All Hallows Eve

Halloween once marked the end of summer. A time when the ancient Celts prepared to descend into winter, anticipating the cold, dark and often deadly season ahead. Halloween marked change, a time when the Celts believed the worlds of the living and dead became blurred.

In Aotearoa New Zealand it’s a festival of costumes and sweets on a long light evening in spring. But just imagine, only for a moment, that 24 months ago I suggested we “up the anti” on Halloween. I asked you to imagine a world that had been swept by a deadly pandemic, more dangerous and far reaching than the Spanish flu. That I asked you to imagine this virus on our doorstep – the local Countdown was closed for a deep clean yesterday, and that I suggested you take your children out to reach for sweets from strangers, not knowing where this modern plague was lurking. You may have thought I was deranged.

Level 3.1. Whatever that means. I’ve now lost count of how many weeks we haven’t been able to gather indoors, meet more than one masked household at a time, or browse the isles of Bunnings for essential DIY supplies without having to take a leap of faith in an online order. Our kids are still learning from home. They’re the lucky ones with good internet, a device to work on, and a corner of our comfortable home to study. Apparently 40% of the secondary school kids at Decile 1 schools in Auckland haven’t turned up online. It’s been 3 months. They’re unlikely to be back. And so the gaps continue to widen.

We’ve been working hard on replicating the other life learning that comes with school. The spontaneous contact with friends and classmates, the incidental exercise getting to and from school, the chance to get outdoors and breathe. We all signed up to move 42km (marathon distance) over these last 2 weeks in lockdown. “Move” can mean running, walking, biking or using a pogo stick. The girls have 3km to go.

Lockdown life consists of wearing the same clothes daily, scraping hair with mismatched roots back into an improvised knot, and desperately trying to replenish the fruit bowl as a healthy offering – we’ve all switched from 3 healthy meals to a daily snacking buffet that resembles a sushi train. Moving is important.

The working man in our nuclear family is getting on OK. He dons a shirt for meetings. A bit like a newsreader with office dress from waist up and board shirts coupled with bare feet below the monitor. He’s an introvert anyway so he’s not too troubled by the bubble rules. He can do any number of solo sports, whiling away a weekend on the water. But I wonder how long it will take the rest of us to get used to being around people again. What will this generation look like? Will there be some kind of legacy in the way they live like those who gave up sugar in their tea after the war rationing?

We’re not in a business bubble that’s affected by lockdown. That would be its own kind of horror. The local wine shop must be doing OK, possibly better. Online orders must be going through the roof. But I’m not sure that hospitality will ever be quite the same again.

I met a hairdresser in the street who’s been approached by numerous clients to do al fresco garden haircuts. She’s resisting these illegal trysts for now. After all anyone sporting a coiffured look will be taken down. Aucklander’s are doing it scruffy right now for the team of 5 million.  I’m picturing the line-ups outside of salons when our world reopens.

Meanwhile Auckland’s pattern of mercurial spring rain has finally stopped. The sun is out with birds and insects aplenty. It’s still level 3.1 and we can gather outdoors. There’s never been a better time for a picnic.

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