different kind of freedom to Aotearoa.

Well, as I am on this philosophic roll, (the only roll you will get out of me - forget the cartwheels  mentioned above) please let me tell you about an incredible woman, just a few years older than me, who, only several months ago, lost her beautiful grown-up daughter to breast-cancer. This daughter had two young children of her own so of course the loss was devastating. I cannot and do not want to imagine the pain her family went through and go through still.

Well, the Covid-19 lock-down has been a haven for this woman who feels like her heart got ripped out. Home is where she is shielded from all the well-meaning questions as to how she is getting on - the kind we all ask of the bereaved without realizing that they may actually be unable to answer without collapsing in tears or railing against the universe that bomb-shelled them with tragedy.

Are you ok? How are you? Are you sure you're ok?

She knows all the questions come from kind and caring hearts but there are so many of us asking the questions. Needing time alone, lock-down gives her permission to heal without offending anyone.

And so, even the dark cloud called Covid-19 has its silver lining for someone out there.

I love this woman's honesty and hope I will always speak my truth quietly and clearly like her.

Over and IN! ( my bubble)

Saturday 25 April 2020

Expensive Potatoes

It is Day 30 of Covid-19 lock-down in New Zealand.

After assessing the sky and forecasting a bit of rain, I decided to walk only ten minutes in one direction from home, return to our mailbox, then walk ten minutes in the other direction and return to mailbox and then, as the rain did not happen, I walked the first route again.

So, I passed by our sasanqua camelia hedge four times. The pink and white flowers are just coming out and smell so nice.  I also said "Hello"' four times to the goat that chomps the grass next door.

Then I got a text from a friend - I won't say who - suggesting that, for her own mental health and mine - I go to her house and we sit together on her porch and drink coffee. Instantly, my mind was obsessed completely with the vision of a real latte from her Italian espresso machine. Made from freshly ground beans and velvety steamed milk...

A porch is outside, right? And we could sit more than the required 2 metres apart in our wicker-chairs. Why shouldn't we sneak in a blissful sunny half-hour catching up on each-other's little bubbled world?  We had, after all, both definitely seen more than enough of our husbands. Were we not entitled to a lock-down latte?

Her conscience and mine had an almighty tug-of-war with our caffeine addiction and the latter lost out to common sense. That's not to say that the decision wasn't painful. So close to sipping a heavenly latte accompanied by a dark-chocolate ginger truffle... to having a good-old close and yet so far-too-wicked.

You see, Te Puke has just had a confirmed case of Covid-19. An unknown person is now in isolation and all his/her contacts are being tested too. The virus has crept into our midst!  We must therefore stick to the lock-down rules even more diligently than ever.

Imagine our mug-shots splashed across all the media with savage reports of how this friend and I, double-handedly, managed to devastate the entire kiwifruit industry by drinking coffee! Jeopardise millions of dollars worth of exports.  We'd be reviled and despised by the whole community. Sent to prison with just a scratchy blanket to sleep under and no Coss to keep me warm.  I could see myself sitting forlorn and humiliated in the corner of my cell, accusatory fingers pointing at me from all directions.

Oh, slay me dead, right now!

So, instead of bolting my bubble, I baked a double-batch of Anzac cookies with which to surprise and delight our neighbours tomorrow. I did everything the recipe said - the right amount of rolled oats and coconut - the bubble and froth of baking soda in warm golden syrup and butter - but they turned out sh...ocking.

Not burned. Not ugly. Just a foul baking-soda after-taste.

Coss was too busy at his computer to hear my moans. He had woes of his own as many of his online-students had not even started their lock-down assignments and others were diligent but impossible to understand during question-time due to accents from India, China and Talktooquickistan.

Feeling a tad neglected I sat with a cup of tea and just happened to glance at a shopping docket from my last trip to the supermarket.

What's this? Why did I get charged for Agria potatoes there and then again underneath for something  else that says potato? I hadn't purchased potatoes for anyone else than day. So why the $6.50 charge?  I put on my $2.50 glasses, stared at the long list and finally figured I had paid for a jute potato bag.

Now, I am very happy to pay for a jute potato bag if I purchase a jute potato bag but the jute potato bag was my own from home. To avoid using plastic, To help save the planet.

I recalled how the mistake must have happened. With Covid-19 rules, we shoppers have to pack all our own groceries back into the trolley after paying so I was skipping back and forth between unloading and loading when the shop-assistant must have asked me, "You are buying that bag?" to which I relied, "Yes", thinking she said, " Is that your own bag?"

 No point demanding a refund.  Twas but a mistake. No one's fault.

Rip up the docket!

Thankful for neighbours I don't need to impress with Anzac cookies. Even the sparrows weren't impressed by them and, crazy as it sounds, looked like they were waddling around with tummy aches all afternoon. Only one could fly away.

Thankful for potatoes and a jute bag in which to put them.

Over and out. Actually no, let's re-phrase that in lock-down lingo:

Over and IN!


Tuesday 21 April 2020

A Scoop of Chips with that Please

Sadly, but I guess it was inevitable in a prolonged lock-down of the nation , several friends are losing the plot. One in particular - let's call her HsirT (spelled backwards to preserve her anonymity) (and safeguard her dignity) -  is now a total screwball.

Oh, give an example, you ask? Sure, here goes. Last night HsirT cooked sausages and baked up some chips in the oven. Then she wrapped up these nutritious goodies in a newspaper, put them in the car, drove around her shed three times and then pulled up at her own back-door with their takeaway order!  Her husband was thrilled to bits.

For years I thought HsirT and I were about the same level of odd, but believe me, ironic but true, lock-down has set loose all the pukekos in her top paddock.

BREAKING NEWS! Tonight Jacinda Adern, our Prime Minister, announced New Zealand is to spend one more week at Level 4, but after the 27th April, we can go out and buy takeaways again.

Well, isn't that nice? But I pity anyone in the KFC queue on 28th April, when my boss, (let's name him John C - he doesn't deserve anonymity) who has been deprived of Wicked Wings for a month now, violently elbows them all aside to get his bucketful first.

Honestly, I fear there could be broken arms and stabbings.

Saturday 18 April 2020

There's a Rhine in my Bubble

It is Thursday in Week 3 of Lock-down. The days blur. It doesn't really matter what day it is to me as I have no work and few commitments.

Do I miss my orchard job? Yes, a bit. I miss the buzz of the harvest that is happening right now without us older workers there. Contract gangs of Indians, Vanuatuans and back-packers are doing all the tasks themselves. Covid-19 has resulted in so many regulations as to distances between workers, use of bathrooms, and well, every aspect of everything, it is far easier to leave it to them.

I remember last year's picking week with crisp dappled sunlight shining through a canopy heavily laden with gold kiwifruit.  And the Vanuatuans with their big smiles and happy personalities. How they manage to laugh, tease each other and sing all day while slogging for hours on end, emptying out bag after bag after bag of fruit into the bins amazes us locals who are more prone to zone -out in silence as we work. 

So, yes, I miss the hectic but fun atmosphere of the harvest but, to be honest, am still loving lock-down and the way it has slowed me down and given me time to embrace simplicity.

I could of course retire - each year I consider it - but orchard work keeps me fit and my work-buddies are such crazies that I feel as content as a weevil in a box of Fruit-Loops. And, as for our Smoko breaks at the boss's house with real espresso coffee, gooey caramel Tim-Tams, hot cheese scones and enough laughter to un-sink a battle-ship, well, need I say more?

Once lock-down is over, I'll just keep showing up at work until I get dishonorably discharged. 

OK, have you all noticed how the littlest things become high-lights in a typical lock-down day? For me it is things... friends who cycle past our house and call out our names until we dash out to the mailbox for a chat. making up our bed with fresh sheets and, while flinging them out, see Coss's underpants,  (sun-dried and fresh, mercy be) fly through the bedroom, having been catapulted from an elasticised corner of the bottom fitted sheet. ( Sad how amusing I found that.) delivering groceries to my friend at the beach car-park and then taking half an hour to drink thermos-flask tea together.  Yesterday there was a cold ocean breeze so she sat in her car and me in mine. We wound down our windows and chattered happily like slightly tipsy parakeets upon discovering our cage-doors are slightly open. finally learning Internet banking because it really was long over-due that this technologically- challenged woman did so. I sat there with Coss at the computer and said, "Teach me but, if I see you roll your eyes even once, I am out of here and it's divorce." (of course I didn't mean a single word of that because I don't yet know how to access our joint bank accounts) partaking in the miracle of a ZOOM meeting with friends, another newly learned skill, although I forgot to undo the mute button last time and I could see them all but couldn't hear them for the first ten minutes. I suspect they were mocking me but I can't lip-read very well so won't get paranoid just yet. the emails we get from a friend describing hilarious lock-down anecdotes - ranging from cutting his nervous wife's hair to traumatising his thighs attempting 'Youtube' exercise sessions. the splashy red poppies another friend has brought to life in water-colour paint - a relatively new hobby that she loves and finally has time for. video-time with our grand-daughter this evening as she put head to pillow, sleepy eyed, while we sang ( a bit out of tune)  'Skinny Marinky Dinky-Dink". the huge pile of travel books I got before our library closed that transport me to far-flung (yes, further even than Coss's underpants ) and exotic locations without  me even having to transgress any lock-down rules - there are no planes flying anywhere, anyway.

So far I have travelled up the Rhine from Hoek van Holland to Switzerland and been scared to death on wild hair-pin bends on a motorbike in Arunachal Pradesh. I might go to Italy next.

So much to like. 

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Bocelli in My Bubble

I awoke at 5am to watch Andrea Bocelli sing "Music for Hope" live from the Duomo di Milano in Italy, one of the countries most ravaged by Corona-19.  I sat here in the office in my pyjamas with a cup of tea in front of my computer, my hair unbrushed and a duvet wrapped around my legs.

Andrea Bocelli was a solemn figure, suit and bow-tie, singing from his heart in the magnificent Milan Cathedral. Lasting just half an hour, the concert included favourites like Ave Maria and Domino Deus, the mood all the more poignant in that this famous man stood amidst stained glass windows, pious statues and lit candles, in this awe-inspiring cathedral, through which, normally, thousands of tourists traipse through every day, but today he had no audience. Got no applause.  It was beautiful but haunting in that he was seemingly singing forth into a silent vacuum but, in actual fact, was being beamed into living-rooms all over the planet.

When at the end, Andrea Bocelli sang 'Amazing Grace' outside the huge front entrance of the Milan Cathedral, well, who could not be moved by the words, 'I once was blind but now I see", coming from his serene face, eyes closed by blindness?

But, metaphorically, blind eyes can, given hope, see and a sick Covid-19 locked-down planet can be healed.

These words, translated from Italian to English, drifted across our screens before the concert started.

"I believe in the strength of praying together.
I believe in the Christian Easter.
A universal symbol of rebirth that everyone,
Whether they are believers or not, truly needs right now.
Thanks to music, streamed live, bringing together
Millions of clasped hands, everywhere in the world,
We will hug this wounded Earth's pulsing heart".

Sometimes what we see in life is determined by what we choose to focus on.

When I went on my first lock-down walks I took along a big bag in which to collect the tossed-out-of-car beer-bottles and RTD cans that seem to litter all New Zealand rural roads. All I did on those utterly stunning blue-sky, sun-in-your-face days was gaze at the ground and resent the dumb-asses who were too lazy to take their empties home with them.  I saw glass, tin and plastic. I saw old milk-shake containers and disintegrating KFC cardboard boxes.

I was intent on rubbish and that is what I saw, That is what I collected and carried with me.

All very commendable of course but, after a week, I knew I still had to exercise my body but relax my mind. Just enjoy. So I took no bag along. I let the simply gorgeous day caress me. I looked here and there at cows and horses, wetlands with quacking ducks, manuka and cabbage trees.

It did me a lot of good looking up, not down.

"Hello, fencepost, what'cha doin'?
I've come to watch your cows a mooin'" 

Saturday 11 April 2020

This little Piggy went to Supermarket, That Little Piggy Stayed Home

Even in lock-down we need to eat and so New Zealand's supermarkets remain open and are frantically busy.

The first time I went shopping during lock-down it was such a novelty - a much needed change of scenery from our little cottage where I am bubbled up with Coss. Only Coss...Noone but Coss...

And so I eagerly offered to buy groceries, not only for my mother but for two other couples - all dear friends who are over 70 years of age and not meant to be out and about.

So, let me tell you about the new high-light of my week - supermarket shopping.

1) The day before, I email my bubbled-up friends and ask them to send me a shopping list with precise details please as to preferred brand, flavour and quantity.  So, for example. don't just write 2 tins of baked beans. Be specific. Two 450 gram tins of WATTIES BAKED BEANZ with 50% less sugar. Thank you!

2) Armed with 4 separate lists I pull up at the supermarket car-park and groan when I see the long queue of people waiting with their empty trolleys to get through the door. Unbelievably, the line snakes further back than the 'Daily Cafe'. Me and my trolley join in at the end of this patient and polite line and I chat to the Indian woman in front of me rather than the aloof man behind me.  Like about half of the people, he is wearing a face-mask but also blue rubber gloves. I wear neither.

3) What else is there to do but observe people? Many faces are staring down at their mobile phones and one lady is even reading a book - so slow is progress toward the supermarket entrance she has time to prop up her book on her trolley and read a big chunk of a novel.

4) Finally I am allowed in. A young woman asks me to open out my hands and she sprays them with sanitiser from a bottle. Then she wipes down the bar of my trolley. "Yes, ma'am, you may now go in - but no ma'am you cannot use those bags. Just put everything loose in the trolley and sort it out later at your car. Our cashiers are too busy to cater for separate lots of groceries and payments".

Fair enough, I think, but mighty inconvenient.

5) It is fortunate that I can take as long as I like in the supermarket because I am not familiar with many of the items I am required to buy for others.  Where on earth are the Twin-Pack salamis? The Black Forest coffee sachets? The dry mustard?

6) There I was ambling down the cleaner-product aisle looking for Janola. I had found the lemon-scented Morning Fresh detergent but there was no bleach to be seen. I continue on my way and a woman coming from the opposite direction stops her trolley right in front of mine - in such a resolute manner I am convinced she knows me and I should know her. So I smile and say, "Hi. Howzit going?"

But it is soon obvious to me that she is not standing there like a sergeant-major just to make small talk. I wonder what I have done wrong this time. She continues to stare me down, then points at the floor. Well, what do you know but there is a big arrow made of masking-tape pointing in the opposite direction. Apparently I was going the wrong way, flouting the rules of organised shopping during a world-wide coronavirus pandemic. But holy moley, am I truly supposed to notice a minor detail like a huge arrow on the floor when my 62 year-old head can hardly cope with 4 shopping lists?

We are meant to zig-zag our way through the supermarket in an orderly manner so, like an obedient citizen, I about-turned my trolley but then had to go back several aisles for the dessicated coconut, thanks to these new-fangled rules.

7) I then waited 35 minutes in a long line to pay for my huge pile of groceries. Easter eggs were toppling out in all directions, that being the one product you can buy as much of as you want. For everything else there is a limit of 2.  I got tired of staring at the frozen peas on my left and what was left of the bread on my right, so chatted to the friendly woman behind me. She ended up borrowing my phone to text her husband - "Sorry darling", she messaged, "I am stuck in here but I have your beer".

 A loud-speaker announcement asked us to please pay with plastic cards, not cash. Is cash now a grubby word? Because it's too grubby?

8) Hallelujah! I am almost at the counter but the girl behind the till has yet to disinfect the conveyor-belt before I can start to put my interminable amount of shopping on it. Heaven forbid, but the customer just before me might have left a trail of corona virus from her shopping to infect mine. We can't have that.

9) I pay $398 for my mound of shopping and, hugely relieved to get out, I proceed to sort out the goodies into separate bags and boxes in the boot of my car.

10)  I deliver the first lot of shopping to the friends who live nearest. They are expecting me because I texted to say, "Put on the kettle!" That was for their own coffee, not mine. I have my own thermos- flask in the car, my own cup, teabag, milk and teaspoon. I sit on my own chilly-bin and enjoy a much needed cuppa with these crazies who I hardly see these days except on ZOOM.  They are sitting on picnic chairs at least 5 metres from me, a safe distance, surely?

11) While I am recovering from post-supermarket trauma, I pull out the longest-ever shopping docket and Paula works out with her calculator exactly what they owe me.  Later they pay me online.

12)  I deliver the rest of the groceries to the beach where my friend, Trish, lives and we drink tea together, she from her thermos and me from mine. We perch our bottoms on wooden posts about 2 metres apart - the legal social distance - and catch up on each other's lives in the cool salty breeze.

13) I go home and there is Coss still as engrossed at the computer as when I left this morning. Poor Coss has to plan on-line lessons for his locked-down students, a major task.  Last week he plonked me in front of another computer and made me pretend I was one of those students. He was testing sound quality, he said.

I winked from my screen to his and, with fluttering eye-lashes, suggested that surely I deserved an A+ for my assignment?

He rolled his eyes and then spied Easter eggs on the table.

Friday 10 April 2020

Still In a Bubble

And so the lock-down days just merge one into the next and often I have no idea what day of the week it is. I wake up each morning to a blank canvas which I can splatter-paint as I please.

Believe me, I am super-thankful for my good fortune in suddenly having all this free time.  It is as if a fairy waved its magic wand over my busy life and Zap!.., without my even having to pack a suitcase,  I am on holiday. A "stay-cation" is the word newly-coined since lock-down insisted we all keep safe within our own four walls.

But how Coss and I wish we could visit and help out our son and daughter-in-law in Wellington. They are having to combine working online from home with looking after two kiddy-winkles, aged 3 years and baby just 9 weeks old.  Mum and Dad are sleep-deprived and so, of course, a task that is easily accomplished one day is hard slog the next if baby has cried half the night.

Their best pre-lock-down purchase was a trampoline and our little grand-daughter can bounce the equivalent of their back-yard to Pluto but still have plenty of bounce left over. How do you wear out a young child who is not even allowed to swing or slide at the local park?
Baby smiled properly for the first time during lock-down and we grand-parents were not there to burst with pride and smother him with kisses. His big sister holds tea-parties for teddy-bears, elephants and frogs but we are sadly unable to attend. But thank the Lord for technology! Coss and I can ambush our children's living-room by video, a Kermit-the-frog puppet on my right hand and plenty of kisses and waves from the left.  For Coss, who has yet to meet his baby grand-son, the video-times do his missing-out heart good. A bit of virtual bonding is going on in advance of the real visit when real cuddles can finally happen.

They are all doing well but, naturally, our daughter-in-law longs for some time-out. So does our son. When their batteries get low we cannot help recharge them.  Our bubbles cannot meet up and merge.

In even just a few months time, when life is way better, they will wonder if lock-down really was that challenging...did their wee cherub really howl that loud for that long on those very nights they most needed to drop their "over-it" heads on pillow?

We are all in the same boat - not only in New Zealand but all through the world, people's lives are necessarily restricted by the rules designed to protect us.  The sledge-hammer of Covid-19 has hit hard, especially in Italy, Spain and New York. Just watch the news, folk, to see how grim they have it.  New Zealand, be warned. Stay at home!

We are, thank God, allowed to go on walks so I make myself venture forth each morning to clear the cobwebs from my lethargic body and mind. Walking briskly, I feel calm settle in for the day. It is then that the harsh reality of Covid-19 "out there" is almost impossible to grasp. The sun is gently warm on my face, the sky a piercing blue with only a few wispy clouds. This district is peaceful at the best of times but now, with hardly any traffic on the road, I walk with abandon this way and that. Sometimes I even close my eyes and see how many steps I can take before I feel myself going crooked...(or get hit by the one car I didn't hear coming...!)

I take time to notice things. So, today, when I literally walked on top of dozens of beautiful sleek black and white dairy-cows ( they walked in a tunnel under the road from the milking-shed back to their paddock) I peered over, watched them idle past, inhaled their cow-smells, yes, even as they pooed in big slushy heaps and urinated in sudden gushes like unblocked sinks.

And then I wondered why the different colour tags in their ears? This one mated? That one not? This one placid in the cow-shed? That one a delinquent? Good udder there? Poor milk from that one?

Sometimes we just don't know stuff and that's OK.

But we must know this - Viruses run their course. Crying babies grow up.  Hideous lock-down haircuts grow out and, one day, the memory of standing in a ridiculously long queue at the supermarket wearing a face-mask will be, pun intended, sneezed at.

What we fret about one season is often resolved by the next, or if not, we have hopefully discovered who our real friends are - they are the ones who put on their virtual gumboots and wade with us through our muddy times for as long as it takes.

As Jacinda would say, be kind.

This too shall pass.