New Habitats

There’s a new kind of madness emerging. First there were toilet paper wars in the supermarket isles, then came flour and yeast shortages not seen since Churchill’s post-war Britain, and now, in the plentiful first world, we’re struggling for building supplies.

Across the globe there has been, to varying degrees, a year and a half of restricted travel. Depending on your country of birth, these restrictions have had a different impact on us all. One that will be marked in the history books.

For the wealthy 1% on this planet it’s meant less disposable income allocated for spend on travel. After months of being stuck indoors with their nearest and dearest, this has led to a global hike in property prices. Or for those happy with their lock-down pads, an endless desire to redecorate, to luxuriate. Or perhaps to knock a few walls about and make improvements where they can.

We live in Auckland, the most populous city in our set of islands at the bottom of the world. The mad rush means one thing. The tradesperson is king and building supplies are like gold dust.

“You have all your timber”, smiled the building supplies rep to our builder. “You’re one of the lucky ones”. Our builder has witnessed panic buying. Trucks barely unloaded from the timber-yards before being reloaded for a bulk buyer. Every tradie has a driveway piled up with framing timber for a rainy day. “Just in case it’s needed for the next job” says the builder.

We’ve been organised. Buying well in advance, buying things that are made here, and expecting that like every job it will run over time and budget. We’re not embarking on a Grand Design worthy of Kevin McLeod’s attention. Just a few tweaks that were planned long before Coronavirus came along.

Yesterday was a typical day with a colourful cast of characters buzzing around our home. The concrete cutter with missing front teeth who likes pulling out his screeching saw and cutting. Apparently he’s made his fortune in property and does this for fun. One wonders why he hasn’t considered getting a crown or two? The steel fabricator looks to have strength of an Eastern European shot putter in the era before the wall came down. His heavy Russian accent makes it hard for me to catch his name but he smiles at us with a gentle grace. The plumber doesn’t like digging holes and isn’t too keen to crawl under the house to unravel a series of 40-year-old pipes. It looks like he’ll have to. Then there’s the builders, one young, one older. The young man avoids gluten, is thinking about giving up meat and pours brain enhancing supplements into his soup. We think he’s on a health journey. The older man is a seasoned chippie. Beavering away and seeing every detail. He brings his old blue canvas folding chair to site. He does the crossword while on his breaks and whistles while he works. He likes to listen to national radio. His wife is Samoan and she thinks there’ll be a civil war. He’s been listening to the pacific correspondents talking about the impasse in Samoan politics this week.

I’ve been busy too. Selling used joinery online and marvelling at the joy an old laundry door can bring to a buyer during these shortages. They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure….Irritatingly passers-by have been dumping their rubbish in our jumbo bin. In place of our recycled window we found a laundry hamper, filled to the top with stained sheets and a teenage boy’s underwear. We’ve resorted to attaching pleading signs to the bin and hoping that the Prime Minister’s “Be kind” message is still being heard.

But the short term inconvenience is one we chose, even if it stretches into winter. We’re not in India crumbing under the latest outbreak, or even one of India’s neighbouring countries on the watch. We’re not Lord Coe. A man who is sure to lie awake pondering the wisdom of proceeding with this year’s Olympic Games when the outbreaks in Osaka continue to spiral. Our relatives in England remind us that they’re headed away for their staycation, their first time out of their little northern village in 8 months. Other friends are still adjusting to enjoying a beer inside a pub. An institution harshly taken from this nation who love to “watch football at the local”.

So I breathe a sigh of relief that I’m not waiting for marble tiles or intricate glass lighting from Italy. I tolerate the dust and the constant sound of tools. Listening to our builder whistling, and looking forward to our new and improved home. Let’s hope we’re past any future lockdowns or the novelty may wear thin.

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