Category Archives: Writing

COVID-19 DIARY 06

Day 26 of the Lockdown

Mt Sunset
Mount Maunganui at sunset

And So the Days Grow Shorter

New Zealand’s total number of Covid-19 cases has now reached 1440, with 9 new cases in the past twenty-four hours. The end of our Level 4 lock-down had been penciled-in for midnight this coming Wednesday. Instead it’s been pushed back until midnight on the following Monday – a week from tonight. And even that could change.

Time under lockdown conditions has certainly rattled on by, although I’m not sure why I chose that particular verb, as not much has been rattling hereabouts. To say that it’s been very quiet would be an understatement. But life has changed, despite this. For starters, the days have grown shorter, as New Zealand has gone off daylight savings, which means the mornings are a little lighter, and the evenings noticeably darker. And I’m starting to discern that my father’s days are also beginning to contract.

The same questions run through my mind. How to measure the precious remaining moments? How to support without being over-bearing? How to help without being intrusive? A month ago I didn’t really understand what was at stake. I worried that he’d wear himself out working on one of his projects in the garage, or digging rubble in the garden… but now… now that he can no longer do those things, I wish that he still could, and that I’d rejoiced about it instead of fretting.

I heard on TV today that it takes a certain number of days – 66, I think – for a person to grow accustomed to a new routine. But I’ve already grown into the strange unhurried ways of this new existence. This slowing down.

I burn the midnight oil writing or studying, and sleep late in the mornings. I spend my days doing the chores, making up parcels for Mum, walking, thinking, and hanging out with Dad. He and I laugh a lot, but also share sad moments, especially when one of his poignant memories bubbles up to the surface. Sometimes it all makes sense, and at others, it makes no sense at all.

We’d really like to take a mini road trip together. To head up home to South Head for a couple of nights. I’m still hoping that this can happen.


Dried leaves of Autumn
lie scattered by the roses.
Gilded offerings.

(13 April 2020)

 

 

COVID-19 DIARY 05

Day 13 of the Lockdown

Quiet Mount at Night

All Quiet

New Zealand’s total number of Covid-19 cases has now reached 1160, with 54 new cases in the past twenty-four hours. The nation is holding its breath to see if this is the beginning of a leveling-out. Each day we listen to the 1.00 pm update to hear the announcement of our new numbers. It’s a crisis for small businesses, and lonely for those of us parted from family and loved ones. We’re desperately hoping that it will all be worth it.

Having got that off my chest, life goes on as usual.

I’ve had a quiet day, feeling tired and disinterested in venturing out. It’s crazy with such beautiful, autumn weather and the beach so close, but sometimes it’s just too much effort.

Moon over Bay of Plenty

The barometer is dropping with rain promised for tomorrow afternoon. With this in mind, I forced myself out for a walk after tea. Now that daylight savings has reverted, it’s already dark by 7.00 pm and tonight I started by walking to the beach so that I could see my beautiful friend,  おつきさま, otsukisama, shining across the Bay of Plenty. (That was me practicing my Japanese, by the way.)

dark night with palm

From the beach I walked north-west along Marine Parade until just parallel with Motuotau Island, then turned back into the town centre. It was calm and mild with a slight breeze. The main street was deserted, but extremely well-lit.

I listen to music when I walk, and this dispels the eeriness of the empty city.  But the lights still shine – fluorescent, neon and LED, their sharp and often brilliant colours reflected in the polished shop windows and on the glossy leaves of the palms.

When I returned home, Dad was asleep on the sofa with the TV blaring. I eased the fridge door open and poured a glass of rosé. I’m sure that my alcohol consumption since being in lock down has counteracted any value gained by walking.


Today’s Haiku… written earlier today.

In a pool of sun
my father lies fast asleep
Walking in the past

Jane Percival (07/04/2020)


 

おつきさま – an honorific term for the moon

COVID-19 Diary 04

Day 11 of the Lockdown

No Photos This Sunday

New Zealand’s total number of Covid-19 cases has now reached 1039.

It seems that my significant other and I have reversed roles – while he’s been creaming honey and steeping batches of kombucha, I’ve been press-ganged into the role of ‘Apprentice Home Handy Woman’.

As such, I’ve spent the past couple of days learning such new skills as belt-sanding, and countersinking (using a drill press). The saying “Don’t give up your day job”, definitely drifted in and out of my consciousness while I was using the belt sander. The wood we were working with was an ancient piece that Dad had found under the house. Being dry and very rough, it took quite a bit of effort for me to make an impression. My beveled edges were wonky and my sanded top, undulating. Not that it actually mattered as the piece was eventually disguised beneath white paint and sealer.

What we were actually trying to do, was to rebuild a shower box that had been cut apart when Mum became wheelchair-bound, more than seven years ago. With all the hardware stores closed to the likes of us mere DIYers, we were working with whatever bits and pieces of timber and aluminium, Dad could find in the garage. And, the end of a roll of duct tape. If only I’d taken some photos!

Anyone who has had the perseverance to read my very haphazard blog over the years, will know that I always include photos… but alas, not tonight. In fact, the reason I’ve been tardy with writing is because I haven’t had the time to take any. Perhaps I’ll make up for it tomorrow.

But if anyone is interested in how we’re coping with the lockdown, I’d say that here in Mount Maunganui, things are fine.

It’s quiet, and my life is very regulated – but then this was the case before our lives were restricted. Spending time here keeping my father company has a particular routine that I would not dare to change. I’m content to fit in with him, and I guess I mustn’t have high expectations (as far as excitement or variety is concerned) as I’m perfectly happy the way things are.

My sister in law is in Japan, also spending time with her elderly parents. We both decided to write a haiku, and here is mine…

Beyond my window
karoro fight over scraps.
Scavenger brigade.

Jane Percival, 05 April 2020


 

COVID-19 Diary 03

Day 06 of the Lockdown

On the way to the beach
Through the burbs to the beach.

Too Sunny to Stay at Home

The 1.30 pm update states that we have 58 new Covid 19 cases, bringing New Zealand’s total to 647. Sadly, we had our first fatality yesterday.

This morning I decided it was high time I did a supermarket run – quite a few essentials were running out.

I arrived at the local New World at around 9.45 am, not sure what to expect. But it was a case of ‘business as usual’, except for the fact that staff were monitoring the overall numbers of shoppers inside and only allowing a person in when someone else left. There’s been a great deal of raruraru about panic buying and price gouging, but I saw no evidence of either. I was disappointed to see that the flour and yeast shelves were still empty, and surprised to see that all the instant gravies were gone, too. Does anyone use that stuff?

fruit and nut copy

After lunch I took a small parcel down to Mum at her residential home. There’s not much I can take, but Dad and I each wrote a note, and I threw in a snack pack of Salt & Vinegar chips and a Whittaker’s Fruit and Nut bar.

Speaking of food, Dad sat me down this evening and told me that I’m feeding him too much. (Actually, I’m also feeding myself too much!) There are always ice-creams and cheesecakes in Dad’s freezer, cakes in his fridge, and biscuits in his tins. I’d assumed they were for him, but I think they’re actually his supply of treats for when Mum was able to visit. So I’ll stop making the jellies and opening the tins of peaches, and dishing up the salted caramel ice-cream. And I’ll reduce the sizes of his portions. And I won’t give him biscuits with his cups of tea.

After dropping off the parcel I kept on going to the beach. After yesterday, I knew I’d have to go there each day that’s sunny. It’s such a carefree feeling walking at the edge of the waves, and the noise of the water and the birds is so in your face that you have to be totally present. It’s hard to think about worrying things such as COVID-19, or Dad’s cancer, or Mum’s lonely existence.

paddling
Happy feet in water.

One of the kinda cute things is the Teddy Bear Hunt people are promoting to distract the small children when families are out and about in their individual ‘bubbles’. I hadn’t really thought of it until I came upon a house on a corner with a whole array of soft toys, and a blackboard notice as well.

I’m not sure how I’d feel about standing at the end of my driveway at 7 pm, clapping (although I think the sentiment is great), but I do like the idea of the teddies and trying to spot them when out for walks. This could be partly due to missing my grandchildren. They’re so vulnerable, and all so far away, and I miss their hugs.

Teddy view
Stay happy and smile – you have a big heart.

Once again, the beach did its job and cleared my head and heart. It also had a therapeutic effect on my tired feet and ankles. It’s corny, I know, but I have to acknowledge that I’m living in a very beautiful country.

I worry about what will become of us all after this virus has had its way; the economy, the less fortunate, our airline (I love to travel!), our health workers, people living alone, people who are scared, or unwell. I think we have a habit of just keeping on and not stopping to think, perhaps until now. When there is so much to think about.

the glorious sea
Today’s view towards Mauao.

 

 

Covid-19 Diary 02

Day 05 of the Lockdown

View to the South
Nearing the end of my walk.

A Breath of Sea Air

The 1.00 pm update states that we have 76 new Covid 19 cases, bringing New Zealand’s total to 589.

Last night around 9 pm there was a storm out to sea. Sheet lightning lit up the eastern sky in sharp flashes, and brilliant zags of light spiked downwards. Dad and I stood on the porch and watched, counting the seconds as we waited for the next rumble. The still air and unusual light reminded me of a long time ago in Nebraska, when I gazed up to the sky on a similar night. The big old leafy trees in the avenue were picked out in street light orange as they stretched over the luminous green sparks of the fire flies. I had that same hard-to-define feeling of premonition – of a life poised, teetering on the edge.

first view to the north

About three-quarters through today I was standing at the kitchen sink sorting through yet more stamps, when the heat of the sun through the window drove me outside. I grabbed my sneakers and headed for the beach.

What a day for a walk! And despite being alone, there were enough people doing the same thing, to feel somehow connected. With so much space, there was never a risk of getting too close to anyone. It felt like a ‘normal’ day – kids were swimming, and a couple of surfers bobbed on waves close to shore.

 

surfer and bird
Bird and board reflections.

Heading home, I spied clouds accumulating to the west. Perhaps we’ll once again have stormy weather in the evening. I don’t mind. The weather will make itself known. It likes to remind us of where the power really lies.

Stormy hills

 



Walking on the beach,
Maoau rises black against the sky.
Seagulls screech and waves break, and
we smile as we pass each other.
The beauty and the wide open space
providing a false sense of security.


 

Covid-19 Diary 01

Day 04 of the Lockdown

Mt Maunganui 28 March 2020

Heading into the town centre.

All Quiet on the Mount

Sitting each day in Mum’s little room with the curtains half-drawn (to reduce the glare on my screen), watching the seagulls across the road strutting around on the patchy coastal grass, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder.

I headed south to the Mount about five weeks ago to keep my ninety-one year old father, company. And now that we’re in lockdown, it’s turned out to be a timely decision. My routine here has been reduced to the bare essentials of: sleeping (or trying to); a slow wake up (usually between 8.00 and 10.00 am); the preparation of three daily meals and the occasional morning or afternoon tea; washing and drying the dishes; and watching very loud TV in the evenings. My alone time is filled with studying Japanese, sorting NZ stamps, walking, and playing Hidden City – a somewhat addictive computer game. And I have plenty of time to spend with Dad, which is the best part of all.

In the first few weeks I diligently took a 30-minute walk every evening. I’d follow Maunganui Road to the end of the town centre and back – about 3 km, making the most of the clean, flat, paved pathways; a complete contrast to the dusty, hilly, gravelly road at South Head. A couple of days’ rain broke the exercise habit until yesterday, when being stuck indoors all day drove me outside.

The sun was beginning to dip below the Kaimais as I set off, striding briskly towards Maoau. Maunganui Road was quiet, all the shops and bars closed save two solitary dairies. There were others about, but only a handful… some singles and couples and a threesome consisting of mum, dad, toddler in a stroller and a dog. I guess that’s four. I looked at everyone to see how friendly they were – one or two smiled, but the rest avoided my glance. Like magnets we repelled each other the requisite two metres.

The previous Saturday would’ve been completely different. There’d have been crowds of people spilling out onto the street from bars, or seated at tables on the pavement, and teenagers weaving along the footpaths on clattering skateboards, causing the punters to curse or leap out of the way. The backpackers would’ve had a clutch of tourists sitting on the pavement outside, smoking.

As I drew closer to Dad’s, I encountered the neighbouring family, also back from a walk. We chatted from a small distance and they told me they’d just witnessed a heated argument in the dairy across the road. Someone getting wound up about people not keeping to the correct space apart. I guess we may see more of this, and the reality is that this unusual situation is already causing anxiety for some people.

stamps 01


 

Chopper

 

PF Blur
Peter Fonda rides a replica of the “Captain America” bike used in Easy Rider. Credit: Bryan Snelson

Flash Frontier – Love Edition

I was delighted that my 194-word flash fiction piece, Chopper, was accepted for Flash Frontier’s special April 2019 LOVE edition.

This edition was open to international submissions and is a response to the March 15th Christchurch shootings.

My very short story is about the power of memories and the enduring nature of true love.

You can read Flash Frontier’s special LOVE edition here.


 

By the Ishikari River

Stopbank walk 02
Walking at dusk alongside the Ishikari River.

Walking along the bank above the grey green waters of the Ishikari, running full and fast due to snow melt, I disturbed a fox. It was up ahead, sniffing by a wooden post, tawny-coated below the silver-gold sky of a setting sun. It turned my way then ran down towards the water, a dark blur against the snow, brush tail flouncing.

There it rested beneath a bare branched willow and I saw that there were two. They were larger than I expected and I later read that they were most likely Kitakitsune. I tried to capture them with my iPhone but it was twilight, they were far away and on the move, and after three attempts my phone’s batteries expired and it shut down.

two foxes
Two foxes in the distance, bounding over the snow.

I walked on a little then turned and looked back. They’d stopped running and were standing immobile, heads raised, watching. I resumed my walk with a feeling of loss. It’s unlikely I’ll see those two again. Ahead, the sun dropped below the clouds and a sharp wind picked up dry leaves from the snow at my feet. A solitary Tobi circled high in the sky above.

The Kitakitsune, the Tobi, the fluttering leaves, the roiling river, and me. Nothing else moved in the silent landscape. To my left, the Ishikari flowed swiftly to the north, banks stacked with dirty piles of snow sculpted into strange shapes by wind and sun. To my right, rows of pastel houses, shabby-seeming in the twilight, displayed yellow-glowing windows.

You can walk in a foreign country and forget to see the differences while you tread the unfamiliar city footpaths and unexplored tracks by the river. You can investigate routes through powdery snow or earthy tree litter, while disregarding the strange smells and ignoring the different angle of the sun. You can choose to be in the moment or to let your mind drift away.


 

The Caverns of the Unnamed One

Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud

About a year ago I was contacted by editor Bryce Stevens and asked if I’d be interested in contributing to a new Lovecraftian anthology, set in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an American writer who achieved posthumous fame through his influential works of horror fiction. He was virtually unknown and published only in pulp magazines before he died in poverty, but he is now regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century authors of his genre. (Wikipedia)

Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud, was released on 14 September in Australia; its New Zealand launch will be at Armageddon in October.

cthulhu-land-of-the-long-white-cloud-front-page
Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud is the latest release by IFWG Publishing, Australia

The Caverns of the Unnamed One

The story I contributed, The Caverns of the Unnamed One, commences in present-day Auckland, with the discovery of a mysterious unidentified man, washed up on the shores of Rangitoto Island.

As the tale unfolds, the reader is taken back to 1950s Auckland and we find out what transpires when second-hand book dealer, Frank Woodburn, comes across a journal from the late 19th Century, while clearing a house-lot of books.

This discovery takes him from the safety of his home in central Auckland to the eerie darkness of the military tunnels that honeycomb the promontory of North Head.


Title: Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud

A Very Short Stay in London

SBM 03
Putting on a brave face at Shepherd’s Bush Market station

Why it pays to double-check bookings

Our flight touched down at Heathrow too late in the day to fly on to Helsinki, so we’d booked one night at a hotel close to the airport. I felt comfortably smug that I had it all organised. Imagine my shock when I discovered that I’d booked for the 29th of the wrong month. And it was a ‘no refund’ booking.

My distress quickly turned to disbelief and then to dismay. I suppose we were lucky that there were still rooms available for the night we were actually there, so I had to swallow my pride and fork out another £65, adding the experience to my ever-growing list of ‘lessons learned’.

Blocked up and miserable

To make matters worse, on the drive to LA airport I realised I’d contracted a cold, and by the time we arrived in the UK I was feeling pretty grim. The next shock was the weather. After the 40+ temperatures in California, the 16 C with drizzling rain was hardly a warm welcome.

Back in New Zealand a few months earlier, I’d been browsing ‘What’s on in London’ for the night we were there, and had been surprised to read that The Modern Māori Quartet were performing a ‘one and only’ gig in London on the exact same day. The show was scheduled for 4 pm at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush, so we’d booked tickets thinking it would be a fun thing to do. We’d also be able to say ‘Hi’ to our son’s friend, Maaka. But now that we were actually in London, I was questioning the wisdom of that ‘bright idea’. We were both still recovering from the non-booked room screwup, the weather was crummy, and we were a long way from Shepherd’s Bush. Nonetheless, we decided to stick with our plan, so caught the shuttle bus back to the airport, purchased a  couple of Oyster Cards, loaded them with some cash, negotiated a couple of different routes on London’s Underground, then walked as rapidly as we could to Bush Hall. We arrived at our destination with just a few minutes to spare, despite having to switch trains due to delays on one of the lines.

Bush Hall

BH SB
Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London

According to Bush Hall’s website, the venue was originally built by a publisher in 1904, and is one of a trio of London dance halls he built for each of his daughters, Bush Hall being the only survivor of the three. The hall has enjoyed a varied existence since then. In WWII it served time as a soup kitchen, before being reinvented as a bingo hall, a rehearsal space, and a snooker & social club. It was restored to its former ‘musical glory’ in 2001 by its current owners.

TMMQ
Left and Right: The Modern Maori Quartet performing at Bush Hall, London.

At the hall we bought a couple of cheap red wines and settled in to enjoy the performance. The place was fully booked (well, as far as I could tell, as they had to bring in more chairs from the back) and the audience seemed to only comprise of Kiwis – a motley assortment, at that. The Modern Maori Quartet was as polished as ever, and everyone around us was having a good time, singing along and channeling their ‘kiwiness’. I can’t say my heartstrings were plucked, but then we’d only been away from home for less than a week. Unfortunately we didn’t get to catch up with Maaka as he wasn’t on that particular tour.

Shepherds Bush both ways
Shepherd’s Bush Market station on a rainy July evening. Looking left, then right.

After the performance was over, we wearily trudged back along the road in the rain, ordering a £4.95 meal from an Indian restaurant on the way to the Underground. We thought this a good deal, until they stung us £2 each for two small bottles of water. When I’d asked earlier for a couple of glasses of water, I’d thought we’d be given tap water. Won’t do that again. Then back on one train, then another, then the airport shuttle, then the short walk (still in the rain) back to the hotel.

Once again, it had been a long day, starting with our departure from Indian Wells at 6.30 am and moving on to the drive to LA airport, the disposal of the rental car, the horrors of US Customs, UK Customs, the non-booked hotel, negotiating public transport in London… perhaps we’d overestimated our energy levels, but at least we did manage to achieve all that we’d planned.

Winding down

That night in the hotel we barely unpacked, just fell into bed and slept fitfully until our alarms woke us up around 4.00 am. The flights to Helsinki departed at 7.30 am so we had to get organised early. But as we departed from our hotel in the grey early light, I was filled with a sense of optimism. That feeling of being ‘on the road again’ with a whole new country ahead of us.  Helsinki meant summer and seeing family. The air b n b we’d booked looked lovely (online, at least), and we wouldn’t have to travel anywhere far for the next five days. And surely my health would improve.