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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We stayed at Indian Wells for four days, which was the duration of the conference that had sent us there to begin with. During that time, an out-of-control fire raged on the other side of the San Jacinto Mountains, sending dark plumes of smoke into the western skies. I first noticed the change in the light on the second afternoon, when I asked one of the bell boys whether the dark clouds above the ranges were thunder clouds. It was then that he told me it was from a purposely lit fire and I immediately noticed the smoky smell in the air, and the unusual golden tinge that was beginning to affect the quality of the sunlight.
As the day progressed, and indeed, over the following four days, the smoke became worse, and the conflagration became known as the ‘Cranston Fire’, spreading until it had engulfed over 13,000 acres of land, destroying at least five houses and leading to the evacuation of 7000 people. At one point, on a visit to Palm Springs, the sun could barely be seen through the haze.
Exploring the Coachella Valley
To make the most of our rental car (if not to enjoy the air conditioning inside) we made several short excursions into the Coachella Valley. I’d pored over the tourist brochures and circled the places that looked most interesting and were within local driving distance.
The first we investigated was the Oasis Date Gardens. There we could expect to see, ‘a video show on date history and cultivation, a picnic area surrounded by our beautiful palm garden, a date palm and ornamental palm arboretum, a cactus garden and an antique farm equipment exhibit’. This sounded all very interesting, so we turned on our GPS and made our way there.
I think the information in the tourist brochure was somewhat out of date (excuse the pun) as there weren’t any gardens you could walk in, just a neglected patch of grass to the left of the run-down looking shop-cum-café. The cactus garden was a bit sad-looking, too, in fact the whole ‘garden’ area was very neglected.
Despite the less-than-encouraging exterior, we swallowed down our trepidation and went inside to investigate – we were hanging out for a cup of coffee, if nothing else. There was one girl working behind a counter and no-one else in sight. The left half of the room had some tables and chairs, and the other side had a table with bins of dates, a set of scales, bags, tongs, etc., surrounded by some packaged date products, and other ‘for sale’ items. In a back section there were some tired-looking posters with historical information on them.
The café didn’t appear to still be running, but we ordered a coffee anyway, only to be told that the machine wasn’t working. There was a comprehensive array of date-related products on the café menu, but we didn’t really care to try any. They all sounded too sweet and milky. The date shop itself was well worth the drive. There were about twenty different varieties of dates for sale, and you could taste them all before purchasing (which I did). We ended up buying quite a decent-size bag of Barhi dates. The usual ‘fancy’ and expensive dates you can get in New Zealand are Medjool, and I do like those, but to my taste buds, the Barhi* were the best of all. Smaller, very sweet, soft, tasting like butterscotch or caramel, and with very soft skins. Our bag cost us about US $3.50, which we considered very good value.
I was also fascinated by the date palms with their enormous bunches of dates. There were acres and acres of these in the area. If you can picture barren, arid, jagged hills, dusty ground, huge blue skies with tinges of smoke around the edges, and row upon row of date palms, then this would possibly give you an idea of the look of the place.
On another day we drove to ‘old’ La Quinta. The old part of town had the classic southern US border town look – dazzling sunlight, white plastered buildings, palms, fleshy plants (such as yucca and aloe), dark shade, tinkling fountains, and a hot, dry smell. Streets empty in the middle of the day, shop doors closed to keep out the heat, and the necessity of scurrying from shady patch to shady patch.
We’d encountered this same situation on a February trip to Hawker, north of Adelaide, where the locals know not to venture outside in the middle of the day and the place ends up looking like a ghost town. In the Coachella Valley, mist machines are deployed to keep the store entrances and outside seating areas, cool. We were intrigued by these as we’d never seen them before, so walked into the cool clouds whenever we could. And they worked!
We drove the thirty or so minutes to Palm Springs a couple of times. The smoke from the Cranston Fires was more evident there, as the city is nestled against the foot of the La Jacinta mountain range, and the fires were directly on the other side. A nice touch was that Ben’s brother Dennis and his wife Lauren drove all the way down from northern LA (about a 3-hour drive) to meet us for lunch the first time we visited. They suggested meeting for lunch at El Mirasol Restaurant and it was an excellent choice. The restaurant served very inexpensive, enormous Margaritas, and after a few gulps, there was no way the meal could go badly. But even without the Margaritas, we’d have loved the meals. The service was great, too.
On that visit to Palm Springs we were inside most of the time and didn’t really notice the heat, but on the second visit, it was so hot, I felt I could barely walk up the street, and it felt like the smoky air was sucking every drop of moisture out of my body. Needless to say, our visit was brief.
We fled to a mall, which turned out to be another Westfield – I guess they are everywhere, but I was still surprised (and not in a good way) to see the identical logo to that of our local mall in West Auckland, on the wall as we drew near.
In summary, the California leg of our trip was interesting and opened my eyes to a completely different part of the world. It was hot there… and we had expected this, but according to the local TV channel, the weather we experienced while we were there was the hottest for several decades and quite a few records were broken in the area. Only the smoky skies kept the heat from soaring even higher. Our only disappointment was the final night ‘gala dinner, of the conference.
The dinner cost the equivalent of NZ $145 per person, and the gap between my expectations and the reality of the meal, was enormous. We were given only one measly glass of wine for the whole meal, and the entrée was a small bread-and-butter-plate sized, flat selection of salad greens, just like you might purchase bagged up in plastic at the supermarket all ready to serve, but it had no dressing and nothing other than leaves in it, (i.e., no tomato, or carrot, or red pepper or cucumber). It looked very tired and as if it could do with a good rinse in some fresh water. The Main was okay… it was a piece of filet steak, cooked medium rare and tender, but small. Alongside this was a smear of possibly Béarnaise Sauce, with two spindly strands of asparagus trapped in it, and a tiny piece of roasted potato with skin on – perhaps the size of my watch face, and hmm… I think there was something else – perhaps a small flat mushroom or two. Dessert was some kind of ready-made tart – the kind you could buy from a generic cake shop. You had to crack the pastry crust to break into it. It was okay but adding the three courses together, plus the one small glass of unmemorable wine… well, we were very disappointed.
On our final day, we arose at around 5.00 am, and were on the road by just after 6.00 am. Then we retraced steps and drove to LA, dropped off the rental car, and joined the very long line crawling its way through the US Customs. This line moved somewhat quicker than on our entry and even though we’d been told to arrive three hours prior to our flight, we actually had a good two hours to fill in before our 5.15 pm flight to London.
* Barhi Dates – “Barhee or barhi (from Arabic barh, meaning ‘a hot wind’) – these are nearly spherical, light amber to dark brown when ripe; soft, with thick flesh and rich flavour. One of the few varieties that are good in the khalal stage when they are yellow (like a fresh grape, as opposed to dry, like a raisin). (Wikipedia)
We touched down at LAX around 1.00 pm on Tuesday, after a twelve-hour journey out of Auckland. The flight was uneventful, although I only managed to doze for a couple of sessions of about thirty or so minutes. Once we’d disembarked, the customs and security procedure was tiresome. Not the process itself (which was relatively straight-forward) but being sorted into a zig-zagging line of tired travelers, squashed together like an assortment of irregular human peas completely out of their pods… like zombies, even, shuffling forward a step at a time… tired, crumpled, barely able to communicate. The line took over two hours.
I felt sorry for a young couple behind us who had a connecting flight, and for the people who had babies and young children in tow. People were remarkably patient, however, and the little ones coped, somehow. In comparison, fetching our luggage and finding our way to collect the rental car was a walk in the park, and we negotiated our way out of the city without too much trouble.
The drive east to Indian Wells took about three hours and for most of the way there was a steady stream of traffic. Fortunately we could use a faster ‘ride share’ lane as there were two of us in the car.
When we finally arrived it was after 6.00 pm and the sun was setting, and the heat hit us like a physical blow when we exited the car. The only way I can describe the feeling is to say that it was as if someone was holding one of those electric bar heaters about six inches away from my body (every part) and that it was on full. Interestingly, I’ve since heard on the local news channel that this part of the US is experiencing record highs. So it’s not just me.
Indian Wells – population c.5000
Describing Indian Wells,the local City Council website states somewhat wistfully that “a century before Zane Grey immortalised the Old West, an Indian village had formed around a hand-built well in the Southern California desert”. It goes on to state that “the characters in this tale were to be the same he (Zane Grey) celebrated: Indians, explorers, pioneers, and prospectors; their actions framed against a rugged backdrop of mountains rising from a raw sand floor”. Although there was a thriving Indian village situated here in 1853, the discovery a decade later of gold on the Colorado River, changed everything. Indian Wells became an important stop-over on the way through the desert from Los Angeles.
I’m sure there are sites where evidence of the old history can still be seen, but for those of us who are just passing through, staying perhaps a few days for golf, or in our case, to attend a conference, there’s not much to see of the historical side of things. The Indian Wells that Ben and I are experiencing comprises low-lying sandy-coloured buildings with terracotta tiled roofs, a variety of tall palm trees (including the statuesque Saidy Date Palm), manicured lawns with misty sprinklers, and a surprising number of tinkling fountains. Oh, and there are the fancy resorts that rise up above the low-lying buildings like giant anthills. The place is a verdant oasis sprouting in the arid grey Coachella Valley, which in turn is surrounded by the sharp craggy peaks of a number of mountain ranges. It is very hot, very tidy, very quiet, very clean and very different from South Head.
To counteract the heat, we took a dip in the pool last night. The water was tepid and we splashed around for about five minutes, before realising that we were exhausted. Surprisingly, despite it still being 42 C, we felt chilly when we slid out and scurried for our towels. It was a very beautiful scene, though. A clear blue sky packed with stars, an almost full moon, turquoise pool, palm trees, subtle lighting… the whole resort thing. And the air-conditioning indoors is a welcome contrast to the heat outside. If you wished to, you could come to a place like this, swim in the pool, drink cocktails at the bar, eat at one of the in-house restaurants, head back to your room to watch cable TV, and never go out of the hotel for anything.
You could be anywhere in the world… except for the heat.