The Good Life: The Holiday Edition
In which we have a big outing to celebrate Level Two. By Greg Dixon.
For the first day of freedom, we planned an exciting trip: to a landscape supplies yard. It was an ideal outing for the start of life under Level Two; if liberty means anything, it means the freedom to buy top quality garden compost at a reasonable price.
It wasn’t my first run into town. I had forced myself into the car twice during lockdown.
For Michele, however, it was the first time away from Lush Places in more than seven weeks, and for her the trip acquired the significance of an audience with the Queen. There were nerves. She got herself all dressed up. She clutched her handbag.
I wore gumboots. And a stiff upper lip. One of us had to.
The idea of leaving the house on Day One of Level Two had apparently occurred to others. We found Masterton as busy as a three-legged dog with fleas. There was hardly a carpark to be had; couples promenaded in the autumn sunshine; an old geezer and a postie passed the time of day. For some reason, people stood in queues outside banks.
The irrational part of me thought: while we were hiding out from the virus at Lush Places, were all these people carrying on as usual? Had we somehow been stuck inside a reality distortion field, while all the while the real world turned much as it always had?
Finding oddity in normal life is perhaps another of the virus’s side effects. But I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. The neurotic part of me, much the larger bit, kept screaming to itself: why don’t they look worried? Are they stupid? Are we the last sensible people?
The apparent success in suppressing the virus in New Zealand is a credit to the government, its science advisors and, of course, the rest of us for doing as we’re told. But the enemy is still out there. Which you’d think would mean that, like us, people would, for the most part, emerge cautiously from their homes. Instead, it looked like a rush for the exits. And over the weekend, a rush to get out of town.
The tourism industry will be pleased. Evidently, it and its media cheerleaders expect us to consider holidaying in New Zealand as a solemn patriotic duty, at least until the sector’s able to flog tat to foreign tourists again.
I’d like to help, but why take the risk? And who, now, has the money?
Instead, and I encourage you to join me, I have decided to content myself by going on holiday in my head. This has taken the form of remembering ones I had growing up.
If I close my eyes and concentrate, it’s the summer of 1981. I am in Hawkes Bay, in a field near Napier, sleeping under canvas for a week at the 9th National Scout Jamboree. I am 13, skinny and scared of my shadow. I manage to abseil and later, as my parents watch, I survive the confidence course, which ends with me and my mate Ian leaping into a giant pool of muddy water. That’s us in the picture.
Further back, it’s the summer of 1977. Dad and I are sailing on Lake Hayes, near Arrowtown, in an Optimist sailing dingy we built together. We spot a trout, floating upside down, hook still in its mouth. We claim it for our own.
And further back still, maybe ’76, the family is staying in a rented home outside Queenstown and high above Wakatipu. I am jumping up and down on the bed in my parent’s room. Through the picture window, I watch the graceful TSS Earnslaw glide up Frankton Arm.
Even the bad holidays are good for a laugh. It’s the late '70s, maybe the early 1980s. In a first, the Dixons rent a tiny caravan near Lake Taupo for a week. It’s raining. It’s pouring. The old man and the old lady start roaring. After two days of fighting over the monopoly board, we pack it in and go home. Thank Christ.
And thank goodness, too, for such armchair travel. It’s cheap, it’s cheerful and, until the country’s completely free of coronavirus, it’s where the sensible and the vulnerable will be holidaying this winter.